photo by Alex Lear
When Felicia opens the sea blue piece of kente with symbols woven into the fabric, Nia turns her back to the cloth. "I don't want to see. I don't want to see it." One of those moments so overwhelming that you turn away because you know you cannot resist.
I am not a shopper. I don't buy much of anything that is not either a book, a recording, computer software, or a piece of equipment. I especially am not much on buying clothes and fabric. Nevertheless, as soon as it is fully open, I convince myself that it would be wise to splurge and buy this gigantic piece of kente. It's big enough to serve as a spread for a king sized bed and beautiful enough to hang in a museum or art shop.
Marketeer Felicia Kissi is a quintessential vendor at the Accra Art Center Market. Originally from Kumasi, she makes her living selling fabric, mainly kente, in the bustling capital city marketplace. Before our trip is over both Nia and I will revisit Felicia's stall and buy other pieces from her. Tourists are the main customers for these vendors.
The market work is hard. The vendors arrive very early in the morning, set up their stalls, hanging fabric, articles of clothing, accessories, artifacts, and whatnots as high as twenty feet. Items are layered one on top the other. They sell all day and then completely break down their stall at night. In general, families work together and it is the women who seem to be in charge.
As you walk past stall after stall, down the narrow aisles, your eyes beguiled by the seemingly endless array of African textiles and artifacts, choosing what to buy and which stall to buy from is mostly happenstance and the vicissitudes of personal preference.
Of course, the vendors call out to you, invite you to stand in their small six foot square stalls, and greet you as "brother," "sister," promising the best deal in the market. And "deal" it is. There are no marked prices in the market. Everything is an amiable haggle. The vendors start high expecting that the customer will demand a reduced price. The negotiating is part of the buying process.
Nia loves the exchange. It's exasperating to me. Just tell me the price and then I will decide if I want to pay it. Although haggling back and forth turns me off, the blue kente puts even me in the mood. Felicia on one side. Nia and I on the other. We begin the bargain dance.
There is no way I would ever have bought this piece of kente in the United States even though I might have admired it and desired it if I had seen it. First of all, this is not a piece one would find in a bookstore or small boutique which are generally the places from which I buy African material. I have never bought material from a museum or art shop. Moreover, the Stateside price for a piece such as this blue kente would undoubtedly be prohibitive. It's hard to believe it's me about to spend over $100 dollars for fabric. But here I am on a dirt field in downtown Accra, Ghana at an open air market shopping at a level I've never before done in my life.
We bargain and end up getting two small pieces plus the impressive, gigantic-sized piece for a total of US$200. Back in the states, one of the small pieces alone would cost more than we have paid for the whole lot.
It is Wednesday, 7 December 1994, our first day in Ghana and we are shopping. There is nothing on the PANAFEST schedule until the formal opening on Friday in Cape Coast. Recalling my trip to Tanzania for the 6th Pan African Congress, I encourage Nia to shop today -- which is a little like encouraging a fish to swim. I tell her how prices were actually cheaper when we first arrived at 6PAC than when we left. I suspect the influx of tourists for PANAFEST will be met with a similar rise in the prices that the market will bear. It's basic supply and demand economics. When there are lots of people with the money and the willingness to buy, you can charge more than when the number of people, the amount of spending money and the willingness to buy is less.
We visit a number of stalls, including one recommended to us by Steve Bowser, a friend of mine from Atlanta who is chief of security at Spelman College and who was recently in Ghana. Our first day in Ghana, Nia and I do more shopping together than we have done in our almost four years together. And the vendors are waiting for us.
We are shown masks, including some "old-looking" dusty masks which the owner invites us to view inside a small wooden enclosure. This is their living. The vendors know that the more "authentic" the sculpture looks, the higher the price they can demand. I am no authority on traditional African sculpture, so I can't even begin to identify styles and quality of workmanship. In cases like this I just go with my gut feelings. What I like, what I don't. We don't buy any masks.
We are also shown some Asafo Flags. One set of three seems to be authentic. The fabric is worn. The embroidery and appliquÇs do not have a "finished" or "highly crafted" look. The lines are curvy rather than machine straight. Again, although I am no authority, these seem to be real. They are probably a very good buy for someone who is into art and knows the value, but they don't really appeal to me. I pass.
