Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Politics, Ivory Coast, France, Sarkozy, Haircuts... (Week 2)

When asked about local politics, most Ghanaians seem to be set on fire. Parties and their popularity are here more based on ethnicity than on ideology. This is because “you rarely can trust someone from that other group to think of your best.” This builds up to a simple vicious circle: People vote for their own ethnicity and politicians prioritize their own ethnic group to secure future votes. In contrast to many other African countries, however, there is a striking atmosphere of unity in Ghana (e.g. the people I live with refer to themselves rather as Ghanaian than Ashanti or anything else). As was pointed out to me, this kind of ethnic-political dynamics easily result in violence, except for in Ghana!

One example of that is neighboring Ivory Coast, from where a bunch of my new friends have come to Kumasi. Even in Europe, few will have been able to avoid hearing about the violent power struggle between Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo that took place pretty recently. It is striking how differently the events have been perceived in Europe (with great help from our “objective” media) compared to West Africa. In Finland, Gbagbo was depicted as more or less a classical, corrupt depot, clinching to his power by the means of corruption, civil unrest and ultimately near civil war. On the other side of the dichotomy was Ouattara, fresh champion of democracy, open to development and western modernization.

Talking to Ivorians turns the situation upside down. According to them, Gbagbo is a strong leader who successfully resisted neocolonialism and had his interests more in developing the Ivory Coast instead of maintaining good relations to the west. Ouattara, on the other hand, is merely a Muppet controlled mainly from Paris and put into office with French military support. In the big picture, the Ivorians are very frustrated of the way in which their country is still controlled by the former colonial power, compared to for instance Ghana.  They do strongly believe that things are improving, though. I regret that I wasn’t here in time for the French presidential election which, I’ve been told, resulted in a big party at The House…

What has most surprised me in the political life of Ghana is that the Ashanti Kingdom is still, as an institution, alive and well, although it in Finland is mentioned mostly in history books. Last Saturday, we visited the King’s Palace in Kumasi (The capital of Ashanti region). According to the locals, nothing big takes place in Kumasi or the Ashanti region (Population ) without the knowledge and blessing of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. The first thing president John Atta Mills does when visiting Kumasi is pay homage to the king. He rides around town in a British Racing Green, brand new Jaguar without plates and is still highly respected. Would this be a good example of combining western-style democracy and traditional governing systems for a balanced political life in developing countries? After all, Europeans are here frequently told that Africans, for cultural reasons, need strong, benevolent leaders (even something we would call dictators) rather than complete democracy. That’s the like of Gaddafi and Castro.

And now to completely different matters… Finally, I had my hear cut! My former hairstyle represented more a helmet and carried in this climate a constant chance of a heatstroke. The operation cost me 1,5 Ghanaian cedis, about 65 European cents. Keep in mind that a large beer here costs 2,5 cedis. When using the same ratio, a beer should in Helsinki cost over 40 €! The comments regarding my new style range from something unprintable via prisoner of war and skinhead to the genuine Ghanaian look and I wouldn’t post a picture in this blog if my life depended on it!

The rains are getting harder. I’m told it means that it’s going to keep raining long into July. I don’t really mind: I’m taking the same stance as, Guy, the British guy in my room (By the way, I provide a link to his blog on our shared stay here below. In particular, he talks more about the discussions regarding local politics we’ve had). Ginger and vulnerable in the sun as he is, he maintains that clouds here mean nothing less than life itself. But this Sunday, the rain was something quite different. It’s not just the violent rain that drowns everything. The ground will actually become alive. If you’ve ever had problems understanding the concept of water erosion, this is the place to educate yourself. In these conditions, we had a bloody, muddy, life-or-death-deciding football game. Great fun!

