When in Ghana, Always Use Protection…


When in Ghana, always be sure to use protection. This is generally good advice no matter where you are in the world, but especially important here. Oh, wait, did you think I was referring to sex?

Viruses are prevalent here—and I’m not only talking about HIV/AIDS! It is likely you will be using an Internet café to communicate with the outside world while you are here (wifi isn’t exactly found everywhere), and hardly any public computers in Ghana use up-to-date antivirus software. So if you will for any reason have to use a flash drive with one of these computers, make sure it is equipped with an antivirus program before you arrive.

Of course, you should use the “other” kind of protection as well. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not as bad in Ghana as it is in other countries in Africa, including South Africa, it still infects nearly three percent of the population—perhaps even higher than that in urban areas like Accra. Condoms are readily available in pharmacies, supermarkets and even gas stations.

Conclusion: whether you intend to get up close and personal with a computer or with a person, use protection!

(image credit: Harrisburg Helpdesk)

(image credit: Harrisburg Helpdesk)

Ghana’s Second-Hand Goods Market Creates Quite a Stir


There has been quite a debate in recent years over Ghana’s long history of importing second-hand goods from Europe, and more prominently, the United States. Last Fall, the nation’s government implemented a total ban on the importation of second-hand refrigerators and air conditioners due to their negative environmental impacts, which caused a stir in leaving more than 15,000 people jobless.

Many a business has been made in Ghana from breaking down and redistributing products like these—sound cards from trashed computers and alternators and other parts from abandoned cars are among the most immediately useful and sellable. The problem is that the non-useful parts of these machines are then burned in giant bonfires, from which lead, arsenic and mercury have steadily seeped into neighborhood water supplies.

This debate is likely not to end anytime soon, but it has a particularly interesting angle in the apparel sector. (For the record, Ghana’s government banned the resale of “unhygienic” items like underwear, handkerchiefs and mattresses in 2011). There are plenty of tailors in the country who are upset that boatloads of useless-in-America shirts (“John Edwards 2008” campaign shirts were in particular abundance) make it difficult for them to compete from a pricing standpoint. Even the clothes that are higher-end, which have long been passed from first-world countries to here—can spark debate.

See, there is a common myth in Ghana that no citizen of a developed country would wear the clothes of an obruni wawu (“dead white man”), and so the clothes sent here all came from obrunis. This is not true, of course (perhaps Ghanaians should listen to American rapper Macklemore’s hit song introducing second-hand thrift shopping as something cool in pop culture), and good quality clothes here can be scored as a result: stylish t-shirts for two or three cedi (USD$1-$1.50), designer jeans for about 10 cedi (USD$5), and so on.

There is no doubt that second-hand goods from developed countries will continue to be part of Ghana’s economy, the question is just exactly how much.


How Ghana Sets and Example for the World to Follow in Religious Tolerance


Independent now for just over 50 years, Ghana has become a model for the world in the area of religious tolerance. With a population nearly equally divided among Christianity, Islam and traditional religions, it is truly remarkable how Ghanaians are both so passionate about their individual religions—celebrations are very outward here—but tolerant of others. The mantra that it doesn’t matter where one comes from or what he or she believes in—when in Ghana he or she will be welcomed and treated as Ghanaian—is something this nation lives and breathes every day.

It is even common to have a peaceful religious divide within families—traditional parents with Christian children who are happy for their Muslim cousins’ success. This harmony is evident  from the top-down as well, with a government that for the past half-century has strongly supported religious freedom. While Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter are national holidays here, as they are in many countries, so are Muslim holidays like  the Idul Fitr and Idul Adhia. Because they are acknowledged and people here have a basic knowledge and understanding of another belief, there is not the fear and impending hysteria it has created in much of the world.