After an hour or so of perusing the back end of the market where the sculpture and handicrafts stalls are located, we end up buying a leather grip which we get for US$24. We use it to carry the two outfits and a few smaller items which we had bought in the fabric section. The grip is a source of admiration everywhere we go. When we arrive back in the States, getting on the flight from New York to Atlanta, a group of three women ask Nia where she got it. They want to buy the bag, but Nia's not selling.
After purchasing the bag, we return to the fabric area to bargain for two dress dashikis, one is a magnificent brown fabric with cowry shells. I end up paying US$80 for two shirts. The pricing started at $60 for just the cowry shell shirt. Throughout our two weeks in Ghana, in and out of various stalls, including making the rounds at the trade exhibition, we don't run into anything like the cowry shell shirt.
We then look at a large bed spread sized piece of red wool-like fabric which has appliquÇs on it. It's starting price is well over $100. We like it but pass. Our last stop is back to the stall where we saw an impressive piece of kente for $60 when we first came in.
We spent hours going through the entire market. We are now back to this beautiful piece of kente. Nia and I decide to get it. The vendor shows us another piece which is almost as impressive and offers us a deal if we buy both. I am debating on whether I'm ready to spend $110 for two shawl size pieces of kente.
Nia thinks it's a sound investment. I don't know. We have a very limited amount of money and if we spend over $300 dollars the first day, it might prove to be a very big mistake. I'm on the verge of changing my mind. I start looking around. Rather than taking advantage of a great deal, this just might be the licking of a sucker, and it's simply my minute to be born.
I start looking up and down and all around. I've never ever in my life spent this much for fabric. I really don't know how to act. Then I spy a piece of blue way up at the top. I can only see the color and a part of some design in bright golden yellow. Maybe the pieces we're about to buy aren't the best pieces. "May I see that blue piece?"
One of our main activities in Accra was shopping! We joked that it was a contribution to the Ghanaian economy.
The foreign exchange generated from shopping for Ghanaian produced textiles, handicrafts and artifacts is potentially a major piece of Ghana's economic puzzle. Many, many developing countries, who generally produce one or two crops for export, are trying to figure out how to use tourism to generate foreign exchange at significant levels without suffering the moral debilitation that usually accompanies tourism.
When tourism becomes a main source of foreign exchange, inevitably, at best, the country becomes a family oriented amusement park. At worse -- and unfortunately worse is the norm -- as tourism grows the country spirals socially downward becoming a mixture of brothel, gaming den and vacation spot for moneyed people who cheaply "buy" natives to serve up and satisfy exotic/erotic fantasies.
Over the past two decades, the island nations of the Caribbean have initiated numerous efforts to define and implement cultural tourism. Ideally, cultural tourism is benign in both its moral and material effects on the host society. Most cultural tourism efforts have centered around music festivals and national holiday celebrations such as jazz festivals in Aruba, Barbados and St. Lucia, or "Crop Over" in Barbados and "Carnival" in Trinidad.
In theory, groups of people who have an interest in the ethnicity and heritage of the islands will attend these events as participants and not just as "idle rich consumers." The sad truth is that cultural tourism has been a failure.
In Cuba, cultural tourism has led to a massive reappearance of prostitution and to the commodification of Afro-Cuban religious rituals and artifacts. For a specific fee, a tourist can be initiated into the religion during their ten day visit. Or, for a specific fee, a tourist can fulfill an exotic/erotic fantasy with a readily available young Cuban woman.
Fierce debates are raging between cultural activists and government bureaucrats. The activists see the crass commercializing and commodification of the culture as a death blow. The bureaucrats on the other hand encourage, if not demand, that every cultural activity that receives any government support must in one way or another pay for itself through attracting the tourist dollar. Moreover, overt negatives such as black market activities, prostitution, and drug trafficking are broadly tolerated. This is a sad, but true, state of affairs in a revolutionary, socialist country which has been economically squeezed well past the breaking point. To a greater or lesser degree the situation is the same all over the Caribbean.
The worse part about this development is that the foreign exchange generated from cultural tourism is relatively modest, if not insignificant. We people of color wherever we are found literally sell ourselves, our flesh, our dignity, our human spirit and in return receive barely enough money to survive, and never enough money to develop. Moreover, the cruelest twist of the tourism trap is that, in an effort to build hotels, convention centers, upgrade roads, provide "first class" transportation and guides, install air conditioning and insure an abundant supply of hot water, plus keep on hand a broad array of succulent meals day and night, our developing countries end up going deeper in debt to the governments and corporations of the tourists to whom we sell ourselves.
