Guest Post: Being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home

After my blog post on my 10 years in Ghana last week, I received numerous comments, ideas for celebrations (leaning towards a night at TeaBaa with friends) as well as congratulatory messages. Over the weekend, I also received a very special email as a response to my blog post from someone who understands my position extremely well, someone who is living a life with one foot in Canada and one in Ghana. I really enjoyed Rod McLaren‘s email and therefore asked him if I could share it with my readers on the blog. Luckily he said yes, here is his email.

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Good morning, Kajsa,

You just observed your ten year anniversary in Ghana – congratulations. You are one of those special individuals who have the perseverance and positive outlook on life that is required for the long haul. Good on you!

Several of your observations resonated with me and prompted me to write to you today. You and I have met only briefly, but I have followed your Facebook posts. I feel like we are connected because of the common experience of being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home.

When I moved to Ghana in 2001, I had already logged the equivalent of close to three years in the country if one took into account the two years that I taught in Half Assini 1971-73 plus the many visits over the ensuing 28 years, visits that were always a month or longer each time. In 2001, I was quite convinced that I would remain in Ghana until the end of my life, and that my ashes would become part of the red laterite soil of West Africa. Well, I didn’t quite make it. After 10 years, for reasons that have only in part to do with Ghana, I returned to Canada.

Rod McLaren with his son Akwasi.

Ghana can be very frustrating at times. I am not referring to the day-to-day life, which I thoroughly enjoyed or the “real” people (i.e. not bureaucrats), especially those in the villages, who for the most part live with enthusiasm and energy and joy. However, it can be tiring to be called obruni after a while, and especially so when that comes from someone behind a desk at Ghana Immigration Service who knows and has seen less of the country than I have and who was not even born when I learned to chop fufu. My biggest Ghanaian disappointment was not being granted citizenship, even though I applied as soon as I qualified, and followed up on the application repeatedly.

It is now six years since I returned to Canada. My return has been challenging in two ways. I have had to learn to adapt, and in some ways, this has been more difficult than the adaptations that the move to Ghana required. In the first place, Canada is not the same country that I left, due to the restructuring that had taken place at the hands of an extreme right wing government. It is not a kind country anymore – the focus is more on resource extraction regardless of the cost to citizens, Indigenous rights, and the environment.The restructuring continues under a different political party that puts on a pretty face but is still directed by the same neoliberal ideology as its predecessor.

There is another, more personal challenge, one that you mentioned in your post. Even though I am back in the country of my birth, I feel as though I am an outsider who sees Canada and the world through the eyes of my experience in Africa. It is not easy at times to find people who share a common point of view.

In spite of that, I am happy with my life. I am blessed to be living with a very generous woman. I have been able to pursue activities that are my passion. My health continues to be very good. My children and grandchildren are well. My past has blessed me with wonderful memories. Life is good.

And so I will close with my wishes for another ten wonderful years for you and your family. Carry on blogging.

Best wishes,

Rod McLaren

My #2016bestnine on Instagram

Last year I increased my presence on Instagram and ended up with 244 posts which were liked a whopping 6971 times! Thank you!

(and if you are not part of the 800+ people who follow me yet, I am @KajsaHA there too!)

You apparently like:

  1. Me graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in African Studies from University of Ghana
  2. Me taking a selfie with an umbrella and a yellow Ginko Biloba tree at the Mall in Washington DC (steps away from where people did NOT assemble for someone’s inauguration last week)
  3. My daughter Ellen zipping up my dress.
  4. Smiley husband and I on a night out at the National Theatre.
  5. An intimate sibling embrace.
  6. Girls being silly in new swim caps.
  7. Garden marvels (it is palm nut kernels!).
  8. Long shadows on one of the shortest days of the year.
  9. Live broadcast technology that allows my mother in Sweden to follow my graduation in Ghana (see #1)

Comment on what you want to see in 2017!

