The Quest for the Golden Fleece

Last week I made a visit to Semester at Sea, a shipboard program which the University of Virginia sponsors. It is essentially a floating university that circumnavigates the globe, offering an experience akin to a string of study abroad programs. Nineteen students and four faculty from the University of Virginia are participating this semester, on a voyage that so far has taken them to the Bahamas, Dominica, the Brazilian Amazon, and Ghana; as I write, the ship should be hewing close to the west coast of Africa on its way down to Cape Town.

I met them in Takoradi, Ghana’s first deep water seaport. It is a drab city of ramshackle huts, offering so little virtue and interest to visitors that Lonely Planet advises there is “no reason to stick around.” But buried in this city, perched on what the British called the Gold Coast, is a lot of history. Much of it has to do with “globalization,” which began more than five hundred years ago when the Portuguese came in search of gold—and then slaves. Since then, Ghana has been a harbinger for other kinds of globalization, some of it political and intellectual, others commercial. One conjures up three different types of globalization, layered into a kind of pentimento of modernity, revealing the inseparability of the past with the present. It is a complex layering, one that escapes comprehension through the linear imagination that for so long characterized ideas like progress, modernization, and development.

Ghana’s early encounter with the West was disastrous. With the spread of plantations in the Americas in the sixteenth century, the slave trade eclipsed the traffic in gold, and Ghana became home to a number of slave trading centers. Near Takoradi are the scattered castles and forts that held in their “slave dungeons” the men and women sold or captured all over West Africa, including today’s Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso; and there they waited, hundreds of people forced into windowless, dank prisons for weeks and months, only to be shackled and chained and then loaded onto ships bound for the Americas—especially North America and the Caribbean. Until the slave trade was outlawed in the early nineteen century, it is estimated that twelve million Africans arrived in the New World, to provide labor in cotton and coffee plantations, gold and silver mines, rice fields, and in timber, construction and shipping industries—and in houses. These were the survivors from a much larger number captured in Africa, as many died before arriving in the “New World.”  Scholars call it “the Middle Passage” in English or “Maafa,” in Swahili, the “Massive Disaster.”

One of the best scholars of the Maafa teaches in the College. Roquinaldo Ferreira, assistant professor of African and African-American history, has combed the archives of Portugal, Brazil, and Angola to produce a fine book entitled Atlantic Microhistory: Slaving, Transnational Networks, and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Angola. It is a fascinating kaleidoscope of the agencies and purposes that propelled the transatlantic trade in slaves, set against the backdrop of the slaves themselves, as well as slave traders, African chiefs, African witches, mulattoes, Portuguese judges, and Brazilian and Portuguese merchants, reminding us that the global slave trade not only helped shape the modern world economy but also cultures and societies across the Atlantic, in the Old and the New Worlds alike.

The second kind of globalism that Ghana helped to usher in was a new kind of political and intellectual thought, through the works of men like Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister and then President of independent Ghana; and W.E.B. Du Bois, who, at the invitation of Nkrumah, spent the last years of his life in Ghana writing Encyclopedia Africana. Nkrumah was educated at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in the 1930s, a historically black school, and was conscious about being part of what we have come to call the African-American diaspora. Nkrumah’s perspective was instinctively and foremost an internationalist one and, specifically, an “Atlanticist” one—not necessarily in the way the term is used to denote a perspective on Europe and America, but in the larger sense that includes both Americas as well as Africa. Even as he focused on national autonomy and economic independence for Ghana, he thought simultaneously about the need to bring resources together to address the imbalance of resources and life chances in the world system. He advocated Pan-Africanism, contributing to the establishment of the Organization of the African Unity (and later African Union); he was also a pioneer of Third World solidarity in the form of international non-alignment (one of the most stunning buildings in Accra, the capital, is dedicated to the non-aligned movement). That movement had its heyday beginning with the Bandung conference in the mid-1950s and extending to the late 1970s. If it later proved to be something of a chimera, both the non-aligned movement and the African Union proved successful in one of their most important goals: helping stamp out the last vestiges of colonialism and minority rule in Africa. Today one can hardly set foot in Ghana without being reminded of Nkrumah’s towering presence and impact.

