In Ghana a leader dies: A vacuum for fear and hope

The untimely and unexpected death of President Atta Mills of Ghana came just months before ending his first term and launching a reelection campaign. His legacy was a positive one amidst the strife and instability currently making headlines in West Africa . In recent years, terrorism and sectarian violence has increased in Nigeria. Just this past March, a military coup overthrew the government in Mali. These negative examples have inculcated in observers a recurring feeling of fear when politics are shaken up in Africa. Things are changing in West Africa, and last week it was in Ghana. From personal experiences in Ghana during the Kufuor and Mills administration, an American volunteer offers hope in place of fear during these times of trial.

Upon learning about President Atta Mills’ untimely death, I was immediately stuck by fear. I was first made aware of his passing by Facebook status updates from children I had known from a previous travel to Ghana. Even the slightest interest in Sub-Saharan affairs will likely immerse any “developing country” enthusiast in the recurrent theme of hopelessness for politics in the region, especially now during a time of marked instability, religious/ethnic violence, and food and water scarcity. Then, if fear is what many people experience in response to such news from Africa, one has to wonder why the youth in Ghana are so mature and calm.

On Tuesday August 24, 2012 when President Mills passed, I asked a young student I knew in Ghana, “What are your feelings regarding the future of Ghana?”

The student replied on Facebook, “…the future of Ghana lie in the hands of Ghanaians… Ghanaians will go to the polls coming this December so [I] hope Ghanaians will make the right choice when the time comes.”

My own history in Ghana was predominated by the days of the Mills administration, although my first travel to Ghana actually took place in 2008 during the Kufuor administration. In this first visit to Ghana, I and seven other high school volunteers traveled to a village called Nkwantakese, which was a 30-minute drive from Kumasi. Kumasi is West Africa’s “Garden City” and the capital of the former Asante kingdom (now Ashanti region), who’s king is laden with enough gold to help clarify why Ghana used to be called the “Gold Coast.” Nkwantakese lay along a spoke-like road stretching out from Kumasi’s concrete jungle and corrugated roofs. Only a mile off from the Kumasi-Techiman road, connecting Kumasi to Northern Nigeria, is Nkwantakese – Its traditional village center, with chief palace, and surprisingly, a paved road to connect it to the larger hub.

The purpose of the volunteer project was to organize a mountain of approximately 10,000 donated books into a functioning library for the children in the community. We succeeded. But like any stereotypical international excursion with Americans involved, the success was dramatic, and like any stereotypical success in Africa, the success was also tragic. Our volunteer project never truly answered the questions of: Who would operate the library after we left? Or, who would do this job reliably? In short, many of the co-volunteers lost hope for the library and departed home with their scheduled tickets.

Further yet lay jungle, mysterious voodoo-laden farm fields, and the smell of warm palm wine.
With mainly insignificant structures and community buildings, there was not much about the village that stood out. Rather, it was the simmering sunsets over Nkwantakese, as seen in this article’s featured image, that were sights to behold. Those are some of the visions from Ghana I won’t so easily forget. Yet, among civilized landscapes there was a housing complex by Habitat for Humanity that sprouted out from the village road boasting 400 humble mud-brick dwellings and a primary school. This new side of Nkwantakese we called “the Habitat.” Further down the road lay the old Nkwantakese village center. Further yet lay jungle, mysterious voodoo-laden farm fields, and the smell of warm palm wine. If we were brave, we could have ventured a bit further to see that the road began to turn back, connect to another smaller Habitat for Humanity establishment, and then turn back again to the main road which extended out from Kumasi. It was odd to note that throughout its entirety, this loop was paved even where you may think tall grasses would soon overtake the road.

As we discovered more about the village from musings with the locals, we found out that Nkwantakese had a soft place in the heart of Ghana’s President Kufuor. The president contributed about 500,000 cedis (cedis are Ghana’s currency) towards a state of the art information communication technology center in Nkwantakese coordinated with the UN Development Programme, the Catholic Church, and a Chinese telecommunications giant. President Kufuor was born in Kumasi and also schooled there. His father grew up just a mile down the road from Nkwantakese at the junction with the Kumasi-Techiman road; a junction-town called Akom. Thus, it’s likely Kufuor kept family in mind when he funded the ICT center in Nkwantakese, and, years earlier, paved the cement road connecting his father’s hometown of Akom to the village of Nkwantakese.