 

Ashesi in Swiss Newspaper NZZ

Screenshot 2016-06-29 15.56.32

 

Earlier in the spring, I was asked to write about Ashesi University for a Swiss newspaper, NZZ. Under the theme “The Other Africa”, I wrote about teaching ethics in Ghana illustrated by my own experiences and that of students and an alumn.

My Ashesi article under the headline “Hauptfach: Ethik von Kajsa Hallberg Adu” was recently published in the newspaper in a special issue on Africa in the excellent company of write-ups by Ghanaian-Afropolitan novelist Taiye Selasi, correspondent extraordinaire Alex Perry, and an article on smartphones in Africa by literary scholar Mohomodou Houssouba.

Find an English version of my article below:

Major: Ethics

(my original heading was “The Rough Road to Educating Ethical Leaders in Africa” alas…)

On the red, dusty road an hour from Ghana’s bustling capital of Accra, children play and goats scoff around for something to eat. I drive through the village; expertly avoiding the potholes, pass the police barrier, the water well, and the primary school before I make a sharp turn to climb the lush, green hill. Up there, I wave a greeting to the woman selling pineapples before I pull into the 100-acre well-manicured campus. I teach at a non-religious, private liberal arts college called Ashesi University College, located in the town of Berekuso in Ghana’s Eastern region. I work in an institution that has the, perhaps lofty, mission of educating a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa.

Ashesi, as it is called for short, means “beginning” in local language Twi and is known for pushing the bar of private higher education in Africa, especially in terms of ethics and liberal arts. Perhaps others might also know of Ashesi as its founder and president is a very hands-on and influential leader. Dr. Patrick Awuah has been on the management listings of the world like Forbes 2015 World’s 50 Best Leaders, Fast Company where he was listed as number 87 of 100 Most Creative in Business 2010, and last year Dr. Awuah received the MacArthur “Genius Grant”. He can often be seen in the campus cafeteria having lunch with students and colleagues. In my view, Ashesi ought to be more known for is its recent pledge to run an engineering program for 50/50 men and women, something many top universities across the globe have not been able to do.

Since I was first introduced to the liberal arts institution in a 2007 TED video with Dr. Awuah and subsequently started to work there in 2009, much has happened in terms of growth and reach, but the focus on ethics, entrepreneurship, and leadership remains. The university college has doubled in size to 600 students of which 47% are women, 53% men. Ashesi has grown to have four undergraduate programs: engineering, business administration, management information systems, and computer science. While a majority of students come from Ghana, the institution aims to be pan-African with 21% of students from outside the country. The decision to make admissions gender-balanced was a pioneering move that impacts daily life at the university and underlines that women and men have an equal role to play in problem solving on all levels.

Africa is still the continent with the lowest level of university enrollment, at about 6% of the population compared to a 26% world average, according to UNESCO. What this means is that extremely few Africans ever get a chance to go to university. And those who do are destined to become leaders in society. With this analysis Ashesi University College has aimed to bring scholarships to deserving students, quality education to those who can afford, and making sure the future leaders of the continent are both ethical and entrepreneurial. But educating ethical leaders in a corrupt environment marred with inequality is a challenge. Ghana and its neighbors repeatedly scores high in corruption listings such as Afrobarometer or Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and a recent particularly shocking corruption scandal exposed judges in Ghana’s legal system accepting cash bribes to skew verdicts. Related is the hierarchal structure of the society that will make many visitors raise an eyebrow at Dr. Awuah’s presence in the cafeteria queue. At other Ghanaian universities, the leadership would go to lunch in separate senior clubs with air conditioning, service at the table, and not feeling they missed out at all from not talking to students.