W.E.B. Du Bois died in Ghana in 1963 at the age of 95, one day before Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. In The Souls of the Black Folk, he spoke metaphorically of the pursuit of the Golden Fleece, which he likened to the profits of the cotton industry: “Have you ever seen a cotton-field white with the harvest, its golden fleece hovering above the black earth like a silvery cloud edged with dark green, its bold white signals waving like the foam of billows from Carolina to Texas across that Black and human Sea?” But the Golden Fleece could have been any number of things. It could have meant the gold in search of which the Europeans first came to Ghana, or any profit in search of which the African-American diaspora became the pawn—or for that matter, the very notion of progress, which often seems to have receded in Ghana and many other African countries. I visited DuBois’ home in Accra, now a museum, wandered around his study, looked at his ample bookshelves, studied photos of the man—always, the picture of the scholar—and wondered what he would think of the color line in the world today, almost a half-century after his death.

Ghana has always been among the wealthiest and socially advanced countries in sub-Saharan Africa, well-endowed with natural resources. It still remains one of the world’s top gold producers, and the second largest producer of cocoa. It earns large foreign exchange from timber, diamond, bauxite, manganese, and even electricity from a dam sitting astride the world’s largest artificial lake. And it has oil, just discovered off its western coast, near Takoradi. Still, progress remains elusive—both as a notion and as a reality.

Taking a stroll in the labyrinth of the local market in Takoradi, I came across yet another kind of globalization, whose specter I had not anticipated. Everywhere I turned in the market were piles and piles of goods to satisfy all the daily needs of ordinary Ghanaians—pots, pans, kettles, plastic ware, shirts, sunglasses, fake watches, shoes, sandals—all made in China. The local goods were only things manufactured by nature: the fruit that falls so abundantly from the trees, the rice grown according to ancient Ghanaian methods (and that slaves brought to the Carolinas), the fish that could be collected through “purse seine” fishing. Everything else seemed to be provided by the factories of China—hardly the kind of global future that Nkrumah would have predicted or hoped for; he dreamed of a self-reliant industrial future for his country. True, there were some manufactured things that were not Chinese. The streets of Takoradi were filled with Nissans, Hyundais, and Volkswagens. But it was also easy to imagine Chinese sedans joining the ranks before long.

W.E.B du Bois wrestled with the idea of the Golden Fleece, understood this time as “progress.” He didn’t think it was measurable—or for that matter, even recognizable. Is “progress” in the dreams of non-alignment and solidarity, in retrospect so rational, sensible and in fact “progressive”? But it waned as the Cold War alignments themselves disappeared, and as the idea of sustained Third World development succeeded only here and there, not everywhere. Or is it in the ubiquitous Chinese wares, exchanged for the mineral and energy resources excavated from the African soil? And how would we know whether all the progress of today is, as du Bois put it, “the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some faint-dawning day?”

Meanwhile our faculty and students at Semester at Sea sail the world, like Jason and his Argonauts in quest of the Golden Fleece. One would hope that they will have better luck with naming and finding their future.

30 Responses to “The Quest for the Golden Fleece”

  1. Doug Allen says:

    Your essay prompts the obvious question, so long asked but rarely answered: Why hasn’t the African Continent…and certainly the sub-Sahara portion….failed to prosper into a more human-beneficial area than the rest of the world? Africa has a wealth of raw materials and natural rresources (water power, etc.). Today I am told that their standard of living is no better than it was under the Colonials.

    I thirst for an answer!

  2. Terrie Griggs says:

    It’s stunning the impact a handful of people can have on propagating evil and yet modern society can’t help one of the wealthiest nations in resources become an independent economy and eliminate their everyday social poverty. The Golden Fleece indeed, man seeks that which is just out of their reach but won’t fix the problems inherit all around them. Let us not forget that not all nations have a Food & Drug Administration to recall lead based products sold by Chinese producers and this could be killing the Children of Ghana every day, amongst other systemic failures.

  3. Hunter Link says:

    Never having been to Ghana myself, perhaps my comments are not extremely valuable, yet there are some important points that I think I can make.

