Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Ethnicity in Ghana - Part 2 of "A Bit of History"

Having related something about the ancient empire called “Ghana”, with which the modern country shares a name but probably not much else, I left us wondering who the ancient or aboriginal inhabitants of the land which is now called Ghana might have been.

There is archeological evidence of human inhabitation of modern Ghana 300,000 years ago, and clear evidence of agriculture, domestication of animals, and quite large settlements dating back to 2,000 BC.  But, perhaps not surprisingly, nobody knows who the people were or what became of them.  The evidence is mainly from the Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo regions south of the Black Volta river and west of Lake Volta – ie in the middle of modern Ghana.  There is apparently also evidence in the central and northern part of Ghana of settlements of more than 2,000 people dating back to circa 1,000 AD, which is said to indicate increasing urbanisation and probably points to a significant volume and frequency of trade with the empires further north in the Sahel.  I don’t know whether archeologists have searched in vain for early evidence in other places – but my guess would be that there hasn’t been much serious archeology or anthropology here and that there would be things to find if anyone had the urge and money to look.

The Brong-Ahafo and Ashanti regions also happen to be where the Ashanti kingdom was when the Portuguese arrived.  The Bradt guide is at pains to point out that before the nineteenth century the Portuguese (and indeed other Europeans) weren’t guilty of “colonialism” in Africa.  They built fortified trading stations on the coast, with the permission of the local chiefs, and on land leased from them – but the fortifications were directed at other European powers rather than the natives.  The trade was channeled through the people whom the Europeans first encountered – the Ashanti in the case of the Portuguese, and later the Fante in the case of the British.  The new contact with the Europeans was a valuable asset for these people and they seem to have taken care both to protect it by preventing other groups from trading directly with the Europeans, and to organise themselves so that they could trade onwards (in both directions) with others.

Bradt says that trade was carried out genuinely and “on an even footing”.  It probably isn’t for me to wonder what “an even footing” really means, and in particular whether the African traders had any real appreciation of the relative value of what they sold and bought.  But something in me thinks that they didn’t; and from other reading I have formed the view that European traders became very rich (and that the wealth their countries amassed enabled them to venture out into the wide world and encounter peoples in other far-flung places, not always to their immediate benefit).  By contrast, you can’t see a lot of evidence of accumulated wealth or other benefits from the relationship here in Ghana.  However, it has probably always been the case that people sell their trade-goods for as much as they think they can get for them, and buy at a price that they think represents reasonable value – and over time the operation of the market will normalise prices in both directions.  So it’s probably wrong of me to feel that the Europeans got the better end of the bargain and in some unfair way exploited the Africans they encountered. 

I might also be under-estimating the financial risk for the traders, and the physical risks their captains and crews took.  Sailing far from home in the best ships their technology could produce (which don’t exactly look robust to a modern eye) was undoubtedly a highly hazardous business.  Many ships didn’t make it back; and money must have been lost in quantity as well as gained.  Despite these arguments, though, my feeling remains that the Europeans got a pretty good deal. 

So, the Ashanti were the people the Portuguese came into contact with when they arrived on the coast.  The Portuguese were content not to try to go inland (and they didn’t, for example, attempt to find and take hold of the gold mines).  The Ashanti (or Asante) people prospered as they were able to take control of trade in a similar way to the previous Ghana and Mali empires.  Were they the direct descendants of the original hunter-gatherers and early farmers?  Well, Bradt says that “oral tradition” has it that most of the present-day inhabitants of Ghana migrated from elsewhere in West Africa and displaced a race called the Guan – who seem to be widely regarded (in the same oral tradition) as the aboriginal occupants of Ghana, but have been assimilated into other groups except for a few small populations.

Now, on the plane coming here there were – not surprisingly – quite a lot of black people.  I assumed they were mainly Ghanaian, on the flimsy evidence that they had a choice of African destinations from Heathrow and had picked Accra.  It struck me that they were really rather big people – tall, broad and bulky (and some of them also well-covered).  Sitting between them on the flight, Jane and I were quite constrained in our little pocket of airline-allocated space. 

At the hotel, I discovered that Ghanaians also came in several other shapes and sizes.  There were some very tall, bean-pole-like people carrying not a scrap of spare flesh and not many body curves.  They reminded me strongly of a character in an old film – perhaps King Solomon’s Mines – whom I think I remember being referred to as an Ashanti.    Another group were much shorter in stature, still distinctly slim, but with more curves (both genders).  The women in this group, like some of the larger and well-covered individuals, have quite prominently sticking-out buttocks (but the very tall, slim ones don’t) – very convenient if you carry you baby on your back (and I paused to wonder about cause and effect). 

Then there were other people who didn’t fit into any of these shapes and were, in effect, just ordinary.  I also thought there were some quite distinctive facial shapes – high cheek-bones; rounder or more oblong faces; different shaped noses and eyes; back of the skull with either a prominent bulge or no bulge at all.  Some of these regularly went with a particular body shape – the tall, slim people have oblong faces, high cheek-bones and not much bulge at the back, for example. 

I naively assumed that these different-shaped people, which (I thought) clearly exemplified the genetic diversity on this continent, would map at least approximately onto different ethnic groups.  Well, an admittedly limited bit of personal research has pretty much blown that theory out of the water.  It seems that population movements over millennia have thoroughly mixed up the body-shapes so that nowadays you get some of each in all the groups, and all sorts of mixtures.  I think this might not be true of some specific populations in other places – the bushmen of the Kalahari for example – but it seems to be the case in Ghana.

At school they teach that there are five broad ethnic and language groups in Ghana, all going by names that I hadn’t previously heard.   They also teach (with what strikes me as an undue degree of confidence) approximately where these groups came from and when they arrived.  Ghana doesn’t have written records of the long periods of history when these population movements were taking place (and neither does any other African country).  It does seem that the present population groups were established where they are now by the time the Portuguese sailed over the horizon.  Since then until independence they seem to have been reasonably static.  Probably the biggest disruption during this period was the slave trade, but that seems to have taken individuals out of the country and perhaps caused some settlements to disappear altogether, rather than push people round the country.

The Ashanti are part of the Akan group, who account for more than half of Ghana’s total population and whose language, Twi, would be the obvious contender to be a national African language for Ghana.  Apparently some people have advocated this.  But there are enough non-Twi speakers and, perhaps more to the point, non-Akans here for this to feel like domination by one ethnic group and thus to be very widely unacceptable, even among Akans.  They Akans are reckoned to have come from the north, from the Sahel, and many of their traditions mention Bono as their starting point (that’s another of the empires in the Sahel, which was going full-swing under King Akumfi Ameyaw I (1328 – 1363(!))).

