Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fed Up, Yet Hungry at the Same Time

"I think that today, it is the population, the citizens, who will impose peace to [the] politicians [and elections]…People will kill each other never again."
--Acouba Outtarra, Bouke city school teacher

Anticipation. If I had to describe the atmosphere of the country right now in one word, that would be it. Ivoirians are nervous about the potential for violence, but excitement to exercise their right to vote outweighs any hesitation. A very watchful international community, including the large UN and French contingencies on the ground, is keen on seeing this election happen peacefully.

The excitement is pervasive. Everywhere you could hear people talking about the election, and go by almost any school and you’d see snaking mob lines of people waiting for their identity and voting cards, which the election commission is furiously trying to get distributed in time (I say "furiously" half laughingly, because of the African context). I went with Cisse, my translator, to talk to some of the waiting citizens (see pics 1 and 2). One woman had waited in line for four days, each day being turned away. This was par for the course. And people arrive early. Cisse’s sister was sent at 4:00 a.m. to wait, and was replaced by Cisse’s 70+ year-old mother, Salimata Bakayoko, when Cisse’s sister had to go to school. For four days Salimata waited in the heat, finally getting the cards. I am expecting a very high voter turnout.

At the root of the country’s excitement to vote is that they are simply fed up with instability. It’s impossible for a country to plan when the administration in power doesn’t know if there will or will not be a presidential election in one year's time, and the effects are compounded when this happens every year, for five years. And it shows in the country's infrastructure and business activity. No foreign business, or local business for that matter, is willing to make any investments until the elections happen, and happen peacefully.

This became very clear when I took a trip to Yamoussoukro, the official capital. There I stayed with Regis, a
really cool Ivoirian working in a bank. He made me feel right at home at his place, organized group dinners with his Ivoirian friends (who could also speak English!), and connected me to Kinda to serve as my translator. Kinda had been an English teacher at a local university, and introduced me to the director, a very traveled, educated, and impressive guy. He explained that he went ahead and began funding the school himself because no investor was willing to put in their chips until the election. As for Kinda, we quickly became good friends, and I could certainly write an entire post just about him. Abandoned at birth and adopted by American nuns, he has been in and out of jail five times for being an outspoken supporter of foreigners’ right. Two years ago he walked for eight months from Cote d’Ivoire to Mali to raise awareness for a proposed UN commission to support foreigners’ rights. Immensely fascinating guy. As a side note, I even had time to see the basilica, which is the largest Christian place of worship in the world (bigger than the Sistine Chapel).

From Yakro, as they call it, I hired Kinda and went to Bouke, the stronghold city of the rebels in their once northern-controlled area and one of the most affected from the wars (last pic: weeds and brush now growing in the abandoned structure of one of the city's most prominent hotels). Most people advised me not to go, which is exactly what drew me to the area. Plus, I generally think hospitality wins out over hostility. During my time there I heard incredible stories about schools closing for years and people scrapping by during the war, and now how excited they are to vote.

But the most interesting thing about Bouke might have been the large security presence, which is most evident at the city’s entrance. Arriving into the city, I was confronted with the biggest security checkpoint I’d ever seen. Fifty or so armed soldiers patrolled the area. Kinda and I were told to get out of the gbaka and funnel through a large hut, almost like we were at a border to another country. There we met an officer. He demanded a "toll" for us to get through, much higher than ordinary
Ivoirians because of my status. "Why?" I heard Kinda ask in French. He responded, "Here you don’t talk much. You give or you don’t pass." When we were leaving the city, an officer, wearing a ragged, badge-less but official uniform, begged me for some money. These soldiers are mostly former rebel soldiers who failed to make the cut (e.g. they were illiterate) to be absorbed into the national forces. The government’s employment project for them didn’t pan out as planned, and so many are forced to take tolls at the city gates to survive, or in some cases, beg.

From Bouke, we headed back to Yakro in a horrendous gbaka ride (a story in its own right) just before I jetted off to Abidjan for an amazing opportunity to be part of the election activities.

(Note: I have been behind in posting because of my travel, and am no longer in Cote d'Ivoire. The election takes place tomorrow, and of course I am excited to see the outcome.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Identity Crisis: Does Ethnicity Kill Growth?

Over the course of my trip I’ve thought a lot about ethnicity, democracy, and their relation to poverty – from hearing an Indian friend in Pune tell me he sometimes wishes there was only one party so the newly elected would stop filling its pockets every time, to Mozambique, where a close friend was an organizer for the opposition party – but I’ve never really put together coherent thoughts. These barely qualify as such.

