It thrills me to the sky to be writing a post about the Top 10 things that changed your life. Okay our lives. Not in 2009, or 2008, but in the last 10 years. The official title is actually "Looking back at the last decade: Top 10 Most Influential Cultural Trends" but I thought that since this is for Wo Se Ekyir, not Forbes.com, we should make the title easier to digest. Anyway, moving on...finally, I too have been around long enough to write about the last decade. *says affectedly, as my friend Nasa would say in her British accent* "I'm chuffed" Clears throat. End of British accent:)
Hiplife has had a huge influence on Ghanaian music and culture. I cringe a little at writing the last sentence because it’s so obvious. Everybody knows it. I bet younger folk can’t even imagine life without hiplife. But things haven’t always been like this. It wasn’t too long ago, even as late as say ’97/’98 when Ghanaian songs weren’t cool and all the hip songs were yankee imports. But once hiplife happened, it spread like Ghanaian earthquake rumors. Now, suddenly our stories are being told and we have characters like Tic tak and Buk bak. Inane names aside, musicians of their ilk have made us love our own music again. Some of their lyrics have even become a part of our everyday language. Like Mr. POP, Scenti no...agye babia, Philomena Kpetenge, Apuskeleke or Apuus in short. Just about a week ago, my Indian boss walked into our work space and announced proudly “I met a Ghanaian legend”. Eyes rolled, and ears perked yes, and judgement already passed that just about any name he mentioned would prove his announcement a gross exaggeration, I waited. I mean...when we say legend, we’re talking about someone as big as Nkrumah or Kojo Antwi or Abedi Pele, Even Rawlings. Right? Right, but fo’ shore when he said “Reggie Rockstone”, I knew I’d judged too quickly. All I could manage was a weak comeback; oh so you’re hip now or something? There’s no disputing. Because of his contribution to hiplife, and because hiplife has changed our lives, Reggie may juuust deserve this canonization.
2. Local language radio stations
Local language radio is not just radio, it's a phenomenon. For sheer entertainment value, english radio stations don't come anywhere close. And the presenters don't even look like they're trying. It sounds like it's all off the cuff,extemporaneous stuff. If it is, these people have got talent! Even the news is hilarious. But they get the point accross. Before we had local language radio stations, access to information was a privilege only the formally educated got. But thanks to Peace fm, Adom fm and other shows, now everyone knows wassup! In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if tro-tro drivers, taxi-drivers and house-helps know more about goings on in this country than many of us. Afterall, they listen to these radio station for long stretches of time whilst we, at best only catch it on the drive to and from work. This is a huge shift.
Personally, this is how my life has changed because of it. I can now take a cab and begin a conversation about any national issue of interest with the driver. I can ask the driver what he thinks of TB Joshua or President Mills' reshuffling exercise, Rawlings' speech about Atta the mortician or more current, what he thinks about the drastic increase in road tolls. Not only can I get his opinion, I can get updates on national conversations. I can learn from him because he's now able to access information that 10 years ago, was mostly in english and therefore reserved for those who understood English. We're moving forward.
Ghanaians love talking about issues that affect them, usually in hopes of affecting change through such conversations. Especially on radio. Everyone has a proposed solution and is not shy to share it. Politics is contending squarely with football for the nation’s favourite topic. On football, people tend to prescribe solutions like “we should hire a local coach”, “ we should invest in other sports besides football”. There've times when these discussions actually prompt concerned authorities to do something about the issues being discussed. There’s plenty of social commentary in newspapers , on tv, and on blogs, but on radio, it’s through the roof! There’s great interest in politics and as I pointed out in the last paragraph, every Adwoba is now politically aware. There's more accountability or at the very least, demand for accountability.
4. Mobile telephony
Everybody and their grand mama now has a cell phone. Sim cards cost a mere cedi. There are 6 cell phone networks.MTN being the biggest, followed by Tigo and Vodafone, then Kasapa and Zain with Glo soon to follow. Everybody’s talking. People have 2, 3 handsets and news spreads fast. But the biggest effect can be seen on the streets. That is, the number of young Ghanaians, men and women who make their living by selling phone units/credit. Entertainment events/shows are also often sponsored by these companies. We can confidently say that mobile telephones have come to stay. Hopefully the next decade will see more Ghanaians gaining internet access, and the experts say that that might happen sooner than later if we’re connecting to the www on our cell phones.
5.The rule of law
Our law rules, and makes all Ghanaians equal. Since the handover of power after the elections in 2000, our law is trying to not be a respecter of persons. We've seen a lot more fairness in our justice system.There was a time in this country’s history when certain government officials were above a law. I’m not saying the system is completely fair and level now, but we’ve come very far indeed since the days when some were more equal than others.
6. Press Freedom
Closely related to point 5 (rule of law) is this new found freedom to publish/publicise news. Journalists, and pressmen used to be scared of speaking out against the government and government officials for fear of being targetted, and harassed or even killed. Whether the thing we feared was real/existing or just in our heads I don't know.Some people in my parents generation speak very strongly against the PNDC/NDC era. They lived through some of our nation's most difficult times. They witnessed or were victims to killings. It's hard not to be moved by the stories they tell. Whether real or imagined, people were scared to condemn those in high places too loudly, too publicly. That changed in the NPP era, and continues in the current NDC era. So it looks like the times of censored feelings/opinions are over. Enter the era of free speech and ka bi ma me nka bi.