The eastern part of Ghana is predominantly occupied by Ewe people (this is pronounced Eh-veh – it was written down by Germans – though I’ve heard lots of Ghanaians say Eh-weh).  They also live next door in Togo – further evidence that Ghana’s borders are arbitrary as regards population groups.

In the north it’s the Moshi-Dagomba, who might be descended in a slightly roundabout way from the Mande-speakers of the ancient “Ghana empire”; and in the south it’s the Fante on the western side of the country and the Ga, or Ga-Adangbe in and around Accra, and to the east along the coast.  The Ewe and the Ga-Adangbe are thought to have come from eastern Nigeria; not all at once, and by a range of routes; probably a hundred or two years later than the Akans and the Moshi-Dagomba arrived.

Pick a Ghanaian at random and ask him/her which ethnic group he/she belongs to, and you might get a blank look.  Ask him what tribe he belongs to, though, and you can be one hundred percent sure that he knows with complete certainty.  He’ll also know the names of a dozen other adjoining tribes that he doesn’t belong to, and he’ll know what their languages are (and he’ll probably be able to understand most of them at least to some extent) and how their traditions differ from his own tribe’s.  My strong impression is that, if you’re talking about different “ethnic groups” in Ghana, the aspect which would make sense to Ghanaians is the bit about tribes.  Ghanaians can’t quite get their heads around the fact that we white folk don’t have tribes – how can you not be part of a tribe?

Some books tell you there are 70 or 80 different languages in Ghana.  I’m only going to quarrel with that to the extent that it isn’t easy to draw a clear boundary between languages, and I think that a lot of these might more properly be dialects – but that’s territory for linguists and (speaking as an ex-linguist if not a current paid-up member) to be honest it’s pretty sterile.  There are more tribes than this – some different tribes speak the same language (half the population speaks Twi, after all), while others have a language all to themselves. 

The main inhabitants of Zebilla are the Kusasi, and they (and only they) speak Kusaal.  They also speak Kusaal in Bawku, 25 miles to the east – and you can start quite a serious argument when you notice that the Kusaal in Bawku isn’t exactly the same as that in Zebilla, and ask which one is “right”.  They continue to be Kusasi and to speak Kusaal north over the border in Burkina Faso.  Bolgatanga, 25 miles to the west, is a Frafra town and their language seems to be rather different.

South of Zebilla and Bawku you enter the lands of the Mamprusi, who speak Mampruli.  Conflict between the Kusasi and the Mamprusi in Bawku is the only example in Ghana of inter-tribal disharmony which has cost lives in recent times.  Things are said to be quiet at the moment, and have been for the best part of 10 years, though we understand that there was conflict-related a murder in Bawku as recently as November 2013.  A favourite tactic when things are tense is for people to ride round on motorbikes, with the pillion passenger shooting at people.  For that reason, men are not allowed to ride motorbikes in Bawku.

A local person told us a little of the history of this conflict and I’ll relay what we were told because it is interesting; but I can’t vouch that it is a true or complete account.  Apparently, at some point in the past, the Kusasi were being dominated (ruled?) by another tribe; and they didn’t like it; and they enlisted the help of the rather warlike neighbouring Mamprusi to liberate themselves.  The action was successful and, in gratitude and recognition, the Mamprusi leader was made a “king” (see below for the meaning of this word – but note that “king” here isn’t the top dog).  Apparently this wasn’t intended to be a hereditary position but when that individual died, either he tried to hand the position on to his son, or his son tried to claim it; and there has been conflict about this ever since.  It gets referred to as a “chieftaincy dispute”.  We didn’t pick up how long this has been going on for.  And perhaps the important point to emphasise is that this is a thoroughly isolated instance.  Throughout Ghana the different tribes and ethnic groups coexist in harmony; and Ghanaian people are known across Africa for their tolerance and for their propensity to talk rather than fight.  A really good example of this is that the result of the last national election here was disputed, and referred to the Supreme Court for judgement.  When that judgement was delivered, the two opposing parties accepted the decision, and shook hands on it, and life went on as normal, and the supporters of the party that the decision went against don’t seem to harbour bad feelings.  People here are as justifiably proud of that as our USA friends can be over the outcome of the “hanging chads” affair a few presidential elections back.

This hasn’t always been the case, incidentally.  For example, in the 19th century there were repeated instances of warfare between the Ashanti and the Fante – but that’s a long way in the past now.

An interesting feature of Ghana’s civic set-up is that in parallel with the elected parliament there is a hierarchy of “chiefs”.  I only want to mention this briefly here and I haven’t done a huge amount of homework on it, but the key points seem to be as follows. 

Obviously, before the colonial period, there had been local systems of government among the various people living here.  Given the multiplicity of tribes and their differing ancestry, the local arrangements presumably differed one from the other – certainly in detail and possibly in some quite fundamental ways too.  

In the colonial period – beginning in the middle of the 19th century - Britain ruled its “Gold Coast Colony” under a system referred to as “indirect rule”.  The way this worked was that the local systems of government continued as before, but under the supervision of the colonial administration.  The main reason for this was probably that Britain couldn’t afford to send enough people to all its colonies to rule them directly, so it had to come up with a less expensive option.  The “indirect rule” approach was working successfully in Uganda so it was tried elsewhere, including the Gold Coast.

There are all sorts of problems with “indirect rule”.  The people are pretty quick to realise that their chief isn’t actually in charge any longer, so internal respect for the local government risks being substantially undermined.  Consequently there’s every bit as much tension between the colonial administrators and locals as there is under direct rule – but there are fewer colonial administrators to deal with the problems, though extra resources can in theory be shipped in if needed.  For any Scouts in the audience, the future Lord Baden-Powell was among the soldiers sent to the Gold Coast to deal with problems with the Ashanti which led to the British occupation of Kumasi in 1896.

In instances where the local chief wants to do something which goes against what the colonial administration wants, he ends up having to back down or is removed.  Also, to make life easier for the colonial administration, the different flavours of local government end up being treated as if they’re all the same – so various quite important aspects of the traditional government are swept aside, further undermining the standing of the local chiefs and increasing the locals’ sense of having lost their independence and traditions. 

One aspect of the traditional government which disappeared in this way was the fact that the local chief tended not to be a hereditary ruler in his own right, but rather the appointee of the local tribal elders.  The elders had the power to overturn any of the Chief’s decisions and laws that they didn’t like, and they could remove him and replace him with someone more suitable if they didn’t like the way things were developing.  Of course, “indirect rule” couldn’t cope with that, so the “council of elders” was effectively stripped of its role and power and the local version of “democracy” went out of the window.

