A recent story raised an issue that I wanted to share.
It came to the fore when it was announced that Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport had won an award for best airport in Africa. I was struck by the large number of people who immediately dismissed it as foolish, sometimes before even reading the article.
The award was given because Kotoka had attracted 4 new airlines, extended its routes, complied with international health and safety and security regulations and showed continuous improvement. It doesn’t mean there are no security issues. It doesn’t mean that the airport is the best in the world. It simply means that credit is being given for the willingness to develop.
There has been some discussion in Ghana on how this country, and the continent, is portrayed. Global Voices summarised many of our feelings in Bloggers React to Demeaning and Misleading Article and more recently Fiona Leonard wrote Good News Stories About Africa Are Bad For Business as did This is Africa in their post Why good news about Africa is bad for business. We have also acknowledged that it is up to those of us living in Ghana to present more positive stories.
I raise my hand as guilty when I say it’s really easy to be critical of one’s home. I cringe at some of the comments I made on a previous blog and in meetings in Ghana about the UK. Now I live in Ghana I find myself expressing criticisms of my new home. Part of being critical is the hope that raising issues might lead to solutions. In the West we also have a tradition of over-praising another culture as a means of critiquing your own.
But something else is also going on.
What this issue brought to the fore, is that some will blankly refuse to acknowledge anything good about Ghana – ever. It is as if the recognition of improvement will validate politicians or perhaps destroy a perception that the West is better. They can always quote a decade where things were perceived to be better and expect linear progress from that date. In a discussion someone told me that giving praise to a Blackman makes him complacent! There is a political agenda that does not want Ghana to get better and moreover refuses to acknowledge any step, no matter how tiny, as a step forwards.
But there is a balance. If we become only cheerleaders we let our leaders off the hook. Being wholly positive may damage Ghana in the same way that being entirely negative only reinforces stereotypes about “Africa”.
But to finish, I think there is one myth that is the most enduring and the most harmful in Ghana. It is that everyone is powerless to create change because nothing will ever change. Refusing to show, because of some ideological agenda, where change has happened, where institutions have responded to public pressure, simply reinforces this belief. And its effect is to further disempower the disempowered.