Football Culture in Ghana

The sun beats down ruthlessly on the barren pitch with no trees or tall buildings to deter it. Red dust swirls around the feet of the players, almost obscuring the ball, as sweat runs endlessly down their necks. With no boundary lines, no jerseys, and goals standing naked without their nets, the children are playing a game all their own.

History of Football in Ghana

Football was introduced to Ghana by Britain during Europe’s colonization of Africa. Ghana’s first organized matches occurred in 1882 and Cape Coast Excelsior, which was founded in 1903, was the first official soccer club.

Today in Ghana, football is a huge part of the community through both local and regional identity, and national identity. It affects both youth culture and adult culture across the country. Whether it’s going to all the games, following them on television, discussing them with friends, or playing pick-up games on the street, football is a part of most Ghanaians’ lives today.

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Children from the village of Krofu standing in front of the football goal.

Youth Culture

Like those playing football on the dirt pitch, many children in Ghana play the game. It is a way for the youth in Ghana to find a community among themselves. Relationships, social development, and physical fitness are all important components of growing up that football provides. Football also allows children to grow up with dreams and hope for the future as they aspire to play on club or professional teams.

Professional Football

Club football teams serve as an intermediate level between recreational football and professional football. Ghana’s Premier League for club football consists of sixteen teams from regions all over the country. The teams include Hearts of Oak Accra, Asante Kotoko Kumasi, and Ebusua Dwarfs Cape Coast. Players on club teams hope to be selected by the national team or scouted by top clubs overseas.

In 2014 the Ghana national team, The Black Stars, made it to the World Cup. In a devastating loss, The Black Stars suffered a two to one defeat at the hands of the United States of America’s national team. This match ultimately affected Ghana’s chances at proceeding past the group stage.

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Jerseys of Ghana’s national team, The Black Stars.

In addition to the World Cup loss, there have been some recent tensions about the Ghana national team. The Black Stars players requested a larger salary for each game and refused to play in a crucial upcoming match unless they were paid more for the game.

The players’ salaries are paid for by the taxpayers, and since the taxpayers wanted to support their team, they paid for the larger salaries. Unfortunately, The Black Stars lost the crucial game for which they were paid extra. The taxpaying fans were devastated by the loss and outraged that the team was paid more and still performed poorly.

Those feelings of outrage have not yet faded. The Black Stars’ fan base has decreased since the incident and many Ghanaians have a colder approach to the team. Joyce Okyerebea Ottu, young woman born and raised in Ghana, no longer follows the Ghana national team. In fact, she doesn’t really watch football at all because, as she says, “sometimes if you give your heart to them, at the end they will not make you happy.”

Globalization of Football

Another reason for apathetic feelings toward the Ghana national team is the globalization of football. While Britain brought football to Ghana, today it takes the players away from their home team. Many of the best Ghanaian football players leave for European clubs who can lure them in with their prestige, higher salaries and promise of sponsors.

Since Ghanaian footballers play all over the world, Ghanaian football fans follow other teams aside from the local clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus. This globalization of football has broadened Ghana’s influence and reach on the international stage. While it is preferable for Ghanaian football players to stay with the local clubs, it speaks to their abilities that they are in high demand with such prestigious teams. Ghanaian footballers, whether playing home or abroad, provide a rallying point for culture, community, and national identity with all Ghanaians.

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Young footballers playing in the Volta region of Ghana.

A lover of football and resident of Accra Ghana, Albert Ohene-Asante has seen the influence of football both home and abroad. He attended university in the United Kingdom, the country that brought the game to Ghana. He says “football always unifies us regardless of our differences” and that during the big games, the Ghana flag is flown everywhere.

In Ghana, the passion for football has survived over two hundred years, the colonization and decolonization, and several wars. All that time, football has served as a commonality for many Ghanaians through which they find national pride and a sense of community. The passion of those children playing football on the barren dirt pitch in the scorching sun indicates a strong future for football in Ghana.

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African Influence

The many connections of Ghanaians between each other and outsiders has many influences. The first of which, is media. The way Ghanaians perceive themselves, other Africans, and African Americans reflects how those groups are portrayed in the press.

“Ghana: Soft Control of the Press”

The relationship between the media and the government in Ghana has an interesting and complicated history. According to Jo Ellen Fair in her article “Ghana: Soft Control of the Press,” it all began in 1992 when the media was liberalized.

Since the media’s liberalization, journalism boomed in Ghana. Publications and broadcasts were everywhere and were commenting on everything. Since media was privatized, they could talk about whatever they wanted. The government, on the other hand, was used to controlling the media openly and found their new freedoms distasteful.