This is thanks in large part also to the Ghana Peace Council, which was created by the government to raise awareness surrounding the use of nonviolent strategies in response to conflict through networking, coordination and campaigning. The 11 members include the most prominent members of the Catholic, Muslim and traditional religions in Ghana, as well as some top legal and business professionals, academics and youth representatives. During its existence, this group has built an impressive track record, with one of its most important duties being to decide otherwise-deadlocked national elections. In one notable example, the leader of the group—the head of a Muslim mission—made a deciding vote against the political party he personally supported, because through deliberations with the entire group it was evident that the opposing party would better serve Ghana at the time. Such sacrifice of one’s personal beliefs for the betterment of a nation surely has a trickle-down effect, providing an example that is difficult for individuals to go against.

Ghana may have its share of problems, but when it comes to religious tolerance, it is truly a nation to behold.


Celebrating Like There Isn’t A Tomorrow in Ghana


Ghanaians love to celebrate. Weddings, christenings, birthdays, funerals—doesn’t matter. It’s a celebration. And yes, you read that correctly. It includes funerals, which are usually the loudest, longest and liveliest of them all.

You’ve heard the term “wedding crasher” before—popularized by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in the film of the same name, it is the idea of strangers dropping in on open-food, open-bar wedding receptions because there are so many guests coming together anyway that nobody will notice an extra few faces. In Ghana, that term applies just as much, if not more so, to funerals. This is especially popular among students, who will always keep their eyes open for free food and drinks.

For most people in the world, death is something to be feared and funerals have an eerie somberness about them. Ghanaians take a different approach, however. Rather than mourning the loss of someone, they try to festively celebrate his or her life. Rich or poor, families invest a huge sum of money into sending their departed loved ones off appropriately. Just about everyone is invited to the weekend- or week-long extravaganza, sometimes not even mattering if the guest knew the deceased or not, and coffins can often times resemble themed chambers (think soccer star getting buried in a huge soccer ball casket).

Forget weddings, for Ghanaians, the funeral is likely the biggest single expenditure they will ever have, and how grand and successful a funeral is can influence a family’s social status. As such, guests are typically expected to make a donation to help cover the extravagant costs, though many do not.

If you’re lucky enough to get invited to a funeral here, don’t try to think of any excuses to get out of it. Go, and you may find it was the most fun you had in Ghana!

No New Year’s Lull in Ghana with Africa Cup of Nations on the Horizon


Ghana's Football Team Logo

After the excitement of the Holidays, a festive New Year’s celebration, and all of the time off from work that much of the world enjoys over the last 5 or so weeks of the year, a New Year lull often follows for many of us. In America, we lament the fact that many of us won’t have another holiday until late May. That lull doesn’t exist in Ghana, however, because January means that it’s time for another Africa Cup of Nations.

Africa’s pre-eminent football (soccer for some of you) tournament is held every other January. Ghana’s Blackstars had a disappointing fourth-place finish in 2012, but they will have a chance to avenge that just one year later rather than the typical two, as the Confederation of African Football moved the tournament to odd numbered years, starting this year, to avoid taking place in the same year as the World Cup, as happened in 2010 (which ironically represented Ghana’s best ever finish in the global tournament).

The Africa Cup of Nations is indeed big news in this football-crazed nation, as there are few things that most Ghanaians consider more important than watching the Blackstars–including wives, girlfriends, business meetings, etc. Funnily enough, this is even evident in a majority of the nation’s political speeches. When late President John Atta Mills appointed ministers upon taking office in 2009, excluding some widely expected appointees, he was able to smooth his decisions over with the National Democratic Congress by using–you guessed it–football analogies. The official statement that came from the President’s office stated that Mills, as the coach of team Ghana, decides “which player plays at what time. And since this is the first half, they should give the President leeway to bring the set of players he wants to play this first half.” Later in the statement, it was noted that it was possible that the potential appointees who were excluded initially would still earn their expected posts later in his term, as “the game has just begun.”

Ghana's Football Team Pre-Match

The men the nation obsesses over…


A Tribute to Ghana’s Love for Music: Delle’s “Pound Power”


Travel throughout Ghana, and talk to Ghanaians around the world, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one who isn’t passionate about music. As a tribute to that, we thought we’d kick off this blog with a video by Ghanaian-German reggae artist Delle, who’s Pound Power video gives us a nice glimpse into the importance of music in Accra and throughout the nation.