Besides the ICT center, the Habitat, and village center, only one other structure stood out: the house in which our volunteers lived. It was the only two-story building in sight (at the time), and it was completed just weeks prior to our arrival. The building, painted white and sitting atop a hill, oversaw both the Habitat and old Nkwantakese. The library we had been working on was just several meters from the majestic white “story-building.” However the library could not live up to the white house’s stature. In a run-down school building with a “Highly Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPCs) sign out front, the library was carved out of the last classroom in the block. What happened to the HIPC school since its construction, I was not sure, but what happened to the library after my departure was hidden behind lock and key. Books of innumerable words, ideas, thoughts, and inspiration, locked from the young eyes we had traveled so far to see.

The library was just part of the usual story you might hear; the problem of exploited or unavailable resources needed to fulfill the hopes for development in Africa. As such, the result was a white house on a hill and its locked library. In that first summer trip, I along side my fellow volunteers, learned that reality was much more unforgiving than what we bargained for.

That “white house” as well fell prey to demise. Early on, construction of the building became a source for the well-deserved “dash.” But per usual, these patronage jobs bought reliable help and a complete two-story building near to American standards; hot water, bunk beds, near 360° balconies included. Opening day for the white house, like opening day for the library was very happy and the whole village knew about it. Prospects for a bright future, resulting from the hours of work dedicated and the charitable purpose we held dear, were powerful and real. However unsuspecting, amid our high, the food for the party was burning on the stove and the guests were getting hungry. It all fell apart, like the HIPC school before, and the white house too just a year after our volunteer group departed. The orphans who lived in the white house, who we got to know so well, were asked to leave due to differences that sparked between the NGO’s board members. Now the American-financed white house, atop the hill overseeing Nkwantakese, stands before those beautiful sunsets with blankness behind its whitewashed walls.

As mentioned, did I return to Ghana a second time for a commitment of one year. I set out to initiate a series of charitable projects in Nkwantakese. Only this time, I resided in one of the mud-brick dwellings in the Habitat. I learned some of the harsh realities of living in a developing country from my first volunteer experience and I began to expect tragedy as a casualty of doing work. A few weeks after I arrived in Ghana the second time, the orphans who lived in the white house were asked leave. Their lives continued in the Habitat close to my living quarters. The children, resilient as they are, maintained positivity and focus amid what was obviously disdain and a clear decline in the quality of their lives. In comparison to the kids, the Americans in Ghana who oversaw the operations at the white house, left as well, but didn’t handle the transition as well. Their commitment to little else in life, other than to the success of those children ran head first into the wall of unforgiving reality, which was then made of mud-bricks. The story of the other Americans and the orphans they cared for continued to have ups and downs. Their will to change reality rather than accepting it or letting it smack them in the face slowly led to a better future for themselves and the orphans. They moved from Nkwantakese to a new establishment on the coast of Ghana and to what appears to be a more successful and rewarding charity program.

My story for the year commitment in Ghana traversed these two paths: the will to change the reality I experienced and then letting it smack me in the face. When I returned to the U.S. after my first trip to Ghana in 2008, it inspired a year of fundraising that I led with a co-volunteer. That was an example of the will to change reality.

Although aimed for 12 months, my second volunteer trip lasted 10, and ended similar to the last. Unlike before, I embarked on this second trip within the framework of my own making. In turn for my residence in the Habitat, I worked as a volunteer coordinator for the primary school’s lunch program – paid for from our fundraising efforts. Although run efficiently and meticulously, the lunch program, like the library or the white house, was a crutch for the school, producing mainly short-run benefits. It became apparent that fundraising efforts would not indefinitely meet the needs of the school’s lunch budget.

