A story by Dwight Cendrowski on this important West African country, an embarkation point for the
slave trade. Dwight can present a program on this fascinating country to your school, civic organization
or business group. Contact Dwight for more information.

Ghana is a country of 17 1/2 million people in West Africa, adjoining the Atlantic ocean on the bulge of the continent. Ghana is one country among 52 in this massive and diverse continent. It is an equatorial country, so it is hot. And with two seasons, wet and dry.

It is a nation we would call developing, or third world. Rich in cultural heritage, lush and scenic, yet economically poor and facing a difficult and uncertain future.

Ghana was once known as the Gold Coast because of its many productive gold mines. Under British colonial rule since the late 1800's it was the first country in colonial Africa to achieve its independence in 1957. One of its early leaders was a man named Nkrumah, who wanted desperately to organize and unite all the African countries who were gaining their independence in the 1960"s He failed in that dream and to this day there is little cooperation or agreement among African countries. After a succession of rulers in the 60's and 70's there was a coup in 1979, led by Jerry Rawlings, a lieutenant in the army. He promised a civilian government and delivered on that promise. For two years there was civilian rule, but the economy took an even greater nosedive during that time and in 1981 Rawlings again took over the government, throwing out the constitution and legislature.

In November of 1992 he lifted a ban on party politics and held elections. Rawlings and his National Democratic Congress won. Opposition claimed fraud. In December of 1996 Rawlings again won.

A common opinion of the government was expressed by one of our drivers, Steven who said,"He has the guns, so we say yes sir." Most feel the government does nothing for them, and are happier just to be left alone. And they are very inventive in making due with very few resources. You first notice here that where we have machines, they have people. Washing is done by hand. Cooking is done outside on small grills. Small carts are used to move goods around the market. There are care and private buses and taxis, but mostly people walk. And just about everything is carried on the heads: food, wood, water. Everything.

The country is a combination of Western and tribal influences. On men you'll see western clothing as often as the traditional cloth. Even a business like this one who sells the country's woven Kente cloth, will often wear tribal dress, especially for special occasions. women more often wear a 3 piece cloth, and if she has a baby, it will almost always be on her back. Babies are with their mothers constantly until they walk. But interestingly in the cities and among the more well to do I saw fewer babies on the backs, as well as fewer adults and children dressed traditionally.

And there are many babies and children. 45% of the population is under 15 years of age, and it's evident in every village you travel through. There are efforts to limit family size, but as in other developing countries larger families are traditional, and strong cultural norms collide with efforts to limit population.

The majority of Ghanaians are poor. There is an upper class and middle class, but mostly in the two larger cities of Accra and Kumasi. But most of the country is rural and poor. A day laborer in Ghana will make the equivalent of $1 per day. And people simply cannot survive on that. They are forced to the fields to collect food.

A ten year history of their currency, the Cedi, tells the story. In 1978 3 Cedis were equivalent to 1 US dollar. Now it is about 1530 to the dollar.

The main export of the country is cocoa. But Ghanaians have no control over cocoa prices, so when world prices are down, their income is also down. Timber is the next largest industry, with fishing close behind.

The country really operates on small businesses. Young entrepreneurs are on the streets selling everything from shoes to oranges to rosaries. The market in Kumasi is a huge trading ground for everything imaginable. This is where all the food shopping is done. And nearby storefront vendors supply all the needs.

But this is Kumasi, a city of 500,000. Many more Ghanaians live in the thousands of small villages, some large, some very small. I spent a day in one village called Jacobu, a relatively large village of some 20,000 about 25 miles northeast of Kumasi. As in most villages there is no electricity, no running water, no sewage system. The day starts early. Most are up by 5:30, and at 6:00 the women and children walk to two wells on either side of the village. All water has to be carried back to the houses. Women are out sweeping, while most men prepare to head out to a neighboring farms. Some hitch a ride on trucks. Others will walk for 2 to 10 miles. And we're not talking Midwest farms of rolling wheat. I walked for 20 minutes on a narrow path through the woods to a clearing where cocoa plants were being grown. Another 10 minutes brought us to a grove of coconut trees. pineapple is also grown, as well as bananas and plantain, which is a staple in the diet. Most days people will eat fu fu, which is yams or casava pounded and shaped in doughy balls and served with soup. They don't even chew fu fu. I chewed.