The primary issue behind the civil wars and postponed elections in Cote d’Ivoire is one of identity, and thus who is allowed to vote and stand in the elections (above, citizens are finally getting their voting card and IDs after years of using expired ones...more on that later). Immigrants have come into Cote d’Ivoire for years from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso to work on cocoa plantations and live mostly in the Muslim north. They primarily support opposition leader Alassane Ouattara (a former IMF director...a smart dude), a Muslim himself who has had his nationality questioned by President Gbagbo, preventing him from running in the past and serving as the root cause of the civil wars. Outtara has since proven his Ivoirian status and is now allowed to run in this election, to the chagrin of Pres. Gbagbo. The minorities have their man.

I snooped around the slums of Yopougon for several days with Cisse, my translator, looking at the issue and how it has affected the growth of the country and the lives of average citizen. Taking specifically the case of minorities and the surrounding discrimination, I met one individual named Bakayoko Moussa. A Muslim northerner from Boundiali, he moved to Abidjan in 1978. But, he explained, “In 2002, everything changed. People started to point us out as foreigners.” Despite being an Ivoirian, his ethnicity made him stick out, so much so that at highway police checkpoints he was accused of providing false papers.

But Bakayoko’s experience goes much deeper than that. After my interview questions were concluded, as usual I asked if he would like to ask me a few questions or add anything. He had apparently lowered his guard to me. He said, “I will add something important that’s on my mind. For this problem, the identity crisis, my younger brother was killed. He was 21. He was among the martyrs [who died because of being a foreigner or being perceived as a foreigner]…They took a knife and wrote his name on his body and then they took a hammer and broke his knees. This happened in the streets.” Bakayoko explained that with the police out searching for his brother, “he crawled and got under a car. He wasn’t dead overnight”, but after being rushed to the hospital by his family and receiving a transfusion of blood Bakayoko thinks may have been purposely tainted by the government hospital, he died shortly after.

I heard other stories like this of wrongful persecution, of neighbors turning on neighbors, like Djakaria Outtara, pictured with his son Peledene. Still patriotic about his country, he is now trying, for the second time, to get a green card to the U.S. The first time he failed it cost him the $140 application fee, which took nearly two years to save for. I met a surprisingly large amount of people trying to emigrate to the U.S. and Canada, more so than in other African countries I’ve been. It’s amazing to me what Ivoirians have been through and what they’re willing to do for any opportunity.

As I walked around, two questions kept coming into my mind. The first was: Does ethnic diversity harm growth? I did some reading, and without jumping to conclusions about causation, we can say that yes, the more ethnically diverse a country is, the lower the growth rates. Moving from complete ethnic homogeneity (think Korea and Hong Kong) to complete ethnic heterogeneity means a drop in annual growth of 2.3%. Fourteen of the 15 most ethnically diverse countries are in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire has 60 tribes), and eight classified high-income countries by the World Bank are among the most ethnically homogenous. Economists William Easterly and Levine found not only this, but that “greater ethnic diversity increases the likelihood of adopting poor policies and underproviding growth-enhancing public goods.” In other words, bad governance.

With that, my next question was: Can democracy improve on this standard of governance and promote growth in ethnically diverse countries? I’ll touch on that in an upcoming post.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Unluckiest Chicken

"Sometimes I wonder why God put me in Africa."
--Felix, my Ghanaian friend and current footballer

It's funny how some things work out. I arrived with no contacts, no hotel, and no French in a country that is exclusively Francophone. At the Cote d'Ivoire border, the Ghanaian sitting next to me asked me for $3 to buy a vaccination card that he didn’t have but needed to buy in order to cross the border. I gave it to him, only half expecting to get my money back as he promised.

Walter, which was his name, turned out to be a great help and even better friend. After I got into the capital Abidjan, he and his cousin Felix helped me get settled into a cheap hotel for the night. Hours into a new country, I wandered around that night for food, eventually using more body language than a mime to order the dish, which was an amazing braised fish covered in a pile of stuff (I love any food covered in "stuff").

The next morning, Walter and Felix (in pic 1, Walter onthe right, Felix on the left) directed me over to their neighborhood, Yopougon, one of the rougher slum areas but definitely the liveliest. They helped me settle into an $8 "hotel", which was basically a bed with a sheet (that I declined to use), a bucket of water, and a fan.