Other than a "good time," we produce little that the tourist wants to buy. Most of the money that is generated from this type of tourism is made by those who own and operate the capital intensive areas of the tourist economy: the international transporters, the hotels and resorts, and the management of exclusive tourist activities and events.
Our governments posses neither the resources nor the skills required to compete with multinational corporations. The airline companies, for example, of small countries are severely limited in their ability to match price discounts and services offered by the major American and European airlines. Governments are completely out of their league in running hotels and resorts. Usually the results of such efforts are both wasteful of valuable resources and hopelessly amateur by comparison to the Hilton's, Marriotts, Meridians, and hundreds of other hotel and resort chains which operate internationally.
Moreover, the cultural events which are produced to attract the tourists often end up alienating our own people. Local people are too poor to buy tickets to and participate in the very events which were setup to attract foreign exchange.
Additionally, the actual cash return on investments in festivals and specially staged events has been far less than projected. I speak from the experience of helping to organize festival and special events in the Caribbean and also from my background of growing up and working in New Orleans, a city which is economically defined and sociologically influenced by tourism.
In most of the Caribbean cases, we were unable to attract the quantity of tourists needed to sustain and profit from the events. Additionally, we ended up either importing culture that was alien to the host country or presenting commercialized replications of indigenous culture for the entertainment of tourists whose tastes are geared toward hedonism. In New Orleans we on the ground are unable to compete with the major tourist infrastructures. Thus, we end up filling service slots in the cultural tourism scheme.
Moreover, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, competing for the foreign exchange of the tourist dollar becomes the major, if not sole, preoccupation of the managers of cultural tourism.
PANAFEST exhibited some of the negative aspects outlined above, especially 1.) the inability of government civil servants to plan and manage cultural activities and 2.) the alienation of local people from the performances and special events.
This is the second, biennial PANAFEST. In 1992 it had been mostly in Accra. The secretariat decided, I suspect based on government suggestions, to decentralize PANAFEST 1994. Performances were held in five or six different cities. The colloquium was held at the University of Cape Coast except for one day of presentations in Kumasi. Opening and closing activities were held in Accra with an ongoing trade fair, exhibitions, film festival, and concerts in the capital city. Stevie Wonder, for example, was scheduled to perform in Accra.
The idea seemed to be to spread everything around and also to figure a way to develop the Cape Coast area where the two main castles are located: Cape Coast and Elmina. The actuality was that it was almost unmanageable. In Accra many of the performances were sparsely attended because of the pricing structure and because the people who could have afforded the concerts and who were also most interested in PANAFEST were in Cape Coast attending the colloquium.
The planning committee found itself right up to and past opening day making "structural adjustments." The government guaranteed money was not received until two weeks before the event, meaning that there was very little hard promotion outside of Ghana. For example, even though Ghana Airlines offered a very reasonable $1200 dollar round-trip, direct flight from New York, we received the specific information only three weeks before our departure date.
PANAFEST came into some fierce criticism from Ghanaians who felt that 94 was a step backward in comparison to the first one.
In 1992 the first PANAFEST was more successful in organizing programs that encouraged and achieved major participation by locals in PANAFEST activities. But in the second year, most of the events were sparsely attended by Ghanaians. Ticket pricing was one major reason. But also the level of coordination with and involvement of local associations and organizations was minimized. The colloquium, for example, which was held at the University of Cape Coast had very little attendance from students at the University. There were no organized outreach activities to present the wide range of guests to the Ghanaian people through educational, religious, social or other indigenous institutions.
In this regard, Ghana is neither unique nor even particularly bad at planning and administration. It's just that most of the people who were in charge of planning and administration were civil servants and tended to think in discreet, status quo, exclusive paradigms. They did what they had been trained to do. They did only what they knew how to do and what was acceptable to government superiors.
Fortunately, the diversity of PANAFEST participants and the rural location of Cape Coast offered a great deal of informal interchange between visitors and villagers. Everywhere we walked, people welcomed us, talked to us.
