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Opinions of Monday, 14 December 2015

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

Black Friday comes to Ghana, too

This article is about the increased Americanisation of certain aspects of global culture and how Ghana, too, is being sucked into it.

First, it sneaked into Europe through the UK when Amazon started offering Black Friday bargains online. Then, last year, it went into the brick and mortar shops in the UK and the rest of Europe. And this year, it was a big thing all over Europe with people coming to blows in Manchester as they hunted for Black Friday bargains. There was chaos in other European cities – just like in certain parts of the US.

And this year, Black Friday came to Ghana, too. It was slight – a mostly online thing but it was significant. Most Ghanaians were not even aware of it. In Kumasi, some people saw the ads and thought it was just a joke. So they didn’t spread it around on social networks. Those who knew went out, especially in Accra, and bought some cheap things. But nobody in Ghana camped overnight in front of any shop to be the first to enter when it is opened. If it came to Ghana, then it came to the rest of Africa too. And does the rest of the world not hanker after American cultural practices?

Even though Black Friday is a quintessentially American thing, the Americans, themselves, are not very sure of how the name “Black Friday” came to be identified with a tradition that is at least a hundred years old in that country. What is generally agreed is that its use gained currency in the 1960s to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season with reduction sales. It is “black” because it is the time most shops go from red, in accounting terms, to black at a time when pen and ink were used to denote such things. Other accounts said it was the Philadelphia police which used the term to denote the congested and clogged streets that were the result of the rush of consumers to shops to get bargain purchases on that first Friday after Thanksgiving. There is also an account that dates the term back to a stock market collapse in 1869 making the day to be called black (as in gloomy). But the most bizarre account of its origins places it to the practice of selling slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. This account is generally believed to be false.

Black Friday is not the only US tradition that Europeans have copied in recent years. When I arrived in Europe many years ago, there were no Halloween celebrations. Celebrating first November as an All Saints day is an old European Christian tradition. But the tradition of pumpkins and children with painted faces dressed in strange witches’ clothes and wielding Star Wars like war instruments is a recent European thing directly copied from the USA. I don’t think this tradition has reached Ghana as yet.

There is one thing common to both traditions: their commercial value to shopkeepers. Of these, it is Black Friday that is the more important. Shopkeepers everywhere seize the opportunity to sell lots of goods even if cheaply. This has always been so and Europe and the rest of the developed world, have age-old traditions involving general Sales. The French call it “Soldes” and the Scandinavians say “Rea” which is a diminution of “Realisation” – a term used in English for the sale of the estate of a bankrupt person. In terms of clothing, there is the move from winter to summer fashion as shopkeepers try to clear space for items for the coming season and sell the outgoing ones cheaply. Then there is the other one of summer fashion giving way to winter wear. Summer is always a time of sales. Christmas sales have always existed in all countries except perhaps for poor countries like Ghana where prices rather go up during the Xmas season and refuse to come down after the season.

Many shops make most of their sales during such periods. Even if there are unbelievable slashes in prices, they still sell enough items (many of which would never have been sold, anyway) to make profits. Many shopkeepers live for these times. Even those who do not make a profit still reduce prices at this time, if only to keep their clientele.

As with such things, some shops make sure they make the best out of it by cheating on others. They make a “sneak preview” by starting the Sales one day earlier or extending the Black Friday over the entire weekend to include Saturday and Sunday. Some consumer groups even accuse some shops of deliberately raising prices in the days leading to the Sales and then reducing them to deceive shoppers that they were making bargains.

Expect Black Friday to be bigger in Ghana next year. It will fully move to the shopping malls. The shopping mall itself is one more instance in which Ghana is being sucked into the global culture. Even though shopping malls have existed since the late fifties, the first shopping mall in Ghana is the Accra Mall which was opened in July 2008. The shopping mall, if the British are to be believed, originated in the UK, taken to America and made big there and then exported to the rest of the world. At a time when the USA is cutting down on new malls, the rest of the world, especially the third world, is now crazy with them. In Ghana, and many other African countries, shopping malls are springing all over the place. The concept in our country is still so new that some Ghanaians still take a public holiday out of their homes by visiting a mall even though they are not able to buy anything.

The goods in the malls in Ghana are mostly the same Chinese made ones you see in Europe and the Americas, and the rest of the world. But your Ghanaian will tell you not to trust the goods in the shops in Ghana. China may be the “factory of the world” but the items they export to the third world are of far inferior quality to those sent to Europe and North America even if they bear the same trademarks. One thing is certain, though: Chinese-made goods unite us all in the globalized world.

Linked to the idea of the shopping mall is that of the concept of the supermarket. Today, we enter a supermarket and find it very natural to take the shopping trawl and go around and pick up the items we want ourselves and come out to the check-out counter and pay and go out. But it has not always been like this. In the olden days the shopkeeper always stood in front of his goods and took your list and brought out all the goods that you wanted. Now, technology has improved the check-out system. In many supermarkets, you can go round and pick the items you want, scan the prices yourself and pay with a credit card (or even cash) without a single intervention of personnel from the shop. In Ghana this method has not yet caught up even in the big supermarkets. You still have to go through a cashier and endure the annoying service of somebody packing your goods and taking them to your car (for a tip) and even the more annoying one of someone else checking your goods against your receipt as you leave the shops. Some of these foreign owned shops in Ghana think all Ghanaians are thieves. Melcom is a notorious culprit in this show of disrespect to Ghanaian shoppers!

I am finding it difficult to write about our country’s integration into a globalised world without referring to Yepoka Yeebo’s article on BBC online about the bright, young, foreign born Ghanaians now returning to the country of their parents and doing great things there (http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20151203-why-the-young-seek-their-fortune-in-a-land-their-parents-left). These youngsters are finding opportunities in the country of their parents and are going for them even as their own parents are still staying abroad. They are meeting difficulties in Ghana but they are determined to surmount them. It is an encouraging story of hope and determination. These returnees are young, bright and daring – and beautiful. They are coming from all over the world – USA, Europe, Japan and even from Down Under. They were either born abroad or sent there as toddlers. Today, they are seeing opportunities (and fortunes) in the countries abandoned by their parents many of whom may now be living in pension in their foreign countries. These youngsters don’t go into politics but rather venture into areas with direct effects on the socio-economic life of the country: real estate, banking, IT, medicine, communications, fashion, culture, etc. At the same time, there are still many young Ghanaians who are doing everything to leave the country for “greener pastures” abroad. Some of them are the brightest we have produced in Ghana. And some of us who left the old country to its fate, whose children are now returning, are still stuck here writing trite articles to ghanaweb on the silly politics of the abandoned homeland. The return of these bright youngsters helps push Ghana further into the globalised world as they bring something of the cultures of their birth places to the land of their parents. Next year, these are the people who will quickly recognise a Black Friday in Ghana and embrace it.

In the country which has become my second home, the first week in February is celebrated as Book Week. The bookshops make fantastic reductions on all reading material. The week is preceded by ads showing what reductions have been made on many favourite books. Many bookshops wait all year for this one week when they make their greatest sales. The week also has other activities related to reading. The country’s favourite authors are also on hand to sign books in the bookshops and book fairs. One of the things that struck me when I first came to this country was how so many people read books. People, especially elderly women, read while waiting for the bus or train. They continued on the bus or train until they reached their stops. (These days, the smartphone has robbed us of this vital reading time.) Because of this strong reading tradition the book week is well patronised. But this week of reduced prices on books is one Sale tradition that will NEVER be copied in Ghana. Gentle reader, you know why…


Kofi Amenyo (kofi.amenyo@yahoo.com)