It was right around the corner from their home, so they basically looked after me for the week while I lived in Yopougon. They invited me to meals, which were mostly Ghanaian, cooked by Joyce, Walter's mother (pic 2) and her sisters living there. It was basically a bunch of Ghanaian sisters who had come to Cote d'Ivoire to trade. Really nice people.

Outside of them often forcing me to eat at their house (I didn’t want to impose), Felix invited me his “academy” – not a soccer club buta bunch of soccer players who are looking to get managers and find a club. Felix sees soccer as his gateway to prosperity – he has the skills “but if only I could get a club”, then it would be easy, according to him. He decided to pursue soccer rather than college, and while I admire his ambition, I wonder how much better his situation will be five years from now.

As a token of appreciation, I purchased a chicken for the family, under the condition that I would be able to kill it. Killing a chicken in the slums or the bush with a local family, as savage as it sounds, became a fellowship goal somewhere around the mid-way mark. Of course, I had to go shirtless and with a headband in order to set the scene, which gave a kickto the family and half the neighborhood’s population. That wasn’t the only comedy – apparently my skill set extends to Microsoft Excel and data analysis but not beyond to killing a live chicken with a rusty old knife. As I was trying and failing miserably to kill it, I could almost hear the chicken insulting me for cutting with the dexterity of a four-year-old wearing oven mitts. Felix’s mom claimed I was trying to cut it too close to the head, but I maintain it was the extremely dull knife, which I saw just minutes before it was given to me being sharpened by Felix on door frame.

Just as I finally thought the bird was mercifully dead, and posing for a picture with it, its bloody half-dead body flapped out of my hands. I argue that it would’ve died anyway, so I chalk it up a victory.

Felix, Walter and I also spent time watching movies, chatting about and watching soccer, and helping me to find a translator. Things move slow in the slums. We’d lose power, and you’d basically have nothing to do, at least until it came back, which would elicit thunderous cheers in the streets.I also helped get Walter set up on email – not only had he never used email, he’d never used a computer. I had to teach him how to click a mouse. This is not like working in a low-income school in the US, like I did at Vanderbilt. This is a whole new level.

What finally did me in was the food. Fighting sickness I had to move out and into a nicer apartment with a really cool Ivoirian named Erikson. Not that the food was bad tasting, but rather just a tad unsanitary (That last picture is black eyed peas, random item #1, onion, random animal meat, noodles, and no, that’s not sour cream but mayonnaise – I had to try the dish). You tend to get that feeling when your beans and rice crunch with grit.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Border Blunders in Côte d'Ivoire

I’ve long since given up trying to plan my trip continents at a time. The whims of the world create too much uncertainty and opportunity. Cote d’Ivoire was originally nowhere on my radar, but now I find myself in the country for the exact same reason that some expats are booking flights out – the upcoming presidential elections of a country mired in 15 years of instability.

Cote d’Ivoire has not held presidential elections since 2000. Those elections happened after a 1999 coup by military leader Robert Guei, who won the election. Opposition candidate Laurent Gbagbo claimed they were fixed, and took power after a revolt. The next elections never happened in 2005, because it was deemed unsafe without full disarmament of the rebels. Oh right, I forgot to mention that there was a coup attempt on Gbagbo’s government, which led to a civil war in 2002 that pitted the government’s army in the south against the rebel soldiers in the north. Other issues such as a misguided airstrike (according to Ivoirian officials) that killed French soldiers, the breaking of a peace accord by the rebels, and the alteration of the constitution to prevent opposing candidates from running have been side dishes in this all-you-can-eat buffet of typical African politics.

Since it was deemed unsafe to hold the 2005 election, they extended Gbagbo’s mandate a year through 2006, when the election would then take place. Disagreement between candidates on the date and general ineptitude of registering voters led to the elections being postponed again until 2007, 2008, 2009, and now, finally, 2010.

Before this trip to Cote d’Ivoire I found myself in the TechnoServe office, trying to figure out logistics. “Don’t you want to pick another country?”, asked a Frenchman and former Cote d’Ivoire resident who was at TechnoServe, and from who I was trying to get contacts. Cote d’Ivoire is the first country on the US’s warning list I’ve ever visited and the first in which I’ve ever registered with the US embassy, but I believe that people generally overreact to security issues. I was right about Cote d’Ivoire, though this is the most extensive use of a spike strips I’ve ever seen, and never have I went through more police checkpoints and been questioned more.