7. The Rise of Private Tertiary Institutions
For a long time, there was UG, KNUST, Cape Vars and UDS (These days, I assume readers are all efienipas so I don’t feel the need to explain that UG is University of Ghana, Legon etc.) but in the last ten years, we’ve seen the birth of the at least 10 private Universities, the most prominent among them being, in no particular order, The Catholic University, Central University, Methodist University, Presbyterian University, Ashesi University, Valley View University, Wisconsin College. A more schooled population must be a good thing, however, frankly, I’m not seeing how it’s changing our lives. We’re seeing a lot of unemployed graduates. It would be nice to see more of the educated ones starting, then growing business. And i’m not just talking about them becoming self-employed. But actually creating value, innovating, building structures, and bringing all the skills to build businesses that outlive them. The same skills that have, I believe, held back hard-working and industrious Makola women, for example, from creating Ghanaian equivalents of Sainsbury’s and Walmarts.
I don’t know of any Ghana blog that has been around for more than 10 years. It was only in 2004 that I first heard of Weblogs. Few if any Ghanaian blogs existed back then, but the internet spawned this whole new media category we call blogging and there are now 200 Ghana blogs listed on Afrigator, the African blog Aggregator.
The internet also brought Facebook, which suddenly gave us the opportunity to connect with old friends, publicise events, and make new friends based on common interests. It’s mind boggling, how much easier, Facebook alone has made our lives.
Then there’s Google. I don’t even know how people did research before Google, because just when I got out of Wesley Girls, and had to find stuff out on my own, I discovered Google and Ask Jeeves. That was nearly 10 years ago. Now I realise how awesome having access to such technology is but what’s curious is the sheer nonchalance with which I received the technology. As an 18 year old who had absolutely no experience with the internet, I should have been awed. But I almost didn’t react, the whole thing just slipped by me like that. What was wrong with me? Lol. What was your own reaction when you first encountered the wonders of internet, and especially of search engines? I mean I can’t imagine...if the developers of google had shown up in my high school and presented the technology...would we have shouted...wow! awesome, cool! Clapping with excitement? Or would we have sat there, barely moved by the whole deal?
Anyway, the internet happened, and exploded access to information for those of us that have access to it. So that’s good and we hope that as service providers compete and rates reduce, more and more of us will hook up to the world wide web.
But the internet also brought sakawa, or internet fraud. A lot of our brothers online are using the internet to defraud people - an unfortunate development. With Sakawa, of course, came a resurgence in sikaduro.
9. Exodus abroad
It’s not that so many of us have left the country. It’s that so many of the smartest and the brightest leave and don’t return. Or return when they’re jaded and most interested in maintaining whichever new lifestyles they have now acquired. And tired. In my colleague Daniel’s words, “it’s no longer a brain drain, it’s a torrent”. My uncle was saying how we, who are, or claim to be, or should be the most capable at steering the country forward have left the country, and then we sit back and complain that the structures don’t work, and that the leaders are corrupt, and that nobody is producing anything, and that life in Ghana is hard. And when he asked me...if you who are the best positioned to “make it” here have such little belief in this countries possibilities, what hope do the illiterate have? The way I see it, we have the manpower. But not everybody knows how to build tools. Not everyone even knows which tools need to be built. So we have the ingredients but no one to cook that fantastic meal. We need leaders, the few people who will have the vision, and courage, whom we can follow to the Promised Land. Alas, we look around us, and they are nowhere to be found. Or they’re smart all right, and available even, but are living beyond their means, and have little character, and so find themselves dipping into collective funds for personal gain. We need a new kind of leader in Africa. Except if I’m not this kind of person, and you’re not this kind of person, then what are we left with?
Maybe all I had to say about exodus abroad is that last year the ”top three countries in terms of Green Card winning entries were Ghana, Nigeria and Bangladesh"
Sorry for being long-winded.
10. Aggressive adoption of everything Western
By this I mean celebrations like Mothers day, Fathers day, Valentine’s Day, Pastor’s Appreciation day, Consumer day, Catch your rat day. Hehe. Everyone understands that something called globalisation happened. But doesn’t that mean that somehow our lives affected them and their lives affected us? That we’d learn from them as they learned from us? But somehow, we’re accepting more and more of western stuff. Which, should not be bad. It should enrich us. It’s like having next door neighbours from abroad. Hopefully they teach you new games, and suddenly, instead of only ampe and tomato, you also know bullshit, and taboo. That’s great. Unfortunately that’s not what’s happening. We’re not even learning our own stuff anymore. We’re not developing any of our own stuff. So on a global level, we have nothing to bring. No new perspectives to add to the conversation. Nothing that comes from us. That can’t be good, now, can it? I’d like to see a day when a Ghanaian company makes it onto the list of the most innovative companies of the decade. I’d like to write that article. But I won’t if there’s no Ghanaian company on it. It’s just not interesting.
What are your own thoughts on this list? Which cultural trends were most influential in the last decade? Which significantly changed the lives of Ghanaians?
Credits: To PK Imbeah for inspiring this blog post, and for providing 5 of the cultural trends. And to Naa Dodua Dodoo and Daniel Adjokatcher for helping me think through the rest.