Lessons From Ghana 70

I am off back to work in Ghana for a few weeks next month.

Anyone who believes the crime in England was related to poverty or to race should visit Ghana, where crime is at a low level and society is extremely helpful and supportive. People are much poorer than in the UK yet are not ignorant of the possibilities of western levels of consumption, but they would not dream of seizing them by force, and those few who do have no pro-criminal social milieu in which to shelter.

70 thoughts on “Lessons From Ghana

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  • Tana Lopez

    I just returned from a three week trip to Ghana working in the villages that surround the city of Accra. I can totally relate to what you have said here. Good luck with your upcoming trip! 🙂

  • Tom Coady

    It’s got nothing to do with absolute poverty, everything to do with relative poverty.

  • craig Post author

    No, wrong, plenty of rich people in Ghana too. No shortage of relative poverty.

    What they are short of is crime glorifying imported American Gangsta urban street culture. That is your cause, Clark.

  • Harry Barnes

    Ann and I visited Ghana in August 1999 where we were looked after really well by some fellow from the British High Commission. We often wondered what happended to him. We remember him taking us to the Gold Mine in Obuasi which employed 12,000 people. There had been a successful strike by the workers, but using the argument about falling world gold prices the management had plans to sack 2,000 of them. For each job lost in the gold mine, six others would also be lost in the local community – meaning that a huge number of people would be badly effected. Ghana was also suffering from depressed cocoa and timber prices. On your return, we look forward to your comments on the current situation.

  • lwtc247

    Forgive me for saying the the insistence on a ‘one size fits all’ societal absolutist law regarding ‘the’ cause of these riots is plain silly. Just as Craig is right, Tom is also hitting on something correct too. Poverty within a western setting does apparently contribute to a certain kind of crime. As that culture is not present in Ghana, it is not afflicted by it. Ghana, in the presence of Ghanian culture and absence (/lower degree) of western culture will have it’s own criminal ‘speciality’.

    This poverty dimension to (certain)crime, is incredibly interlaced with inner city culture in which ‘drop-outs’, noggens and nooligans (sorry I know of no more PC way to describe them) try to show their manhood in a most terrible way indeed. It’s the only ‘top-dog’ system they are able to penetrate and sport.

    by Roger McGough

    I’m a nooligan
    dont give a toss
    in our class
    I’m the boss
    (well, one of them)

    I’m a nooligan
    got a nard ‘ead
    step out of line
    and youre dead
    (well, bleedin)

    I’m a nooligan
    I spray me name
    all over town
    footballs me game
    (well, watchin)

    I’m a nooligan
    violence is fun
    gonna be a nassassin
    or a hired gun
    (well, a soldier)

  • craig Post author


    I remember it fondly! Ghana has never been able to extract the revenue from the gold mining industry it deserves. Newmont are now making 100 million dollars a month from their Ghanaian operation and paying almost no tax!! It is a terrible disgrace. I may do a book on it.

  • wendy

    “No shortage of relative poverty.
    What they are short of is crime glorifying imported American Gangsta urban street culture.”
    its more than that, its the economic and political import into the uk, we as a nation are not like other european nations but are an image of america and its worst excesses too.
    its political in that we have slavishly followed the usa for the last 20- 25years , it economics because we are tied to the dollar and the military industrial complex.
    so dont just blame gangst culture its beyond that simplistic argument.

  • Craig W

    Plenty crime in Nigeria. What’s the difference between Nigeria and Ghana (I appreciate Nigeria is much bigger)?

  • craig Post author

    Craig W

    That is a fascinating and enormous question!
    Single biggest factor was a massive overvaluation of the currency in the 70s and 80s which was not freely convertible. The consequence was that the elite could buy huge amounts of western luxury goods for almost nothing, while the whole agricultural sector collapsed leading to massive drift to urban slums. I touch on it a bit in The Catholic Orangemen.

  • Tom Welsh

    I repeat – there is a strong family resemblance to the way the Vikings behaved. They were perfectly well-behaved and sociable at home (around the fjord), but they regarded the English, French, Irish, etc. as essentially alien and therefore legitimate prey. Likewise, today’s raiders and looters obviously have little or no empathy with the people and organisations they attack. That’s probably partly due to social alienation, and partly to the fact that they are prepared to be alienated without putting up much of a struggle against it.

  • Craig W

    I’ve recommended the Catholic Orangemen to a couple of folk now based on the synopsis – I need to buy it and read it myself.