My commitment, seemingly dead from the beginning, led to nearly a half a year of feeling powerless to the realities I faced and attempts to make any positive difference.

However it may seem, this article is not about how will and hard work can solve all of the world’s problems. Nor does it argue assertiveness or entrepreneurship can cure poverty, certainly not alone. Rather, this article explores 12 months of experience in Ghana, the fear and hope for Ghana’s future, and its global applications. My volunteer experience in Ghana led me to this understanding.

The issues I faced in Ghana were not always a result of passively accepting life, nor would I blame the victim either. To clarify, unfortunate circumstances such as being mugged on Christmas Day and getting very sick in Nkwantakese could have occurred in any country and regardless of my will to change my circumstances. Those did occur, and life continues to have recurrent unfortunate circumstances.

The reality, which existed with or without my acceptance, was that I was a white, 18 years old, and living in a village in Ghana. I also lived with all of the stereotypes, social constructs, and taboos that came with that reality. Most significantly, being young in Ghana meant an undeniable classification of non-authority: over my life, volunteer work, and my capabilities. This social placement was reciprocated by a majority of people I interacted with, white or black. I did have agency, though limited. It was the mere facts of living in a village (in a developing nation) where elder-respect and many other uncontrollable variables acted against my will. For instance, I could not command the light to turn on. Although I may have switched on the light, the electricity for much of the time was redirected elsewhere. The nostalgia of the white house on the hill loomed over me during these times. With the white house came generators and the patronage comforts such as calling Mr. Acheampong of the electrical company to turn the power back on. During my second visit to Ghana there was no white house, no patronage comforts, no authority, and no command over electricity. Electricity aside, my age tended to affect the more day-to-day interactions with people. Capacity to influence others and even my own life suffered from a disconnect between thought and action or between action and making a difference. Simply, I was usually relegated to doing what I could and trying to do it well.

Grim as it may sound, I was not depressed or stuck in a village for the entirety of my trip. I was only technically stuck in Nkwantakese for the month of August 2009, when I had 7 cedis (equal to $3.85 at the time). During August I ate gari for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and filtered well water to drinking. For your enlightenment or humor, two videos are linked which explain gari: one formally describes how gari is made and another humorously describes “gari soakings.” August 2009 was the cheapest month of my life, but in other months I traveled to Accra, the capital of Ghana, and the historic city of Cape Coast.

“Africa’s future is up to Africans…The people of Africa are ready to claim that future.”
For most Ghanaians, the highlight of 2009 was, secondly, the election of President Atta Mills, but primarily the visit from President Barak Obama in July. More billboards and buses were plastered with Obama’s face than what I remembered in the U.S. On arrival into Accra’s airport I also remember seeing the Obama Hotel complete with an illuminated signboard displayed among the Accra cityscape. Obama’s visit to Ghana, not Kenya, was a significant political statement. President Obama spoke in Accra about his African heritage and the success of Ghana. Time reported that President Obama spoke to the crowds in Accra about his grandfather “who cooked for British colonialists in Kenya and was called ‘boy’ for much of his life. He spoke of his father, who grew up a goatherd, only later to attend American universities.” He urged the people of Ghana to demand accountability from their leaders and to become the driving force to “build institutions that serve the people.”

The U.S. Department of State publicized Obama’s speech in other African countries by establishing listening stations. I remembered seeing on TV that listeners across Africa were celebrating in the streets as they listened to Obama’s words, “Africa’s future is up to Africans…The people of Africa are ready to claim that future.”

My experiences in Ghana, and that which President Obama saw were likely to be two different worlds at times. However, the image of Ghana is actually quite positive internationally. Since the first democratic transition of leadership from President Jerry John Rawlings to President Kufuor in 2001, Ghana has achieved a great deal compared to some of its fellow West African nations.