I’m not sure that the role of the “council of elders” was exactly the same everywhere – in fact, my guess is that the model wasn’t identical, and there might well have been tribes or groups where there was a ruling family or dynasty and there wasn’t any local “democracy” – but I haven’t researched the point very far.

An aspect of the local arrangements which seems to have survived is that, in some places at least, there was quite a bit of internal hierarchy.  Small tribes just have a chief and life is simple.  But bigger tribes have a chief for each local part of the tribe, and a “paramount chief” who has power over them.  There are different titles for these lesser chiefs, “king” being one of them (“naba” is another).  My impression is that people here quite like hierarchy and the pomp and paraphernalia that go with it, which provide an outlet for what seems to be a reciprocal need for the powerful to be deferred to and the less powerful to defer - so there seems to be quite a lot of it.  Zebilla is apparently divided into 19 districts, each of which has a “chiefette” (my term) who forms part of a council presided over by the Zebilla chief.  I think there might also be a “paramount chief” (this is the title of the top dog) – maybe of the Kusasi - who is one up from the Zebilla chief.  Jane and I have been presented to the Zebilla chief – it seems it’s one of the things that has to be done.  We haven’t actually encountered the local “chief assistant to the assistant chief”, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that there is one. 

As well as these bits of local hierarchy, there were also all sorts of allegiances and ties which linked tribes, and of course they all continued under the new regime and were one of the ways in which the authority of the colonial administration could be undermined a bit.

At the point when Ghana became independent, this dual system of government was still in place – and, not least I suppose because Ghana’s independence was done in quite a hurry, it carried on post-independence.  So, as well as all the “chief” arrangements which I’ve just described, there is also a District Assembly for the Bawku West District of the Upper East Region (whose capital is Zebilla and which extends several miles from the town in all directions); and a Regional Assembly for the whole of the Upper East Region; and of course a national government.  Maybe a some point in the future I’ll blog about how things actually get done and where power actually resides under this system –  it all seems pretty complicated, unclear, inefficient, and ultimately unsatisfactory to me.

It doesn’t seem now to be the case that the Government of Ghana has authority over the chiefs in the same way as the colonial administration did.  But things have not reverted to the position where the “chief” (as appointed by his local “council of elders”) makes and enforces the law in his land – all of that remains the province of the national government.  On the other hand, if you ask someone in Zebilla whether the power lies with the chief or the government, the majority seem to think that the chief is more important.  They can’t actually tell you how that comes about, but it seems to lie in an ability to ensure that things don’t happen if the chief doesn’t want them to.  “Accra is a long way away”, they will say.  If people have a problem that needs sorting out, they seem more likely to try to enlist the chief’s help than to have recourse to the institutions of the government.  I’ve heard it said that the situation might be different in big cities, and I can imagine that would be the case since the cities are populated by people who have migrated there from all over the country, so there aren’t long ties of family and tribe which form a chief’s power-base, and which individuals can use as a conduit to access him.            

Different systems of local/internal government don’t seem to be the only things that were/are different in different parts of Ghana and among different groups.  Different tribes have their own traditional dances and music, probably also their own drumming traditions.  They have traditional clothing – here in the north it’s the “smock”; the Akans wear the “kente” (which is actually the name of the stripy fabric, but also seems to be the name of the long and wide strip of cloth that they wrap round themselves and over one shoulder). 

They put different tribal marks (ie scars) on their babies’ cheeks, which stay with them for life.  Each tribe has a different pattern (though I think some might not indulge in this practice).  These marks are quite a shock when you first see them and you imagine that it’s a cruel practice and really painful for the baby;  however, I’m assured they’re actually only small and superficial scratches into which some herbal concoction is rubbed so that they remain visible permanently.  As an outside observer, actually what I see is the similarities between all these things, rather than the subtle differences between one tribe and its neighbour.

Some things seem to cut across all tribes.  Religion is an example I think.  There are said to be three religions in Ghana – Christianity, Islam and Traditional.  Probably the actual situation is that each tribe has the traditional religion, but they tolerate Christianity and Islam.  As far as I can tell, you get practitioners of each religion in every tribe.  I’ve asked whether the traditional religion is the same in every tribe and the answer seems to be yes and no.  It’s “yes” in the sense that the traditional religion is actually a pretty vague concept, without a core text or a specific doctrine, or any central institutions or accredited training for its ministers.  You might conclude that it barely passes as an organised religion at all!  It’s mainly to do with the mysteries of life – the miracle of reproduction and birth, the mysteries of death.  There are rituals for these important events, and if they’re not followed properly then all sorts of unpleasant interactions happen between the human world and the spirit world.  Jane has been told more than once that a child’s disability is the result of the placenta having been handled wrongly at birth… This is where the answer turns into “no”; because different tribes seem to have their own take on these rituals, so what is required in one tribe might not be the same as in the next tribe.  Since each tribe has its own priests/witch doctors, and the craft is handed down to the next acolyte/apprentice, this isn’t really a surprise.   

My own impression though is that, despite the different labels that might be given to religious beliefs and observation here, there is a huge amount of commonality.  Christians and Muslims seem to have incorporated all sorts of aspects of the traditional religion into their faith and practice, as well as imitating each other.  Taking funerals as an example (funeral here doesn’t just mean the occasion when the body is buried – it’s also the party that happens afterwards (sometimes weeks afterwards)), as far as I can tell the only differences between a Christian, Muslim and traditional funeral are whether alcohol is drunk and whether fire-crackers are let off.  Muslims mainly don’t drink alcohol; neither do some varieties of Christian; traditional beliefs don’t seem to pose any limits on imbibing.  Whether the drink is alcoholic or not, they all spill a bit on the ground before they drink to appease the ancestors/spirits (or to honour the Chief if he is around).  Only the traditionalists let off fire-crackers.

All the religions seem to bury the deceased person near or in his/her home compound (though we have seen a couple of quite small cemeteries in cities).  All seem very keen indeed to ensure that the deceased’s spirit is given a good send-off and doesn’t have any excuse or incentive to hang around and interfere with ongoing life.  Ghanaians in the main also seem to be very tolerant of other Ghanaians’ religious beliefs – they enjoy each other’s festivals and holidays, and they’re entirely happy for the prayer at the start of a meeting to be Christian and the one at the end Muslim – or vice versa or any other combination.     

