Ghana Pics

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Tragicomedy of Informal Formalities

Update: We finally have water again at the house, and I just finished taking my first shower in about three days. Nevermind that the water feels like it's sourced from atop the Rockies, and may actually move slower than the speed of gravity, I still basked under it for as long as I could. Glorious.

I've been in Ghana for just over two weeks, but today was my first tro-tro adventure into central Accra since last year. Just as awesome as I remember it. And the price was the same: 45 pesewas. But, of course, the smell of diesel, rusted out roof, seeing the road flying by under your feet because there are holes in the floor of the tro-tro ... priceless.

Today was experts meetings day. One of the best things about doing research in Ghana is that everyone knows someone in whichever place you need who knows someone else in a place that you didn't think of. First stop was a labour economist at the University of Ghana I worked with last year ... a super-nice guy and Harvard PhD who's incredibly willing to help out anyone in need of contacts and research advice. I once attended a service at his Methodist church, and I must say it was quite the charismatic experience. Later in the afternoon I met another contact from last year, a senior official at the Ministry of Harbours and Railways (and an HKS grad!), and he assured me that I'd find people to talk with at various Ministries. All in all, a productive day. Which was nicely capped off with me pushing a broken-down taxi through the crowded streets of Accra. I'm sure the Ghanaians watching really got a kick out of that. Sadly, I did not have the camera with me. :-(

As I mentioned earlier, today saw my first tro-tro ride into Accra since last year. The minibus system here in Ghana is simply fascinating ... you would think that there would be insane amounts of competition between tro-tros, fare undercutting, much jostling to get passengers, etc. But I don't really see much of that, part of which may be due to the fact that these things are actually unionized. How that union came about and why I still need to investigate, but it's just amazing to see how well this informal economy runs. Mates know the price (45 pesewas into Accra), it's constant across tro-tros, and tro-tros that ply particular routes are usually well spaced to avoid too much competition for passengers. And you rarely have to wait more than five minutes for these things (because the dispatching stations only let out tro-tros at certain intervals! who announces these intervals? invisible hand i'd like to think).

In addition to the tro-tros themselves, the main stations are swarming with people hawking goods ranging from flip-flops to Walkmans to Fan Yoghurt, most of which are supplied from regional depots. Again, prices are constant for given goods, people know where given sellers are (i.e. if you want gum, they will yell someone down from 100m away). It's just incredible how it all works.

Which starkly contrasts with how much of the formal sector here works. Yesterday, a fellow RA saw a man die in the lobby of one of Accra's best hospitals. (It's possible he was DOA.) Basically, a Lebanese man rushes in, "my friend is dying! he's having a heart attack! help! get a stretcher!", to which the receptionist informs him that he must first fill out the paperwork. The man keeps pleading, but the receptionist continues to insist on the paperwork. Meanwhile, there's no rush from the doctors or from any of the nurses (a terrible attitude problem ...). The guy drags his friend into the lobby from the car and begins administering CPR, but to no avail. Eventually, a doctor comes around, but he simply states that there's nothing he can do. It's unclear whether the man being Lebanese played a role in the hospital's slow response, but it's not impossible. I used to think highly of the Ghanaian medical system (compared to the rest of West Africa), but I think the moral of this story is "don't get sick/injured here." Erghhhhh, bureaucracy ...

I think I had a bunch of other things to write about, but I'm pretty tired and have a morning meeting tomorrow. So I'll post a few pictures from Koforidua. At this time, my research restricts me from what I can post or talk about, but hopefully I can post more pictures in a few weeks. Again, because of bandwidth restrictions, these pictures are uploaded at low resolution. :-(

We stayed at the Ghana National Association of Teachers guest house, and there were plenty of anti-child labour posters.

This cat was kind of scary ...

A family in Oyoko. When the little girl saw my camera slung over my shoulder (lens facing sideways/slightly behind me), she would dance around in front of it, just in the corner of my field of vision. She would stop when I looked over. It was so cute.

One of our project managers bought a goat. No, TWO goats. And yes, the goats (the other is behind the black/white one) are, in fact, tied up in the back of a tro-tro. The most absurd part of this transaction is that the sellers literally tie up the goat's legs and -put it into a bag-, so that it can be transported easily (i.e. on top of a tro-tro, perhaps as a purse, etc.). Paper or plastic?