In 1984, the The New Yorker magazine published “The Crocodiles of Yamoussoukro,” which was likely their longest article spanning 67 pages. Author V. S. Naipaul, writes on the success of Ghana’s neighbor, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and its new capital Yamoussoukro, complete with crocodiles for show. At the time, Ghana suffered repeated coups and was left in a “state of anarchy” while Cote d’Ivoire soared on cocoa and coffee highs. Now, almost 30 years later, history has depicted a flip-flop. Cote d’Ivoire was inexperienced in transitioning its leadership and eventually fell prey to pro-democracy groups, but also violent dissention in the north, and lowered commodity prices (i.e. coffee and cocoa). The resulting bloody civil war and continued violence has yet to be mended. Ghana on the other hand has been more fortunate in history’s portrayal. President Obama’s travel to Ghana in July 2009 was important in itself, but it denoted the broader international praise for Ghana’s development and also the high prospects for its future success, which its neighbors are rightly jealous over.

In September, I traveled to Cape Coast during the Fetu, or harvest festival. Like most experiences in cities in Ghana, I often found myself in a huge mess of people trying to get from point a to point b. At one of these times, I was absolutely thrilled by the colors, parading percussion bands, chiefs carried on canopied chairs, and men on stilts. The road, extending for miles, was filled to capacity with people dancing, singing, or like me, trying to get from a to b. Point b had to wait, and I got myself onto a rooftop to see the festival from a better vantage. It reminded me much of the procession Aladdin wished for to impress the Sultan’s daughter, princess Jasmine (minus all the formation dancing animals). It was quite the spectacle.

In the afternoon of the following day, a similar mass of people began running towards me. This time, the mass of people were not parading, but certainly running. They focused on a particular person in the crowd. Out from the sunroof of a Ford Expedition a man in white emerged waving in all directions, while a near-mad mass of people swarmed in pursuit. By the time the small motorcade passed me, the cars began to lose some of the crowd. I took out my camera and snapped a photo. The photo is included at end of this article in the “associated media and content” section. Even I ran for a bit to keep up with the excitement and momentum of the masses. Still confused, I slowed with the others and I looked around. I was not even sure what happened. A Ghanaian looked to me and answered my puzzled face. He said, “That was President Atta Mills!”

Who wouldn’t want to listen to the private discussions of a head of state?
From other conversations since that time, I learned that the motorcade which I saw that day was left behind by President Bush after his 2008 visit. Just left behind! I always thought it was quite suspecting for such an exchange. To date, the Presidential motorcade in Ghana will remind me of the ancient Greek Trojan Horse story. The conspiracy theorist in me contends that the Ford Expeditions left behind were bugged or something equivalent. Who wouldn’t want to listen to the private discussions of a head of state?

In all truth, the sighting in Cape Coast was the first time I saw a head of state in-person. To connect the ideas presented earlier, Ghana’s commitment to transparency and international credibility is strong. In another example of President Bush’s development work in Africa, he established a Millennium Challenge Corporation fund to partially support the construction of a motorway in Ghana. The project began under the Kufuor administration with a completion deadline in 2012. Per usual, a Chinese company received the construction contract. More importantly, to highlight Ghana’s commitment, President Mills continued this project enthusiastically. In February 2012, GTV News reported the “Mills administration put its shoulders to the wheel to ensure that Ghana met the deadline.” Both Kufuor and Mills were present for the opening celebration of the, wait for it…“George W. Bush Motorway.”

Between exciting city life in Accra and Cape Coast and work in the village, I also spent a good amount of days and some nights in Kumasi. I worked like a treadmill rat at the Internet café publicizing the charity work we were doing in Nkwantakese. On other days I was in the market walking away from sales people in order to get the lowest possible price on foodstuffs for the primary school’s lunch program. Everything I did was grueling work, even the rare vacation. Yet, it seemed like I received slaps in the face for most of it. However this was not always the case. There was one special exception that stood out.

On one trip to Kumasi, like other nights, I arrived late and set up camp at one of the two 24-hour Internet cafés. I spent the entire night probably designing a webpage to display our charity work and waiting for the electricity to come back on. By morning the patrons who were locked in overnight (for security reasons), felt a sense of brotherhood for the sake of making it through the night like vampires. I felt this way, even though I rarely spoke to anyone. On this particular morning, a medical student introduced himself to me. He invited me to go to a youth policy meeting in Accra. Frank, the medical student, was also president of the Ghana chapter of the United Nations Youth Organization (UNYO). Whether this was a legitimate organization or not, I am still not sure, but Frank was nice, meant well, and had connections.