  • lwtc247

    Am I fantasising here or it it the case that in rural areas – more appropriate of past times perhaps – that many noggins and potential nooligans, after going through the motions of finishing school, used to enter manual employment or enter into vocational apprenticeships etc. They were able to carve out a decent life for themselves, having a role in the community and involving a level of respect (as a person engaged in a clean way of life, not Ali-G repsect) and so the road to this kind of riot behaviour was hardly ever walked down.
    No rural areas experienced riots yes? City life and its entrapping dead-end properties therefore needs careful scrutiny.
    P.S. sorry for the horrible formatting previously.

  • Nextus

    You’re onto something here, Craig. During my short time in Ghana, I was immensely impressed by the welcoming attitude of the locals. Even when I was walking along dusty roads in poor areas of Accra, I was frequently greeted and offered helped by people who could scarcely afford to eat; by contrast, in some parts of South London I would be more wary of being mugged by ‘poor’ people with clothes and gadgets more expensive than my own.
    Some of the socio-economic differences between Ghana and Nigeria were discussed in the ‘Uncharitable Thoughts’ thread. The collapse of the agriculture infrastructure and the unequal distribution of wealth from the oil industry no doubt play a role in the moral decline witnessed in Nigeria. Perhaps we should worry about the impact of the pending oil exploitation off the coast of Ghana.
    There is another element, though. In Ghana it’s very clear that Christianity provides a sound community foundation. It’s all-pervasive. There are churches every few hundred metres. While it’s true that religion can be held responsible for motivating some of the worst atrocities the world has ever endured, in Ghana the church binds together family, community, health care, education, aspiration and more. People don’t step out of line because they will be answerable to their elders. A similar phenomenon can be seen in Muslim countries. The danger arises when the religious communities clash.
    In some ways Ghana is like the Britain of decades gone by. Here in Blighty we’ve witnessed the gradual erosion of communities, accompanied by the accelerating closure of churches. Which is the symptom and which the cause?
    One of the weaknesses of the atheist movement is the lack of a coherent community structure and shared moral education. Humanist societies don’t fill the void. They tend to be populated by retired professors who sit around drinking tea while entertaining guest speakers (a role I’ve filled in the past). I have implored them to engage with the youth via other activities and set out a strong moral foundation, but they’re not actively interested. At university, I tried to set up a Chaplaincy scheme called FUSE (Fostering Understanding of Science and Ethics), but it was undermined by atheist apathy: the university hierarchy granted approval, as did the students’ union (and even the Chaplains!) but no-one else volunteered for the committee, so I had to drop it.
    I’m still concerned to promote Humanist morality, and if I could identify a source of funding, I would happily devote my career to it. (Dawkins has made some consonant noises, and it may even tie in with the ‘Big Society’ agenda.) But as things stand, British moral education is being left to the glitzy media and the high priests of Gangsta rap. We have only started to reap the whirlwind.

  • Clark

    Nextus makes important points. Craig may not like the “imported Gangsta culture”, but even membership of a gang is membership of something, and when people share a spliff they also share in the risk of being busted; this could be one cause of a feeling of “all of us against The System”.
    Nextus, further to our big quantum physics conversation, I do suggest that you read Amit Goswami’s The Self-Aware Universe. The evangelical atheists opposition to the very concept of a “divine” or Universal intelligence is a burden to them; it alienates all those people who feel very differently. Many people have a feeling that the bedrock belief of our society, science, is hopelessly reductionist and isolating, so they tend not to look there for any spiritual unification.

  • glenn

    Craig, I feel you should take another hard look at the causes of social unrest. It is all about inequality in society, and those societies with the most inequitable distribution of wealth have the greatest level of every social ill – from petty crime to teenage pregnancy, drug use and social unrest.
    I don’t expect you to take my word for it – look a the work of people who have analysed the data across a large number of countries: http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resource/the-spirit-level
    Of course there are some rich people in Ghana, but do the poor there have their noses rubbed in it on a daily basis? Is the message pounded at them from every angle that they _need_ bling, cars, holidays and expensive lifestyles in order to prevent outright misery? Do they have magazines glorifying lifestyles of the rich and famous, and TV shows much the same, sold to them as entertainment?
    We’ve also got a reverse snobbery over academics and intellectuals which must rival that of any country. Where else are people derided as being members of the “chattering classes” for daring to engage in debate on their own country? Where else do you find workers proudly displaying their copy of The Sun on the dashboard/ in the back pocket, displaying their ignorance as a badge of honour?
    We’ve had Thatcherism/Reaganism make common aspirations unattainable for large proportions of the country – owning a property, having a reasonable retirement, putting your kids through college. We’re made to feel losers if we don’t have an excessive lifestyle, were encouraged to take on debt to get a taste of it and then punished and declared reckless for doing so. Inequality is going through the roof, the rich are getting vastly richer and often pay NO tax, and the tax burden is being shifted to the poor as never before.
    In another post you made great suggestions about making a more equal society, here – again – you seem to want to deride anyone suggesting it’s social ills which contributed to these problems. It’s a bit of a puzzle why you want to be seen to be sticking it to the left at every opportunity.