    1) The point that “progress” is an elusive and amorphous goal is certainly a valid one. The idea is inherently cultural, and when Westerners speak of “progress” we often (if implicitly) mean the kind of progress that can be measured by benchmarks like the Big Mac Index ( The world of Chinese-dominated markets, where cheap consumer goods from half-way around the world are available on your street corner… sounds like America! This integration into the world economy is the “progress” that institutions like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the World Trade Organization seek for the so-called “Third World.” Yet is this actually a “good” thing? I applaud and heartily agree with Dean Woo’s questioning of this notion of “progress” as an admirable end-goal. We often forget that is was barely a few generations ago that we were calling the brutal “Christianization” of the “savages” of Africa another form of “progress.” Words like “progress,” “development,” and “Third World” are loaded, political, and possibly even dangerous.

    2) Dean Woo writes that Kwame Nkrumah was successful in that he helped “stamp out the last vestiges of colonialism and minority rule in Africa.” Again, perhaps my ignorance of Ghanaian politics is obvious here, but I feel my eyebrow raising after reading that. Colonialism, a phenomenon with an official lifespan of hundreds of years, will take more than one president’s (or even several presidents’) initiatives to “stamp out.” Indeed, I posit that the very dynamics that Dean Woo has observed with Chinese imports and raw material export could be called neo-colonial rule (of course, American companies are also complicit in this kind of “progress” throughout the world). Can the legacy of colonialism ever be eradicated? Or will it continue to imprint the very fabric of every relationship that the West (loosely speaking) has with other countries, be they economic, social, cultural, or indeed, academic? I would warn against the idea that colonialism is gone from Ghana, though I welcome people more versed in Ghanaian history to disagree with me.

    Thank you, Dean Woo for an insightful look on the idea of “progress” in the world.

  4. David T. Gies says:

    This is a beautiful and moving portrait of a visit to a beautiful and moving country. Semester at Sea is creating important relationships in Ghana, and we hope they will continue to flourish. Mr. Nkrumah’s daughter, Samia Yaba Nkrumah, the Member of Parliament for Jomoro Constituency in the Western Region, met several of the Semester at Sea folks during the Fall 2010 voyage, and expressed admiration for the students’ energy, optimism, and focus on that “quest for the Golden Fleece” of progress (and yes, progress in the form of sustainability and independence). By the way, Charlottesville has a Sister City in Ghana (Winneba).

  5. Hunter Link says:

    A quick reply to Terrie Griggs:

    I would be wary of casting the blame on ‘Chinese producers’ for killing the children of Ghana. The problem of lack of government oversight in economic distribution is definitely a problem. But I would be cautious of engaging in the “fear China” mentality that masks the fact that US-based transnationals that are, like Chinese transnationals, exploiting lower levels of government control in Third World countries to increase profit margins and stock returns. All are involved, not just the Chinese.

  6. Bill Davidson '67&'71 says:

    Having spent 3 years as a missionary doctor in Tanzania in the 1970′s, your essay on an African nation caught my attention. In reading your blog I was reminded that as a freshman at UVA in 1963 I saw the integration of the previously segregated “Corner.” Bathrooms in the old Medical School still bore the designation of [for] white men or white women. While I take no credit myself for the positive changes that came out of the ’60′s, I am proud of what the Progressive forces did for our University and the country at that time. With the tremendous challenges in the world today, the times need a renewed commitment by our academic establishments to inspire our youth to take on these challenges. Wouldn’t it be great to see Mr. Jefferson’s University lead the way.

  7. Brian Fatzinger says:

    Dear Dean Woo,

    Slavery was and is (as you know it is still practiced in certain parts of the world) a reprehensible crime against humanity. The practice of discrimination that followed the end of slavery in the United States was little better than slavery itself. For the United States, slavery and discrimination collectively imprinted a permanent stain on our great experiment in liberty. However, at some point, we must get past this relentless focus on the crime of slavery and celebrate its defeat in Europe and the US. I believe that time is now.

    In order to finally celebrate the defeat of slavery, we must acknowledge the crimes committed by all parties involved in the slave trade. Politically correct historians of all races have tirelessly scourged Europeans and Americans for the egregious practice of slavery. In our pandemic drug war, drug dealers receive harsher penalties than drug users. Why are the Africans who enslaved other Africans, and who sold Africans to Europeans and Americans rarely, if ever, held accountable for their part in this crime against humanity? The culpability of Africans must be acknowledged as part of the healing process. Finally, we must all practice forgiveness and move forward.