In October 2009, I traveled to Accra to the air-conditioned meeting room in the luxurious Alisa Hotel. I arrived early, and thankfully so because I stubbornly refused a taxi and walked along the roadside from my meager hotel room near the Kwame Nkrumah Circle (roundabout). I arrived sweat-soaked. It took the 40 minutes before the meeting for full-blast fans and air-conditioning to dry out my shirt. Though I froze throughout the rest of the meeting, I was glad to know why Frank had begged me to take the taxi with him.

The meeting was likely commissioned by President Mills or the Minister of Youth and Sports. The existing 1999 National Youth Policy was problematic and outdated. We were delegated with the responsibility to review at the previous 1999 policy and make draft updates and improvements for a new 2009/2010 Ghana National Youth Policy.

I served on a committee composed of government officials and charity stakeholders; making nine Ghanaian men, one Ghanaian woman, and me. The barrister at the table across from me wanted me to leave the meeting on the first day. I myself did not really know why I was there, and my combined embarrassment and recent sunburn together did not help my case. I, with Frank’s support, said I was invited to represent the US-based organization, Volunteer Africa, Inc. and to provide any input related to my work with the youth in Ghana; a true but weak argument. It likely worked because the people at the head table waved off the discussion and offered to continue the work at hand.

At the head table sat the vice or deputy-minister of Youth and Sports, another man named Sekuo Nkrumah, and one more person likely important in some capacity. The vice-minister of Youth and Sports chaired the meeting in the absence of the actual Minister of Youth and Sports, Muntaka Mohammed Mubarak. Sekuo Nkrumah was the acting national coordinator for the National Youth Council (NYC). Sekuo’s mother was Fathia Nkrumah, an Egyptian. Fathia married a Ghanaian man named Kwame Nkrumah in 1957, making Fathia the first first-lady of the first African country independent from European colonialism. That newly independent country was Ghana, which everyone in the meeting room was then working for. Kwame Nkrumah, also the name of the roundabout I walked from to get to the meeting, was the first president of Ghana. He was known for his utopian goals for pan-African unity, writing many influential books on the topic. His marriage, like most things he did, was a testament to his resolute commitment to the African project. His marriage to Fathia symbolized his goal to connect pan-Arabism in Egypt with his own pan-African vision. As what became history, the pan-African movement slowed, as did associated movements in the U.S. during the ‘70s. A coup overthrew Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. He went into exile and Fathia raised the children in Cairo, including Sekuo, sitting at the head table. Samia Nkrumah, the daughter of Kwame has since then returned to Ghana. She is now national chairperson of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), and is regarded as a global female leader and advocate of pan-Africanism. The eldest brother, Gamal, is editor of the international affairs section of the Al-Ahram Weekly Newspaper (Cairo), also a pan-Africanist.

During the three days of 9am to 5pm committee meetings, I gave as much input as was solicited, and then some. I also assumed the role of secretary because no one seemed to be taking notes. At nights I drafted the proposals the committee agreed upon. I do not think they appreciated much the power they left in my hands. From what I remember, during one of the committee meetings, the real Minister of Youth and Sports, Mubarak, made an appearance, but not much more than that. By the end of the third day we completed our proposal for submission to the Minister of Youth and Sports. From there the proposal would go up for official implementation as the new National Youth Policy of Ghana!

At the conclusion of the last meeting, the faces at the five tables glowed and we all, especially myself, were pleased with our work. Departing the room, we were each handed 300 cedis as compensation. I was surprised, though maybe I should not have been. I nearly declined the offer, but Frank assured me to just take it.

The 300 cedis, gold to me at the time, felt corrupting. By my own logic, or that of my surroundings, the 300 cedis partially dissolved my aspiration for the National Youth Policy. Because whether or not it succeeded, my many hours I spent working on it was paid for anyways. I didn’t really lose in that situation, but I felt guilt nevertheless.

