Log Cabin Chronicles


A Canuck discovers Ghana: Intro

GHANA, WEST AFRICA | I am sitting and writing in a quiet, residential area of Accra, Ghana, called East Lagon. A rooster's crow wakes me almost every morning -- a not uncommon sound in this city of four million (in Greater Accra -- roughly the same population as Greater Toronto). But then again, there many things in this part of the world that would normally strike a Westerner like me as uncommon but are simply part of life here... welcome to Africa.

Like most non-Africans, my original knowledge of Africa was limited by what I saw in the movies, the National Geographic magazine and read in books like Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (which later was the basis for Apocalypse Now, with the Congo being substituted by Vietnam in director Francis Ford Coppola's take on the book).

After meeting and also teaching many Africans over the years and eventually marrying one, my knowledge and fascination with the Dark Continent grew and so here I am in Ghana, the home country of my wife Hetty, to see the country close-up and visit her family for the first time with our two-year-old daughter Phoebe (who is, of course, half African).

Several African countries have dominated the headlines in the past thirty years or so, including Uganda with Idi Amin, Rawanda with its genocide, Somalia and its pirates and, of course most recently, South Africa with the World Cup in 2010 and Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid in the early 1990s.

Ghana only most recently got some major media face time when American President Barack Obama (whose father is Kenyan) came to Ghana and espoused its virtues as a leading African nation worthy of emulation.

Ghana is often confused with Guyana, a country an ocean away near Brazil. They have little in common except a close proximity on the United Nations roll call and having both been former British Colonies.

Ghana was originally called the Gold Coast for its abundant gold mines that the British exploited or maximized, depending on your point of view. The former colonial masters of Ghana have certainly left a checkered legacy in this Western African nation, but more on that later. For now, here are some basic facts for reference:

  • Africa is a continent with 54 countries, including islands like Madagascar.
  • Virtually all of the countries were formerly run as colonies by countries like Great Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal and often by more than one as external wars between colonizing nations created new colonial masters.
  • Ghana is located next to the Ivory Coast and Togo, below Burkina Fasso and the Sahara desert.
  • It gained independence from Great Britain in 1957.
  • The population is approximately 25 million.
  • English is taught in schools and is an official language, but many other languages are spoken here, including Tri, Kasem, and Ga. Many Africans speak several of these. These latter languages are tribal.
  • It is a developing country (what we used to call a Third World country before political correctness) which basically means they have much of what we have in the Western World, just in varying degrees. It also means a lot of people live below the so-called poverty line. More on that later as well.
  • Christianity is very prevalent in Ghana, although Muslims make up roughly 20 percent of the population and are growing in number and influence quickly if the preponderance of mosques is any indication.
As always, the devil is in the details, so follow on if you care to faithful reader, and learn plenty more about my travels in a very interesting place -- Ghana.

Leo Gervais teaches journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. He can be reached at: gervaislj at gmail.com
Accra, Ghana
Posted 07.28.10

Copyright © 2010 Leo Gervais/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.10