    The practice of slavery ended in the United States almost 150 years ago. If we can’t come together as Americans, not African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, European Americans, Asian Americans etc., I fear for the very survival of our country. If people of African descent are going to carry the ‘victim’ label in perpetuity, then future generations of African descendants will grow up with the same sense of ‘victim-hood’ and the same resulting sense of entitlement that has hindered past generations’ socio-economic growth in the United States.

    I hope the focus will change soon.

    Brian Fatzinger

  8. Michelle Kisliuk says:

    I appreciate that this is a blog post and cannot address every issue, but I would hope that readers might come away with a few questions such as these: where is the point-of-view of some individuals in Takoradi, or even some of the American students (and faculty) sweeping through via Semester at Sea, coming and going and observing without obligation, no strings attached? Some of the most well-known geopolitical moments and figures in the history of Ghana were evoked in the blog post, which rightly questions received notions of “progress” and linear notions of history and modernity and “globalization,” but moves on, just like the ship, without the author asking herself or her readers — or the students on the ship — to question their own positions, ask themselves what their role might be in a new conception of progress, in cooperation with those in the ports they visit. At the end of the post, the author describes the local market, full of Chinese goods and apparently lacking in items manufactured locally. Was there no local cloth for sale, and local tailors on-hand to fashion it into tailor made African garments? Are we sure that the Chinese goods for sale are lead-contaminated? These items are ubiquitous throughout Africa and elsewhere, so if they are indeed dangerous a huge international hew and cry must be raised against Chinese exporters. If not, we need to acknowledge that access to things like cooking pots, bed sheets, bowls, plates, drinking glasses, and first-aid items at very low prices helps many African households maintain a reasonable standard in daily living. Ghana has some of the best infrastructure in Africa: roads, public transportation, a thriving tourist industry, along with its many natural resources. What it needs to enhance the lives of its people is, I think, sustained and in-depth international interest, attention, and investment. As wonderful as it must be to be exposed to the many places and people, that Semester at Sea offers students the opposite of something sustained might teach us (and them) that there must be a next step — that in order to make a difference those of us who have the luxury of education and mobility need to invest, eventually, in something that lasts.

  9. J.D. Hunley, '63 (College), '73 (Ph. D.) says:

    I trust the students got to see all of the places you visited and that they, too, were exposed to the elusiveness of equitable economic development and of other dreams that Nkrumah and Du Bois, among others, have sought to see fulfilled. You remind us of the scourge of poverty that still plagues too much of the world, a scourge against which the supposed social science of economics has failed to provide solutions. Perhaps for a subsequent essay you could talk with the students from the Semester at Sea and discuss what they believe they have learned from the experience and how it fits with their overall educational adventure at the University of Virginia.

  10. Charles Sagoe-Moses says:

    [I met them in Takoradi, Ghana’s first deep water seaport. It is a drab city of ramshackle huts, offering so little virtue and interest to visitors that Lonely Planet advises there is “no reason to stick around.” But buried in this city, perched on what the British called the Gold Coast, is a lot of history. Much of it has to do with “globalization,”]

    With reference to your description of Takoradi above I want to find out if you stayed in a hotel in Takoradi or Accra? Could you also describe the hotel that you stayed in? This will help reader to get a more complete picture of the city and the country.

  11. J. Kovach says:

    Doug “thirsts” for an understanding of Africa’s underdevelopment…can you say “colonialism”? Even today in Ghana, the profit from the gold mines is split 80% for the Europeans who run the mines and 20% or less for the people of Ghana. The excuse for this situation that is given to tourists is that the Africans don’t have the technology to operate the mines but, at this point in time, this is really debatable. There is clearly a relationship between the wealth of the 1st world and the continued poverty that we see in Africa. Super-exploitation didn’t cease with the end of formal colonial relationships. In addition, when Ghana was given its independence there were only 12 college graduates in the whole country–another vestige of colonialism. Its hard to fill a new government with educated bureaucrats and administrators when there is no educated cadre to draw upon.

  12. Sara Lotfi says:

    That is the premise for the documentary “Guns, Germs and Steel.” I have seen only a small part of the documentary and have not read the book yet but thought you might find an answer there.

  13. Sara Lotfi says:

    A slavery ring was recently busted in Norfolk, Virginia. The slaves were all young, Hispanic women.