In this context, it makes sense that Ashesi’s approach to teaching ethics is hydra headed and importantly stretches over the four years of the undergraduate program. In essence the Ashesi way teaches you to see yourself as the beginning of an ethical society. Second-year student Sihle Magagula summarizes the method as “continuous reflection on your actions and their outcome”. In the freshman year, ethics is taught in a course called Giving Voice to Values, developed by business lecturer Dr. Mary Gentile of American liberal arts institution Babson College. This curriculum is very practical as it assumes we all know what is wrong from right and focuses on giving tools for speaking up. Local examples include values conflicts where your supportive uncle both gives you a job and asks you do act unethically. There are also ethics components in other Ashesi courses, from Design to Communication, and in the four-year leadership seminar. For instance, in designing a solution it is ethical to involve the beneficiaries of your solution on all levels of development. In ethical communication, giving credit to your sources is key. In the final year leadership seminar, which aims to develop students’ social consciousness, students do service learning in the community. Student Mawuli Adjei says of the experience that “this might seem obvious, but directly interacting with a problem’s stakeholders rather than just reading about them compels me to empathize and personalize the problems that I am solving”. Hence, ethics at Ashesi ultimately about being more than a shiny ivory tower: we see ourselves as a part of the town of Berekuso and some collaborative efforts include a football field, a literacy program for adults, and adding value to the most common cash crop in the area, the pineapple. All these programs are student-led.

Another aspect of Ashesi’s ethics instruction is the Ashesi Honor Code that allows students to take exams without proctoring. The Honor Code is signed on by one year-group at a time after extensive deliberation and agreeing by voting. The model has received keen interest from the surrounding society. In 2009, the National Accreditation Board threatened to stop Ashesi’s operations over the Honor Code, but was persuaded by letters from students, parents, faculty and staff of the benefits of practicing ethics in university through unproctored exams. Recently the Honor Code system has been piloted at another university in Ghana and adopted at lower level schools.

Alumnus Anna Amegatcher of Ashesi’s class of 2014 now works as a market researcher and business analyst in Accra. She agrees ethics was part of every course at Ashesi: “It is not necessarily explicitly said, but from day one ethics like the honor code or ethics like when we came to Berekuso having shared kitchens, ethics was always sounding. I think at a point it was sounding more with students than even with the administration, which was good. It became a part of the student body. The message was there.” The kitchen comment relates to trusting others to not steal your foodstuffs. However, a recent series of thefts on campus – of electronic devices and other items – has startled the university and seen us take steps to reinforce the practice of ethics. How can we make sure our campus is inclusive? How can we make sure ethics is lived and not just spoken? The sense of urgency around these efforts shows the Ashesi level of engagement with ethics is a visible, constant struggle, and an ongoing conversation.

In her office in Accra, alumnus Anna Amegatcher suggests her ethics training is central to her carrying out her job: “It has just kept me conscious. It has become a part of me, like issues of ethics is a part of me. You just can’t take it out of me. Fortunately, it had been nurtured in me even before Ashesi, but I got to appreciate an organization was valuing it as something core to them.”

The goal of educating ethical entrepreneurial leaders in Africa might seem lofty, but is there really any other way? Having taught at Ashesi University College for six years has been personally challenging in many ways, not least because of a commute on an unfinished road winding through the Ghanaian countryside, as well as mitigating Ashesi’s high ethical standards in a surrounding society that might not always appreciate you speaking up. But there is the rewarding side as well. I work with young people who are excited to learn and take on challenges. Additionally, I have been privileged to see our alumni little by little effect change in Ghana and beyond. Importantly, Ashesi also pushes the envelope by introducing a “new normal” or new benchmarks for businesses and universities in the region, the continent, and the world.

 

Afropositivism and Biggest Ever Inequality Between Rich and Poor

Today, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) (and often called the rich countries’ club) releases a report “Divided We Stand” (click here for more information and summary of Divided We Stand). It says that even though we have seen a period of growth, inequality between high income earners and low income earners in the OECD is on the increase and it is the biggest since 30 years.

See a summary – along with a great description of the Gini coefficient in this video:


However, what if we make that comparison outside the OECD…?