  • Clark

    I also wonder if this could be related to modern practices of employment. The old way, with small companies that were all somewhat unique, presumably placed more value upon individuals; people who had learned the local system had individual value in the local knowledge they had acquired. The modern approach is far more orientated around qualifications, the idea being that equally qualified people are replaceable components in an impersonal system. This is efficient for commerce, but provides less sense of “belonging”. An employee now has to climb much further through the structure before their individual knowledge becomes difficult to replace.

  • larry Levin

    Ghana is christian isn’t it? also what about the poisons in toothpaste and many foods we eat, what about hormones in the water which feminize men. what about the concerted attack on the family unit, it cost £100/more each week to live as a family unit than as single mothers.ie you are £100/week better off being a single parent household. What about the influence of Murdoch. does Ghana have a massive debt which is owed the international bankers?

  • mark_golding

    Not just followed Wendy we have shared in the American ‘rule by deception’ – generation fear and hence control.
    I form an analogy with Clark’s ‘sharing a spliff’ or ‘sharing the pie’ by those of a common interest; indeed a spiritual unification. In ten years the deception has been ‘busted’ the terror exposed, the torture revealed, the illegality proved. A ‘cosmic shift’ has given rise to ‘us’ and ‘them’ and those who know not.
    Thoughts and ideas like matter coalesce and unify in different time-frames. ‘Us’ are growing stronger ‘hooked up’ with a common awareness, but can we cope with the huge numbers destined for this enlightenment who will want to share, empowered by safety in numbers against those allured to a material world where living and life have no real meaning except exploitation, greed, the thrill of war and the buzz of domination and control.

  • larry Levin

    Who spoke these words and when.
    At an educational conference not long ago, one head teacher spoke about ‘the seemingly planned intention of eroding all forces of authority’, while another said ‘we know that the enemies of law and order would love to see the schools brought down, as far as their moral influence and prestige are concerned’. What those head teachers were describing is what millions of people believe they are watching, helpless and not so much unregarded as positively derided: the deliberate dismantling of the frontiers of decency, morality and respect, with a view to producing far-reaching and indeterminate alterations in society itself. They do not believe that these and other phenomena, such as the spread of drugs or the undermining of the universities, are simply reflections of a change taking place spontaneously and generally. They believe that intention is at work, and that it is the intention of a small and elusive but powerful minority. What they do not understand is that they, the majority, seem to find themselves without voice or representation in the face of a prospect which appals them.

  • larry Levin

    Has anyone considered that the decay in the UK is deliberate? the 47 planks of the communist manifesto are exactly what’s being carried out in the UK

  • Methuselah Now


    It’s a simple case of chain of command and ethics. Those rioters might not watch newsnight every day, but they are aware of so few of the elite get into trouble when they do wrong (how many politicians gone to prison, how many simply allowed to get on with their lives, like Gove, not even full pay-back and sincere public apology).

    It is a state and social culture that has, increasing for the last few decades, reduced direct responsibility and authority from the first source of it, guardians and parents, the home. We jump to knee-jerk paranoid conclusions of penetrative abuse at the first indulgences of a child (and some adults).
    This might also be related to a culture promulgated by feminists for their own causes and that are constantly promoted (“mental abuse”, men being…. et al).

    It is a police that rarely face meaningful consequence, even when organs such as Private Eye might shine a spotlight on them, responsibility and consequence, when the bar is too high and only when exceptional cases happen do our politicians and media foster traction of response.

    It is a tabloid-mindset, that has had far too much influence both over the last 3 decades, and especially indulged over the last one, that whatever an editor decides to put on his/her front-page is what the politicians should indulge/react to/care for.