Fair describes how the government had to adjust their methods to softly control the media, rather than openly and aggressively controlling them. One of the biggest examples of this is called “soli.”

Soli is a Ghanaian word meaning gifts. Mainly in the form of money, soli is given to journalists by officials or businesspeople to ensure the press covers the material they want them to. In addition to cash, promotions are also handed out as incentive by influential people in the government.

Relations between the media and the government in Ghana are similar to those in the United States and many other countries. It seems like a more extreme case because of the accelerated rate at which the government and media in GhIMG_5180
ana have developed after Africa’s decolonization.

The media are the agenda-setters for what the country will discuss, what it will care about, and what will shape it. The government cares about what is discussed, what is cared about and what shapes the country. Therefore, it makes sense for the government to want a hand in the agenda-setting.

 

“Pan-Africanism as a resource: the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture in Ghana”

Pan means all. African, of course, refers to people from the continent of Africa. Pan-Africanism is a movement to unite all Africans, whether they live in Africa or are distant descendants of Africans.

In her writings on “Pan-Africanism as a resource: the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture in Ghana,” Katharina Schramm analyzes Pan-Africanism as a movement and how W.E.B. DuBois played a major role.

According to Schramm, W.E.B DuBois was an advocate for, and even the father of, Pan-Africanism and played a large part in the establishment of the first four Pan-African conferences. Their purpose was to promote racial equality and unity of the continent of Africa.

Unifying the continent of Africa into a United States of Africa is one aim of Pan-Africanism. Another aim is for all Africans to unite and follow their ancestry back to Africa from where they and their families ended up scattered around the world.

The idea of a Pan-Africanism is admirable and it would be beneficial for people of African decent to learn more about their lineages and histories. However, if all those people of African decent returned to Africa, their presence and culture would be sorely missed in the rest of the world.

Marketplace Mayhem

I hear shouts of “Obroni,” “blonde baby” and loud hisses as I wind my way through the weavers, woodworkers, and shoemakers, sweat spilling out of every pore as the heat of the day, the heat of the cooking fires, and the heat of so many bodies presses in on me from all sides. I am assaulted with the smells of too many things I can’t name cooking, and people constantly drag on my arms and hands to come into their shops for “just a minute” because “it costs nothing to look.”

Overwhelming and intimidating as it is, the markets have never made me feel threatened. With my travel group, I went to Kumasi market, the largest open air market in all of West Africa. It had absolutely everything.

18671037_773981112776083_3623794950167067771_nEndless yards of every color of cloth, wood carvings of every animal imaginable, beads of every shape and size, and so many yams, spices, buckets of raw and bloodied meat, and yes even dried chameleons which I am told are for eating. One of the other students on my trip called it an outdoor Walmart.

I loved it. I loved the narrow paths, made of everything from dirt to wood to stone, we rushed through. I loved the passion and camaraderie of the people selling their wares. I loved the old women who shouted at the other women on my trip to cover their legs (fortunately, I learned my lesson and wore a long skirt).

A lecturer came to talk to my travel group about women in Ghana. She pointed out some things that I never noticed and now I can’t ignore. At first, I was impressed by the equality of gender in the markets. Even on the side of the road it seemed men and women were selling in equal number.

Although this observation was correct, what I failed to realize was the implications of what they were selling. The women are all selling local products like fried plantains, yams, and bottles of water and juice. The men are selling imported goods like chewing gum and electronics.IMG_5471
When picturing a businessperson, a man in a suit typically comes to mind. When importing products to Ghana, businesses typically sell their goods to men who they view as businessmen. This power imbalance means women make less money and have less opportunities to get ahead.

 

Misconceiving Media

Surrounded by overlapping, incoherent orders and a whirl of cameras and rushing people, squinting into the blinding, hot lights, I’m in my element.

In the last week I have visited 4 news stations with my travel group.

  • Joy FM
  • Radio Universe
  • TV3
  • Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC)

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Whether in a developing country like Ghana or a media dominated country like the United States, the passion for storytelling is the same. I was surprised at how well done Ghanaian media is and how similar it is to western news sources.

The equipment, writing structure, and editing process are all familiar to me. They are just like to equipment, writing structure, and editing I used in my news television internship last summer. The newsroom is just as chaotic, and the news anchors have the same cool, collected, professional presence.

But why on Earth should I be surprised by this? A goal of mine in coming to Ghana was to come in open minded and not allow western influence’s stereotypes to dictate what I thought of the country. Apparently I have failed.

