Indiana University      Research & Creative Activity      January 1999 Volume XXI Number 3

Development and Mondernization of GHANA

* Developed country or undeveloped country.

* Modern economy or traditional economy.

* Western society or Third World society.

Most Americans believe development and modernization have intrinsically greater worth than the existing structures in many non-Western countries. But the Western point of view and expertise does not necessarily work elsewhere, according to Benjamin Asare, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Southeast.

The "Helping Hand" Can Kill You

Asare focuses his research in his native country of Ghana, a West African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean. While proponents of modernization theory argue that development in Ghana and other Third World countries must imitate the value systems and production techniques of the West, Asare's research points out significant problems with that idea.

This photograph of a "slave castle" is the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, where thousands of Africans were imprisoned in the dungeons. These and other castles are sites frequently visited by African Americans interested in their heritage. These fortresses were built by Europeans to defend their holdings and to warehouse captured Africans. Now they are museums run by the Ghanaian government as reminders of the slave trade that engulfed West and Central Africa. --credit

The real problem, he notes, is that colonial powers exploited African resources. In Ghana, for instance, the British colonial administration organized the local economy to supply natural resources like coffee and cocoa for Britain. The best land was reserved for this effort, and Ghanaians were forced to supply cheap labor for the British. Ironically, this same pattern of exploitation continued after colonialism fell and the British went home. At that point, the Ghanaian government imposed policies that continued to exploit farmers. Specifically, the government established "marketing boards" that set the price for each agricultural product. The problem was that the government would pay the farmers relatively little for their products and then turn around and sell the products on the world market for a substantially higher price. The government pocketed the difference and channeled much of the additional money to urban centers.

Asare says the government's agricultural policies made the countryside an unattractive place to live, encouraging vast numbers of individuals to migrate to the cities. "If a farmer's children have been educated, they're very likely to move to the city, to have an opportunity to earn more," Asare says.

Although the rural areas need labor and the unemployment rates in the cities are quite high, many Ghanaians take the risk of moving for several reasons. First, the government has centralized facilities like hospitals, universities, and other "modern" services in urban centers. Second, the minimum wage in the cities is dramatically higher than the wages for farm workers in the now-socialized agricultural system.

"Many people live six or eight people to a single small room in the cities, hoping to find jobs. They believe that in the long run, they'll get jobs that will be well paying," Asare said. Meanwhile, in a country without welfare or other social services, young adults who have moved to the cities struggle to survive even as their families in the country struggle to accomplish their work with fewer workers and less than a third of their previous income.

How Did This Happen?

Asare explains that the roots of urbanization are longstanding. "When Europeans first went to Africa, they needed Africans who lived in the villages to migrate to the cities, to work on government projects and in mining," Asare says. "Because the Africans were unwilling, the colonists used whatever means of getting them to the cities that they could, including force. In this case, urbanization is directly the result of public government policy."

Government officials, mostly educated in the United State, France, Great Britain, Germany, and other Western societies, learned to copy systems they saw working in those Western settings. But the "transplanted" schemes don't thrive in Ghana. "There have been many studies that show where farmers are given a free hand in managing and expanding their operations, people do not migrate to the cities and the agrarian societies expand at a manageable pace," Asare says.

Reports and Recommendations

The University of Ghana's economic research department houses Asare when he returns to Ghana. Each time he makes a field trip, Asare gives a seminar at the University of Ghana on his findings. "The seminars are always patronized by government departments," Asare says.

Asare doesn't protect the government officials in his recommendations: "The only remedy is abolishing completely the marketing boards." Asare says the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have offered similar recommendations, although their approach is more gradual.

"We need to totally abolish these Cocoa Marketing Boards, transfer the assets to the farmers, allowing them to form cooperative associations," he says. "What the marketing boards have done could be done by anyone, easily managed by a cooperative, which could subcontract particular services to independent organizations."

The Next Phase of Study

Asare returned to Ghana during his fall semester sabbatical to complete two projects. His research appraising the Tono Irrigation Project will be an epidemiological study to decide what, if any, changes in disease patterns have been introduced because of the project. "When one dams a river in a semi-arid region, it's possible to introduce new diseases that the planners hadn't thought about," Asare says.

His second area of research is a more dramatic shift: Asare plans to photograph and videotape remnants of an old slave market in Ghana to produce a CD-ROM for schools in the United States "There's very little information available about how African Americans came here. Most of the literature focuses on what occurred to the slaves in America."

"On a bus in Pennsylvania once, a group of young African American men almost beat me up, saying that my people, Africans, sold their ancestors into slavery," Asare says. "They don't know what occurred in Africa. They need a fuller picture of slavery, so I want to produce this CD-ROM, to provide the community here with the story from the other side of the Atlantic." --Lucianne Englert

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