    There continue to be documented cases of slavery in NYC. Again, the slaves are women. Source: “Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy” by Barbara Ehrenreich.

  14. Paul Filson says:

    It’s an interesting piece which the content isn’t new at all. It has been talked about over the past couple of decades if not the half century. However, I would have appreciated if my learned professor would have made this piece centered on the critical thinking discourse for the students as to what are underlining causes of African countries in this present state. There are a plethora of them for which the professor knows several. The students’ views and perspectives in the delibration of this issue might help in a long way in future to finding a permanent lasting solution to African’s problems. These students are future world leaders. This is what was done for most Asian countries that has led to their present economic success. Also, I want to bring to the attention of Mr. or Ms Griggs that Ghana has a similar agency like FDA, called Food and Drugs Board with similar oversight mandate. Let’s continue with the discussion.

  15. walkley Johnson says:

    Is the exportation of UVA students and faculty to Ghana, the Bahamas, Dominica, the Brizilian Amazon and beyond in the interest of “progress”, “colonialism”, or “globalization” ? I like J. D. Hunley’s suggestion that there be a follow-up essay evaluating the students’ return on the investmrnt.

  16. Tom Gardner says:

    I almost didn’t click on the link – way too much in my InBox, like everyone else’s I am sure. But I am glad I did. The discussion is at a much higher level than most commentaries on blogs, stimulated by an excellent article. I am going to pass on most of the content, though I will mention I now live in the land of Shay’s rebellion, which was a response ultimately to the neo-colonial relationship that continued between England and the new USA long after the revolution and the disparity in wealth and power in the political economy of Massachusetts. In other words, it takes a long time to overcome the vestiges of colonialism. I was also part of that generation of “Cavaliers” who worked to overcome the vestiges of slavery at U.Va. 100 years after the 13th Amendment.
    I mainly am posting though just to encourage our new Dean to continue this practice of posting essays for commentary. I won’t hesitate to click the link and welcome the seminar-like discussion with fellow alums.
    Tom Gardner 64-66 and 69-71.

  17. Medesse Sonou (Class '06) says:

    “Still, progress remains elusive—both as a notion and as a reality”

    As someone born and raised in Ghana, I find this comment slightly offensive. Having seen my country grow from a non democratic nation on the verge of a financial depression to one of the fastest growing nations in Africa, I can only say that we have made quite a bit of progress. Anyone that pays any attention to the news coming out of Africa knows that this country has come far on many levels. A trip to Takoradi and the local market can hardly be used as measures of its progress. There is so much more to see and do in Ghana.

    Is America defined by its Ghettos? Do we use the dire state of the public school system in Washington D.C as an indication of the lack of progress in this country?

    Yes, we still have a long long way to go, and I am the first one to admit it. There is so much more work to be done that when I think about it, my head spins, but let’s not throw out all the progress of this country because you did not see a McDonalds or a Mall on every corner. You do not know Ghana and you cannot judge the progress of an entire nation based on your single trip.

    What about the growing infrastructure in Accra, the numerous international companies that have opened local offices, the civil society watch groups recently formed to ensure that the recent discovery of oil does not turn into a curse, what about the fact that Ghana was recently promoted from a low income developing nation to a middle income nation which no longer qualifies for certain World Bank loans, peaceful democratic elections, growing middle class, locally produced good such as processed chocolates which are exported internationally? No, we do not just pick fruits that fall from trees; we process products that we sell locally and internationally.

    Reading this piece simply reminded me that we have not come very far from the days of Joseph Conrad…

  18. Rich Barnett says:

    Dear Dean Woo,
    Wonderful blog, highly evocative. I visited Ghana in 1962 as a student abroad, and again last April on Semester at Sea. Dean Mark White asked me to assemble a short presentation to everyone in a preport assembly; I attach it here for your amusement.