A few days back the Africa Governance Initiative, led by Tony Blair organized a high level forum to discuss Africa from a positive, forward-looking and empowered perspective. In the write-ups for the lovely website, Africa’s countries’ growth rates are positively discussed:

“there is a new story about Africa that is less familiar. It tells of an Africa in which poverty fell from 52% in 1990 to 40% in 2008. An Africa in which economic growth averaged 4.9% from 2000-2008”

The Economist in its Africa Rising issue (out now!) shares the view:

“Over the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the knock-on effect of the northern hemisphere’s slowdown, the IMF expects Africa to grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia.//Africa now has a fast-growing middle class: according to Standard Bank, around 60m Africans have an income of $3,000 a year, and 100m will in 2015.”

I am not saying they are wrong, actually it is ever so nice with some Afropositivism, but living in Ghana, a country where economic inequality stares me in the eye every hour of every day, I would like to say that looking at macro growth rates is not very informative.

Also, in saying that 60 million Africans, out of the 1 billion Africans in total, have a specific annual salary is not saying much (by the way, who in Europe be glad about USD 3000 per annum?) Without mentioning the cost of living, where African cities actually are among the most expensive in the world (Luanda, Njamena and Libreville in the top 10), food is getting more expensive by the day and did I mention clean water is a large share of weekly expenses in Ghana? Further: inflation is high, there is lack of credit, falling exchange rates, stagnating salaries – that USD 3000, does not go very far.

In light of these events, I suggest looking at the income equality between rich and poor, world wide, using the Gini index (courtesy of Wikipedia).

We see on this map that Africa is extremely unequal, ranging from green (0.35) to dark red (>0.60), but with also many countries not even being able to report data (gray).

It is easy to conclude, that without spreading the wealth, that celebrated economic growth is worth very little to the average African.

(…and possibly also to the rich who then need to invest heavily in security, but that is a different story).

Magnum Ghana Cocoa – Ice Cream for the Europe Market

After having had my blog hacked into last week, my blogging time was eaten up (a suitable expression for this post!) by changing passwords etc. While I am on this topic, if you haven’t changed your blog’s password – or email password for that matter –  this year, do it today!

Anyways, now I am back with a snack!

In Europe, they are at this time celebrating the yearly return of the sun and good weather. And what always comes with nice and temperate times…?

Yes: Ice Cream. This year, the celebrated Magnum kind of ice-cream-on-a-stick has created a Ghanaian version with Ghanaian chocolate! This follows the trend of chocolate as a more refined sweet. These days, people are specific when they want chocolate – they might want a certain brand (Valrhona is supposed to be one of the best), a certain cocoa percentage (70% cocoa melts in your mouth, 80% and above can taste bitter, although preferred by some) and maybe even a specific country of origin for the bean (say Ghana or Ecuador).

Magnum UK describes the Ghana ice cream in this fashion:

“For chocolate connoisseurs.Bite into its cracking milk chocolate made with specially selected cocoa beans from Ghana.”

The phrase “specially selected”, makes me smile but still it is good news and possibly even nation branding that Ghana is mentioned together with “connoisseurs”, however still the question is: When will we in Ghana also take part of that value added?

The ice cream is also available in Sweden where they add the information that the rest of the ice cream has a hazelnut flavor. So when I go there next month, I plan to have a bite!

Anyone tasted it yet?

Pic: Borrowed from Ida.

 

Kajsa HA Listed as a Top Blog with Go Overseas!

My blog has been listed as a top blog by Go Overseas!, a site that promotes teaching, studying and volunteering abroad.

So why is this good news?

  1. I feel good to be present in an environment that promotes learning.
  2. I like that the blogs they promote – actually, “love” is the word they use – are individually reviewed.
  3. Through a very nice email conversation with them, only after I discovered I was getting traffic from their site, not from any pressure to link back to them, I feel I have really earned my badge (see badge to the right).
  4. Also, I judge the quality of the listing by being in such good company.

