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07.10.2005 Diaspora News

Katrina opens up real America to Ghanaians

By Statesman
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THE following commentary on Hurricane Katrina was aired, October 5th, in the United States on the National Public Radio programme “News and Notes with Ed Gordon.” This is a verbatim transcript of the commentary; the actual audio of the commentary can be heard on the internet at the following address:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4946034 Ed Gordon: The human suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina has touched people around the world, including Africa, where some of the most impoverished countries have pledged aid to the United States. The Republic of Ghana has donated $100,000 worth of cocoa drinks and chocolates to Katrina's victims. Commentator Meri [Nana-Ama] Danquah is Ghanaian and says people in her country were shocked by the conditions in the United States and perplexed by our government's reaction to the disaster.

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah: Editor, The Statesman In mid-August, an old friend of mine, Sandra, flew in from the US for a visit. It was a little over a year since the last time I had seen her, about the same time that I'd made the decision, after three decades of living in the United States, to move back to Ghana, my native country. Whenever I introduced Sandra to someone here in Accra, one of the first questions asked was, “Where in the US do you live?” Most folks here have a keen impression of America–through American film and TV, the internet, newspapers and magazines, but very few of my friends had ever heard of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the place that Sandra calls home, which is just a short drive from New Orleans.

“It's a lot like here,” she told them, and their eyes widened in disbelief. “I guess you could say that we're a small African republic located in America.” Sandra's comparison of Louisiana to some countries in Africa drew a laugh. “No, I'm serious,” Sandra, said straight-faced. “Most of the people there look like you. A significant number of people live below the poverty level, and we have an extremely poor educational system. Our illiteracy rates are among the highest in the nation. And our HIV-AIDs statistics are nearly the same as yours.” By then, all jaws had dropped.

“In America?” they asked incredulously. For them, it was implausible to think that such conditions could exist in that proverbial land of milk and honey, but on August 29th, the day that the winds from Hurricane Katrina swept across New Orleans, people here in Ghana saw just how possible it really was. Here, the immediate reaction to the disaster was shock and sadness–at the loss of human life, the displacement of residents and the destruction of property. The numbers were staggering. Yet as the days and weeks passed, and we watched the tragedy unfold, our shock and sadness remained, but now, for reasons that were altogether different.

Anna Bossman put it this way: “To us, sitting over here, it seems as though the government's response was what it was because it was primarily black areas that were hit the hardest.” Anna's the Acting Commissioner of Ghana's Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice. She said: “It's not just like the 3rd world. It IS the 3rd world. A lot of us in Ghana feel if it had been a white area, something would have been done very, very fast.”

Kwaku Mensah is a tailor here in Accra. His sister lives in Houston, Texas. He told me: “I don't think it's black or white. If you no get job, you no get money, you no get power, you'll be last every time. Nobody else cares about you, why should a big man like the president of America?”

And so those of us here in Africa–on the other side of the Middle Passage–are anxiously waiting and watching to see what will happen next. As if Louisiana were a mirror. As if it were our own fate.

The 4-part anecdote, On The Road, will be continued next week.

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