    History and Current Affairs in Ghana RB SAS Preport, 10/4/10

    Records of a human presence in Ghana date back to 4,000 BCE, but archaeological discoveries are made yearly. Various ethnic populations migrated there from the east and north, attracted to rich farm land, trade, and gold. Arab geographers mention the Akan Kingdoms by the 13th century. The major language group was the Ashanti, which dominated trade and tribute in central and southern Ghana, from their capital in Kumasi, 150 miles NW of Accra. They cooperated and fought by turns with the Ewe, Ga, and Fanti ethnic groups, and then with the Portuguese late in the 15th century, who sought gold and ivory. Soon the Dutch, Danes, French, Germans, Swedes, and British also arrived, and these competing armed merchants built 44 coastal forts in the 16th & 17th centuries. They fought each other and the Ashanti, and caused the devastating intrusion of the world economy. This introduction of capitalism into Africa was built on the capture or purchase of slaves to be sold in the Americas. This brutal trade partially depopulated Ghana, removing seven million people (its current population is 21 million), and lasted well beyond the Evangelicals’ abolition of slavery in 1806 owing to the demand for free labor in the Old South.

    By 1896 the British had captured Komasi, and then declared a protectorate over the rest of Ghana by 1901. European countries just carved up Africa amongst themselves, dividing tribes, clans, and families arbitrarily along the lines of military control. Ghana, for example, is surrounded by Cote d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast), Burkina Faso, and Togo, all controlled by the French until the 1960s, when many Algerians had to die to persuade the French that their empire was over. Their main targets were cocoa, gold, timber, and manganese, which were plundered freely, but enough wealth trickled down to the population to make the Gold Coast, as Ghana was called, the most prosperous colony in Africa.

    For a long time, nationalist groups were limited to intellectual and professional elite, but in 1949 the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah formed the Convention People’s Party to recruit members and demonstrators at the grass roots. He called for a nationwide strike against the British, and got thrown in jail. But then the CPP won a scheduled election, and Nkrumah, the Nehru of Africa, emerged from prison to lead Ghana–renamed for its original kingdom–toward independence, as the first West African nation to be free from colonial rule. Nkrumah became the darling of freedom movements all across Africa.

    Nkruma was a man in a hurry, and borrowed heavily to finance projects such as the damming of the Volta River to form Lake Volta, the largest artificial lake in the world, 420 KM long , 7% of Ghana’s land surface, and larger than Luxembourg. Much criticism was raised about the hard bargain driven by the US conglomerate VALCO, which wanted the dam to provide power for its aluminum smelting scheme, and forced the building of the Port of Tema to handle their exports. The lost opportunities of that era of postcolonial aggression are only now being restored, at great cost. More stories and suspicions of fiscal mismanagement, cronyism, and finally Nkrumah’s insulting the army by hiring a palace guard militia loyal only to him, caused an army coup in 1966, exiling Nkrumah to Guinea, where he died six years later of cancer.

    Coup after coup followed, but then another charismatic orator emerged, a 32-yr-old flight officer named Jerry Rawlings (he was half Scots, hence the name), who became another hero to the masses, and after his Armed Forces Revolutionary Council witnessed another failed experiment with a civiliian president, Rawlings took over power in 1982 and ruled Ghana for 20 years as leader of the National Democratic Congress from 1992.

    But economic and governing problems continued to mount: although free-market reforms and IMF plus World Bank projects had been launched, the world prices of gold and cocoa dropped, draughts ensued, and multiple scandals plagued the supposedly progressive and populist regime.

    Rawlings bumped into term limits in 2000, and his named successor lost the next election to Dr. John Kufuor, leader of the New Patriotic Party, who was then president for eight years. His achievements were both tangible and intangible: he expanded exports of shea butter, tobacco, cotton, and pineapples to complement gold and cocoa. He freed the cedi from most restrictions and reduced the fuel subsidy, stabilizing both. He introduced the VAT. He opened vast forest reserves to the Newmont Mining Co, which promises social advancement in addition to profits.

    But perhaps more importantly, the new president brought some transparency in the bidding and awarding of multinational contracts on its markets and minerals. These are now openly documented and publicly debated in the press, one such being Kufuor’s dealings with the British telecom giant, Vodafone, defended energetically in last edition of New Africa, two years after the new president, Atta Mills, took office. The problem remains, though, of how land concession monies are distributed; at present they go to tribal leaders, who are never audited.