Perhaps in 1996, PANAFEST will build on the positives of people to people exchanges. Perhaps they will send us into schools and community centers to learn from and share our experiences with local people. Even on the level of peer to peer networking and workshoping, there were literally thousands of missed opportunities.
On the other hand, part of the reason we were able to see the potential of these opportunities is because a large and diverse body of us had been invited to PANAFEST. This grouping is a critical mass which unavoidably sets off sparks, some of which will die out, but some of which will catch fire in the hearts and minds of one, two, twenty or however many participants. Some of us will not only be emotionally touched, we will also be motivated to action as a result of our PANAFEST experience in Ghana.
Regardless of the numerous snafus and programmatic inadequacies, once in motion, PANAFEST brings literally hundreds of Africans from the diaspora into direct contact with Ghana, a contact which is destined to produce long term impact important to future development of both the host and the visitors. Get enough of the diaspora there, and we'll figure out for ourselves how to make something happen.
The Pan African reintegration of the diaspora is an experimental process, the results cannot be premeditated nor quantified, or even qualified, in advance. The raw experience of Africa, the rock of our diaspora experiences: our ignorances and assumptions, our nostalgia and romanticism, our postmodern aggressiveness and Western temperaments. The rock of all of that hitting the hard realities of Africa will produce the spark required to resuscitate Pan Africanism.
What is fired in the hearts and minds of PANAFEST participants no one can predict. But what is clear is that the PANAFEST experience will touch some in significant ways, and we will leave Africa burning with a determination to reclaim Africa within ourselves wherever we are. Possibly, a handful of us will even physically return to work temporarily, if not to live permanently.
Ghana's main success with PANAFEST was that it invested in the cost to get us there. Sponsoring PANAFEST was an economic risk on the one hand, but, from another perspective, sponsorship was also a necessary step in Ghanaian national development, a step of healing, a step of re-completing, reuniting, rebuilding through embracing the diaspora. We in the diaspora have our own problems to sort out with the actualization of Pan Africanism and this sorting out process sometimes blinds us to the difficulties that continental Africa has with making Pan Africanism real.
Because of its history and because PANAFEST seems as though it will outlive FESTAC and similar efforts at Pan African cultural celebration, all of PANAFEST's deficiencies stood out in bold relief and were closely inspected by both friend and foe. Were Ghana not sponsoring PANAFEST, there would be nothing to criticize.
There was a legitimate concern for the health and future of PANAFEST in the criticisms of participants. Some of the general criticism from non-participants, however, was not intended as a critique to help improve PANAFEST, but rather was an attack whose objective was to bury PANAFEST. Undoubtedly there are those in Ghana who would prefer that PANAFEST not exist at all. There are those who think it is a wasteful and unnecessary event. Such critics are particularly distrustful of involving large numbers of diaspora Africans. So, while we acknowledge the shortcomings, we must also resolutely support PANAFEST.
Overall, PANAFEST is a good thing, and potentially could become a major, if not "the" major Pan African event. At the end of the colloquium there was even a criticism and suggestion session designed to elicit both honest assessment of the positive and negatives of the event, as well as to encourage participants to make suggestions for future PANAFEST activities.
THE GHANAIAN CHRONICLE
Monday, December 19 - Wednesday, December 21, 1994
PANAFEST: An apology...and a celebration of the Soul.
COMPARED TO OTHER cultural fiestas like the Nottinghill Gate festival in London, (a purely West Indian affair), or the Rio Carnival in Brazil, or Mardi Grass in the USA, our Pan-African Historical Festival, PANAFEST, is a minor cantata of Kindergarten proportions.
But the execution of these bigger events, which are annual celebrations, have been remarkable in their flawlessness. Baring the occasional run-ins with the British Police by revelers, the Nottinghill Gate festival in the British capital, an explosive fusion of sounds, culture and magic that involves thousands of performers and groups with elaborate paraphernalia has been exquisite presentations by our fellow brothers and sisters in England.
Sadly, our own cultural festival which took two years of high-brow preparation to put together will probably be remembered as an epic failure.
An event which the average Ghanaian, indeed the African on the continent sought to present as a vehicle for the breaking of bread with the rest of the African Family may be antithetical to the very theme we set out ourselves.
Almost without exception, the performers and the visitors, high and low, low and high have had legitimate cause to complain about the unparalleled paucity in preparations, and huge personal frustrations. They were promised the moon, but they didn't even get past the clouds.