    It is the irresponsibility of those that don’t believe in playing their part in society, but while some are dis-located from all political society, others are given knight-hoods while making millions from those customers (yeah Philip Green, Boots, Hedge Funds), unlike say the owner of Dennis Publishing.

    It is the readiness, for those to who it matters, to dismiss it as straight criminality and robbery, and quickly concentrate on the distraction, and remove the need to ask where the swamp of support/apathy comes from. Even if every one of those taking part was an experienced criminal, why?

    It is the speed of modern communication and literal social networks.

    The universe abhors a vacuum, and when their are few traditional role-models closer to our lives, these people will find role-models in foreign/twice-removed ones on TV and local criminals.

    It is not just relative poverty and lack of moral authority, but a lack of hope and belief. We all wake up and hope the day to come, or the years, will be better than what has gone before.

    It is a media-liberal culture that quite readily promotes ways to subvert the law when it suits, such as libel and copyright-infringement.

    It is a culture, that as the reactions have shown, care far more for their superficial, and yes, replaceable property, whether a mass-produced trainer or a building, however old, than more meaningful items. Look at the reaction of the families, one of whom lost two boys at one time, they lost forever real live human beings (let alone the impact in asian culture), and the contrast to the triviality.

    It is a culture, indoctrinated in free-markets, that obsesses not just about consumerism, but marketing that permeates our media and politics and institutions, where everything becomes about messaging and narratives and positioning, rather than just listening and setting out the facts.

    It is a moment of stupidity, blowing off steam, the pressure cooker of frustration. boredom, fun/relief, opportunism and summer holidays.

    Boris Johnson once said of his demeanor, that sometimes you play a part and maybe end up becoming it. We constantly demean the disenfranchised, the ignorant/illiterate, the ethnic minority, sometimes we create the roles for others to play (or at least our media-political/(justice-system) complex does. Are we surprised if certain sections are so used to being dismissed and labeled one way, as children often do, they end up fitting into those classifications, especially if they already have little to lose/have already themselves written-off any future change.

    it isn’t one bow, it is a myriad that have been shot at these people/society. it is the “mad as hell, and not going to take it any more”.

    It is the 250k in Tahir square and enabling the down-fall of a dictatorship, but a 50k, 100k, 250k, 1 million marching in our country, and none of our politicians caring to change, and even on smaller issues, unless a handful of news-editors decide to put it on their outlets headlines.

    It is not being heard.

    It is politicians/leaders in our country not showing honour – when was the last time one resigned straight-away, as they still do in other parts of the world, rather than immediate hints of return.

    It is a society where any time traditional values, ethos and ideals, are encouraged as general policy/strategy, some indulgent vested interest group, and in a millieu of a media that dismisses anything that isn’t of a socially-liberal construct, dismisses it.

    It is stake-holding, faith, and a lack of it in society. You don’t shit in your own house if you believe it to be yours, as opposed to someone elses, who might take it away from you quite readily (see: council houses and heavy-handed sentencing).

    It is politicians who pander to the stupid, spiteful and vindictive, rather than experience, study and comparison. Look at how gently the people of Norway reacted to much worse events, look at how our society has reacted.

    I really could go on for ever, so I’ll quit now, except for:

    Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

    It is a milieu.

    Yours kindly,


    Methuselah Now

  • Tim Hall

    Enjoy Ghana – I did. A nice bunch of people, as far as it goes – a few arseholes, but then they’re available anywhere: One of the better bits of Africa.

  • johnm

    I’ve known many people who have worked a little more than allowed when claiming benefit, often after trying honesty and having to make a new claim which took too long to process and finding themselves in desperate straights for a couple of weeks.[sometimes getting processed for eviction before housing benefit kicks in again]
    Then there are the casual weekend drug users looking to unwind after a stressful working week. A casual acceptance of petty criminality grows until hey presto! a nation of thieves.
    Not to mention the demoralising effect that years of mindnumbingly stupid decisions by politicians has. Who then somehow get jobs with the beneficiaries of their stupidity. Not that Gordon Brown has, but then his olympian conceit allowed hims to be flattered into lending enron all they needed to suck £8billion out of our economy for what looked like a simple £45,000 investment in a new labour influence peddlar, and then went on to be persuaded not only to sell our gold reserves at the very bottom of the market but began the £1.3trillion “bailout” of bankers,[which lets say started 1000 days ago thats a billion a day or £11,500 per second] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/8262037/Bank-bail-out-adds-1.5-trillion-to-debt.html
    Plus social cohesion is not helped by social housing policies that are little short of competitions in inadequacy. I could go on

  • writeon

    Prisons, apart from being ineffective, are terribly expensive and perhaps worst of all… are ‘crime colleges’ where one learns lots of really useful things.