Often, the excitement and accomplishment I found in Ghana, was glazed over by a veneer of guilt or misfortune.
In retrospect, the payment was a net positive (for myself). The proposal flat-lined when the Minister of Youth and Sports went on leave during a corruption investigation. The results of the investigation were not in his favor. He resigned only months after our committee meeting with the acceptance of President Mills.

Often, the excitement and accomplishment I found in Ghana, was glazed over by a veneer of guilt or misfortune. There was little that I held dear that could not be spoiled or taken away. Rather, happiness found its significance in the little things. Finding the perfect iced coffee was a consistent theme among my travels in Ghana. Placing first, ended up being a modern coffee shop near the “A & C Shopping Mall” in Accra. Coffee still has this effect on me.

The happiness I found in the little things also reflected the happiness I found in “little people,” children specifically. I spent a majority of my time in Ghana during both trips engaging with the youth. They, unlike any other factor, inspired my fundraising efforts back the in the U.S. and my return to Ghana in 2009. The Ghanaian students who lived at the white house during my first trip and one student from Nkwantakese named Anthony were particularly close to my heart. I met Anthony during an excursion into the village center. He began to help our team of volunteers to organize the library books on a day-to-day basis and was present at the opening day. The American volunteers, Anthony, and the many other children stood together for a photo taken outside the new library. It was a happy photograph, however now glossed over by the nostalgia of what our ideals failed to sustain.

Anthony, who was maybe 12 years old at the time, was very intelligent, funny, and sensitive. During a walk with Anthony and a few other kids, we ventured in the jungle behind the white house. He showed me what his life as a child was like. Anthony demonstrated how to catch a river crab with his hands, take off the pointy ends of the legs and stick them through the pincers, clamping them shut. The crab was rendered harmless, yet I refused to hold it. Another time we went further and discovered an akpeteshie distillery used to ferment palm wine into a highly toxic and sometimes mentally disabling alcoholic drink. I was told akpeteshie could have permanent effects when special brews included shavings of aluminum or rust. We also went in search for ripe cocoa in the forest, breaking open the pod and enjoying the delicious beans. We inspected the movements of ants on the forest floor, trying to make sense of the dense black river flowing creepily atop the dead leafs towards who knew what. We had many excursions, just for the sake of getting out of the village, or to enter a completely different world entirely. It was a world of crabs, toxic dangers, and Jumanji-like insects. When I was 17 and in Ghana I wrote in my journal about Anthony:

[Anthony] had to share a [bed]room with 4 other people. Only the grandmother had a job to support the whole household.

“She weeds farms. When there are no farms to weed, we all go hungry,” Anthony said to me.

I asked him naively, “So where are your parents working?”

“They all died. My dad died of typhoid fever and my mom died of…I don’t know.” Anthony and I had this conversation while resting from a jungle walk. It was silent for minutes. I didn’t know what to say to him. What could I say?  “I understand,” but I don’t. I have absolutely no idea what it is like.

Many people have argued that international volunteer work is generally fruitless and low-impact. In review of my experiences, I offer a disheartened acknowledgement to this case. The library failed to operate for any meaningful period of time after our departure. The school’s lunch program that I administered on my second trip was successful for only 14 months, after which we could not sustain the funding. And now, the beautiful white house has become vacant of wholesome purpose, only known in the community for a few children that might still reside there. Furthermore, I have seen the white house become an eyesore in Nkwantakese, symbolizing the fatal disconnect between genuine altruism and impactful development similar to many other examples I saw throughout Ghana. There are however some examples of visible success in Nkwantakese. These successes have also been a result of near-million dollar investments coordinating local leadership and stakeholders like the Habitat and the ICT center. After initial setbacks, the ICT center began rolling out services to the community during my second trip. A young woman named Esther I knew in the Habitat was trained in basic computer skills at the ICT center, which she used to supplement her nursing education. Esther recently described to me that the ICT center in Nkwantakese is now used to train Ghana’s security personnel and police, while afterhours it is used as an Internet café by the public.