Even our President went on record to voice his own disappointment. Unfortunately, he also did not fail to beguile our soul brothers with some tangential vituperations about death and grasscutters in his speech at Cape Coast. We apologise on his behalf. He is our President. We tolerate him. He goes off at times, but well, he is the only President we have got at the moment.
THE GHANAIAN CHRONICLE wishes to apologise most sincerely for this floppy, scrappy preparations and the anguish it has caused the brothers.
For those who were deceived and became the victims of sleight-of-tongue officialdom, we want to say 'Yepamo kyew'. Let us just hope that they can write it off as the price of a pilgrimage to the Motherland.
We hope they see the visit more in terms of a celebration of soul, the return of brothers and sisters uprooted in decades gone past into slavery, now returning completely liberated and strengthened to the Original family home. A home with all its problems, its difficulties, its shortcomings, but the Original Home all the same.
Again, we implore participants, visitors, our guests, our brothers and sisters not to characterise this Panaflop as indicative of the much-touted African failure story. This was a government enterprise that had virtually zero private sector participation. Our government is now realising the wisdom in turning over the 'commanding heights' of our economy to private hands. At the Head of the National Commission of Culture which has oversight of PANAFEST, is one Lieutenant-General whom every Ghanaian kid knows as a monumental failure. And we are not that surprised that he could not arrest this failure as well. Next time, there will not be a Mr. John "Octopus" Darkey to personally engage in outright silly things like personally violently seizing video recorders as he did last Thursday and arrogating to himself a hundred tasks he cannot execute. He will run away when we start our own inquisition when you are all gone back to your 'civilisation'.
We are sorry. We will do a better job next time, but let the spirit of brotherhood and unity remain and continue to glow as you begin your return journeys. Accentuate the positive in your accounts and testimonies to the folks back home. Tell them there are no marauding gunmen and colonies of drug junkies, that our school kids do not know what guns are, let alone take them to school as is the case in all the inner cities in the United States. But also tell them of the filth and stench in our cities, our struggles, the bankruptcy of our leadership, and the shimmering mirage of the so-called Economic Star-Pupil of the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Please come back. We love you. (P. 5)
FREE PRESS (Accra, Ghana)
December 16 to December 22, 1994
BEHIND THE PANAFEST JINGLE
IT was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, one of the sages of our time, a Nobel laureate, who once lamented, "While America is reaching for the moon, Tanzania is reaching for the village". This saying sums up the tragedy not of Tanzania alone but most of Africa as well.
In his vision, Nyerere no doubt sees the village of old where the people only scratch the surface of the earth for their bare existence on a few headloads of produce; where for their music, the village folks thwack the surface of tympanic parchment upon dug-out stems for percussion, and blow wind through wooden flute, and sing and dance with frenzied abandon; the village where for their entertainment, the young folks gather by moonlight at the village centre, sing, clap, and dance; where girls of ripen age, heavily adorned with rich beads, and baring the sexy parts of their bodies, are paraded through the village under the Dipo or Otofo custom; the village where little children sit under the shade of the compound tree to learn ABC, and the elderly drink palm wine or pito.
Yea, Nyerere must be seeing the village where the folks worship their chiefs like demigods, who decide the destiny of every soul, and whose word must be obeyed; the chiefs who having been adorned with riches are carried in palanquin on festive occasions and when they die, seven heads must carry their dead body in his grave; the village where the farming, fishing and hunting men and women retire to rest at night in the thatched-roofed mud huts.
But, O, when shall we leave this village in which we all live to where it belongs, and set our eyes towards the moon?, Nyerere would lament.
By setting our eyes towards the moon, Nyerere would want Africa to look forward not backward for development and progress.
Relating Nyerere's lamentation to PANAFEST and its theme "The re-emergence of African civilisation" the crucial question one would ask is, is this the right time in Ghana's political, social, and economic tragedy to devote such enormous time and resources to promote "The Re-emergence of African Civilisation" on such a huge Panafestic scale?
Is it right to spend billions of cedis in promoting "The Emergence of African Civilisation" while the economy is in shambles and inflation has become the order of the day, making life not worth living for the people, and parents cannot pay school fees?