The guidebooks are keen to point out a feature which distinguishes the Akans from the rest of Ghanaians.  Their inheritance is “matrilineal” rather than “patrilineal”.  Now, given that “women’s lib” doesn’t seem to have got anywhere near Ghana yet, this sounds like an encouragingly liberal idea and worth exploring a bit more.  “Matrilineal” means that inheritance is down the mother’s line rather than the father’s. 

When I was asking what this meant in practice, I started with the question of marriages between members of different tribes.  Are these allowed?  Yes, of course – and they happen quite a lot.  Now, I know here in the north they are “patrilineal”, and that when a woman marries a person from another tribe, she joins the husband’s household and tribe not vice-versa.  So, in a matrilineal system, does the husband join the wife’s tribe?  No.  That suggestion meets with a furrowing of the eyebrows.  Obviously it wouldn’t be practical given that many men (of all religions) have multiple wives – a man couldn’t sensibly be a member of each of his wives’ tribes, could he now?  And the children are members of the husband’s tribe, even in a matrilineal system?  Yes, of course.

So, when a man dies, who inherits?  It seems that in both patrilineal and matrilineal systems, property, land etc are divided amongst the sons (daughters being catered for by benefiting from the inheritances of their husbands).  I haven’t managed to get entirely to the bottom of what happens to unmarried daughters – they certainly exist, but they’re a bit of an aberration.  Unmarried daughters normally remain part of their parents’ household.  And since family living is a communal experience here, it’s unusual for a man to live alone, so when he dies “his” house is still occupied by lots of people and they seem to continue living there.  The house seems to continue to belong to the family in general – it isn’t inherited by the eldest son, who of course is married and has set himself up with his wife/wives in a house of his own.  I can’t see this being an enduring arrangement but it’s all I’ve been able to discover.  But it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether this happens in a patrilineal or matrilineal system.  From what I’m told, widows don’t inherit under either system – though that seems to be at odds with what I’ve observed in at least one case.  Our landlady, who has featured before in this blog, was widowed a year or two back, and she certainly behaves as though she continues to own the house and land.

The difference between patrilineal and matrilineal seems to come to the fore when a man dies without having produced any sons.  In a patrilineal system, property would be shared among his brothers; and in a matrilineal system it would be shared among his wife’s brothers.  Presumably if there are multiple wives, there are conventions about which wife’s brothers have a call on what – but I haven’t managed to find out what they are!  It’s clear that inheritance has been a problem in Ghana, because laws have been passed stating that it has to be spelt out who will inherit at the point a marriage is contracted.  On the ground that doesn’t necessarily make a difference, though, because the law only applies to the “legal” arrangements, and plenty of people seem to get married in church or mosque or “over the brush” without anyone bothering about legal documentation.  And, coming to the end of this blog, I think that’s another feature of life here which is a constant and applies to all ethnic groups and tribes.  Ghanaians of all flavours and persuasions don’t seem to get hung up on the formalities of the law.

To summarise, it seems to me that the people who live in Ghana today have quite a diverse inheritance in terms of ethnic make-up, but the differences are of detail not substance and that any individual Ghanaian will turn out to have much more in common with his neighbour than differences arising from different ethnic, tribal or religious background.  There is probably more difference between rural and urban people, and it’s probably the case that everything is more fluid in the cities.  I do think that Ghanaians could produce a pretty good list of their national characteristics and it might be the case that these would distinguish them from their neighbours.  Developments over the last couple of centuries might be a significant cause of those differences, since Ghana is surrounded by francophone countries where the colonial power didn’t apply “indirect rule” and might have left more of a colonial legacy – unless perhaps you think that being pretty laid-back about pretty much everything was a distinguishing characteristic of the British as colonists (but that’s not a view I would share).   

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Some thoughts about poverty

What a miserable topic – though maybe not entirely inappropriate for a blog from a developing country.  It is prompted by two things.  The first is that we have recently travelled the length of Ghana and back, to spend Christmas at Kokrobite, on the coast just west of Accra, and then further west in Cape Coast, which was the original capital of the British Gold Coast colony – and in doing so have seen something of how people live in other places than Zebilla.  The second is that Oxfam currently have a rather eye-catching advertisement, which I’m sure you will find on their website if you’re interested, stating two statistics and their undertaking to try to do something about the inequality of wealth distribution.

The two statistics are that the richest 1% of the people in the world own 46% of the wealth; and that the poorest 90% own only 14%.  (From this you can work out that the remaining 40% of the wealth is owned by the remaining 9% of the people.  You can also see that the richest 10% of people own 86% of the world’s wealth.)

Now, I’m not a mathematician, and my occasional forays into statistics haven’t exactly left me with an indelible mastery of the subject.  They have however left me with a lot of respect for people who really can work out (and explain) what figures actually mean; a serious contempt for people who use numbers in a misleading way; and a deep sense of regret that there are so many of the latter.  Charity makes me hope that many of these do it unwittingly (though I’m inclined to exclude all politicians from that dispensation – they do, after all, have the excellent Office of National Statistics to turn to for help, at us taxpayers’ expense, if they are ever in need of advice).

But as I have time on my hands, I played with numbers a bit in response to Oxfam’s statistics, with the results below.

·        Let’s assume that there are 1,000 people in the world, and that the total wealth is £1,000,000.  That would mean that, if the wealth was shared equally, everyone would have £1,000.

·        But actually, just 10 people have managed to corner £460,000 for themselves – that’s an average £46,000 each and thus 46 times their “fair share”.

·        Another 90 people have an average of £4,444 each – nearly four-and-a-half times their “fair share”.

·        The remaining 900 people have on average £156 each – which is less than one sixth of their “fair share”.

·        So each of the richest 10 people each has (on average) 295 times as much as each of the poorest 900.  It’s a pretty big difference.  (Of course, the richest of the rich will have much, much more than 295 times more than the poorest of the poor.)

There are various definitions of “wealth” and I don’t know which one Oxfam are using – hence I don’t know how rich these richest people actually are – but I’ll come back to that later, after we’ve looked at how many people we are talking about.


The population of the world reached 7 billion in 2011.  We’re talking American billions here, so, to be clear, that’s seven thousand million – 7,000,000,000.    

That’s a big number, but I’ve never really stopped to think just how big.  A fellow VSO volunteer here in Ghana (thanks Nique…) recently said he had tried to explain just how big by asking people to imagine counting up to 7 billion at the rate of 1 number per second.  Make your own guess, then think about it (with the aid of a calculator).  You would count to 60 in a minute, 3,600 in an hour, and 86,400 in a day.  You’d be at 2,592,000 – a bit over two-and-a-half million – by the end of the first month.  After a year you’re past 31 million.  If you continue counting non-stop for the whole of your allotted three-score-years-and-ten (70 years…), you will be comfortably past 2 billion by the time you die (we’re assuming that you started counting the moment you popped out of the womb, of course, so before you’d actually learnt to count…).  It would take more than three lifetimes – over 220 years - to count to 7 billion.  Yes, it’s a really big number.

