Feature Article of Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Columnist: Gborsongu, Reagan

A Less Than Desirable Painting … But Who’s The Real Artist?

A mix of emotions stirred within me when I read a recent article on how some “Ghanaians slam[med] One Direction for negative representation of Ghana” upon their short visit to Ghana (see below for the link to the news item).
Typical of some celebrities exhibiting their goodwill towards humanitarian causes, One Direction, a UK boy band briefly visited Ghana, as part of a charity tour under the banner of Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. As their name suggests, they returned to their home-base and put out a ‘one directional’ portrayal of what they saw. As remarked by one member of the group - "I've seen the slums right in front of me! This is no joke! They really need your help! Poverty is real!"
The above castigation, inter alia, was expectedly met with public displeasure, and an analysis of this is the main tenor of this piece. Poverty as they indicated is indeed real. But ask, which part of the world, could be claimed as wholly, completely or absolutely poverty-free?
In line with that, did One Direction instead of the schadenfreude exhibited, see or experience anything positive during their short visit to Ghana? On the good part, these questions were well addressed by some Ghanaian celebrities I label the “True Patriots” who, privy to the intents of the visit, and with appreciable international exposure, succinctly put it to their foreign colleagues, One Direction:
“Next [time] you visit a country, remember like yours there are beautiful and ugly parts. Don’t base your views on one part” … like every ‘normal’ country we have the rich, poor, middle class. Don’t show one side of a country and project it as the whole … next time, please be [b]alanced [c]ome [b]etter. There is more to Ghana, so much more … next time, also tweet about the luxury hotel and VIP treatment and beauty of the country you enjoyed.”
These individuals have shown a deep sense of solidarity with this country, without a tirade of profane words that the assertions made could have provoked.
Taking an analytical perspective, a twist to this issue may be brought to light. Placing their morose delectation aside, could the One Direction group be blamed for their comments? On one hand, in line with the fundraising agenda of the Charity, that funded the visit, they presented a scenario of impoverishment to appeal for funds and arguably evoke empathy. In other words, for charitable reasons, the group’s eclectic portrayal of destitute people in Ghana and Africa might have been in ‘good faith’.
On the other hand, does this intent project any positive image to their followers? This is, of course, rhetorical. As put forward by one of the True Patriots - “… it’s for charity, but this highly negative image of sub Saharan African countries like Ghana ... that you choose to focus on without balance for the so many positive aspects to your millions of [followers] … serve mostly to reinforce negative stereotypes … [eventhough] there is so much more to it than slums and poverty”. One can then glean the potential impact such sadistic posturing poses to their followers. Even take the prejudicial reportage by another news media about the visit, they labelled Accra, Ghana - an “impoverished village” (Eonline).
What a depiction of a beloved capital city! No wonder some foreigners are fed with fictitious images of Africa as a country - then Ghana as a common suburb!
In furtherance, can we solely blame the foreigner (in this case, One Direction) who came to pick such images here? Cogently addressed by one of the True Patriots, “…don’t blame [One Direction] too much, blame the people who constantly feel the need to show only deprived parts of Africa!” Thus, there are local contributors to this.
With the less travelled and ‘less informed’ foreigners, their mental pictures of Ghana and the continent as a whole, are shaped through what is presented them on the internet and social platforms, magazines and billboards etc. As part of this list, though not exhaustive, is one veritable but unfortunate source-the Ghanaian citizen. Any doubts? Permit an attempt to convince you.
I was consulted once by a foreign NGO which had received a request from a Ghanaian NGO, seeking funds to support poor, destitute children. To appeal to their foreign counterparts, one would marvel at the images sent during their correspondence - naked and abused children plagued with malnutrition, and engrossed in child labour in an unknown village in Ghana. Upon verification, no NGO of that sort existed anywhere in Ghana! The very posturing of this fictitious, ‘not-for-profit’, fund-seeking NGO in Ghana, only helped to propagate negative stereotypes about us as a people.
It is imperative to state, however, that these challenges do sporadically exist, but this malicious attempt was neither credible nor substantiated. Can the foreigner then be blamed, when our own people incessantly carve methods of fund solicitation for what they are led to perceive us to be?
To add to the above, it is with much regret to state that, the images some Ghanaians portray outside are far worse than the images perceived by foreigners. Ask a Ghanaian resident abroad who has just returned from a trip to Ghana, and you will be dashed with pejorative comments that putatively tell you about an absolutely uninhabitable society.
It begins with the obvious perennial conditions-improper sanitation, inefficient transport system, traffic jams, noise, mosquitoes, dust, “dum so dum so” and unending labels this space can’t contain. Some, lose sight of the fact that they were born in these temperatures, and will huffily tell you Ghana is now a burning furnace, as if they never experienced hot Summer whiles abroad.