For some completely unfounded reason, I felt I knew more than these experienced professionals just because I am from America and have had exactly ONE internship at a news station.

I feel absolutely and completely ashamed of myself. Who am I to feel superior in any way? Why did I even feel that way? I’ve never heard anything, good or bad, about news sources in Ghana. I guess I just assumed that since Ghana is still technically considered to be “developing” it must not have journalistic integrity like I’m used to.

Apart from being completely untrue, this is something I have gotten upset at friends and family for while I’ve been here. While talking to them about my experiences, some of my friends and family have mentioned things about Ghana like “wow I didn’t realize they were so developed” and “Are there just lions and hippos and other animals running all over.”

I chastised them for thinking Ghana was primitive, and yet didn’t I have the same subconscious prejudices? I suppose recognizing the problem is a step in the right direction. But I’m still in shock that my mind wasn’t as open as I thought. Educating myself is the best thing I can do to resolve my western superiority and prejudices.

Who is African?

What does it mean to be African? Is an African someone who’s born in here? Who talks a certain way? Who’s skin is a particular color?

Lydia Polgreen’s The New York Times article “Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora” addresses Ghanaians’ perspective on their own identity and the identity of African Americans.

In the article she describes how African Americans who come to Africa to explore their ancestry are disappointed when native Africans greet them as Obronis, or white foreigners, rather than as kin. Ghanaians see them as Americans, not Africans.

The article also discusses how the Ghanaian government is attempting to change attitudes and welcome the diaspora. It will take time to gain more connections between the two groups of people.

To describe the way outsiders view Africa, I analyzed the article “How to Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina. It employs a facetious rhetoric in the form of a how-to write about Africa article. He uses this to depict how wrong perceptions of western writers are regarding life and culture in Africa.

Wainaina’s powerful diction includes words like “Safari,” “Drum,” “Primordial” and “Tribal” to suggest how to title writings about Africa. This shows how primitive, traditional and similar an outsider would think all of Africa looks like.

He also suggests using imagery like “rolling grasslands and huge herds of anmals and tall thin people who are starving.” There are also mentions of all Africans having “rhythm deep in their souls” and preferring to eat monkey-brain, goat, snake, and worms.

Depictions of any “well adjusted African” or anyone “not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation” are not recommended by Wainaina. Of course, author should always take a tone of superiority. Why not? How could someone who has lived a different life than you possible be as intelligent or well developed? It’s a sign of western supremacy that people view Africans as “others” and not as fellow people.

The article shows how Africa is perceived by people who haven’t visited or don’t bother to learn more. There are even westerners who have visited Africa and, since they have a preconceived notion of Africa, subconsciously chose to ignore any proof of development or sameness with their own lives. Western media depicts Africa this way which is why it is such a widely accepted generalization. Before arriving in Ghana, I was one of these westerners generalizing Africa and underestimating it’s development.

It is possible and likely that the people of Africa are aware of the outdated and false generalizations about their continent. This explains why the Ghanaians in Polgreen’s article did not welcome African American as kin and why African Americans assumed they would.

If the people of Ghana only see African Americans as self declared superior westerners, they will have a harder time accepting them as fellow Africans. Conversely, if African Americans buy into the superiority of western culture, they will have difficulty understanding their roots in Africa. The key to smashing stereotypes and understanding people in different regions is education and open-mindedness toward other cultures.

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Residential area in a rural village in the Eastern Region of Ghana.

Feeling Akwaaba

My upper arms and lower back ache. My legs shuffle along underneath me without lifting more than a few centimeters off the ground.

Yesterday, I visited Krofu, a rural village in Ghana’s Eastern Region. The physical demands of staying in the village for only a few hours were enough to make me sore. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live out my whole like there.

We began our visit with a meeting with the elders and chief of the village. It was, in a word, intimidating.

Thrown into a cultural scenario I am wholly unfamiliar with, and with people who speak a different language is new and exciting, but did not inspire much talk from me, or the group.

After our meeting, we helped with construction on a library for the village to better the education of the hundreds of children who live there. We mainly carried large cement bricks to the construction site, since none of us have the know how to actually construct anything stable.

Speaking of the children – wow. There were so many! All of them were so excited to see us and emboldened by each other to come closer and eventually become inseparable from us.

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I could barely walk with all the kids hanging off my arms, legs and torso, and trying to touch every part of the exposed skin on my lower arms.