Update: I forgot to mention this earlier, but I noticed in a taxi ride today that some of the graffiti on the Sankara Overpass (between the Dutch Embassy and the Canadian High Commission) actually consists of Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation or something. Yeah, go education.

And tomorrow is a national holiday! Entire country will be closed.

Monday, June 29, 2009

quick update

The Internet is down at the house (which we affectionately call "The Taj"), so I haven't been able to post pictures. Hopefully it'll be up in the couple of days.

Yesterday, it rained like crazy. Accra's been dealing with massive flooding issues over the past couple of weeks; for instance, last week hundreds of market sellers had their stores ruined when Kaneshie flooded. And that is one huge market place. We're staying in a nice residential district in the northern part of town, a little higher up in elevation, but even still the roads were near-impassable and there was definitely sewage overflowing into the streets. Noah and I slogged through it yesterday afternoon on the way to the A&C Mall (home of Internet and groceries), and I think we're still waiting for our clothes to dry. Never again ...

Last night was my turn to cook dinner, and David and I whipped up a nice spaghetti pesto with garlic bread, boiled veggies and pan-roasted chicken. All without knowing how to turn on a gas oven. (Btw, do any of you know how to start a gas oven? We were afraid of blowing up the house. Ergh, our college degrees are useless ...) It turned out well, and we served it just in time for the US to gain a two-goal advantage on Brazil. Which later turned into heartbreak. :-( It was a sad night after that ...

Okay, back to work. Hopefully pictures will be up soon.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

back in Accra

Long week in Koforidua, but an exciting one. I think I'm due for a shower and definitely a shave. Then off to bed. Update and pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Warning: the car is backing up."

Yesterday, five of us (yes, that's one more than capacity) took a cab that, when it would back up, a loudspeaker would turn on saying "warning: the car is backing up." Plus, he had an Australian flag on his car, which greatly pleased our Australian RA. We thought this driver was a keeper, so that kind of makes up for other Koforidua taxi drivers. Well, almost.

This afternoon a couple of us explored Koforidua a bit more, and found some cool Ghanaian-print cloth dealers, popularly known here as GTP and ATL. My readers from last year may recall a photo of me in my ATL-branded kente shirt, which I still proudly own and wear (along with three others). I just realized that I'm also wearing that shirt in my blogger profile picture. Anyways, we found some cloth, wandered about the city until we came across a clothing store named "I Love New York."

It turns out that the store is owned by a woman, Flores, who also lives in New York, but now manages two businesses (the other is the restaurant next-door ... live music tomorrow that we'll be checking out!) in Koforidua. We basically got a quick run-through of her life: five children in the US, went through college there, now have successful jobs and she's even got a few grandchildren. :-) She seemed so proud of them. Always good to hear a success story. Plus, she hooked us up with a good tailor to turn the cloth into fashionable Ghanaian clothing.

Anyways, full day's work tomorrow. My dad warned me about Koforidua fever. Apparently, that's one of the first hits on google?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Burning oranges is the best way to keep off malaria."

Greetings from Koforidua, capital of Eastern Region. We've just finished our research stuff for today, and I have a little bit of time to update this blog. Koforidua (or Koff-town, as the tro-tro circuit refers to it) is a decidedly more pleasant place than Accra, both in terms of weather and overall feel, though I've decided that the taxi drivers here are quite absurd. Namely, last night as we were returning from the famous Linda Dor restaurant around 9pm, our driver who "knew" the way to both of the hostels we were staying at took us to the wrong hostel first, despite us telling him at least a dozen times to turn around. Of course, it turns out that he doesn't know the way to the other hostel, so we ask for directions ... from the AK-47 armed security guards of the Eastern Region Commissioner's residence. They don't know where it is, either. Luckily, we find a sign that leads us back to the hotel, and our RA gets dropped off safely.

And then the fun begins.

See, in Ghana, you have to negotiate the fare price with the driver--there's no meter or anything. We had agreed on a fair price of two cedis, but when our driver took us back to the hostel he immediately demands more money. Oh, hell no. I give him the two cedis, explain that it's his fault for not listening to us, not knowing where he was going, which resulted in him making a "double trip."

