Monday, June 11, 2012

More impressions / Getting started (Week 1)

Ok, so there’s a swimming pool at the KNUST Campus. Actually, there’s an Olympic-size swimming center and a pool bar serving pizza. And beers and cocktails. If only these people knew under what conditions we have to study in Finland! Seriously, with its locally measured very high price level and security guards, it’s quite a striking contrast to the life outside. Apparently, it was build with money from the sponsors of the university. This raises a question: Really, didn’t they find anything smarter to do with the money targeted for higher education in Kumasi and Ghana?
The House

Regardless of whether such a poolside setting at a university campus is a form of corruption (by attracting students and prestige with completely extra-curricular features), the people I’ve talked to seem to a very large extent recognize corruption as the greatest obstacle to wider development in Ghana, which amusingly resonates from stories heard from e.g. Greece. This is best illustrated by a story one of the guys (let’s call him Gunnar) told me. Gunnar happened to be visiting a friend at the foreign ministry. In a waiting room, he met some high level western decision-makers in aid and got into discussion. Gunnar asked the big shots what they think the development aid they are providing is doing for Ghana. Both of them (naturally) replied with the standard “bullshit bingo”- statements of benefiting the poor, generating sustainable growth, promoting education, empowering women etc. Gunnar had one question to ask them: “In what car did they pick you up from the airport?” And one of them answered, after hesitation: “A convoy of eight Jaguars.”

The project I’m working on, called the YES (Young african EntrepreneurS) Project, is slowly starting to take shape. Most basically it strives to promote young entrepreneurship and start-up companies, thereby diminishing youth unemployment in the city and the surrounding region. We are going to organize a set of seminars where company representatives, NGO members etc. give presentations on various aspects of entrepreneurship for students in vocational and technical colleges in Kumasi. The idea is that this should inspire the future graduates to set up new their new companies. Of course, as of now we’ve only just started contacting schools and companies we would like to be a part of the project. I will try to give updates on how we are doing later in the blog. More information about the YES and other projects AIESEC KNUST is working on can be found here:

On the lighter side (and of interest to geographers) I am starting to get a grip of the physical structure of the city. This is no simple task: Once I actually did ask for a map and everyone laughed at me! The way I’ve understood it, the city consists of junctions, such as Agriculture junction, Bebre junction, Tech junction and Kwamo junction. The latter one is where I live. It is interesting how, in the absence of nearly any city planning, urban life gathers around traffic nods. This includes bus stops, petty retailers and the actual geography of place names. The knowledge one has of these junctions is crucial in getting one around; since the minibuses that are the backbone of anything called a transit system use them as reference of where you want to go. These minibuses, probably seen everywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa (and here called Tros-tros) are everywhere and work without any plan or system, you simply have to know where you’re going and ask your way through. The tro-tros have an interesting way of distinguishing themselves: Almost all of them have a large tag on the rear window. One says “The lord is great” or “God is the provider” and has a picture of Jesus on it. The next one simply says “Jimmy’s” and the next one “I’m hustler”. I’m considering making a list.

Saturday was a day filled with a delighting set of culture. At 6.30 a.m., when ”the air was still cool and fresh” (everything is relative), we got up to play a game of football. At 2 p.m. there was the African Qualifying game for the World up 2014 between Zambia and Ghana (1-0 to everyone’s disappointment after Ghana just a week earlier beet Lesotho 7-0) and the day was crowned by the Euro 2012 group stage game between Germany and Portugal (Which earned me a free beer!) 

My abnormally quiet and phlegmatic room-mate from Burkina Faso is cheering up. Actually, I found out that he’s recovering from malaria, which also encourages me since I’m wasting time worrying about catching the disease when he’s already up and running like everyone else. Also it turns out that he’s doing a PhD in philosophy and carries in his head a very clear picture of everything (development issues, the welfare states of northern Europe, literature, personal development, life in general…). I’ve already had some very interesting discussions at night and I am looking forward for some more. The most striking comment he provided was that “charity doesn’t work in aid”. Think about the context, where I’m coming from, where he’s coming from… Not something you often hear from a guy living, working and studying in one of the poorest countries on the planet. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi! It has been very nice to read about your experiences so far. I hope you are having wonderful time in Ghana!


    Veikka Mattila