Is it right to spend billions of cedis to organise PANAFEST while the people live in abject poverty, and while our hospitals lack the basic materials and equipment to look after the sick and the people cannot pay for the cost of health care?
What do we benefit from the billions wasted on PANAFEST while our young men and women roam the streets without jobs, some of them taking to peddling dog chains.
Our educational institutions - from JSS to the Universities - have a chilling story to tell. No classroom accommodation, no equipment, no text-books, yet billions of cedis have been thrown into the PANAFEST drain.
Where is the wisdom in sinking billions of cedis in a white elephant like PANAFEST while our police force lack vehicles, men, and even the stationery needed to establish and maintain law and order in the community, and while the defiled environment breeds diseases?
Can a country in need such as Ghana, begging for money all over the world, waste so much money on such a hopeless venture as PANAFEST just to satisfy the appetite of a tyrant for ceremony and adulation, and his admirers from the Diaspora?
Since, from all indications, PANAFEST is being organized also to enable our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora to see and participate in "The Emergence of African Civilsation", it is fitting to bring under focus their entire relationship, their attitude towards Africans as brothers and sisters, and advancement of the continent.
It is, indeed, sad that African Americans have nothing to show the world even as a memorial to their roots, a contribution for the development of Africa, to make the motherland a place worth living in not for Africans alone but for themselves as well.
It is true that although African Americans had lived for centuries in America as slaves from Africa, whenever they come around to Africa they are shocked to see the backwardness of the motherland their forefathers left behind centuries ago. Indeed, they find their social conditions far more advanced than those of the brothers and sisters back home.
A few of them like W.E.B. Du-Bois and Marcus Garvey, concerned with this situation, have in the past made suggestions for the emancipation, advancement, and development of Africa, yet these patriots met with strong rebuff from the majority, led by the likes of Booker T. Washington and others.
So a Black Endowment Bank for Africa Development that could have saved Africa from World Bank imperialism in the 20th century for instance, never was.
Indeed, since the second half of this century, there have been Black Americans of substance who could have contributed greatly towards Africa's well-being. From Paul Robeson, Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Bill Cosby, to Michael Jackson; from Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Don King, to Mike Tyson; and many others, including businessmen, fund raising shows could have been and tournaments organised to raise billions of dollars into an African endowment fund, but all that never was.
Interestingly, the luckiest Ghana had been was when Farrakhan contributed 50 dollars (yes 50 dollars!) in 1992 towards an appeal for funds at the W.E.B. Du-Bois centre. One, therefore, clearly sees the mischief done by Rawlings in donating as much as 50,000 dollars to Priscilla Kruize and her Heritage Museum in America!
It is indeed painful to think that Ghana gains nothing from the camera-bearing, cap-wearing bespectacled African Americans who are occasionally invited to take part in festivities like PANAFEST, many of them addicted to taking photographs of dancers, and collecting sculptural pieces and other art works back home.
Perhaps, next time round, Ghana would need the good services of notaries like Marva Collins, and Johnette B. Cole, in the field of education; Toni Morrison, Alex Harley, Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelow [sic], in the field of Arts and Literature; Carol Moseley Braun, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, in politics; Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Anita Hill, social activities; Dorothy Height, Phyllis Wallace, Oprah Winfrey, Cardis Collins and Joan B. Johnson, in the business fields and not singers, clowns, and clappers.
In any case, may we have the pleasure to welcome our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora who have come all the way to join in the fray, and the raping of the national coffers as it is believed to serve other political ends in the name of PANAFEST. O' what a great contribution to the cause of the motherland. (P. 6)
Part of what PANAFEST wanted to do was encourage capital investment in Ghana by people in the diaspora. A number of Ghanaian officials were focusing in this direction rather than on raw tourism. Part of the reason is conditions: Ghana does not have a tourism infrastructure in place. In Cape Coast there was not one hotel which could offer the two hundred or so rooms required to house most of the colloquium participants and performers in one place. The new hotel complex which was scheduled to be completed and which would have been large enough to accommodate the participants, unfortunately was not ready.
Ghana recognizes they need serious development. Fortunately, they also are proud of their own culture and social traditions. They are not looking for "fast food" development.
