Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The politics of people

I’m more curious about the lives of strangers when I travel. For example, one day last week, Renee and I were eating lunch in a small restaurant in Ho, the town in the eastern part of the country where we were conducting workshops. A man sat down at our table because there was no empty one available, and before long we were engaged in conversation. He worked at the nearby credit union and was deeply interested in politics and journalism. We told him about our jobs and the work we were doing here in Ghana.

He invited us to tour the credit union after we finished lunch. He introduced us to his employees (he turned out to be the manager) and then we sat down in his office to chat further. He was interested in running for political office in next year’s parliamentary elections, as a member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The NDC is the Ghanaian equivalent of the Liberal Party (pro-business but socially left-leaning). The National Patriotic Party (NPP) is the equivalent of the Conservative Party. We left his office after about a good chat about the similarities and differences in Canadian and Ghanaian politics.

Later that afternoon, I struck up a conversation with the owner of inn I was staying at. He had been to Canada once, he said, when he visited friends in the U.S. about 20 years ago. He stayed in Vermont, a short drive from Montreal. He said he was studying at a university in the Soviet Union at the time, and was offered a chance to take a trip to the U.S. Most people that you meet here associate Canada with its big cities – Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. I explained to him that I was about 1,000 kilometres away from Montreal. He was blown away by the distance, a common reaction here because Ghana is geographically so small (not much bigger than New Brunswick).

He was a farmer as well as an inn operator, he told me. He had about 100 hectares of maize on land east of Ho. This led us into an interesting discussion about economic development in the country. He said it’s difficult to make money because so many people are growing maize. This is the case in Ghana and throughout Africa, so it’s difficult to sell it at home or export it. Commercial farming is small-scale; most people farm just to put food on their own plates (in fact, more than 50 per cent of the economy is based subsistence farming). He also told me that rural development is neglected in favour of the cities, a familiar complaint in Canada too. Many of the young people here move to Accra or other urban centres because that’s where most of the jobs are.

Party politics and out-migration…I crossed the Atlantic to sub-Saharan Africa just to have the same kinds of conversations I have with people I bump into at the City Market!

- Mark


Jack said...

Interesting you should have the same type of political conversation in Ghana as in Saint John.
I wonder if, here in Saint John, you would get away with describing the Liberals as (pro-business but socially left-leaning)and not giving a description of the Conservatives too.
This is a great piece which gives me an insight into what's going on there.

Anonymous said...

Hi Janet and Mark,
I finally went to your site and have caught up on most of your fascinating postings. Great pics, too. Thanks for taking the time to inform us all.
Keep safe,
Gretchen K