April 17, 2013

Fishing boats packed into the Elmina harbor.

In 1957 Ghana was the first African country to gain its independence in the past century.

This former British colony is also notably more successful than neighboring Togo and Benin, former French colonies. Comparisons raise the issue of which European power was better ― or less bad ― at colonial rule. Portugal and Belgium seem to lack defenders of their African legacies (and Germany was ousted by the WWI victors) so turning to Britain vs. France:

While holding constant geography, resources, and populations is difficult, these days some researchers see the former British colonies as doing better (a few say much better) overall in terms of economic and political progress than are the former French colonies. Why?

Some argue the British preferred to work with existing structures (e.g., chiefs keeping more governing autonomy) thus leaving behind stronger societal networks. Other like Niall Ferguson say the Brits also did a better job promoting "free markets, the rule of law, and representative government." So, they say, Anglophone states tend to have a better business climates, better governance, and a bit less corruption.

Africans in all three countries told us that the Brits really "let go" as their ex-colonies went off, for better or worse, in sundry paths. But the French still continue to intervene heavily and retain a quasi-colonial role that sustains dependency. (A few links: A, B, C, and D.)

In the Krobo area near Accra, we saw beads being crafted, fired, polished, and strung.
One stop in Accra was a shop that constructs some of the
"fantasy coffins" that have become popular in Ghana (e.g.,
a bee coffin for a beekeeper; a fish coffin for a fisherman).
From the port of Takoradi, we ventured inland to Kakum
National Park, a large virgin rainforest of over 350 sq. kilometers.

The park's highlight is a walkway hanging high in
the forest canopy, roughly 150 feet above the ground.

Many birds, but no other wildlife in our daytime walk except
a squirrel, many butterflies, and this imposing eight-inch spider.

On a prior trip to Ghana in 2005, I'd visited the notorious Cape Coast Castle, a major site in the slave trade. This trip I saw Elmina Castle, built in 1482 and perhaps the oldest European structure in sub-Sahara Africa. Both forts, while important historically, remain gruesome and tragic places.

Elmina Castle (fort used for, among other things,
housing slaves to be transported across the Atlantic).

Ghana pics are also featured in this photoshow I made after a 2005 trip to west Africa. (Requires Flash.)

Both forts have busy fishing villages nearby.
This view is from behind bars used for slaves at Elmina,
although most were kept in lower dungeons.