At the newly opened theatre/cultural center in Cape Coast, there was a Taco Bell restaurant. It was toward the rear of the building. I sought it out because I wanted to see how Ghana was handling multinational corporate participation in the national developmental process. There was nothing Taco Bell about the restaurant. There was no quick anything. The food was Ghanaian for the most part. There was not one "Tex-Mex" item on the menu. No Taco Bell napkins, imprinted paper products, or the like. In fact, if a small sign on the door didn't say Taco Bell, there would have been absolutely no way to know that this was a Taco Bell. And then, maybe it wasn't a Taco Bell. Maybe somebody just decided to call the place Taco Bell.
Throughout Accra and the Cape Coast area there are few Western fast food restaurants. I don't personally remember seeing any, although I'm sure some do exist. In fact, I saw more computer billboards and businesses than burger or chicken advertisements and businesses. Coca-cola, of course, is there but Ghana has an indigenous product which favorably competes. "Citro" is a lemon/lime beverage which I liked better than either "Sprite" or "7Up".
In any case, rather than rely solely on a large influx of multinational franchises, Ghana is hoping to attract capital investment from the African diaspora. Ghana has all kinds of developmental opportunities for those with modest (by diaspora standards) amounts of capital who are willing to work at long term development. Opportunities abound in a numerous areas, from agriculture to retailing, medicine to tourism, transportation to compact disc manufacturing. Ghana has both the need and the desire to involve diaspora Africans.
Which brings us back to shopping. Nia and I bought quite a few items in Ghana which were far more substantial than tourist trinkets and souvenirs. Ghanaian textiles, particularly the kente cloth, has significant retailing potential. Unlike other examples of "African print material", kente is actually manufactured in Ghana rather than merely designed by and for Africans but manufactured somewhere in Europe or Asia. Moreover, Africans in the diaspora are predisposed to wearing the material as both a fashion statement and an expression of ethnic pride. Finally, kente is part of the traditional Ghanaian culture. Although tourist oriented kente (with Greek fraternity/sorority slogans, Christian quotes, and the like) abound in the marketplace, kente was not originally created to sell to tourists.
The potential of cultural tourism will never bear fruit as long as the emphasis is on "selling" entertainment to tourists. Selling entertainment invariably leads to decadence and hedonism. Ideally, like some of the emerging industrialized Asian nations, we would also like for African countries to be in the business of exporting technical equipment, such as computers. But, at the moment, that's an unrealistic dream. What is within our grasp is the encouragement of capital linkages between continental and diaspora Africans.
For a number of reasons, ranging from the negatives of our deteriorating social conditions where we live to the positives of ethnic pride in our motherland, Africans in the diaspora will increase our interaction with the continent. Moreover, when we go to Africa, we will also want to bring Africa back with us. As more and more of us go, that pool of those who have returned and immersed ourselves into Africa's reality will produce individuals and opportunities which will result in serious capital investment.
As I travel around the United States, whether traveling by car via interstate, or especially when flying through various airports, two characteristics strike me: one, the enormous size and level of development of the United States, and, two, the fact that America is in no way willing, prepared or even minimally inclined to share the resources and material development built up in the 20th century.
Look at a small town like Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, which doesn't even register as a major city by U.S. standards. In terms of physical infrastructure, Baton Rouge is light years ahead of Accra, the capital of Ghana. There are literally thousands of American cities the size of Baton Rouge with fully functioning airports, higher educational institutions, health and sanitation, communications and other industrial infrastructure. Although this density of development would be extraordinary in any other country in the world, most of we African Americans are blissfully unaware of the immensity and import of America's industrial infrastruce.
In many, many ways, because all we really know about industrialism is consumerism, African Americans are unaware of what industrial development entails. We don't think about heavy machinery manufacturing, transportation concerns, sanitation, general utilities, medical services, and on and on. I remember reading one of the Sandinista writers who talked about the bewildering process of administering newly liberated Nicaragua.
The mettle of any revolution is most severely tested not in the armed struggle phase, but rather in the reconstruction phase. This is where Africa needs the most help, and this is precisely where the bulk of we African Americans are deficient simply because we have not been in management and skilled labor but rather traditionally we have been relegated to being the brawn and brute strength of the American economy.