At which point he decides to follow us into our hostel. Now, there were three of us RAs and one of him, not to mention the fact that there is a security guard at the hostel. The driver attempts to sway the security guard over to his side, at which point we all enter into a somewhat crazy shouting argument. It lasts for a few minutes, but the guard sides with us, and eventually the driver relents and drives off. Not exactly what we all wanted after getting up at 5am and working the whole day.

The funniest part about this whole story? The other three members of the team (who weren't in this cab) had basically the exact same story ... when they returned 30 minutes later. Must be something about this route.

Luckily, this seems to be a very rare incident here (only the second negative cab incident for me in my Ghana travels), and most drivers are pretty honest. Just sad when you find one that's not.

The quote from the title is something I learned from a Ghanaian yesterday. Not sure if it's true, though maybe I should supplement my bed net with it. I'm actually starting to accumulate some nice phrases, and I'll write about them the next chance I get at writing a lengthy post with pictures. Might be back in Accra this weekend or so.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Once more

Off to Koforidua for the next several days for more research work. Not sure if I'll have access to a computer or the Internet during that time, but, rest assured, we'll be taking lots of photos. Until then!

More field shots

I've got some time this morning, so I've decided to post a few more pictures.

The guesthouse we stayed at in Eastern Region last week had several roosters as guests. Also testing out my lens's bokeh abilities.

The village chief and his youngest son.

One of the town elders, an advisor to the chief in the picture above. This one by Leah.

One of the town's children. In this particular block of photos more and more children would start squeezing into the frame. So cute.

Another shot from Aburi Botanical Gardens.

A doorway in Adukrom. The colors here in Africa are just amazing.

A man attending a funeral in Mamfe. That is his store to the left.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"This is my press pass. It is from 1963."

I am currently helping to fry plantains. Mmm mmm dinner.

Yesterday I returned from three hectic, exciting, unpredictable and incredibly enriching days of surveying in a set of rural villages in Eastern Region. Upon entering the main village, people appeared both fascinated by and skeptical of our presence, but I think we made a good impression--as evidenced by the swarms of children that followed us around. The children would start out staring at us in fear and wonderment, and--slowly, slowly--they would start gathering the courage to inch forward to us--or be pushed forward by some of the more belligerent ones. So I decided to try out some Twi:

"Ya frewo sen? Me fre Joe." (What is your name? My name is Joe.)

Children: -stunned silence-

"Madanfo?" (friend?)

Children: slowly smiling, inching forward. One, whom I shall deem "the ambassador", comes close enough, touches my sleeve, giggles and runs off.

This repeats with other children, until eventually all of them start swarming us, giving us high-fives, low-fives, thumbs-ups and even hugs. It was a really cute moment. And then we whipped out the Purell.

Over those three days we created listings for several villages and conducted hundreds of hours of interviews. I had a wonderful time, and really enjoyed working with our team of enumerators, who I found quite dedicated. Of course, with all that interviewing, there were quite a few hilarious, awkward, unpredictable moments, that I must share a few (with pictures).

I decided to bring my camera along, but I had never really entered a situation where I would ask complete strangers if I could take their photos--along with the fact that I wouldn't be compensating them. But it actually turned out well, and many people asked for their pictures to be taken, along with their families. It was such a cool experience.

All of the following pictures were taken on my D60 with a fixed 35. Because we have limited bandwidth, I've uploaded these in a low-resolution format. In keeping with good form, all photos were taken with the express permission of the subject(s) or their parents in the case of children.

This is the enumerator I was with for the first two days, Frank, in action. Frank has commented on my previous post. :p

A woman, taking a break from preparing the afternoon meal, with her young son.

Meet Anthony Mensah. I believe he saw my camera and assumed I was a news reporter. He ran back into his house and whipped out a press pass from the New Times Corporation (The Ghanaian Times, today), dated from 1963, with a youthful portrait of himself that he was very proud of. The 1960s, Africa's decade of independence, with Ghana leading the way, must have been quite an exciting time to be a reporter, and I can only imagine the stories he covered during that time with Nkrumah and his grand visions. He also spent time in the army. Anthony asked that I take a portrait of him, and I happily obliged. Upon seeing it show up on my screen, he became immediately elated, which led to much of the village wondering what was going on and others becoming fascinated with the obruni with the camera. I was later awed by the possibility that I might have been only the second person to ever show him his self-portrait.

