Tuesday, July 6, 2010

what's the difference?

what's the difference....

I’m getting to see a new part of Africa. Two weeks in Ghana. All I know of Africa is Zambia, and a glimpse of Johannesburg. If you asked me last month, how I would rate places on their development, it would be something like this.

Germany – 9.9

Canada – 9.5

South Africa - 8.0

Zambia – 4.0

.....Ghana - 6.0

I’m sitting in an internet cafĂ© in Tamale, Ghana. I’ve only spent a day and half exploring, but the differences are stark. The difference between Canada and Ghana is huge, same with Canada and Zambia...but now I can clearly see how Zambia and Ghana are not alike.

This reminds me of when I couldn’t see the spectrum of wealth in Zambia based on people’s houses. They were either rich families in a house with glass windows, painted walls and a wall fence. Or they were run down mud-brick houses that looked like it could cave in if you push against it. Then I lived in a mud-hut, and slowly the tiny differences revealed themselves. I didn’t have a door, or window....so I got them ($40). Then I wanted a bed and a mattress ($115). Then after a while I got tired of the termites eating through my floor, so I decided to put in a cement floor ($20). The wall was rough and always dirty, but I didn’t want to spend another $30 to plaster it and paint it. The roof was the ceiling, and the roof leaked. Also, there were tiny particles that always dropped and I’d wake up to find them on my bed in the morning. So I got creative and made a ‘ceiling’ from used sacks. ($10). After a few months without a mirror, I wanted a mirror ($8). And of course in the cold season, I needed an extra blanket ($10). In less than a year, I’d taken my little room through 5 levels of improvement at a total cost of $200.

If you asked my Dad what he saw, I’m sure he’d say “a mud-hut”. Meanwhile I’d invested a lot in it. To me it was clearly better than the neighbours.

So now I look at Ghana and I see the same things. The government actually does stuff here. The mail system works. There are street lights. There are sidewalks. And people are busy – the computer next to me has 4 people surrounding it, reading about college application requirements, the guy on my left is organizing something on the phone. Phones! The cost of speaking to someone is about 1/3rd of what it is in Zambia. Transport! The cost of fuel is almost half what it is in Zambia, and taxi’s are about 1/3rd of Zambia’s rates and a 5 ton truck to travel over 800km is of course much cheaper (about 75% of Zambian rates). Electricity is more money here, recently hiked up to $.14 /kWhr compared to Zambia’s $.05/kWhr – but its on all the time!

My friend Chiko asked me “what’s the difference”?

I didn’t have the heart to say;

“Ghana's economy is 20 years ahead of Zambia's”.

“Thousands of women are riding around on motorbikes with their babies behind”

“It's cheap enough that I can call people and have patient real conversations with them, even internationally”

“The internet is way faster – and they’re looking forward to a fibre optic installation this year”

“They have an intersection with 3 levels of overpasses on it”

So instead I told him

“its hot here”

“the people are nice, but Zambians are the nicest in the world”

And I could’ve said “people prefer to shit outside, so it stinks in some places”

I find it extremely humbling to see Ghana. It hits me hard because I didn’t realize that I would rate Ghana as a 6 out of 10...and be forced to rate Zambia as a 3 or 4.

Sorry Chiko, the truth is that Zambia has a ways to go. Zambia needs to use its copper assets to improve education, health care, infrastructure and the legal system. They need donors that can see the difference between Zambia and Ghana, and that solutions in one don’t always work in the other. When you’re here long enough, the differences are stark.