Women also work the farms, though men do the heavier labor. But it is the women who work sunup to sundown, washing, cooking, caring for children. And the life expectancy is much lower than ours. Diseases take a terrible toll here. Yellow fever, cholera. And malaria. Malnutrition is common. Health care workers advise women to boil their water, but in a busy day when firewood is precious, most don't.

A timber company recently opened an operation near the village, so big trucks constantly roll through town. And the company did improve some of the roads, just so their trucks could get through. but mostly the roads are terrible...hard, red and rutted. Dusty in dry season and swampy in wet.

There is a clinic in Jokobu, where minor ailments are treated. The midwife showed me a delivery room and the instruments she uses. This is her only pair of scissors, and they are not sharp. And she has only two forceps. She'd like to have four. Hospitals in Ghana are nothing like what we're used to here. There is almost no equipment. No diagnostic tools. Facilities are small and not antiseptic. And there are few doctors.

When the sun goes down, kerosene lamps dot the village. Walking down the main street I saw perhaps 100 villagers crowded around a B&W television hooked up to a jerryrigged car battery. But the people here are strong and stoic. And they can still celebrate and laugh. Several people told me that Ghanaians are resilient. I can attest to that.

For hundreds of years each region of the country has had a chief, who was the seat of almost all power in the society. It was the chief who settled disputes and who parceled out land. He was the cultural guide as well as the seat of civil law. For the last 50 years though many of his functions have been taken over by the civil authorities, so that the chiefs' influence is now mainly cultural.

Religions in Ghana are under siege right now. The government has banned the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses from the country. And they are trying to require all the other religions to register with the government. Bishop Sarpong of the Catholic diocese of Kumasi has refused, and they don't know what will happen. Religion permeates the society. Almost all the trucks have religious sayings painted on them.

There are many western religions as well as ancient tribal religions. Perhaps 24% of people are Christian, another 38% practice tribal religions, and the rest are Muslim. And in the countryside more than the cities there is more of a blend of Western and tribal. In villages you'll hear more African music and drumming in Catholic masses for instance.

Ghanaians, just like everyone else in the world, and rabid sports fans. Well, the men anyway. Football, what we call soccer, is the number one sport. The championship Kumasi team regularly draws 100,000 spectators to their games. You see kids playing everywhere. Ping pong is also very popular. Often on improvised tables. And they play a game on what looks like a checker board. For the children there are almost no toys except for homemade ones.

Schools in Ghana get money from the government, even those called private schools. But the money goes mostly for teacher salaries. There is almost no money for supplies or building upkeep. Schools in villages are often no more than 4 walls and a dirt floor. Children learn English in the schools, which is the official language in the country. but among themselves they will always speak Twi, or Ga, or one of the other native languages. Imagine 10 languages and 100's of dialects in one country, and you'll get a feel for how difficult it is for people in the country to feel united. Allegiance is to your tribe and family, not the country. Multiply that by the 52 African countries and you see the problem in forging a unified African continent.

There are three universities in Ghana, and competition for enrollment is fierce. Higher education is still for the elite in society. Students who are able to travel abroad to study often do not return, so there is a brain drain problem.

Cape Coast University is on the Atlantic coast. Here fishing is the big industry. And again where we have machines they use people power. Nets stretching a quarter mile out into the ocean are hauled in a dozen to two dozen men and boys, singing and working all day long.

And along this coast are many forts and castles that were the sailing point for the slave trade. For hundreds of years Ghana was a center of the slave trade in Africa. Men, women and children captured in the interior were brought to the coast and held in places like Cape Coast castle, built around the time of Columbus in 1495. English, Dutch and Portuguese in turn administered this trade in human beings. This is a holding pen where hundreds of men were placed for as long as twelve weeks. There was only one small hole in the stone wall. No ventilation. Many died during this time as the traders weeded out the sick and weak. Slaves who were trying to incite their fellows to escape were placed in a cell to starve or suffocate. When the ships came to carry the slaves to America or Europe the men were united with the women and led along a narrow corridor past a door known as the gate of no return. We all know that millions of people died in the holocaust in WWII. Not as many know that an estimated 60 million people died while being transported from Africa as slaves.

Ghana is a country struggling. Seeing the poverty, the rutted, dusty roads, the poor makes the money spent worldwide on armaments seem very grotesque.

The people of Ghana live, and endure, and celebrate. They marry. They baptize their children. They bury their loved ones. They have the same human needs and aspirations as we do. To see their children prosper. To move forward. As for most of the African countries, it's a future in doubt.