This Frank measuring one of our respondent's children's height. The children loved this part. And it was a nice, fun break for us. We found out later in the interview that the man we were talking to was actually the village chief. I was kind of stunned: normally you never talk directly to a chief (there's a linguist you talk to who then passes the word on to the chief, even if the chief is two feet away from you) and you never take pictures of him and his family. But he loved getting pictures taken of him and his family. Such a cool guy. He even had the patience to sit through our six and a half hour interview. Ironically, at about hour five of that interview, one of his subjects stormed onto the patio where we were interviewing to heatedly complain about being interviewed for five hours by another one of our teams. I think he was quite surprised to see that the chief had been sitting with us for five hours.

This picture was taken around 7.30am, before our respondent family headed off to market; here they're getting some, I believe, tomatoes, prepared for selling. Yo, we start our surveys early.

On the final day my interviews wrapped up a bit early so some of us walked up the hill, about 3/4 of a mile, to see the next village where another set of teams was working. This walk afforded many amazing views of the lush green hills of the Eastern Region. This is us descending the hill (I'm the one wearing the hat). Taken by Leah, a fellow RA.

After descending the hill we spent some more time in the village I worked in, with some of our enumerators playing pickup soccer with the local children. We drew a sizeable crowd, and Leah shot this amazing portrait of a child looking onwards. We spent an hour waiting for the bus.

And then the bus got stuck in the mud as it was reversing. Turns out it wasn't a 4x4. I helped push it out--quite fun. Ghana. Oh Ghana. This shot taken by Leah--as I am joining the others in looking perplexed.

Today was our off day and a couple of us were brave enough to fend off our need for sleep and ventured up to Aburi, Adukrom, Asanema and Mamfe, all in the Eastern Region, but within a couple hours of Accra. It also helped that our house lacked both power and water today--even more incentive to get away from Accra. These towns are all in the foothills, and are, weatherwise, significantly cooler than Accra. Plus driving up their affords great views of Accra and nearby hills. So much green. Modes of transport included tros-tros, shared taxis and a dropping taxi with a driver who also kind of doubled as a guide. This shot is from the Aburi Botanical Gardens, a place the Brits used as a retreat during the colonial period.

The Asanema waterfall. So beautiful. There's actually a sign at the trailhead saying you have to call someone to ask for permission to enter. It provided a nice misty breeze to cool us off.

It also turned out that it was funeral day in all these towns we were visiting, so lots of people were dressed in fairly fancy, predominantly black traditional dress. Lots of loud music and what not. Interestingly, quite a few people saw me with my camera (I should note I was also wearing a kente-pattern shirt, which might have helped), and asked for their portraits to be taken! This is one of my favorites, as this guy was definitely dancing for my camera.

Such an amazing time so far. Work starts again tomorrow. Also, the plantains I was helping fry earlier? Definitely now crunchy plantain chips. But they go well with our apricot jam. Always look on the bright side of life.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I've just returned from a very exciting three days of fieldwork in a set of rural villages. I'm really exhausted and unshowered right now, but I'll definitely post, with some awesome pictures, tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Hello from Ghana! I arrived this morning on a somewhat delayed Delta flight, and have had a full day with the research group, so I'm a bit exhausted. Ghana is now even more modern than I remembered it: two of the larger telecom companies have merged under Vodafone, and there are all these billboards in the airport about new high-speed internet networks being set up all across the country. The large Kasapa "dash" billboards are still fairly prevalent, too. And one of the landmarks in East Legon is a billboard for a South African TV network: it proudly displays CSI:Miami as "the most popular television show on the planet." Sure, why not?

I was fortunate to have a driver, Alfred, waiting to pick me up at the airport--quite a nice guy with a fervent hatred for political corruption. We even talked about the story I posted on a couple of weeks ago about the former ministers not wanting to return their government cars! We also have this kind guard who only speaks French--which I can understand, but not speak. He calls me the "foreigner". Should be fun.

Anyways, I need to settle into my room and get ready for the next few days. Lots of regional travel so posts might be a bit sparse for a while!

Monday, June 15, 2009

BBC on mobile banking

Great BBC article today on the potential expansion of mobile banking in the developing world. In Ghana, the largest mobile provider is South Africa's MTN, which, according to this article, will start piloting mobile banking shortly. I'll be interested to see how this takes off in Ghana, especially with so many South African banks already in the market there.

Two more hours of layover in Atlanta ... I think I'll go in search of food ...