Quite laughable, some of them whether fashion-blind or for reasons known to them, even wear heavy jackets and/or dark coloured clothes in extremely hot Summer.
What’s more, ask about ongoing developments and the usual answer will be “business as usual”. Yes, the system might not be as productive as in some foreign lands, but ask what they would do to turn the wheels of development faster if they were here. It is no news that some Ghanaian immigrants in foreign lands work ungodly hours in the cold weather in all manner of jobs. The key question is, whether they would do same here.
Part of the able workforce, are ready to toil for other foreign countries, but fall short of owning up to improve theirs. How many Ghanaians are in foreign armies, and answer if it is out of a spirit of patriotism to such countries or the lack of opportunities to serve their country?
It may be added that, the decision to toil in and for another country, for diverse reasons, is quite an individual’s choice and cannot be discouraged. In any case, where there are remittances, it inures to our country.
However, once the decision is made to live in a foreign land in attempt to escape the supposed ‘dire’ conditions here, it should not be the basis to connote disparaging statements about one’s Motherland. Ghana deserves good ambassadors of all its citizens whether flying under diplomatic flags or sweeping the streets in a foreign country. Painting a rough picture to the world won’t serve us well.
Also mind-boggling, it is not uncommon to see Ghanaians who return from abroad, sometimes showing illusive “best images” of their lives outside, and portraying a life style in paradise, which in most cases are not real. The point is, they indirectly help in promoting the perceived prosperous life outside, though the reality is sometimes different. No wonder some Ghanaians are incited to go the last mile to sell their productive assets to travel abroad to experience the illusive utopian life.
To add salt to injury, under the good auspices of Ghanaian hospitality, when a relative returns from overseas, been treated as “Kings” and “Queens” and enjoy the best moments holidaying here, they return to their foreign base - to preach the negative side of their trip. At this juncture, let’s answer, if they are anyway different from the pop group, One Direction?
As a departure from the façade, it must be pointed out that, even some foreigners do present positive tone about Ghana than some Ghanaians abroad. To some foreigners I met, who had travelled to Ghana, amidst some challenges faced, they became so endeared to this country and showed a sense of camaraderie with people they met. They would, in sum, say - they want to pay another visit.
They recount the hospitality of the Ghanaian, the peace and communal living in this country. Whether these are true feelings or sheer pretence, some would overtly show it by even inculcating the style of living in Ghana in their home countries.
Some tend to wear Ghana - made clothes and ornaments, stock Ghanaian paraphernalia, eat Ghanaian dishes, adopt Ghanaian hairstyles, and listen to Ghanaian music and dance to match (even the famous ‘Azonto’).
Some more open-minded foreigners even take a reflective view. One ever made the remark that, he had lived with people in the same community for years, but never whispered a greeting or got a wink from his neighbours.
This was normal until he experienced the enlivening communal life-style of a typical Ghanaian society. This ended his statement about his home country, “we seem to have everything here but at the same time living on an island - each clinging to his or her cage”.
We should take cognisance of the fact that, what we portray about where we come from, tells much about us. You can dare to be different, but it proves difficult erasing mental images from insidious stories once told about your country.
The truth is, your origin is already perceived by some as poverty-stricken and conflict-ridden, right from the beginning. It is then a clarion duty to act as a steward to promote a better image of yourself and your country, and that positive thought must, first and foremost, be rooted within a sense of patriotism. That said, it is up to you to see the spark of your diamond in its rough state, knowing it’s yours, than to admire polished ones in someone else’s jewellery shop.
In essence, as the adage goes, where you sit determines where you stand! Just enjoy where you are, and make it worth living. For those who cannot face the obvious public challenges in Ghana, take solace in the fact that, every private solution to a public problem is laudable. Only our contributions in part will effect change to our dear nation as a whole. Change happens by getting involved.
Change is proposed, not opposed! Let’s be good ambassadors out there, and stymie the negative stereotypical images about Ghana portrayed to the world. Let’s carry on in unison, at every moment, the burning flames of the invaluable hospitality, and the impregnable peace and tranquillity, as our hallmarks admonished the world over. Charity they say begins at home! God continue to bless our homeland Ghana!
This write-up is a Rejoinder to a previous issue on this link: http://entertainment.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201301/100003.php

The Author, Mr. Reagan Gborsongu, a Ghanaian Development and Governance professional, is a graduate from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. For further correspondence, please contact him on: reagaustin@gmail.com or P.O.Box AF 1533, Adenta, Accra.