    So Ghana, despite growing pains and the body blows suffered from the world economy over the last 200 years, nonetheless shows massive promise and an example to follow. It was no accident that President Obama overflew mismanaged Nigeria and landed with his entire family in Ghana. It expects a million tourists next year, which supports 300,000 jobs. Real GDP growth is 6.5%, and inflation is targeted to come down from its current 13% to 10.5% next year. The government has promised to develop a dozen offshore oilfields to pump 300 million barrels of proven reserves. And the chocolate bar you ate yesterday contained at least some cocoa from Ghana, since it produces the best quality cocoa in the world. Yum!

  19. Lolan Sagoe-Moses says:

    Insinuating that Ghana lacks a “Food & Drug Administration to recall lead based products sold by Chinese producers,” is a blatant lie! Ghana has a Food and Drugs Board which plays the same role as the US’s FDA. Take a look at their website: . My cousin happens to be an employee.

  20. Mike Murphy says:

    So right, Medesse!

    How often do we see the view of a place painted with the thought, “it’s not like where I live, it must be stuck in some disadvantaged rut, making little to no progress”?

    Visit just about any country 10 or even 5 years apart – that’s when you’ll get a view of progress, or not. I’ve traveled to 50+ countries, and hope to see many more – each one is somewhere on a journey. That much I can say. I see a country for a day or a week or a month, but in no way can I venture to say where they’ll be in 10 years or where they were 10 years ago.

    I only try to enjoy and embrace the differences and reality of where things are ‘now’!

    btw – the blog was excellent – the descriptions of the visit, and the background/history were great – might have to put Ghana on the bucket list!


  21. Rado Bozov says:

    Indeed, colonialism has changed its face, lesser in the guts. The war of interests persist with full extension of benefiting the “WHO” (wealth, health and Oh, My God!) GOOD POST HUNTER!

  22. Charles K. Parker says:

    I wish I could sum up all my arguments in one sentence; naturally the weaker elements or entities (in all spheres) are crushed in any society or system subsequently for more than 500 years this has been the case on this continent.

  23. Charles K. Parker says:

    You might have to eat your own words : if an American is defining progress won’t it be along the line of over $40,000.00 PER CAPITA INCOME or in other words how has the average or majority of Ghanaians’ lives changed? Or you want to compare it to other African countries where majority are among the poorest in the world.

  24. Michelle Kisliuk says:

    I think the Dean probably stayed on the ship with the UVA contingent, offering just her own snapshot of a quick visit to the port. This could have been made clear at the outset.

  25. sean chambers says:

    Wonderful, informative post. It took me back – not to Africa, to a class I had at UVA. Is the Comparative History of Slavery course, once taught by Prof. Joseph Miller (former Dean of the College), still taught?

    It facilitated student studies of various kinds of slavery throughout history and around the world (race-based, military slavery after wars or to conduct them, sex-trade related, etc.). We critiqued Orlando Patterson’s work out of Harvard. I learned about differences in black-white relations and self-images of blacks in southern rural versus northern urban communities (looked specifically at Philadelphia, where I live now, years later, after growing up in Virginia). I saw how the numbers of blacks varied between those places; there were relatively so few blacks in cities for so much of Amercan history, relative to our presence down South. And so, too, experiences.

    I recall getting those concepts and an important phrase I hadn’t had growing up – enslavement, meaning someone has to do it to someone else, and writing history means naming names. “Whites enslaved Negroes in the US,” for example. “Blacks resisted,” “blacks and whites found allies among themselves,” for example. History has actors/people who act (and react). I like the talk of progress, and forgiveness, and change, and connectedness, in the comments. Happy Black History Month, a way to celebrate many, many ideas, if embraced as such. Thanks, Dean.

  26. Meredith Woo says:

    Dear Medesse,

    My essay was a reflection on the conundrum of progress, with a mirror held against a relatively prosperous and peaceful country in Africa. But in some sense it could have been any developing country. Nkrumah—and the developmental aspirations he had—were of the period, when newly independent nation sought to wrest autonomy and power from the international system—through political mobilization, self-reliance, and national development, with manufacturing almost always at the core of it.

    The pendulum has long swung in the other direction. Economic development has since lost all its elegance—of being “top down,” architectonic, all-seeing, and planned. I suppose the failure of socialism and other forms of progressivism have something to do it. What replaced the old-style development is markets and privatization; some of which was inevitable, and some not. In any event, the ubiquity of the Chinese wares in a local market in Takoradi—or anywhere else in the world—is the latest manifestation of the free-trade market solution to “development.” Whether we are all better off for the fact that the Chinese factories can produce sandals far cheaper than local shoemakers in Ghana or for that matter, anywhere, I don’t presume to know.

