Millennium Post

Lost and found in Ghana

Overdressed for the heat of Ghana, I reflect it was December, like the Bengali traveller who appears in Ray films in monkey cap, woollens and baggy coats. Classic leg before wicket. On the flight from Dubai, I notice that there wasn’t a single Indian on the flight to Ghana. Just ebony faces in dreadlocks, some flaunt tattoos and the African sauntering walk. Some chip away on laptops.

I am the only Indian on the Emirates flight. But I have a mission. Enlisted as volunteer to grade class one toddlers and their English ability by the Global Vision International [GVI], a charity that works in several African countries, I am in a batch of six that will assess and grade them in a clutch of schools hidden away in the outbacks of Elmina coast off the Atlantic. The instructions from Aubrey Smith, who heads GVI in Elmina are simple; check into Hotel Paloma on arrival and Sulaiman, the driver, will collect you next morning, drive you for four hours to Stumble Inn, my home for the next two weeks. It’s done and I am on the Accra flight.

Checking into the hotel, I notice some lounging Ghanaian taking in a Shahrukh Khan film on the TV screen above the reception counter. I change dollars for cedis – looks like a lot of money. I am not going to be the only Indian in Ghana. In a total population of approximately 25 million there are about 8,000 Indians. We have a High Commission there. They have one in Delhi. To kill time, I visit the Nkrumah museum and don’t fail to notice a black and white work of Nehru in sherwani. It’s 1959 Nehru getting off the plane on the event of Ghanaian Independence. A picture of Che Guevara, a few years later on his mission in Africa. Kwame Nkrumah [Kwame means leader] pulled Ghana into freedom after years of slavery. The castle in Elmina off the Atlantic stands till today lashed by the waters of the Atlantic a living testimony of slavery. In its room of no return from where slaves were shipped, often dozens to Europe and elsewhere, Ghanaians from abroad break down and sob hugging the walls of Elmina Fort. Slave Tourism is a major dollar earner for the place. Sumble Tun is basic, a dormitory or a hut with thatched roof and wooden commode. Sulaiman drives a battered Nissan, Ghana produces no cars. Second hand vehicles that threaten the streets of Accra come down from Lagos in Nigeria. What’s playing on FM is Ghana rap.

In the following weeks, I will start a discovery different from the one that Shankar journeys to the Bibhutibhushan classic mountains of the moon. Here there are no man-eating lions and no Alvarez to show me the way to gold. I find Samson Kobina, the man in his twenties and my guide through the desolate village schools of Elmina. In torchlight lying on a bed Samson will take me through the basic fanti words that may make my task easier in grading the black girls and boys no taller than a stool, under clothed and often with no shoes. The nights are lashed by African rain and my ears resonate with the waves of the Atlantic, a stone’s throw from the hut where I stay awake at night to learn Fante and wake up to the cry of the white Ghana crow. Samson is snoring softly next to me but I have learned the first word Chro which means write spell. That’s what I am here teaching kids to write and speak English. I’m not the first Indian in Ghana. After Nehru’s tryst with Africa in the late sixties and the flowering of African Independence Nehru talked of walking hand in hand with Africa. That phase would end with the 1990s and India shifting its gaze to Western Europe. Africa seemed to fall away.

It was government to government not people to people as the ministry officials say these days when they describe the soft diplomacy for Africa and what’s going to happen after Manmohan Singh kicked off the Africa Summit. India is already the largest foreign investor in Ghana. Corporates like Tata, Bharti Airetl, Ashok Leyland, Mahindra and Mahindra, Escorts, Larsen and Toubro, NIIT are in there. The broad brush strokes conform to the March 2011 Word Bank analyses, 'Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago and India was 20 years ago.' Though foreign direct investment [FDI] is not the
sine qua non
of development, Africa has become a FDI destination. The Unido Africa investor report 2011 profiled the origins of foreign investors in this manner. For manufacturing [India 17 per cent, UK 11 per cent, China 9 per cent] and for services like banks and IT [France 13 per cent, India 12 per cent and Kenya and South Africa 8 per cent]. We may be behind China but we are there in Africa.

Two weeks in Elmina in the schools and kids kicking a football with no shoes tell you why kids often call themselves Ronaldo and cheer the Arthur What on of Ghana where plays Manchester United and why the Black Stars Kenya fight it out in World Cup football. The kid at the school of Bremyan Akyinim who got the best grades did not have money to buy a school uniform and I pleaded with the principal to keep him on and bought him a satchel, shoes and school uniform. Education is what Ghana wants to pull away from the past and open the gates to self sufficiency.
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