If you sit in the lobby of the African Regent in Accra during the brunch hour, you can literally watch the direction the country will be going in unfold before your eyes.
You’ll find out what’s coming to your screen in the coming months.
You’ll discover the latest celebrity gossip.
You’ll even discover what you’ll be eating for the next 200 years. All it takes is a keen, observant eye and a pair of listening ears.
The African Regent is the ideal meeting space. It’s within walking distance from Accra’s international airport. It is easy to get to from either direction of town. You can’t miss it because it is SO huge and colorful. It bills itself as ‘Simply Afropolitan’, which depending on your philosophy can be a good or bad thing. ‘Afropolitan’ has become a synonym for ‘bourgeois’, or in some circles also less flatteringly know as Afro Sell Outs.
I was sitting in the lobby of the Regent a few weeks ago waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. We had been playing dodge the first week I was in Ghana and we finally said “enough with the madness” and set a firm date. I chose a seat on the elevated portion of the lobby, adjacent to the bar so that I could see him when he walked in and also admire the enormous Christmas tree that towered over all the guests and visitors. I was early and he was late, which gave me ample opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: people watching. And people watch I did!
Men in business suits and shiny shoes strode purposefully by. Women in jeggings and weaves wandered past. Hotel staff draped in beige and brown print uniforms looked everyone in the eye and greeted each person with a smile and nod. “Can I help you find anything? Is everything okay?”
Soon I was joined by two English men on my elevated perch. One was markedly older than the other, but they were both dressed similarly, in buttoned down shirts and khakis. They chose a seat with a table and pulled out some files, laying the papers carefully on top. They began to chat with one another about this and that. I didn’t begin eavesdropping on their conversation until I heard them say something that piqued my interest.
“I expect that this should all go rather smoothly,” said the brown haired one. (Let’s call him Brown.)
“I wouldn’t be so certain. It could go either way,” replied the grey haired one. (Grey… obviously.)
“We’ve just had a fantastic meeting with the paramount chief of the area, and he’s completely on board. Trust me, it will be fine.”
Ah. What were these guys talking about, I wondered? They began muttering and I went back to surfing the internet on my phone. Ten minutes later, an old Black man in a blacker suit joined them at the table, apologizing for his lateness. He had just come from another meeting. The Englishmen rose to shake his hand. No apologies were needed.
“We wanted to bring you up to date on the project,” Brown said. “We have some exciting developments that I think will benefit all.”
Black (our Ghanaian character) nodded and offered a lopsided smile. He couldn’t wait to hear. Neither could I, but their voices grew hushed. Eventually, Grey spoke a little louder.
“I think what is important to note here is that this is a business opportunity. It’s not foreign aid, it’s not NGO, it’s business. And that’s what the people need.”
“And the seeds are already proving very effective against climate change,” added Brown. “We’ve seen tremendous results in other countries. They are resistant against extreme heat, drought… and war.”
What the heck did that mean? I can only surmise he meant that his GMO organization will be there to feed the African masses after we’ve hacked ourselves to death. CAR immediately sprung to my mind. I leaned in closer. Black was nodding enthusiastically.
“Yes. Yes!” he squeaked in that way that only old men who are losing testosterone can. “This is very lucrative. Very attractive indeed.”
There was more muttering and then the meeting was over. In just 12 minutes, Black had promised to get the “paperwork” going and he was off. Grey stood to his feet and made a jubilant phone call.
“We’ve just had a wonderful meeting with a chap,” he said, sweating with what I presume was glee. “It shan’t be long now…”
He disappeared to the other end of the lobby. I couldn’t hear the rest of his conversation. But I had heard enough. So this was how my country gets sold out, eh? It’s the same old tricks, but different players; and as David S. says “same khakis with a modern twist.”
So why do I say Ghana is going to lose the GMO fight? Well, the answer is simple: we are working at the wrong end. The problem with Ghanaians in the Diaspora, and even some at home, is that we don’t really understand how the country works. We have an idea of the way it SHOULD work, and try to affect change from that angle. We fall flat 80% of the time, and that’s a crappy success rate. Everyone knows how ineffective our government is: EVERYONE. Keep that in mind. So what do you do if you want to make it in Ghana?
Skip government altogether. That’s what Grey and Brown did. That’s what the boys from Jungle Gold did. That’s what the Chinese did! They went directly to the gatekeeper, and Ghana’s gatekeepers are our chieftaincy class. By the time you or I or the government gets around to 1) discovering that there is a problem let alone 2) trying to solve it, it’s too late. Mole National Park has already had 12% of its forest cut down to make room for Chino Agribusiness.
If we want to keep the likes of Monsanto, Pfizer and whoever else comes to Kotoka with sole intentions of defiling our population, we need to get out from behind our laptops and smartphones and go into the hinterlands. Talk to our community leaders and elders. Show them the devastating effects that Big Pharma and Agro have had on other nations. Even the great America cannot withstand them! Don’t let them sell the country for a bottle of Schnapps, flattering words and the false promise of “business opportunity”. Opportunity for whom?!
Appealing to the government to stem this influx is just not going to work. These people are in office (when they do show up for work) to collect a salary and build houses. How can the same Minister for Environment keep his position for 30 years and not have set up a national recycling program for all the plastic that litters our streets? Is THIS the guy you are now going to appeal to? Is his ilk actually interested in any form of national development? All the government is there to do is to put a pretty bow and seal of approval on the package that these multi-national corporations have cooked up with our unwitting traditional rulers. They don’t study. They don’t think. And they don’t really care.
As my grandmother would say advise yourselves.