On the level of material standard of living, we are, of course, very aware of being "better off" than most people in the world, and especially "better off" than Africa. Yet our "better off-ness" is both relative and solely material rather than absolute and social. As citizens of the U.S.A. we have some (depending on our particular financial wherewithal) access to the "good life" and some enjoyment of the material trappings of a modern industrial society manifested as a so-called high standard of living. Yet our relationships to the wealth and means of production, the infrastructure that makes all this possible, is tenuous at best. Whatever access we have is generally one of proximity or of being a "servant of the system" (whether as Joint Chief of Staff or Supreme Court Justice does nothing to change the ultimate reality that our participation in the affairs of the ruling class is to serve at their pleasure and to do their bidding).
There is a big difference between being close to power or serving the interests of power and actually sharing power. Indeed, when looked at in detail and on an economic basis, those of us who live poor and Black in the inner cities of America have a standard of living (in terms of health care, life expectancy and other measures of social wellbeing) which is amazingly similar to our brothers and sisters in major cities throughout sub-Sahara Africa. We neither control nor produce, and therefore are dependents in relationship to America's industrial standard of living.
Finally, to whatever degree we are better off, it is only in possession of material things. In terms of social wellbeing, in terms of individual and collective sanity, in terms of mental health and community, morals and ethics, well, let's just say things ain't what they used to be for African Americans at the end of the 20th century. Confronted by Africa's underdevelopment in an industrial sense combined with our own penchant for the material trappings of the so-called good life, Africa quickly teaches the diaspora that African Americans in general are the "whitest" Africans in the world. Our up side is that we have greater access to "things". Our downside is that our proximity to American power and mores has bleached us spiritually and socially.
My critique of African Americans allegedly being better off than continental Africans focuses not only on our relationship to U.S. industrial development and our adoption of an American consciousness, but also we should focus on and question the cost of that development -- the whole world has suffered so that those of us in America can live as we do, even those of us who have limited access to and share very little of the wealth and power of America.
The recent rise of the Republican party in America is further reinforcement that there will be no sharing of this wealth. From coast to coast, border to border, I go into what is left of the "Black community" and I am saddened. While we were never in a position to compete, at least, during the first half of the 20th century, we African Americans were building an internal economic infrastructure. Today, with far more political freedom, we have regressed into a state of near peonage, into an economic serfdom which is most accurately measured by noting deficiencies and lacks.
Those of us who try to start businesses find ourselves severely outclassed and hampered not just by a lack of expertise and capital, but also hampered by having to compete with fully developed multinationals who are becoming increasingly adroit at employing niche marketing schemes designed to sew up the African American market. If we are to develop and compete as a people, it just seems that there is so very little room for growth available to us in the United States. People talk about opportunity, but what kind of opportunity do we have when we are first generation business people going up against the major, minor and even bush leagues of Wall Street corporations? Africa is a much more sensible and level playing field in terms of competition and also in terms of need.
In African developmental terms, a $50,000 project is serious and significant. In the USA, that amount barely qualifies as venture capital in business development. African Americans who want to develop businesses and make serious money, stand a much better chance at competing and succeeding in Ghana than they do in the home of the brave and the land of the free.
While they are not discouraging nor overlooking the tourist dollar, at this historical moment, Ghana is seeking African Americans to make venture capital, developmental investments in Ghana. There is both a genuine need and a genuine desire for an infusion of diaspora African skills and capital. When it comes to foreign exchange, the Pan African potential is enormous.
Some suggest that South Africa will be the new "promised land". My particular reading is that South Africa will see blood shed and rough times before it sees a real improvement in the lives of African people. The White controlled, industrial infrastructure which makes South Africa so attractive to investors, is also the major obstacle for indigenous African development. Although I am not a prophet, the clash of Black expectations for a significant increase in their standard of living versus White determination to hold on to wealth and economic power is an obvious and unavoidable obstacle in the path of South African national development.
Although Ghana is certainly not the only African country which is desirous of and could benefit from an infusion of diaspora capital and skills, psychologically, Ghana is the most prepared to make use of the unique diaspora configuration of foreign exchange. Some refer to this as the "Israel" model.
The basic foundation of a large diaspora able to offer capital and political support is a point we and Jews have in common, there are also significant differences, not the least of which is the fact that Israel is one state, while Africa is a continent made up of many states. More important than logistical questions is the fact that the Jews as a people have never had a serious inferiority complex about themselves nor have they, as a people, been brainwashed into believing that the White man's ice is colder, the White man's businesses are better, and the White man's brains are smarter. While individual Jews