Sunday, June 14, 2009


In about seven hours I'll be making my way to the airport to start off my second journey to West Africa. I've spent almost all of today in packing mode, as well as feverishly backing up data and making sure all my files are in findable, somewhat logical places. Still I'm only about halfway done, and must make sure my bag is less than 50lbs. Not a whole lot for six months, which is why my trusty Kelty backpack will be tipping the scales in that overhead bin.

It's 10 hrs to Accra from JFK. Oddly enough it'll take 10 hours for me to get to JFK from my home airport (read: prime sleeping time). See you all on the other side.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Press # for more options

The World Economic Forum on Africa wrapped up in Cape Town yesterday, and I just wanted to share a key panel discussion that was held on innovative financing for African consumers and businesses. One fascinating statistic comes from Kenya:

Despite challenges in the wake of the crisis – foreign direct investment (FDI) and remittances have taken a beating – there are “huge innovations” in mobilizing domestic resources, commented James Mwangi, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Equity Bank, Kenya. Mobile banking is unleashing a revolution. “Kenya is taking a huge leap with more than 7 million subscribers and the volume of transactions gives you hope,” he said. In East Africa, the push for microfinance is gaining tremendous momentum and, in Kenya alone, savings and credit organizations report 4.5 million account holders, and there are potential sources of liquidity.

That's incredible stuff right there, especially in rural areas where electricity might be less than reliable and where it would be difficult to set up local branches. The report also talks quite a bit about the potential for microfinance (then again, what report doesn't?), but during my time in Ghana last summer, I was quite surprised with the number of multinational retail banks that were opening up throughout Ghana, in particular places like Togo's Ecobank and a bunch from South Africa. I remember a branch of South African bank UBA opening up on Takoradi's Market Circle (right in the center of the city): basically I stepped into a crazy block party complete with blasting speakers of high-life music (probably borrowed from a nearby church or two) and dancing in the street along with free stuff for signing your family up to their checking accounts. So if you get a UBA shirt from me for your birthday you'll know why.

The WEF panel did mention a few challenges to financing in Africa. In particular, women remain an untapped resource for economic growth, namely because many cannot access finance due to a lack of collateral. Furthermore, venture-capital markets are few, which severely hampers potential entrepreneurs. Initiatives such as Kiva may help with that, but the WEF also argues that Africa needs some more positive media exposure--something to get foreign observers to think positive things when Africa is mentioned.

"As an absolute monarch, elections are not really his thing..."

Following the death of Gabon's Omar Bongo, who was in power for 42 years, the BBC published a story on Africa's 10 longest serving leaders. Eight of these guys have been in power for longer than I've been alive.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Petty Bribery

Freedom House in this post highlights a few Africa-related points from Transparency International's recently released 2009 Global Corruption Barometer. Countries such as Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Zambia made the list of the states most afflicted by petty bribery, a problem that most survey respondents ascribed to civil-service officials.

During my time in Ghana last summer I didn't encounter much petty bribery--which might have to do with me being a foreigner, as will be explained below--and the people I talked with overall seemed to think that it wasn't a huge problem. That doesn't mean it didn't exist. On the Delta flight back to the US, I sat next to a Ghanaian woman who had gone through a several-hour-long ordeal at the airport as the customs official claimed she had overstayed her visa, and quietly demanded a "dash" (bribe, both verb and noun) to let her through. Tourist visas are almost always stamped for 60 days upon entry into Ghana, and I stayed for exactly 60 days--I was prepared to whip out my calendar and count out the days for the officer if I ran into trouble, but I went through alright. This woman, who had also stayed for exactly 60 days, almost didn't make it through; however, she stood her ground, with her staunch belief that Ghana was a shining African country, and refused to pay the dash, even threatening to talk to the supervisor. She got through. And nevermind the fact that there's an unspoken one-week grace period for visa overstays.

Catching corruption at the small levels like with these customs officers will be difficult to do, especially with governments being fiscally constrained right now and civil-service pay taking a hit. Which civil-service officer wouldn't ask for a dash if his or her fellow officers were doing the same? Freedom House points out the efforts of Sierra Leone's president, Ernest Koroma, at combatting high-level corruption, something that has won him a good bit of popularity, (an initiative that might become easier given access to new technologies), but Sierra Leone still suffers from petty bribery at the lowest levels.

Kasapa logo. Image sourced from here.

