I spoke recently with Ms. Warren, the principal of the middle school I co-founded 14 years ago. She returned from a trip to Ghana with her daughter and other educators and students. Her impressions of the country were shocking to say the least, but her remarks bear mentioning given the manner in which some African-Americans romanticize our Motherland from a distance but remain disconnected and ignorant of her great turmoil (until incidents like the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls shakes us out of complacency).
She spoke about the problems of sanitation, and how art in the Kwame Nkrumah museum was degenerating due to improper maintenance.
She detailed how the water in Ghana was undrinkable, and how garbage filled the airport.
She recalled how children fought over the school supplies her entourage brought them, and how armed soldiers guarded their bus from robbery attempts by locals,
She noted the strong presence of prosperity preachers dressed in fine European suits who advertised themselves with magnanimous billboards which dotted the national landscape.
She explained how China has a business presence in Ghana including market places and Small Chinese take-out places we’re accustomed to in America, where you can buy chicken wings and french fries as easily there as you can in American “hoods.”
Speaking of American hoods, she described how shocked she was to hear young Ghanaians greet each other with the sad and all-too-familiar phrase “My nigger,” and the similarly familiar practice of sagging jeans and females wearing “booty shorts.”
She went on to discuss how no one could use their cell phones or get internet access at different times throughout the trip.
The impact the trip had on Ms. Warren and that her recollections had upon me was both saddening and overwhelming. For African-Americans, Ghana is a place of great reverence and high expectations. It was there in 1957, with the bold and visionary leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, that the former British colony called the “Gold Coast” gained its independence and was renamed “Ghana” in tribute to the famed ancient African civilization. Nkrumah, who earned his Bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University,(a Historically Black University in the United States) captured the respect of Black people in the U.S. and around the world due to his respect for Marcus Garvey and WE.B. DuBois, his attempt to industrialize Ghana while respecting African tradition, his anti-imperialist views, and his bold call for a United States of Africa.
If her descriptions are accurate, it would appear that Ghana, like much of the Africa continent is suffering economic, technological and cultural deprivation. Of course, this contemporary situation stems from centuries of colonialism, enslavement, and western imperialism as discussed in Walter Rodney’s classic, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.