Lazy Ghanaians PLEASE Stand Up!
Let’s say your name is Rajak. You are a member of a small community outside of Atebubu in the Brong Ahafo region. People there are largely herders and small farm workers. You finished SHS but you didn’t pass enough of your exams to warrant entry into university. Even if you had gone to university, you probably could not have afforded to attend. Let’s say that you find out about a chance to work with The National Youth Employment Program (NYEP) to act as a teaching assistant for some of the students in your very own village. These are people that you grew up with, your own sisters and brothers and you take some pride in what you are doing. Nevertheless, you have signed a contract that guarantees you a very moderate 95 GHC each month (I reiterate EACH MONTH). It’s not much, but it could go a long way for you. So you start the work in earnest, reaping the intrinsic reward of helping your community and looking forward to the income. A month passes, two more months pass and you still have not received pay. So what do you do at the sixth month when there is no money but you are spending lorry fare to come to work? Or maybe in debt to people who lent you money for various incidentals over the course of the half year? Would you be horrible for quitting? But if you quit, what else are you going to do for income? Farming? Petty trade? Sakawa?! This is a true story… and as I speak, thousands of young people have yet to receive payments from NYEP because of their ongoing investigation with corruption, ghost names and other forms of extortion. #foolery
I get really annoyed when people just say Ghanaians have poor work ethic. As if the British colonists noticed Ghanaians lazying around and found they would make excellent laborers in the New America. As If the fact that every Ghanaian is literally working 3 or 4 different hustles and seizing every opportunity as a ‘business opportunity isn’t some sort of proof that people are out here trying to get ahead and better their lot. People discuss Ghanaian labor as though there is something intrinsic… almost innate about the fact that people do not want to exert their greatest effort in exchange for a great reward. The issue is the institutions. It’s the gate-keepers. Who is doing quality control? Who is making sure that everyone gets a fair chance? Having seen the way Ghanaians go SO hard in the States, sending large portions of their income to family members on the continent, I know first hand the value of semi-meritocratic institutions. Funnily, Ghanaians will then shift this ‘lazy black’ rhetoric to African Americans in the states. But just as with Ghanaians on the continent, African Americans in the states suffer from the same issues of institutional oppression reinforced over decades.
There is a phenomenon I have called the ‘new slave mentality’ that impacts the work ethic of blacks all around the world. I have hypothesized that once people have been freed from their oppressors, they are eager first to be educated and then to earn income in a way that will place them comfortably with or above their white counterparts. After trying for some time and realizing that their greatest efforts are constantly being rebuffed because of their ‘skin deficit’ (see: killing of Nkrumah, Jim Crow/ segregation,etc.) they lose the spirit to continue to compete adequately in a system that continually denies their best efforts. In so doing, they begin to look for short cuts, easy wins and sometimes riskier opportunities (Blue Magic Anyone?). That is what happens in Ghana. That is what has happened in Black America for the last 200 years. This is then reinforced when the few black folks that make it, continue this legacy of exclusion by shutting the gates of the empire and ignoring the needs of the millions on the other side. Whether this becomes a Weberian revolt, an Arab Spring Uprising or a Les Miserables rebellion against the heavy handed kingdom… what weknow is that it has the tendency to become violent. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), Ghanaians either haven’t gotten angry enough or do not want to incur the type of destruction that violence may bring, even if those very things might actually change these power structures. It’s just as well because as it stands, Ghana is continually being praised
and lauded by multilaterals for their
domicile peaceful nature.
But once you look past those surface level accolades, you realize that this is feeding into the ‘lazy African rhetoric’ purported by our very own Ghanaian elites.
People always tell me it’s because I haven’t managed anyone in Ghana (I guess managing an intern and a National Service Volunteer for 3 months doesn’t count.. *shrugs*). I find this interesting because before I taught in Louisiana, I was told something similar. That all this talk that ‘every child can behave if given the right setting’ was crazy. That there were so many other factors that controlled how your kids would act in the classroom. But one thing I learned from the classroom is that YOU create YOUR OWN environment. I was definitely struggling with my students my first year and the first 3 months of my second year. But both years, I learned the importance of being consistent and building trust in my classroom. The fact is, when they left me each day, they were going to experience 4 different classroom settings. I needed to convince them that there were a set of rights and wrongs that we abided by, even if it was just 60 minutes out of their entire school day. Do you know how difficult it is to reverse YEARS of chaos and suppression!?!?!?! Eventually, a great majority of my kids under stood that— in spite of crumbling administrative and state oversight. Furthermore, there were other teachers who were willing to adopt this mindset. That is how we created a strong seventh grade behavioral system. But it took one or two of us, first making that change in our own classes. I believe the same is true of the Ghanaian work place. So the same logic applies, Ghanaians (like all human beings) display excellent work ethic in the face of strong institutions. The question of which types of institutions need the most strengthening for the highest impact is one that we are fully open to debating… but I think we can agree you at least need visionary leadership. I am waiting for an Alan Cash or Dangote to create a whole business ecosystem with not just the right extrinsic incentives but a start to finish certification program that hires, trains, promotes, creates knowledge communities, etc. I do not see anyone with a Starbucks- like model of human resources where people can own shares, get health insurance for part time work and are afforded child care and other benefits. Even the multinational companies here, of which some of my closest friends work, manage to fail miserably at how they treat Ghanaian employees… even the highly educated ones.
The truth of the matter is that under the right set of institutions, Ghanaians can display excellent work ethic.
The truer truth of the matter,however, is that our leadership is lazy. Instead of sitting, reflecting and coming back with visionary ways to redefine labor in Ghana, we are busy engulfing ourselves in foolish scandals. Instead of building the right set of institutions, people are having meetings with football players as if the World Cup were a matter of National Security. So… ummmm… will the real laze-balls PLEASE stand up!