Fighting petty corruption from the top-down is probably impossible: individual government officials won't have the incentive to change "business-as-usual" if they can't gather the collective energy and tackling entrenched norms with more and more education programs seems Sisyphean. In Ghana, I was amused by a system implemented by Kasapa, a medium-sized mobile-phone carrier, one that portrays itself as being the coolest and hippest option (it also created the first digital network in Ghana). Kasapa allows customers to transfer minutes and, I believe, money from their accounts to other customers' (i.e. family, friends, etc.) accounts using their phones' texting features, a process that they call "dashing". "Dash" in this context appears all over Kasapa's bright green billboards in Accra and Kumasi. Perhaps by creating this alternative definition of "dash", Kasapa, a private company, can help trivialize petty bribery and make citizens realize how absurd it is? Kasapa, my anti-dash. It's a start.

I've just found an article from the Ghana News Agency on Ghana's results in the Global Corruption Barometer. The news agency reports that Ghanaians' trust in the government to fight corruption has fallen from 67 per cent in 2007 to 58 per cent in 2009. One reason could be that Ghanaians now have higher standards and expect their governments to do more. However, many Ghanaians were unsatisfied with the NPP's administration for not doing enough in the rural areas; in particular, many Ghanaians I talked to were upset at the NPP building a new Presidential Palace in Accra, a palace ironically now occupied by the NDC's John Atta Mills. Furthermore, Ghana expects to start reaping revenues from offshore oil in the next couple years, and it is possible that citizens are worried about the corruption that that might bring about.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A new look at female infant mortality

Much thanks to Karen Grepin for this story.

Seema Jayachandra and Ilyana Kuziemko at the NBER have released the following working paper presenting a new theory, as well as supporting data, for why female children tend to suffer from higher mortality rates. They argue that female children are weaned sooner than male children--during nursing, women are less fertile, and by weaning female children sooner, women can more quickly return to trying to have a male child. This early weaning leaves female children more susceptible to illnesses, resulting in a higher mortality rate. The authors analyzed fertility data from India and found that female children are weaned sooner that male children, and that they are weaned for longer periods of time if they already have an older brother. Karen also notes that the authors considered the policy implications of this theory, arguing that programs concerning contraceptives should also include an educational component stressing the importance of breastfeeding to children's health.

A Paper Tiger?

Vijaya Ramachandran at the Center for Global Development recently posted on a slowdown in China's involvement in African infrastructure projects. She points to Chinalco's investment in Rio Tinto, an Australia-based firm, that would give China access to copper, iron and aluminum in both Australia and South America--and, thus, lessening the need for China to work in Africa. Personally, I'm a bit skeptical of this one non-Africa investment as indicating China losing interest in Africa, but she presents some compelling reasons for why Beijing may be less inclined to turn to African partners.

Infrastructure, particularly roads, present a major problem for investors. While in Ghana, that four-hour bus ride from Accra to Kumasi only mentioned the four hours that the bus was actually moving--not the five other hours spent crawling our way out of Accra in a sea of tro-tros on a makeshift dirt road. But, then again, China did promise to build quite a few of those roads, so perhaps the funding and initiative to do that has dried up, at least in comparison to working somewhere else. However, Ramachandran brings up a second point, one that I can certainly understand:
Furthermore, the Chinese model of importing large quantities of their own workers to undertake construction projects has not gone down well with the local business community in many countries. Language and cultural barriers have provided additional roadblocks. But perhaps most importantly, the price of oil has fallen (from $140 a barrel when many of the oil-related deals were signed to $50 a barrel), making Chinese investors perhaps less willing to put up with Africa’s weak infrastructure and burdensome business climate.
The part about Chinese firms importing their own workers particularly strikes me. I could perhaps understand importing a few engineers and managers, but the laborers? Given the high unemployment, especially amongst young adults and recent graduates, I can't understand the need to import laborers--especially if one wants to work with the local business community in the future. In Ghana, I noticed a lot of Chinese engineers (you can tell by the color of the hard hat) but most of the labor appeared to be African; I didn't notice if there were any Ghanaian engineers, though it's possible the workers resented working for a foreign boss. The newspapers in Accra certainly covered Chinese investment to a great extent, especially regarding aluminum, so, as a kind of side experiment, I decided to keep track of how many American, British and Chinese flags/stickers I could see on the tro-tros and taxicabs I was riding in. The US and UK paraphernalia far outweighed Chinese flags (of which, I saw maybe half a dozen). When people asked if I was Chinese and found out I was American, they seemed to get more friendly. And, of course, asked if I knew Barack Obama.