I will say that the border was thick with tension, though – the most I’ve ever experienced. After I finally woke up from my slumber six hours later on the bus from Ghana, I soon after found myself trying to maneuver the Ivoirian border. It seemed like it was the officials’ first day on the job – no one seemed to know what they were doing. And I know it wasn’t just me because a smartly dressed British guy, who spoke fluent French and who I first mistook for an Ivoirian, was also lost with me. We scoffed at how amateurish the whole operation was.

My scoffing stopped shortly after. Nearly home free, I was actually on Ivoirian soil when police were hauling me back by my shirt, yelling at me like I’d just killed someone. Apparently I’d just walked right past them without knowing. It was a pretty easy mistake – they were saying “come here”, which I ignored, but they were all dressed in street clothes and only wearing a plastic laminated badges that looked like something I could’ve made in 3rd grade art class. And it’s not like I don’t get hassled by hawkers who are always telling me to “come here”. Even the guy who dragged me back was wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and a somewhat grungy-looking white Umbro shirt with red piping.

Scoffing at the amateurism would have recommenced had Umbro shirt and other police not dragged me into an interrogation room and started yelling at me, in broken English corrected for your readability: “We are the police! What do you think you are doing?... You think because you are from America you are better than us? You can just walk right through here?” A full-body search ensued, including everything in my bag. I realized I had on me over 700 USD I hadn’t claimed because I didn’t want the hassle or the potential bribe they might take. As Umbro shirt was searching , the British guy came back to the door and he said, “Don’t let them take any money!” That set them off. Accusation of bribery always does. During the commotion I slipped my money in my pocket that they’d already searched. We hurried up the rest of the search to make way for the British guy, who was now their prime suspect. As I was leaving, Umbro shirt spitefully remarked, “We do our job.” I was quickly escorted out and told to walk to the bus, which was about 500m ahead waiting for us trouble-making foreigners.

I won’t even go into the many accounts of blatant bribery I witnessed between the border and Cote d’Ivoire’s capital, and the skirmishes it caused – it’s like people changed instantly when we crossed the border. Rather, I’ll better explain why I’m here: I’m planning to interview people about their perceptions of the upcoming election, the development of democracy in Cote d’Ivoire, and how the political instability has affected the development of the country and their lives. How democracy relates to poverty is an issue in which I’ve yet to deeply delve. And, it will be fascinating to be a part of what may later be considered the rebirth of once prominent nation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dancing My Way Out of Ghana

When I arrived in Ghana, I was told by everyone and their mother I would have a blast here. It’s lived up to the hype. There’s been great food (the best I’ve had in Africa), hilariously awkward situations, and memorable nights. But beyond the pure fun of the place is how I’ve developed scholastically, professionally, and personally.

I’d say, probably for the first time all trip, that I am beginning to feel my fellowship goals are bearing some resemblance to completion (note that my goals are to better understand poverty and development approaches…I don’t expect, as a Western male Caucasian, to ever fully understand poverty). At the same time, after volunteering with TechnoServe, I am more confident in my skill set, yet just as keen to improve upon it. I have a better idea of what I want my future to look like in terms of what purpose I have in my life, and what that looks like as a career. Personally, I am more confident than I’ve ever been in who I am and who I’m not. I know better what I want in life and what I don’t want, but of course answers still remain.

Another volunteer had, a few days after my TechnoServe contract finished, moved into my room, but my flatmates, who are now great friends, were willing to put up with me crashing their couch for a week. Not wanting to overstay my welcome and giddy to trample the red soil of some other African country, I booked a bus ticket to Cote d’Ivoire, the once regionally prominent neighbor of Ghana.

The bus had a departure of 5:00 am, meaning I had to be at the station at 4:00. Jana, my flatmate, noted that given the night’s planned festivities, the only logical thing to do was to not sleep. That wasn’t a hard sell for me. The night started out at a cocktail at a couple of Swedish guys’ apartment who worked for a telecom company implementing a mobile cash platform in the country, a concept that is sweeping Africa. As someone who has dealt with the hassles of a cash-based society, I can attest their work is really valuable. They’ve rearranged their living room to include a ping pong table and have commissioned a local painter to paint “the best” person in each field, including the top Swedish ping-pong player and Jay-Z so far. “Are you a big Jay-Z fan?” I asked. “Not particularly,” one of the flatmates answered. Cool guys.