It follows that 1% of 7 billion is also a big number – it’s actually 70 million (70,000,000).  This happens to be approximately how many people live in the UK.  I wonder whether Oxfam’s statistician intended us to make that connection – probably not.  It actually isn’t particularly helpful since nobody is going to claim that the richest 1% of the human population all live in the UK.  But before we allow ourselves to feel good about that, let’s be clear that it is highly unlikely that even one (1) of the poorest 90% of the people in the world live in the UK either – we are almost certainly all part of the 10% of the population (700 million people) who have our hands on 86% of the world’s wealth.

Where do all those people live?  Wikipedia gives data for 2010 about the 10 most populous countries:

1.     China – 1,340 million

2.     India – 1,225 million

3.     USA – 300 million

4.     Indonesia – 240 million

5.     Brazil – 195 million

6.     Pakistan – 174 million

7.     Nigeria – 158 million

8.     Bangladesh – 149 million

9.     Russia – 142 million

10.                        Japan – 120 million

That lot comes to just over 4 billion – more than half of the world’s population.  I wouldn’t have guessed all of those countries correctly, though I did know that there are a lot of people in China and India, and I might have mentally included Pakistan and Bangladesh alongside India (though actually I didn’t realise they were each quite that big).

Wikepedia also shares some information about how quickly the human population has grown, together with predictions of future growth (with the usual disclaimers of course).  The figures are attributed to the United Nations Population Fund.  A summary is:

·        1800 – 1 billion

·        1927 – 2 billion (so it took 127 years to add a billion)

·        1960 – 3 billion (so it only took 37 years to add another billion)

·        1974 – 4 billion (and only 14 years to add this billion)

·        1987 – 5 billion (13 years)

·        1999 – 6 billion (12 years)

·        2011 – 7 billion (12 years)

Population growth of course depends on two things – how many people are born, and how many die.  Estimates for 2011 are that 135,000,000 people were born and 57,000,000 died – so the world population increased by 78 million that year.  (Incidentally, that’s more than 4 people born every second, and almost 2 dying every second.)

The rate of population growth reached its highest in 1962 and 1963, when it stood at 2.2% per year.  The world population is still growing but the rate of growth has reduced – it was 1.1% per year in 2009.  But in some parts of the world the rate of increase is still over 2% - Wikipedia lists the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa (which includes Ghana), South Asia, South-East Asia and Latin America.  I don’t know exactly where they mean by South Asia and South-East Asia but I’m going to guess that these include India etc and Indonesia; and probably not China.

In some parts of the world the population is falling – Wikipedia cites Eastern Europe (because of economic difficulties following the collapse of the USSR); Southern Africa (because of HIV/AIDS); and Japan (where the reason given is reduced fertility, but I don’t know whether that is supposed to mean that in Japan something is going wrong with people’s ability to have children, or just that people are choosing to have fewer.  I suspect it’s the latter).  Interestingly China isn’t in the list of countries with a falling population, and I realise that I don’t know whether their policy of only allowing 1 child per family is still in place, and if so, when it will start to result in population reduction.

Finally, Wikipedia gives two different projections for the future.  Both projections say that the population will continue to increase, but then stop increasing.  One has the population growing to more than 10 billion by about 2100; the other has it “only” growing to 9 billion, by about 2050.  I find both of those numbers really scary and I wonder why nobody is talking about them as a really serious issue (incidentally, I include VSO and Oxfam in “nobody”).  Ten billion people is almost half as many again as we have now.  Look around you, and where you see 2 people now, imagine three in future.  Instead of taking over 200 years to count them all, you’re now talking about well over 300 years!

Of course one reason why we don’t discuss these issues is that, well, actually, some people do try to raise them but the rest of us refuse to take much notice.  Politicians generally don’t talk about them - they are conveniently too far in the future for any politician to need to worry about.  Also, the issues they raise are really, really difficult, so no mainstream politician is going to get any credit for trying to talk about them – in fact, you can’t raise the issues without offending somebody (who are you going to encourage to stop having children?)  I remember the international gasp of surprise when China introduced its 1-child-per-family policy - the implicit human-rights based condemnation, and the clear thought that nobody could introduce such a policy in the “free world”, and only a “totalitarian regime” could even think about enforcing it.   We also all instinctively know that the world’s leaders wouldn’t be able to come up with a plan to deal with population growth; and we all have an ostrich-like tendency not to want to worry about things that we don’t really think we can influence.  Even as I type these words, in my mind’s eye I’m watching an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and I’m the bedraggled, bearded bloke in the long smock wandering the streets crying “Doom, Doom…”

Back to the Oxfam figures though – if I do my simple calculation again, leaving the total wealth of the world at £1 million, but increasing the number of people to 1,400 (that’s the equivalent of increasing the world’s population from 7 billion to 9.8 billion), then the results are:

·        Each individual’s “fair share” is now only £714.

·        There are 14 “ultra-rich” people with, on average, £32,857 each.  (So they are individually quite a lot poorer, though I think we can agree that they’re still pretty well-off.)

·        There are now 126 “rich” people, with an average of £3,175 each.  (Again, less than the previous £4,444 but maybe not exactly uncomfortable).

·        The poorest now number 1,260, and on average have only £111 each – but that’s only £45 less than they had before.

·        Each of these figures has fallen to 71.4% of its previous value, and the gap between the richest and the poorest has reduced by more than £15,000, so on the face of it things are quite a bit less “unfair” than they were.  But of course the only question that actually matters is whether the people who today have to survive on the equivalent of £156 could survive at all on £111.

I’m now in danger of flogging this point to death – but it seems to me that the calculation above is too optimistic.  I can’t see why the increase in population isn’t going to be concentrated in the 90% of the world who are poor – simply on the basis that population growth is happening predominantly in poor countries.  If that is how it happens, then their share will be even less than £111. 

Economists might argue that the total amount of “wealth” might increase at the same time as the population increases.  If wealth and population increase together, then presumably the poorest people will still have roughly £156 each on average; if wealth increases faster than population then the poorest would have more than £156.  But I struggle to see why wealth should increase as fast as, or faster than population. 