Freedom House marked the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square with this post on China and Africa. I haven't had a chance to read the Undermining Democracy report, but feel free to add comments to this post about it.

And we're live!

Welcome to my blog, Out of West Africa! For those of you who have been subscribed since my first tour in Ghana last summer, thank you for putting up with me. I will be returning to Ghana this Monday for a full year to work on a research project, and I've decided to reactivate the feeds on this blog so you all can follow my adventures. I have also set up a public Flickr page, from which you can follow my photographic adventures--if there's time during this stay in Ghana, I may do some freelance work. Or just pretend to work for National Geographic. But, first, a little bit about me:

What do I work on?

  • Fair trade: If you've been in Whole Foods or Starbucks lately, you may have noticed products bearing labels like "fair trade", "fair-trade certified", "earth-friendly" or "fair-trade-earth-friendly". Which labels are legit? What do they actually mean? Fair trade is a complex process--I myself am not entirely sold on it--but it has important implications for local political outcomes and participation. Which leads me to ...
  • Political participation: How do the poor in Africa make their voice heard? Do people organize themselves along ethnic, labor, linguistic or other lines? Too often the Bretton Woods folks have advocated, "Africa needs to democratize. Create civil society." How? What does that mean? Participation is multi-faceted, encompassing the following topics (each of which is incredibly important on its own): gender rights and participation; access to education; access to sanitation and health facilities; the lists goes on. But how people participate has changed so much, especially with the rise of
  • New technologies: During my first summer in Ghana, I was amazed with how many had cell phones--sometimes two or three. These devices have changed the flow of information--ever seen those GE commercials about the farmers in India being able to sell their goods for optimal prices rather than being cheated at local markets because of texts they send to each other? It's a reality. In Ghana, you can "dash" cellular minutes to your family, making these minutes like a new form of currency. Could this be a new form of credit by which individuals can purchase goods or a new way to guarantee future borrowing? From a social-science perspective , these minutes could come in quite handy for randomized trials and experimental studies.
  • China in Africa: Constantly last summer, I was asked by Ghanaians if I was Chinese (I'm not). At the time there were huge road and aluminum projects going on with Chinese engineers and laborers, so it was easy to see why people would assume I was with them. China obviously needs its resources, and Africa--notably oil in Sudan and Angola, cobalt in the DRC, timber in West Africa--is one largely untapped place where they can acquire all that. My next post will have a few links on this issue.
Where will I be?

I'll be based in Kumasi, which is located in Greater Ashanti, in a more west-central portion of Ghana.

Map of Ghana. Image sourced from here.

I'll be based in Kumasi, but the research team will also be travelling around to villages throughout the southwestern part of Ghana, so hopefully there will be lots of great stories and pictures. One of my favorite parts about working in Ghana was meeting so many people, both expats and locals, doing so many different things. From the local kente weavers to the Peace Corps volunteers to the Buruli-ulcer doctors, it is so fascinating just sitting down and chatting with people. I even got some free drum lessons here and there.

Before I end this post, I wanted to point out a couple of my favorite Africa blogs from fellow students, both of which are located on the sidebar.

Jim, blogging from The Green Hills of Africa,
will be serving as a field journalist for Equatorial Guinea Justice, an NGO in Equatorial Guinea, dividing his time between Malabo and the mainland. He also plans on compiling a photographic record for the NGO, and hopefully he can post those to his blog. Jim is a Harvard-Weissman fellow, and happened to be my roommate last year. He likes Bud Light Lime and doing his laundry every two months.

Shelby is the author behind a very popular Liberia blog, currently covering the Charles Taylor trial and events related to that as well as posting on the lives of everyday Liberians. Also a great review in there on Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's new memoir. She recently received a shout-out from Chris Blattman, so it looks like I have some work to do. Shelby will be starting a PhD program at some liberal-arts school in Cambridge, MA, and she enjoys spending time on Google Reader. Almost as much as I do.

Speaking of Google Reader, please subscribe to my blog feed! You can also follow me on facebook.

Meda ase! (<- Twi for "thank you.")