From there we headed to the beach for my last glance at the Ghanaian ocean and the last supper – a delicious meal of chicken and rice. We met up with friends who worked for Innovations for Poverty Action, and my Ghanaian friend Isaac, who I met through the reference of fellow Vanderbilt friend Jessi Solomon, who’s a rock star in her own right. A college student studying business at one of Ghana’s top universities, he’s worked extensively with autistic children and is currently doing an internship with IBM in partnership with German university students. Later this month he’ll travel to Germany to present his work. Extremely friendly and speaking fluent English, Isaac has been an invaluable help and friend to me during my stay in Ghana. Oddly enough, while at the beach I ran into a random Ghanaian who claimed he remembered me from weekends before in another town. This was the second time this had happened in the same week. Apparently I make an impression on some people.

The night finished – or rather got started, at Bella Roma, where a friendship I’d previously made with the bouncer Cyborg (awesome) got us in for half price. The dance floor was pretty empty when we arrived, but Ariana, Jana, Isaac, Richelle, others and I got things moving in no time. Perhaps it was my terrible dancing that made others lose their inhibitions, but more likely it was just the alcohol. That’s one great thing about traveling internationally – as big of a fool as you make yourself out to be, you’re probably never going to see 99% of these people again. At 3:00 am, soaking from sweat (that picture was just the beginning) and entirely exhausted, we headed home so that I could pack (Apparently earlier that day I’d used my standard reasoning of “I’ll let Future Rob deal with that”). I said my goodbyes and darted out the door, arriving at the station with plenty of time since – like anything in Africa – the departure wasn’t on time. I fought exhaustion trying to make sure both I and my bag made it onto that bus, and when I finally did as the sun started to rise, I did the impossible, and passed out cold on a low-budget African bus.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cut Africa Some Slack

In everlasting memory of the aguish of our ancestors.
May those who die rest in peace.
May those who return find their roots.
May humanity never perpetrate such injustice against humanity.
We the living vow to uphold this.

--Memorial message created by a 1992 convention in New York of African and Caribbian leaders to commemorate St. George’s Castle

I recently had the chance to visit St. George’s Castle in Elmina, the oldest and arguably most prominent slave castle in the world. It was controlled by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and finally the British, though by the time the British got it slavery was petering out. Probably the most ironic part of the experience was the prominent Portuguese church right in the center of the castle. I saw nearly the same thing when I visited the apartheid museum in South Africa – how a group of individuals, convinced of an idea, could do something so morally wrong while at the same time claiming it was God-ordained.

There really are few words that could adequately sum up my experience. It was overpowering, enlightening, and a smack in the face. To stress the latter, and to be perfectly honest, it felt like a tour-de-blame. If seemed like they were saying “Look what you did, white man.” Does that bother me, being blamed for sins of my ancestors? A bit. It’s impossible for me to equate what Africans feel to a white male’s perspective, since we are basically at the top of the world food chain. But, pulling from the only example that bears any resemblance for me, I don’t blame Muslims or Middle Easterners for what happened on 9/11, and that only happened a few years ago, not centuries.

Still, the destruction of the Twin Towers didn’t have the same debilitating ramifications on my country’s economic and political development as slavery and colonization did on the African continent and blacks in worldwide. Just a couple days ago I was doing an interview with an average local about Africa’s development and democracy, and I asked if he had any more comments. Usually they say no, but he had a question: “Why do you in the West always portray Africa negatively?”

On the spot, I had to come up with an answer, so give me a handicap. Now, I’m not a journalist or politician, I told him, but I would surmise there are two major factors. The first being that the media, in general, prefers to show negative stories, and there is certainly no shortage of them in sub-Saharan Africa, a region in which Ghana is the only country to have two back-to-back peaceful transitions of power from one party to another. The second factor, I think, is that for a continent that is arguably the most abundantly endowed with resources in the world and in which has had billions of Western aid dollars poured, it still is home to the world’s greatest population of people critically struggling with poverty (To be fair, I added, the West is certainly partly to blame for the results of this aid).

Sub-Saharan Africa has underperformed, and the West is great at showing how it has screwed up. But should Africa’s underachievement be unexpected? It seems to me a bit unfair to expect that African countries immediately become civilized, developed, and forward thinking, when they have only had independence for less than 50 years. Look at Western countries, those who are giving the blame. Our own United States, a few decades after our 50-year mark, got into a civil war over how we had been treating people as property. The French had a bloody revolution about the mode and form of government and society. And less than a century ago, the now economic powerhouse and progressive Germany was “cleansing” its population.