Since I know even less about economics than statistics, I don’t feel in a strong position to argue about this (and I’d be interested to know what someone with expertise in this area thinks).  But I find myself wondering whether “wealth” relates to the quantity of goods or the price of goods.  I have an uncomfortable suspicion that it relates to the price – so if things like food become scarcer and the price goes up, the people who actually own food become richer whilst the people who buy food get less for their money.  I think that means that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So now I’m back to the other part of the question – which I think is along the lines of “what does “wealth” mean and how is it calculated; and what is “poverty”?”


There are definitions of poverty in dictionaries and on Wikipedia – they’re not all identical and I guess you take your pick.  For me, poverty obviously involves not having much; but I think it also involves having less than you need, less than other people in your society have, and suffering a degree of social exclusion and/or powerlessness as a consequence.

There are also definitions of wealth; and wealth turns out to be a key concept in economics, and Wikipedia has quite a nice little section going through some of the different aspects of wealth and their various implications.  “Wealth” and “income” aren’t the same thing (I guess the example we’re most familiar with is poor old Lord Muck, who has inherited a huge house etc from Daddy (“wealth”) but doesn’t have the income to cover its running costs).  There’s a helpful concept called “purchasing power parity” (ie how much you can buy with it, which might not be the same as its “exchange-rate value” – ie how many £ or $  you can get for it).  This concept makes it a bit easier to compare both “wealth” and “income” – but perhaps particularly “income” – in different countries with different currencies

Working out the value of possessions (ie “wealth”) strikes me as more difficult, perhaps especially in a developing country.  Clearly one calculation would be how much cash you could sell the possessions for.  Other calculations, which I think could give rather different answers, might be how much money you would have to spend to buy the article, or how much it would cost you to get access to it or something equivalent.  Then there are issues about land – who owns it, what value you put on it (particularly if there isn’t a market for land), what value you put on “common land” etc.  Also, in the context of deciding how poor people are, how you value assets that are owned by the state (things like roads, or power and water infrastructure), and services provided by the state (like healthcare and education)?  And then, what about the natural resources of a country or region – how do you attribute to individuals a value which represents their share of, say, the oil reserves, precious metals and diamonds which lie in the country’s soil.  I think the short answer is that these things are pretty difficult and that, generally, people making calculations about wealth and poverty try not to get bogged down doing complicated sums about them.     

I’ve described Zebilla in quite a lot of detail already and my intention was to give you enough information to form your own opinion about whether the people here are “poor”, and whether they are suffering from “poverty”.  I don’t find this all that easy to answer. 

There are certainly people in Zebilla who are not poor.  An example is our landlady – she lives in a comfortable western-style house which she owns, built on land that she owns; she drives a nice 4x4 car; she owns at least one other house that she rents out; she has a good job with a steady income (she is a nurse, I think quite a senior one).  She isn’t unique in Zebilla; but she is in the minority, I’m sure she’s  one of the wealthiest 10% and she might be up there in the wealthiest 1%.  She wouldn’t stand out as rich in the UK though. 

Most of the people here don’t have much income (I don’t think the majority are in paid employment), and they don’t seem to own very much (and much of what they do own is pretty grotty) (and there isn’t much for them to buy in the shops).  They live in a place with only basic of infrastructure (we’re having yet another power cut as I type, and the water system doesn’t seem to be delivering water to people’s houses consistently so there is a lot of carrying water from the boreholes to houses at the moment).  Beside them, with my nice house in Harwell, my car, my furniture, books and CDs and DVDs, and all of the infrastructure in the UK that I take for granted, and all of the things that I can easily buy with the credit that I can easily get if I want it - I’m undeniably rich.  Even my income here in Zebilla - we live rent-free and VSO pay us a living allowance which is worth £5 per day each approximately – seems to be more money than most people have; also, its arrival is less uncertain.  I don’t really have to think very long before I conclude that upwards of half the people, and maybe 80% or more, in Zebilla are “poor”. 

On the other hand, maybe it isn’t quite as simple as that.  Few people (if any) here are in debt or have a mortgage, many “own” the “house” they live in and the land that surrounds it (and they seem to have access to plenty of common land too – though I haven’t worked out exactly how land ownership works…), they grow crops and have livestock, and they seem to exchange and barter a lot so that looking only at their monetary income and expenditure isn’t the whole picture, and they don’t have to spend money on heating the house or on clothes to prevent them from freezing to death.  And they do have the benefit of schools (free up to GCSE-level), and a national health service which is almost free, and they are part of a functioning society that they understand and can play a part in if they want.  Also, even if they don’t own something in their own right, they can generally get access to it by borrowing from a member of their extended family, their tribe, or a neighbour – and they all seem to lend freely as well as borrow, so there is a sort of collective wealth which overlaps with individual wealth.  However, I don’t think all this changes my view that they are “poor”.  But do they “live in poverty”?  Well, it depends on your definition of poverty.

Wikipedia is also interesting on poverty, and helpfully confirms that defining “poverty” isn’t much easier than defining “wealth”.  Moreover, once you’ve defined it, deciding whether individuals or groups of people are living in poverty isn’t easy either.  Another thing which seems to become obvious, though it isn’t stated in so many words, is that “poverty” is clearly a political concept.  You can hear the axes being ground  - some definitions seem geared towards making wealthy individuals and wealthy nations face up to the fact that their excessive wealth creates real hardship for others; whilst others seem designed to produce a low number of people living in poverty.

There seem to be two parallel definitions of poverty – one is an “absolute” definition, which basically says that if you’re living on less than $1.25 per day you’re “living in poverty”.  The other is a “relative” definition, which says that if you have significantly less than all the other people around you, then you’re “living in poverty”.  Both seem to me valid – or rather, if you take them together (rather than arguing about which one is correct) then I think they’re potentially useful.  But they aren’t totally straightforward.

The $1.25 per day version started some years ago as $1 per day, and has since been increased (but, it seems to me, by considerably less than US price inflation).  Obviously, one could argue endlessly about whether $1.25 is the “right” figure.  (One table in Wikipedia also gives figures of $2 per day.)  Importantly, it is supposed to equate to the “buying power” of $1.25 in the USA (“purchasing power parity” again) rather than the “exchange value” of $1.25 in the local currency.  That strikes me as sensible and helpful – and having told you that we’re living here on £5 per day each, I can usefully add that some things are much cheaper here than in the UK (though others are roughly the same, and some are much more expensive).  It’s very varied – fruit and vegetables in season, locally grown, are pretty cheap; produce that has to be transported within Ghana is noticeably more expensive and roughly comparable to UK prices; meat is expensive.  Our monthly electricity bill is similar to the UK even though we use a lot less.  The bus fare to Accra was less than £20 for a journey in excess of 500 miles.  Mobile phone costs are lower than the UK but the internet is more expensive.  A laptop costs more here.  The bikes we bought cost less than they would have in the UK (though you couldn’t buy such a basic machine in the UK); but buying and running a car probably costs quite a lot more here.  I think that the essentials of life cost less here than in the UK – in other words, £5 per day goes further.