    Why, I wonder, are the British so obsessed with crime? Why is the prison population in the UK the highest in western europe? Are we to believe that there is something ‘special’ about the UK population, or what?

    It’s not only socalled ‘gangsta culture’ that’s been imported from the US, of far more importance is the importation of many of the worst and most destructive traits of American capitalism, namely the systematic destruction of the working class and cutting them adrift.

    Much of what passes for ‘gangsterism’ is, underneath the surface, merely bravado, hiding and compensating for weakness, desparation, and fear.

    There’s always been a pig-headed, vicious streak in the British ruling class, when they vent their anger and hatred of the orders. What a shame we can’t execute a few teenagers as an example, or transport them abroad to Australia. Out of sight and out of mind.

    The fact that the riots and the looting are a symptom of a deeper rot at the heart of British society and the Thatcherite version of capitalism without a brain, or a heart, doesn’t seem to matter much.

  • mark_golding

    Crime is at a low level in Ghana I agree and anyone in the criminal system spends a long time, sometimes more than 1 year in pre-trial detention.
    My concern in Ghana is the trafficking of women and children which is rife and widespread. Although often done with the consent of parents, the majority of trafficking in Ghana involves children from impoverished rural backgrounds. The most common forms of internal trafficking involved children, some as young as seven, is mostly boys from the Northern Region, going to work in the fishing communities along Lake Volta or in small mines in the west, and girls from the north and east going to Accra and Kumasi to work as domestic helpers, porters, and assistants to local traders. Local and international NGOs reported these children were often subjected to dangerous working conditions and were sometimes injured or killed as a result of the labor they performed although I do not know the scale of these deaths.
    Traffickers under the guise of bona fide employment agencies in Ghana are recruiting Ghanaian women for prostitution in Western Europe, mainly Germany, Italy and Holland.
    International Organisation of Migration Report 2009

  • Parky

    I’ve not been to Ghana but have met a few of them in the UK who seemed honest and hard working people, but I can’t believe at home they have the same range of expensive shops and commercial television stations continuosly promoting rabid consumerism to the masses as in the UK.

    The devil makes work for idle hands and judging by the recent scenes I saw on TV, I would guess the majority of rioters are without full-time work and what little chance of finding it has now gone as they will have a criminal record. However they do have consumer aspirations fed to them by the media and plenty of time on their hands to be filled with day time tv and video games some portraying urban violence and anarchy. This is why many targeted consumer electronics stores and left the DSS alone.

    One of the solutions to this is to provide the economic conditions for industry to florish and for it to provide apprenticeships and training. In the last twenty years my local higher education college has gone from providing a majority of hard courses aimed at manufacturing industry to soft ones aimed at services as industry declined to be filled with Chineese imports. These are the jobs which are easily outsourced and pay little more than the minimum wage and tend to be filled by women.

    One of the consequences of having pubs open all day is the occurance of young and middle age men drinking in them for most of it where at one time they would have been in work and earned an honest wage. The clues to this problem are there to be seen but which of the political parties has the will to solve them? I doubt if any of the main three will as they all seem to have been bought and paid for and don’t answer to the electorate.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Poverty doesn’t cause nearly as much violence as a sudden and rapid rise in poverty or unemployment or a sudden fall in incomes.
    That’s what got mass support for the Nazis during the Great Depression, for the genocidal extremists in Rwanda (coffee companies lobbied the US government to break up a kind of coffe exporters version of OPEC, leading to a fall in coffe prices and a rapid rise in unemployment in Rwanda).

    In the UK we’ve had riots each time unemployment has gone up and public services, jobs and welfare cut at the same time – in the 30s under Chamberlain when means testing was introduced and unemployment insurance payments cut; in the 80s after Thatcher came in and increased unemployment from over 2 million to over 3 million and again now when the Conservatives are cutting benefits and public sector jobs during a recession.

    It’s rapid change for the worse that people find impossible to cope with. Most people in Ghana or say Bangladesh are much poorer than the poorest people in the UK, but they’ve grown up used to coping with that poverty and can just about endure it (if they survive). Take people used to one standard of living and suddenly plunge it for lots of them though and crime, racism, bigotry and sectarian violence will all increase.

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