Certainly, Africa should learn from our mistakes to as great of an extent as they can, but maybe holding them at a bar as high as or higher than that to which we hold ourselves is unfair. For example, we stress we won’t give aid, by George, unless they adopt free market policies like liberalizing their markets, while at the same time slapping huge tariffs on their agricultural products, which make up the vast majority of African economies.

I think the young age of their democracies and thus the need to give them time was made clear to me when I asked a local civic leader (and others) why African leaders just won’t give up power when they are voted out. The answer: When you come from humble backgrounds, as many of this first crop of African leaders do, hell no you don’t want to give up your power. As these countries develop, and more young, progressive-thinking, and well-off politicians take office, it’s probably more likely that they’ll give up power peacefully and less likely they’ll espouse country-killing corrupt policies. At least, that’s my optimistic hope.

(Note: the last pic is me peering out of the single person-wide exit door to slave ship)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Finished with TechnoServe and with the last days of my Ghana stay winding down, I decided to take a quick trip to Kumasi, where I previously visited just for an evening on work for TechnoServe.

I had two invitations: one to check out Suame industrial magazine and the other for a tour of the Guinness brewery. Since I’m a sucker for tours and experiences at factories, farms, slums, and any other place where I can see people in their day-to-day lives rather than talked about in a museum, this was an easy sell.

I first trotted into Suame on an invitation from my friend Bessam who works at SMIDO, the locally-run NGO that works to organize the magazine (a magazine meaning a collection of businesses in which each does complimentary services) into a cohesive and more technologically-advanced industrial estate. Bessam was cool enough to not only give me a solid tour, but also let me shack up for the night at his place – though I did somehow manage to lock myself in my room, which made for some funny-in-hindsight stories when I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I chalk it up to faulty doors rather than stupidity.

Anyway, Suame was overwhelming, smelled like sweat, and was wonderfully filthy (kinda sounds like a whorehouse). Recent estimates vary, but one study says there are about 12,000 enterprises here, roughly grouped by function, so you’ll have the car mechanics in one area, scrap metal processors in another, the spare parts people in another area, and itgets even more specific. In the second picture are crushed cubes of scrap metal that are shipped to Accra to either be melted down for reuse or exported to China to feed its insatiable demand for resources.

One of the several businesses I looked at and whose workers I talked with produced circular discs for gold hammer mills. You can see them pouring the discs with the molten sand in the first picture. From most places in Suame you can see plumes of smoke coming from this foundry and the workers – who have little formal education – can tell if it’s hot enough just by the color and form of the smoke. Though of about the same functional quality as their Indian and Chinese counterparts, these discs lack the nice polished finish and so only fetch about 1/3 the price. This is one of the major difficulties for Suame – it doesn’t have the technological capacity to produce nice finished products.

Almost as interesting, but more tasty, was a night at the Guinness brewery bar and a tour of their operations. Right after Suame I met up with Prosper, a head Guinness employee and friend I made through TechnoServe.

Before continuing, I want to take a minute to go through the hierarchy of awesomeness of Ghanaian names. At the bottom you have the nouns – for example, Princess, Success, or Felicity; second best are the adjectives – Perfect is a good example; but the best, hands down, are the verbs – Prosper fits the bill. You just can’t top those. Splendidly, I didn’t make these up…I know people with all these names.

Prosper and I had a great time chatting about everything from the appropriteness of Ghanaian funeral "parties" to the growth of Ghana over free beer that’s part of Prosper’s monthly allotment. Three hours later and to the increasing annoyance of the bartender who stayed an hour past closing to serve us, we were finishing our drinks. And, the bartender was cool enough to help me get home on tro-tros in time to meet Bessam for drinks and a street food buffet.

The next morning Bessam and I got the official brewery tour from Prosper. To see such a sophisticated production process – one that can crank out 350,000 liters of brew a day – in a place where villages without electricity are just kilometers away, is mind-blowing. The entire factory can be operated nearly with the click of a few buttons on the computer; product problems that surface months later can be pinpointed to the exact location, batch, time, and who was working; samples are taken to make sure the labels are affixed exactly.

Suame has done some work for Guinness in the past, but mostly small stuff like spare parts. The difficulty is that big industrial producers like Guinness need consistency, and this is hard for Suame, which is composed of many individual actors. I find myself becoming increasingly interested in informal economies: how the function, how they can function more efficiently, if they should and how they could be linked into formal supply chains, and what effects all this would have on the poor and the overall national economy. I could easily see myself doing an MA thesis on this stuff.