So what were the positive benefits from my volunteer experience? Or, what about all the many volunteers I met from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Belgium, or the Netherlands?

Volunteering is about personal connection; the inspiration that only people can provide for you when all material endeavors and projects fail to succeed. My friendship with Anthony, who was a child of about 12 years, is one of the few outcomes from my combined 12 months in Ghana that I can look back to and see a positive result, no slap, no veneer. The library, white house, and lunch project were all examples of the will to change reality. The will was there. The agency to do so was not. Just because the will existed, changing reality did not only require will. I was knocked on my feet by the aloneness, by the sicknesses, by the mugging, by the failure of multiple well-intentioned projects. Most importantly, on occasion, I was knocked to where I could see through the eyes of the children, whose reality I was trying to change for the better. New perspectives on life, society, and an openness to multiple and sometimes incompatible realities was a result of volunteering in Ghana. Anthony led me into his reality, made me a child again, and then into a man. The volunteers I met, and the thousands of others who venture to those parts of the world, hopefully attained a glimpse of non-Western realities while unfortunately getting slapped silly a few times. However, usually these go hand-in-hand and the benefit of such charity work remains intangible, but very real.

It’s a part of fixing problems and making reality better for others that relies on understanding people with histories much different than our own. While my childhood was spent at the beach at Lake Huron or talking about what I wanted to be when I grew up, Anthony had explored the jungle; caught crabs, observed ants, and lived amongst the voodoo that still underpins cultural reality in Ghana. Our lives have led us to understand life differently. But by my travel to Ghana, and by Anthony’s friendship, we have opened doors, which unlike the library will stay open forever, giving our reality another global dimension. This is in stark opposition to the historical legacy of attempting to make Western realties, a global reality that was apparent in colonial Ghana and lingers in some development projects there.

From the massive multinational volunteer organization to a single independently organized trip like my own, I argue the world is making substantial strides to address an underlining issue of development; which is the misunderstanding or a misapplication of the will to change reality. Simply put, we may not be able to change reality because we cannot always see reality from our eyes alone. In sum, how can you change reality if you are not seeing it properly? I began to learn this lesson from my experience in Ghana.

I am certainly an advocate of international volunteering and can attest to its invaluable benefits. It’s not likely Anthony is aware what he has done for me, nor will I truly know what I have done for him, but I do hope the benefit has been reciprocal. Despite my fatalistic attitude that has resulted from Ghana’s toll on my idealism, I remain optimistic for the still unknown benefits of today’s “cross-culturalization” that is becoming popular through study abroad, volunteering, and increased international travel.

Many of these debates have already been hashed out. People have not only discovered the value of multiculturalism, but also implement its values in policy, development aid, and security assistance.

However, as a member of the current American youth I see the values of multiculturalism and international savvy have not been impressively exhibited as a general trend among our future leaders. As mentioned, the hopeful increase in international volunteerism or exposure may be a significant antidote to the negative notion of American exceptionalism. Shifting Americans from an ideology of being ‘exceptional’ to a practice of mutual understanding for cooperative gains is vital to future U.S. success.

In all certainty, the days of western superiority are no longer a given. The Daily Beast, a U.S. online news source suggests, “American exceptionalism (‘the notion that America should, and does, play a special role in world affairs’) is now unpopular among many elites.” An online poll released on July 24, 2012 by The Guardian, a UK news source affirms this finding. The Guardian asked, “Do you believe in American exceptionalism? 24% responded yes while they remainder chose no. The world is certainly changing.

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria points out in his book on this topic that there is a “rise of the rest” of the emerging nations. The New York Times columnist Thomas Freedman suggests technology and resources in our modern age are leveling the opportunity for people to empower themselves throughout the world. The fact that the children I met in Ghana can now let me know about news via Facebook faster than other news sources, speaks to this global groundswell of empowerment and connectivity. These recent phenomena highlight the increasing importance of internationalizing American education and maintaining a globally competitive workforce and industry.

