As a first-generation Ghanaian American, there were a lot of things I took for granted growing up: the hours my mom would take cutting and dicing in the kitchen, cooking contombre (spinach stew) and tatale (plantain pancakes); the way my brother and I closeted more custom traditional Ghanaian attire than we ever cared to wear; and the delicious hot cocoa we’d deplete while visiting my aunt in Accra.
These are just a few of the things that came to mind during President John Dramani Mahama’s “Made In Ghana” conversation on October 1, 2015 at the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!). During this conversation, he expressed his intent to facilitate the process of Ghanaian goods becoming domestic and international commodities. He elaborated on the way Italy is synonymous with pasta and haute couture, how France is associated with escargot and fine perfume and how thoughts of Switzerland tend to involve chocolate. Yet, despite Ghana’s global contributions to the world including jollof rice, kente cloth, dashiki, adinkra symbols, and Idris Elba (yes ladies, he’s half Ghanaian), brand recognition for our country is negligible.
I couldn’t help but reflect on my experiences in Ghana. In particular, my undergrad experience at USC when I took time to study at the University of Ghana at Legon where I engaged in two research projects, one in which I examined the supply chain of cocoa and another where I documented the efforts of Ghanaian filmmakers to portray our country and continent more holistically. Through my research, I gained a consciousness that our goods and services are being abused with little money or brand recognition coming back to those who are so integral in the supply process. For example, despite being among the top three cocoa producers in the world, Nestle products, from ice-cream bars to hot chocolate, have a stronger presence in Ghana than locally made chocolate.
What is it going to take for Ghana and other African countries to become recognized for their goods? I agree with President Mahama that it’s going to take an investment. It’s going to require individuals abroad to stop complaining about the fallen state of their country and go back home and invest capital in promising segments of the economy. It’s going to necessitate that first-geners like myself be proud to eat contombre and tatale, wear Ghanaian-made clothing, and drink the world’s best cocoa.
– Nathaniel Kweku Simons
Nathaniel Kweku Simons is a first gen Ghanaian-American actor, writer, and producer based in Los Angeles. He currently works in Digital Media at The Africa Channel. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.