My initial contact in Ghana, Sampson, also came down with and recovered from malaria. It is stopping to see how the locals handle a deadly and at least back home much demonized disease as if it was just the flu:

-                 - Hi man, haven’t seen you around!
-                 - Yeah, I’ve been home a couple of days… I got malaria in Côte d’Ivoire, you know…
-                 - Wow, are you ok?
-                 - Yes yes, I just had to get some rest…

And everyone here has got it at least once or twice!

Because you are surely getting tired of me going on and on, here’s some other stuff written by other foreigners spending periods in Kumasi (one in English and one in Swedish). Both happen to be living in the same house as me, but will provide different ideas and points of view for anyone interested:

     And by the way... I've been asked for more pictures on the blog. I will keep adding some to the old posts, but that can only be done when I'm bothered to go to the super-fast Vodafone-sponsored internet café at campus. Patience, you'll g´have to check out the posts later for imagery.


  1. Heips Mati ja terveisiä Melbournesta! :) Tosi kiva tää blogi, kiinnostavaa kuulla tarinoita sieltä. Muutenkin miellyttävä lukea, kirjotat tosi hyvin! Oon aika pihalla kevään jutuista ja joudun kyselemään tyhmiä, mutta miten siis päädyittekään Ghanaan? Kuulostaa aika huikealta harjoittelulta! Jään odottamaan lisäpostauksia :) Hyvää loppuaikaa (no, valtaosa taitaa olla vielä edessä...), meillä kotiinpaluu alkaakin jo ens tiistaina... eih. Terkkuja B:lle! t. Heini

  2. Moi Heini!
    Rupeeko koalat jo väsyttämään vai ottaako päähän palata Suomen suveen? Kiva kuulla että joku jaksaa lukea  Ghanaan päästiin AIESEC- nimisen järjestön kautta (Suomessa aika matalan profiilin porukkaa, täällä ilmeisesti isokin juttu). Niillä on kaiken maailman projekteja ympäri maailmaa, haettiin sit tänne kun oli monta paikkaa samassa kaupungissa Afrikassa ja pärjätään englannilla… Me pärjätään koko ajan paremmin, eli hauska kesä tulee varmasti. Nähdään syssymmällä! Terkut perillä ja kuitattu. Lisää tekstiä tulee sitä mukaan kun on inspistä ja pääsen netin ääreen!

  3. Hei!

    Edustan tätä nimenomaista AIESEC-nimistä järjestöä ja sen Helsingin yliopiston solua. Kun lukee Matias sinun tekstiä, itselleni tuli olo siitä, että aivan kuin lukis jonkin syntyperäisen britin tai kanadalaisen tekstiä. Tosiaan AIESEC:lla on Suomessa aika matala profiili, vaikka olemme olleet olemassa yli 60 vuotta ja muun muassa Martti Ahtisaari ja Elisabeth REhn oli jäseniämme 1950-luvulla. Yksi syy siihen, miksi AIESEC on kovempi juttu Ghanassa kuin Suomessa on se, että Suomessa meillä on paljon kilpailijoita, jotka tarjoavat myös harjoittelumahdollisuuksia. Uskon, että Ghanassa ei välttämättä ole niin paljon kilpailua eikä niin laajaa järjestötarjontaa kuin Suomessa. Kuitenkin pyrimme nostamaan profiiliamme tulevaisuudessa ja parasta mainosta meille ovat suomalaiset ja Suomessa opiskelevat ulkomaiset opiskelijat, jotka ovat kauttamme päässeet ikimuistoisiin harjoitteluihin.

  4. Okei, pitää laittaa korvan taakse! Nimi AIESEC kuulosti tutulta ja yritin miettiä mistä, ja tajusin että yksi indonesialainen kaveri on kyseisen järjestön jutuissa mukana siellä päin maailmaa! Selvästi siis iso järjestö maailman mittakaavassa. Mutta juu, hyvää jatkoa! Syksyyn tosiaan, joskin kesä ois ihan kiva tässä välissä. Täällä on nyt asteita joku 6 ja sataa kaatamalla :]