The death of President Atta Mills in Ghana made few headlines outside of Africa, but when such news makes its way to our eyes, fear not. The fear I felt when I heard this news was roused by the known instability in the region and also likely suspect were the stereotypes that exist about politics in Africa. But where I found fear, hope grows. The transition of power from President Mills to the vice president last week was hailed internationally. Former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria states on his Council on Foreign Relations blog that, “rule of law in Ghana has worked. There has been no succession crisis, and the constitutional provisions have been scrupulously followed.”

It is clear that the ideal that President Obama spoke about in Accra, and that which the youth in Ghana express, is near identical; an ideal that might be becoming a reality for those in Ghana.

The future of Ghana lie in the hands of Ghanaians. – Ghanaian student
Africa’s future is up to Africans… the people of Africa are ready to claim that future. – Obama

Anthony is in good hands in Ghana because President Atta Mills has led responsibly and the nation is growing on a comparatively secure foundation of political and ethnic stability. But, Ghana is in good hands because it has Anthony. What will lead to continued security in Ghana, to stability throughout West Africa, and for U.S. prosperity will be the ability for our youth to place their judgments and beliefs in the realities of other people. From this perspective we can make progress against the many boundaries that otherwise block efforts in development and diplomacy.

The fear in our hearts for society, whether it be for our own, or that of far-flung lands we know little about, source from either the misguided path of the will to change reality where we run head first into failure or the path of simply letting failures occur. Hope lies in the future reality that, only together, we can create. It took me a minute for my experiences in Ghana to flash before me come to this realization, but as a result, hope replaced fear.

Associated Media, Content, and References

  • Audio conversation with Esther Adu from Nkwantakese
  • 16 photos: President Atta Mills, youth policy meeting, Fetu festival, Anthony, “the Habitat”
  • Videos: (1) Jungle environment by Nkwantakese, ants, cocoa, etc.; (2) the lunch program at Habitat school
  • A great video depicting life in Ghana by Georgina Ajdogble: “Touched by the Sea Sand Set” – Tales of a [Ghanaian] fisherman.
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Benjamin Eveslage

Benjamin Eveslage

Co-Founder & Contributor at le Globaliste
Benjamin Eveslage is a master's candidate in Reseach for International Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, UK). Benjamin's research focus includes political violence in Nigeria, LGBT tolerance generally, and international development. He has travelled to Ghana and Nigeria on various development projects and has an avid interest in West Africa.

7 Responses to "In Ghana a leader dies: A vacuum for fear and hope"

  1. […] This post contains the associated media and content for the article: In Ghana A Leader Dies: A vacuum for fear and hope […]

  2. Alison
    Alison 3 years ago .Reply

    Good story. It rings deap within me and Anthony continues to be amazing. All of those “orphans” are carried for and educated thanks to those who continue to be smacked in the face

    • Ben Eveslage
      Ben Eveslage 3 years ago .Reply

      Thank you Alison. It is good to know that the kids are doing well. I did not have a clear idea of how they were faring in their new setting. I am glad that you read the article, and all the way through too!

  3. […] Esther Adu in the village of Nkwantakese in Ghana. I called Esther to fact-check an article called “In Ghana a leader dies: A vacuum for fear and hope,” which was later published on August 1, 2012 […]

  4. Ben Eveslage
    Ben Eveslage 3 years ago .Reply

    There is hope for Ghana despite the difficulties it faces. This topic is discussed in-depth in this first article published on Le Globaliste. Another testament of positive leadership coming from West Africa is by President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who suspended 45 top officials for failing to declare their assets, including her son!
    See article here: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gkcsrpjSE7gqW3Rtv_WiuG5cDBSw?docId=CNG.961a99c445a9e178ce540c70e850b4b3.5d1

  5. […] article has been re-written and reduced from a previous article titled “In Ghana a leader dies: A vacuum for hope and fear” by Benjamin Eveslage (6500+ […]

  6. […] in 2010, when I was a volunteer in Ghana, I remember watching Al Jazeera as they reported upwards of 800 deaths in Nigeria from sectarian […]

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