I think that a Ghanaian could survive reasonably well if he/she had the exchange value of $1.25 – particularly if he/she was living as part of an extended family with access to the usual range of family resources and possessions, and bartering opportunities.  I don’t know in detail what $1.25 buys in the USA, but I really wouldn’t like to try living in the UK on less than £1 per day; and a Ghanaian would be struggling to live the most basic of lives here if he/she only had access to the buying-power of $1.25 per day (likewise a woman with a husband and 6 children trying to live on the buying-power of $10 per day).         

The “relative” definition of poverty has one clear advantage, which is that it allows an element of “social inclusion/exclusion” to be taken into account.  That strikes me as very important.  One clear disadvantage though is that it risks implying that the poorest people in any society will always be in poverty – even if they drive round in Rolls-Royces and eat gourmet food off silver plates.  I don’t think that’s the intention and I do think this would be a distortion of the concept of poverty – and I remember it being discussed quite recently in the UK media when a UK poverty charity suggested that it is now “essential” to have a mobile phone (so if you are unable to afford one, that is an indication that you may be living in poverty).  Drawing lines was never easy!

Our journey through Ghana revealed a wider range of lifestyles than we see in Zebilla.  We saw some very big houses and some very expensive cars – there are undoubtedly people in this country who are rich by any standards.  Maybe some would be in the richest 10% of the world’s population, though I suspect not many would get into the top 1%.  We didn’t see much evidence of where their wealth comes from.  There seems to be very little industry here, and the farms are small and not the least “intensive” or “well-organised”.  We’re told that agricultural produce is one of the foundations of Ghana’s economy, though it’s apparently not a significant source of foreign exchange.   There is oil here, and gold, and cocoa exports are apparently significant – but we didn’t see truck-loads of these on the roads!

In Accra, as I’ve said elsewhere, there is quite significant congestion despite a good network of city dual-carriageways.  Admittedly a lot of the vehicles are taxis, buses, tro-tros (these are sort of unofficial minibuses) and lorries – but there are plenty of cars, many many more than we see in Zebilla.  Accra is a big, sprawling city and we haven’t really seen where people live.  We also know that there are an estimated 5 million slum-dwellers in Ghana and a good proportion of these must be in Accra, but we didn’t see the slums.  We also didn’t see obvious signs of sufficient employment for all the people – and we saw a lot of people trying to make a living by hawking goods at the roadside (and amongst the queuing cars at the junctions).  I take this to be an indication that there isn’t enough employment to go round.

In the Accra papers there is an ongoing saga about a new “shopping mall” which has recently opened in the Osu district (on Oxford Street!).  This is the third shopping mall in Accra, and it’s clearly an indication that there are people here who have money to spend, and that foreign retailers are interested in selling them stuff.  Despite this, our impression is that the vast majority of shopping and commercial activity takes place in markets and small, road-side “shops”.  We caught the tro-tro to Kokrobite from Kaneshie Market, and there was a huge number of small stalls and a huge number of people.  It was basically the same as Zebilla market, only a great deal bigger.  Many of the traders are very small scale and their daily profit can’t be big.  They seem still to be living a village-style life in a major city, and it doesn’t quite make sense somehow – I see it as a sign that society here is in transition. 

It’s difficult to say based on this limited information – but my feeling is that a smaller proportion of people in Accra are “poor”, but some of them definitely are, and some could be even poorer than the poorest in Zebilla.  It’s possible that those who appear poorest include the ones who have arrived here most recently from more rural locations, and haven’t yet got themselves established in the city.  Maybe in 6 months or a year, those individuals won’t be so poor any longer (but will have been replaced by other incomers who are just as poor).

Kokrobite is different again.  It is a small sea-side village about 20 miles west of Accra, and five or six miles south of the main coast road which connects Accra and points west – it feels rural not urban, and even quite isolated.  There are 10 to 20 big houses along the beach, and we saw some big cars in some of them, but they pretty obviously belong to outsiders.  There is a tourist industry there, and for 3 days including Christmas day we were part of maybe 50 white people on holiday (a good proportion of them were volunteers – like us only younger).  Our hotel was just a bit rundown and it wasn’t half-full.  It seemed to be run by Ghanaians, but the biggest place (Big Milly’s Backyard) is run by a white person (European or USA), as was the nice place where our volunteer friends were staying.  The hotels’ workforce seemed to be local.  To be blunt, and despite their intrinsic friendliness and hospitality, Ghanaians just haven’t got “customer service” yet – they don’t seem to expect to receive it and they certainly don’t give it – I’d list this among the obstacles to their developing a decent and lucrative tourism industry.  On the main street in the evening there are “street-food” places and “drinking spots” which seem to cater for both the tourist and local markets, with that subtle pricing flexibility which means that both groups pay an appropriate price.

There are other villages along the coast in both directions – in fact, heading back towards Accra, it wasn’t obvious where one village ended and the next began.  The houses were similar to Zebilla but packed more closely together.  I don’t really want to type the word “squalid” but actually it’s the one that springs to mind first – people and animals live cheek by jowl, there is rubbish in the streets (though each morning they seem to sweep it up and burn it, then drop the rubbish that they will sweep up tomorrow), and although there are toilets they clearly aren’t universally used.  There is some agriculture but it felt that there was less land available than in Zebilla, and there was no sign of industry.  They catch fish in the sea, from large wooden canoes that seem to go out two or three miles into the Atlantic.  We didn’t see any mechanisation, and we watched with tourists’ interest as they pulled the nets in by hand – laboriously, for hours, half-a-yard at a time, in teams of 10 to 20 people, slowly generating a gigantic heap of rope and finally landing a net which must be 300 metres long and containing a relatively meagre catch of mainly rather small fish.  We didn’t swim – we were put off by the evidence of human excrement.  At first I thought this was caused by drunken tourists, but the only actual eye-witness evidence is of local contributors.

I’d say the people of Kokrobite were economically similar to Zebilla – mainly poor.

