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19.02.2010 Feature Article

Why do Ghanaians eat potato but white men don't eat plantain?

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Well, not all of them- I'm generalising here. Most tourists actually get addicted to red red and plantain chips whilst in Ghana, and one of my own specialities in the mukaase is kelewele (obroni style). As for the potato, I know there are many Ghanaians who have never eaten, nor wish to ever eat, yam's imported little brother. I recall a dinner party I once hosted in the village where I served chicken and potato chips. All the drinks and fried chicken got quickly finished, before I was told “Yenko pe REAL FOOD bi wo kurom.”

Plantain, however, is only eaten by that tiny minority of whites who have discovered it through their tropical travels. It is available to buy in aborokyire, but only from specialist Afro-Caribbean stores where it's rare to see a white man (unless he has an African wife who forces him to come because he's paying). Potatoes travel here over thousands of miles and can be found in all the markets. And those of you reading this who think you have a potato-free diet, have you checked the potato flour content of your Chinese biscuits, Indian crisps and Malaysian chocolate cake? (Another expensive import which is killing our economy is wheat flour- but we still all love our borodo, don't we?)

Does it seem strange to imagine an Englishman going to the Afro-Caribbean store and sitting down to enjoy some nice borodee ampesi and kontomire froe for his Sunday lunch? But to see a Ghanaian tucking into a burger and chips is normal, right? I only used potato and plantain because it makes a hard-hitting headline and I like alliteration. I might instead have asked “Why do Ghanaians wear 'camboo' and suits, but white men don't wear ahenema and fugu?”, or “Why do Ghanaians listen to Westlife CDs and watch Jackie Chan films, but white men don't listen to Kojo Antwi and the Chinese don't watch 'Taxi Driver'?”

One has only to read Walter Rodney's essential book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” to understand the numerous ways in which slavery, imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and “free” trade have caused this unfair world imbalance. An inequity in which Africa has been forced to adopt a voiceless, oppressed, dependant, copycat role in its relations with the white men, some of whom still hold the Elizabethan view that the black man is inherently inferior to them. Generations of diasporan babies whose tro-tro inscription could be “Black Man with White Sense” can put paid to this theory. It's not the colour, it's the continent. To help drive the point home, though, let's imagine the apparent absurdity of a different world history, in which the tables have been turned and it is the Africans who are the colonial masters.

What if, instead of us being ruled by Babylonian ministers, district chief executives, municipal assemblies and high court judges, we took our akomfo, ahenefo, akyeame and abrafo to take over the UK government? Would it be appropriate for some Akans to set off in a boat to Europe, and enforce the borders of a new made-up country consisting of most of France, a quarter of Spain, and 10% each of Italy and Switzerland, then give the rest to the Ewes and Gas to fight over? Can you imagine Europeans building their houses from laterite, granite, bamboo and gold leaf, all of which they would have to import at great cost from here? What if they had no paracetamol and had to send for some African neem leaves every time they felt ill? Is it easier to picture a packed London pub full of Kotoko and Hearts fans or an Accra spot showing Manchester United v AC Milan? Where I come from, they're extracting lots of oil and gas from under the sea: why didn't they have to wait for the Fantes to come and dig it out for them? Consider the whole of the UK speaking Twi and listening to Peace FM, and changing their names from John Robinson and Mary Smith to Kwame Bediako and Amma Asante, even if they weren't born on a Saturday. Wouldn't it be ridiculous for a European student to know nothing about what's in his own backyard, while all his schoolbooks and learning resources are from Africa? Or, a Ghanaian goes to England, makes a law whereby he gets all the apples sent to Ghana, where they make apple juice and sell it back to the English. What a thought! Chieftaincy instead of democracy? Gordon Brown would dismiss that as sheer lunacy! Envisage a Europe where agricultural processing and manufacturing industries are discouraged, leaving the whites to rely on African imports for such simple things as toothpicks, T-roll and tinned tuna. Could you picture Ghana flooding the USA with cheap rice, causing the American rice growers to switch to wheat, only for there to be a rice famine when the Ghanaian imports stopped? I could go on. All these ideas seem so ridiculous and unlikely, but the reverse is exactly what has happened.

Take the most significant and fundamental basis of any culture: its religion. It is unthinkable that the Church of England would ever give up their white Jesus to worship Onyame and Asaase Yaa from the Dark Continent. Yet it is the reverse of that very unthinkable transformation that has happened here over the last 500 years. The like-minded Professor Molefi Kete Asante, the 'Father of Afrocentricity' couldn't have put it more strongly in a 1998 address at the Du Bois Centre: “Until an African leader publicly acknowledges, honours and prays to an African God, we Africans will continue to be viewed as pathetic imitators of others, never having believed in ourselves.” Extrapolate this to cover all areas of life and work, not just religion. Does Ghana believe in itself?

Take the analogy of a small boy who depends on his daddy for some small pocket money every week, but he only gets it if he has obeyed daddy's rules. Even when he grows up to be a healthy, able-bodied man, he still relies on his dad's pocket money instead of “getting on his bike” and finding lucrative, sustaining employment and leaving his dad's house altogether. If the daddy is the IMF/World Bank, then who is the little boy and when is he going to grow up? When is he going to realise that one day, it may even be his father who is looking to him for help? All he has to do is take the bold step of breaking his father's rules (which really only suit the father) and finding his own way in life.

When I go back for a holiday in my home town every summer (you can only visit England from June to August, the rest of the year it's flooded or frozen), I always try to extol the virtues of Ghana, from the strong family values, friendly people and respectful children, to the fantastic natural environment, cheap herbs and delicious foods, and I attract a lot of tourists to the country, either through my personal contacts or my writing. Perhaps if Ghanaians were a little more enthusiastic about their own country, wanted to stay here, buy things made here, and make their children proud to be here, then Ghana's reputation would be further enhanced. That's up to you. And before any of you utter a dismissive “Because of our leaders.....”, remember that there's only about 200 leaders in Ghana, but more than 22 million of you. People Power.

So, which type of chips do you want?

Ian Utley is the author of
“Culture Smart! Ghana, the Essential Guide to Customs and Culture”

Ian Duncan Utley
Ian Duncan Utley, © 2010

The author has 7 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: IanDuncanUtley

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