They examine my skin, compare it to theirs and poke me to watch the colors of my pigmentation change under their fingertips. Our faculty leader, a Ghanaian herself, told us they are looking to see if we are humans like they are humans.

I love the genuine wonder when they grab my face to see my blue eyes. I admire their immediate acceptance of me. Even through I am just an Obroni, a white foreigner, I am allowed to be part of their community.

The Coast’s Tarnished Beauty

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Edmina slave trade castle in Cape Coast, Ghana.

In the Cape Coast region of Ghana, the sunny beaches frame the startlingly blue water of the Atlantic whose salty breezes offer relief from the beating sun. The beaches are punctuated with crisp white castles, elegantly designed and overlooking the beauty of the coast.

In any other context, these castles would make a beautiful backdrop to any romantic movie scene or postcard. Instead, the beauty is only a cruel reminder of the tragedy that took place here.

Cape Coast Castle and Edmina Castle are now national monuments, but in the 1700s they were hubs for the transatlantic slave trade. From their dungeons, so many thousands of African men and women were sold into slavery.

To be here in person is powerful and intimidating. As an American, I’ve only really learned about the slave trade from the perspective of an American. My schooling discussed the journey of slaves from their homes to the United States, but focused mostly on their lives after arriving.

Standing in the dark, mildewed, stifling dungeons of a castle, the stench still lingering over hundreds of years and the recorded sounds of women sobbing spark tears in my eyes. But what right to I have to cry over this tragedy? I was not taken from my home and family. I was not treated as livestock. I was not bought and sold as another person’s property.

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The women’s dungeon in Edmina slave trade castle in Cape Coast, Ghana.

Economic Inequalities

A tiny rundown hut with a thatched roof, no door or windows, and a deprived looking family with tattered clothes sitting out front with the chickens.

This is what many people picture when thinking of an African home. While this is a reality for some Ghanaians, many others live a lot differently.

Driving through Accra, there are shiny new, modern apartment buildings next to small modest homes with only one room next to lavish mansions.

An international student staying with my host family talked to me about the economic differences in the community. He said the culture here dictates those with disposable income “don’t sit on their wallets.”

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Construction in Accra, Ghana showing both old rundown and new modern architecture.

This explains why my host family, who is upper middle class, employs both a housekeeper and gatekeeper for their modest, but comfortable home. It’s their duty ti create jobs and trickle down the wealth.

This kind of “sharing is caring” mentality isn’t as present back home in the states. People with disposable income can spend money on luxuries, but they rarely employ others. It’s typically spent in restaurants, in clothing stores and on vacations.

People in the U.S. usually either directly donate to people or charities, or do volunteer work for others. While this helps people for a short period of time, it doesn’t create stable jobs for people like Ghanaian practices do.

 

Arriving in Africa

Africa is not a country, it’s a continent. And it’s definitely not an alien planet. Stereotyping all of Africa as the same, or all Africans as the same is a grossly inaccurate generalization.

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Accra from above while touching down in Ghana. 

People here differ from country to country and within the countries themselves. It’s similar to the way the north, south, and west regions of the United States differ greatly in culture, tradition, and history. There are so many scenes in Ghana that correlate to familiar memories of the U.S.

Bumping along the deeply rutted dirt roads in rural Ghana, red dust is kicked up with every turn of our bus’ wheels. Every time the bus slows even the slightest bit, we are instantly surrounded by hawkers selling their wares from the precariously stacked baskets on their heads.

While this seems strange and unique to the area, it reminds me of food trucks in big city courtyards and shops along the east coast boardwalks that I frequent back in The States. In both scenarios I am assaulted with the sights, smells and sounds of people persuading me to buy their product and no one else’s.

Sustainability is also a big trend in the U.S. People are going green, recycling and conserving water. With so little water usable water available to them, Ghanaians are understandably concerned with conserving their water supplies as well.

Walking into my host family’s bathroom to shower my first night with them, I’m greeted with a bathtub and removable faucet. The shower design and cold water encourages fast and efficient showers. The water is to be turned off between washing your body.

In every building I’ve been in during my time in Ghana, there are switches on the power outlets that reduce ghost currents to the outlets when they are not in use.

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Grafitti over the Ghanaian flag.

So many more people walk or bike to work, to shop or to travel within their towns or villages than people in the U.S do. If the two countries shared sustainability practices, there would be more conservation overall.

This highlights the similarities between the United States and Africa that Americans are typically unaware of. We need to realize that there are so many things we can learn and adopt from African culture. They are not primitive or helpless, and have advancements and traditional practices that are more efficient than those we have in The States.