As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my parents are Nigerian. Having spent time in Nigeria as a result, I have, at times, fallen into the trap of adopting a Nigerian perspective on Africa – that the Nigerian experience is the ‘African experience’. I’ve always suspected that this stems from Nigerians’ self-important image as ‘the Giant of Africa’ (even if it is still slumbering), so I try not to generalise in this way. I am equally irritated when others imply a singular ‘African experience’ as though Africa as a whole is one homogeneous entity. It feels like such a lazy outlook to adopt. And yet…
When I first emerged from Accra Airport – with M and her friend who’d kindly volunteered his time and vehicle to pick me up – and felt the heavy, balmy morning air as we walked towards the airport car park, I felt a tinge of recognition – this could be Lagos, Nigeria. As we drove the relatively short distance to the hotel in East Legon, that sense of familiarity deepened. A lot of this should come as no surprise to me: Ghana and Nigeria are physically quite close and so have similar climates. They are also at a similar stage of economic development which has a direct impact on both countries’ infrastructure.
Both countries’ early democratic governments (formed in the period following independence) fell to military coups. The subsequent political instability has left the general population of both countries at best, ambivalent about their political leaders. It’s interesting hearing the skepticism of the Ghanaians I’ve spoken with, whenever I ask about their leaders’ promises of a better future. Again, I recognise the complaints, the skepticism; after all I hear the same from Nigerians. I also recognise the irrepressible optimism that exists in spite of past experiences and dodgy politicians, for Ghanaians, the future is bright. I read today that Nigerians came second in a poll to determine the most optimistic people on earth; if that’s true, then Ghanaians must not rank far behind.
But most similar of all is the tendency of Ghanaians (that I’ve spoken to) to generalise their experience as the ‘African’ one. I’m still dubious about such claims: two West African countries with similar climates and political history do not an ‘African experience’ make. And yet as I holiday in the country of Kwame Nkrumah, the great pan-Africanist, it doesn’t seem that outlandish a proposition.