    Human history, it is said, is like paleontology; for a long time even the best intelligences fail to see what is before their very noses, and then all of a sudden everything becomes obvious. I wish we were at that point of clarity. But we are obviously long ways off.

  27. Harvey Gleeksman says:

    Thank you Medesse Sonou! I like your outlook: “the glass is half full.” Our dean already observed Ghana produces a great deal of the cocoa the world consumes as well as other raw materials. These are hard currency products that go into world trade, enabling Ghana’s citizens to buy Chinese pots, pans and whatevers;
    comparative advantage at work, all contributing to lives lived a little better. Economic and political progress come slowly, even when catalyzed by an abundance of natural resource wealth.

  28. Taylor Blackwell says:

    Could it be that overriding the natural wisdom of mankind with the trappings of ” modern progressive society” – This fascination of overwhelming the planet with things takes a while among the wiser tribes of the earth.

  29. Pengar Tillbaka says:

    “Quest for the Golden Fleece” should be read as a romantic allegory. For instance, its lengthy and essentially uncritical song of praise to Kwame Nkrumah runs a risk of distorting important historical lessons to impressionable students.

    To avoid unsubstantiated historic revisionism, a balanced approach could recall that in 1958, barely one year after independence in 1957, Nkrumah introduced legislation to restrict various freedoms in Ghana. Although he had led strikes himself, Nkrumah made strikes illegal. When he suspected opponents in parliament of plotting against him, he wrote the Preventive Detention Act that made it possible for his administration to arrest and detain anyone charged with treason without due process. Prisoners were often held without trial, and their only legal method of recourse was personal appeal to Nkrumah himself.

    The country the British turned over to Nkrumah had been among the wealthiest and most socially advanced areas in Africa. It had schools, railways, hospitals, social security and an advanced economy. Under Nkrumah’s leadership and Marxist perspective on economics, he ran the economy into the ground. He even betrayed cocoa farmers by not letting them keep increased revenue when the world price for their product rose.

    By 1964, all students entering college in Ghana were required to attend a two-week “ideological orientation”. Nkrumah remarked that “trainees should be made to realize the party’s ideology is religion, and should be practiced faithfully and fervently.”

    His strong-handed approach to governance set an early precedent for the “Big Man” style of kleptocratic authoritarianism which has plagued far too much of Africa and kept Africans down and denied millions of African men and women their freedom and a future.

    Nkrumah was a deserving recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize awarded the by the Soviet Union. After all, once independent of Britain, Nkrumah consistently displayed a contempt for the rule of law and civil rights.

    I hope Dean Meredith Woo considers this reply and has the integrity to show it to her students. She should urge them to not uncritically accept praise of developing world despots when Semester at Sea proceeds down the coast of Africa. For instance, when the ship gets to Cape Town, it would be a lost opportunity for such a voyage to dwell in the history books and chiefly focus on past triumphs against the abomination of apartheid (yes, it was abominable) and/or how well the 2010 World Cup was organized. That kind of ancient history can be done without leaving Charlottesville.

    Rather, Dean Woo could start by urging UVA students on board to reexamine the ANC and President Jacob Zuma in the light of what they’re doing today to governance and freedom in South Africa. Hint — the long-term trend lines are not pretty, but let’s give the students the freedom to prove or disprove that!

  30. Godwin Delali Adadzi says:

    As a Ghanaian, I quite agree with some of your views especially on your observation in Takoradi,

    “Taking a stroll in the labyrinth of the local market in Takoradi, I came across yet another kind of globalization, whose specter I had not anticipated. Everywhere I turned in the market were piles and piles of goods to satisfy all the daily needs of ordinary Ghanaians—pots, pans, kettles, plastic ware, shirts, sunglasses, fake watches, shoes, sandals—all made in China”

    It’s not only in Takoradi but in Tema, Accra, Kumasi, Tamale, Ho just to name a few. It’s quite unfortunate that the “African man is capable of his own affairs,” said by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is not yet realized. The economy in Ghana is currently not in the best of shape.