Celebrating Inauthenticity in Ghana

Accra's Independece Square

Today marks 52 years since the first sub-Saharan African nations claimed their independence from colonialism: It’s a national holiday in Ghana, the first of two “refusniks” who grabbed the option of immediate independence without looking back, Guinee being the other.  Both gained new governments this year. Ghana by elections and Guinee by coup.  Both were steps in the right direction (in my opinion), but the two make quite a contrast.  The Accra city centre is vibrant and modern, with leafy suburbs, while Conakry last year had power for only a few hours a day, with their traffic lights and street lamps off most nights.  Leaving aside the reasons why, they both deserve better from their former colonial powers, the international economic system, and their own ruling classes.

In the eyes of too many otherwise educated Westerners, Africa is still the “Dark Continent” of colonialism, filled with famine, war, and poverty. Horrible things happen in Africa like anywhere else, and Africans face an unfair share of many of today’s hardships, but the fly covered faces of the 1980s Ethiopian famine are the exception.  It’s sad to have to say this, but Africans live perfectly “normal” lives.  They watch TV soap operas, read the newspapers, go to work, take the bus, and can’t decide if those onions in the back of the pantry are still good.  Like you.  Sure, the likelihood they will live in rural farming communities is greater than most Westerners, and that makes the lives of those communities much different, but Africa is full of cities and cars and satellite dishes as well.

And while the attempt to “report good news stories” usually activates my gag reflex, Westerners need to read a greater balance on the news from Africa.  A current blog project by two women from Nigeria, CelebrateAfrica.net, documents their travel across the continent documenting the day to day triumph and success of African societies.  While they are aiming their writing at other African readers, it gives us a good chance to look over their shoulders at a more realistic Africa.

So on Ghana Independece day, I thought I might quote from Oluchi Ogwuegbu’s blog.  Her reaction when a non African tourist scolds her for complaining about the mud huts offered as “Authentic” accommodations, at pretty steep prices, to foreign tourists in one part of rural Ghana.

“Heaven forbid, that I should complain about those lodgings because that would mean that I’m not truly African. To be truly African, I need to live in a mud-hut with a pit-latrine and if I choose properly planned sewer systems that give people a modicum of dignity – that would be inauthentic , almost …European… and we can’t have that happen.”

“I reject anything that makes it acceptable for anybody to live a helpless, filthy, poverty-stricken life all in the name of being authentic. Those same villagers who perform on demand have shea butter, cotton and pottery as a source of income. Why aren’t they being engaged in an equitable way to make money from these things and change their status?”

“To make an experience really African does not mean having to battle flies from the pit-latrine. I know many people who live in villages whose houses are very clean, not paid for by any aid agency. Are they not Africans?”  —  Celebrating Ghana

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