Our last stop was Cape Coast, which was different in several respects.  Cape Coast was a village of 20 houses when the Portuguese first came in 1482, but the continuing European presence gave it a growing importance and it is now the fifth or sixth biggest city in Ghana and capital of the Central Region, with a population in the region of 400,000.  It has a sea-front castle – always intended to defend against other Europeans rather than natives – which is now a World Heritage Site, I think because of the grim evidence it contains of the slave trade.  It was the original capital of the British Gold Coast, and even after Accra became the capital (late in the 19th century) there appears to have been a substantial British population.  There are several British-style churches complete with towers and spires, and both residential and commercial buildings which look as though they were quite grand when they were first built.  Now they are anything but grand, with the exception of the churches – these are well-maintained and clearly regularly used.  The castle is rather neglected for a monument of its historical importance and there clearly isn’t enough state money in Ghana to maintain and restore it, or enough of a tourist trade to repay the investment.  That’s really a pity, as Cape Coast could be a lovely location and an injection of capital and foreign trade would do wonders for the city.

Parts of Cape Coast were the nearest we feel we got to slums.  A large part of the old-town just west of the castle is built up with mainly wooden structures, not exactly akin to the shanty-style slums we saw in Lima but along the same lines; people cook on the streets; the gutters are more than usually full of rubbish and that disgusting black sludgy liquid which is left when washing water and other liquid waste is evaporated in the sun.  There were an awful lot of people for a relatively confined space.  They were quite a bit less well-dressed than what we are used to in Zebilla (Ghanaians can be extremely smart, for example for church, and they are generally reasonably well turned-out, even if the clothes aren’t well coordinated and aren’t of the newest).  This was the nearest we have got to feeling threatened in Ghana – though I don’t believe we had any justification for feeling that way.  We didn’t see any evidence of sanitation, and on the beach we saw rather a lot of evidence of lack of sanitation (though, as noted in Kokrobite, that might be a reflection of personal preference rather than necessity, and in terms of quantity I don’t think we saw the excrement of quite the entire population of that part of the city).

Other parts of Cape Coast were more similar to what we had already seen.  There is a “bustling” market, not as big as Kaneshie Market in Accra but similar in style, and three or four “bustling” main streets, rather more than a mile in total length.  Zebilla also “bustles” on market day, but these bits of Cape Coast were busy every day from mid-morning to evening.  Away from the centre it’s considerably more spacious and there were some quite large shops.  The coast road by-passes the centre of Cape Coast so there isn’t a major traffic problem , though it’s still very busy in the middle of the day.

We came back north on a day-long bus ride, first to Kumasi and then up the main north-south road through Tamale to Bolga.  We’ve driven the Kumasi to Tamale stretch before in both directions, but only in the dark.  It was interesting to see the landscape change.  In the south, it is described as rain-forest, though it actually doesn’t rain much here for large parts of the year and the humidity seems to vary quite a bit, so that it’s only occasionally near-100% humidity where David Attenborough et al thrive, and the vegetation seems much less dense.  It’s also far from pristine – people live in most of this area, albeit at fairly low density, so there are a lot of small roads and tracks, and frequent small patches cleared for farming.  There’s a lot of banana growing here, and we saw pineapples (though there were more of those on the coast road).  The villages are similar to what we see around Zebilla, and the towns are like Zebilla.  I’d describe the areas as fairly sparsely populated, though less so than in the north.

As you approach Tamale, the rain-forest is replaced by savannah.  At this time of year this consists of rather tall but totally dry grass, bare patches of ground, scrubby shrubs, and middle-sized trees (there would be 6 to 20 of these in an area the size of a football pitch).  Past Tamale, it gets drier and there is less vegetation; and quite a lot has now been burnt back – we are told that this is the result of accidental fires, and that everyone agrees these are bad for the land. 

I think this journey confirmed our existing impressions of wealth and poverty in Ghana, rather than adding new information.  I’m left needing to answer my own question of whether I think people in Ghana “live in poverty”.  I still don’t find it at all easy.  I’m clear that many, maybe most, are poor.  I’m clear that some are very poor indeed, and could in my opinion be described as living in abject poverty.  The very poor people in Cape Coast were most definitely in this category.

 Also, there are more people in Ghana whom you would describe as crippled – people who appear to have broken leg bones at some point and not had them set properly; and it seems clear that the least fortunate of these people struggle to make a living.  I’ve mentioned the Ghana Health Service and I don’t want to knock it.  Recently we heard that there used to be 4 doctors in the Upper East Region (population circa 1 million), but now there are only 2, as the other 2 were sent to the Upper West Region (population circa 1 million) where there were no doctors at all).

I also think that a lot of people here live a rather precarious life.  We have seen hardly any evidence of hunger – there is food to buy and people can afford it; only once has a shockingly thin man knocked on our door and begged, and we don’t see underfed people on the street (though we get a smattering of begging most times we are out).  But we are told that the rains last summer came unusually late in northern Ghana, consequently those people who took a chance and planted at the usual time lost their seeds.  Those who planted later did get a harvest but it was pretty poor compared to a normal year and people are predicting that food will start to be scarce as the end of the dry season approaches.  If ever the rains don’t come at all one summer (but why shouldn’t they – unless you believe in climate change), I reckon there will be serious hardship here and people might even die in significant numbers. 

Despite this sombre thought, though, I don’t really feel that the majority of people in Ghana “live in poverty”.  I would rather say that they live a fairly tough life with rather limited resources and with very little by way of a safety net, but have the benefit of a vibrant, functioning and mainly supportive society, with opportunities for fulfilment.  I don’t think life here would suit most people brought up in the UK (and I’m pretty sure that by the end of a year here, we will have had enough) – but I’m not sure that the UK would suit most people brought up in Ghana either. 

 For a closing thought I want to quote a few more statistics from Wikipedia:

·        Apparently someone calculated the “household wealth” of the world in 2000 as $125 trillion.  (We’re in American number-land again, so this is $125,000,000,000,000 (which would be $125 billion in UK number-land)).  I think that means that the richest 1% of the population have on average a bit under $800,000 each.

·        In Ghana, 28.6% of the population (that’s just over 7 million people) live on less than $1.25 per day, and 51.8% (nearly 13 million) live on less than $2 per day.  I understand these to be “purchasing power parity” figures not “exchange-rate equivalent”.  For the UK, the percentages are 0% and 0%.

·        According to Ghana’s national definition of poverty, 28.5% of the population live in poverty (that’s the same 7 million as in the previous bullet - which tells me that Ghana either doesn’t have its own national definition of poverty, or think the $1.25 per day version is appropriate). In the UK, 14% of the population live below the national poverty line – I make that nearly 10 million people.  Wikipedia might be wrong, of course…