On the Go Overseas! 10 top blogs from Ghana, GhanaBlogging members Holli and G-lish lead the list, I come in on 7th place. For top blogs from Africa, productive collaborative blog Africa is a Country leads the pack and I discovered some new interesting blogs from other continents from this listing!

This Is Africa – A New Culture Website

My friend Emilie pointed me to the This Is Africa site. It is a spanking fresh culture site that trumpets “Africa for a new generation!” and sports subheadlines like “city life”, “music” and “art&fashion”.

It looks great, slick and graphic in a very modern way. The page has a lot of cool links, for instance to the Ghana based (?) DJ and contributor Akwaaba Music / Benjamin Lebrave. It also features African artists’ music videos in a unique and cool format called The White Room – here Ghana’s Wanlov the Kubolor is one of the artists featured.

But then there is something that makes me suspicious: The website is designed for the specific purpose of connecting Europe a.k.a. “the West” to Africa:

This Is Africa is a media organisation that brings Africa and the West closer together via African contemporary urban culture.

As such, it is funded by the EU. It is managed from Amsterdam as the Director, Editor and Web-manager all live there.

So I cannot help but to ask myself: This Is Africa?

Comparing Notes

One weekend morning I am walking around in our green backyard with only a cloth around my waist, aka with a naked upper body. Cheerily, I turn to my husband:

– Look, now it is like a African village here!

He looks at me and quickly replies:

– Or a European beach…

Touche!

My Africa: Swedes in Africa

Photo credit: DN/Benedicte Kurzen

Yesterday, as a part of the South Africa World Cup report, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter featured five interviews with Swedes living in Africa under the heading “Mitt Afrika” or “My Africa” after Karen Blixen‘s novel with the same name ( in English it was called “Out of Africa”).

I must say I enjoyed reading the interviews by DN’s Africa correspondant Anna Koblanck, (with people like me!). I especially liked the interview with the newly wed Swedish woman in Soweto, Maria Westlund Malepa.  Still, I found that some clichés were repeated about life in Africa: “I have learned how to wait” “Sure I am scared sometimes.. is it soldiers who had too much to drink and shoot, thieves or a new war happening somewhere?” and “the weather, the people, the colors”. But to be fair, other images were shared as well, such as Botswana/Africa being a good place to raise children and Tanzania a place to further your career.

The cap article stated that there are fewer Swedes in Africa today than earlier due to that aid agencies these days post less Swedes in Africa and make more local hires. But I wonder if this is really making the number of Swedes in Africa smaller? Is there a way to find out?

I think Swedes in Africa are more than ever before. I was recently surprised by how many Swedes actually do live in Ghana for example.  The globalization is opening up for many more opportunities. Also, people in my generation seem to to a larger extent value “experience from abroad”and then particularly from developing countries. I have the feeling we rather seek the opportunity than expect to be heavily compensated if it arises.

The mystique and lure of “My Africa” might be bigger than some think.

Also, I should stop saying I have learned how to wait in Ghana and blame Africa when I am running late to meetings!

BBC Program on Africans Returning Home

In the BBC production An African Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby, the story about Africans returning back to their continent is unveiled, according to a recent BBC article.

This Africans returning home business is nothing new, but I think the story needs to be told many times to counteract the strong emigration narrative “everybody is leaving for the UK/US…”.

Personally, I like the more modern approach to migration, suggesting you can stay both here and there, creating the true cosmopolitan or should I say AFROPOLITAN citizen. Here a short excerpt about Ghanaian fashion designer Kofi Ansah I think says exactly that:

Mr Ansah still travels the world, and could live anywhere, but his business is growing, his family are settled and he feels like he’s making a difference in Accra. “I came to help try to develop the clothing textile industry. And I thought, if we could do it right, it could help our employment situation.

Unfortunately, the program (first episode covering Mali, Ghana and Nigeria) is not available to watch here in Ghana, but maybe our brothers and sisters will watch it in the UK and tell us about it…