As I sit in a booth at a fast food joint eating fried chicken and spicy potato wedges located in Osu, Accra I realize how quickly this year working in Ghana has come full circle. Last July I was packing my bags full of pharmaceuticals and now I am packing them with custom made Ghanaian clothing to be sent home and shown off.
Chatting with both foreign and local friends from across the country it finally hits me that tomorrow I will be home, thus concluding my years work in agricultural development in Ghana with EWB.
As I pour more ketchup onto the chips, friends and I discuss the changing government system in Ghana from the National level down to the districts and the deep rooted problems lying underneath such an important step towards development – decentralization. What role donors could or should play and how to reinvent or scrap failing projects – and we further question their existence all together. We acknowledge how difficult it is to successfully give money to institutions because of complex power dynamics and difficulty in proving indicators of success.
We inspire with interesting realizations around how constituent demands for more transparent aid might actually contradict best practice of providing assistance directly to governments because it is difficult to attribute direct indicators of development success. Think of it like this: it is much easier to take photos of irrigation pipes you bought and provided to farmers than it is to the data process meant to manage pipe distribution and repair for the whole country. So you end up funding pipes and provide them directly to a few villages with no system in place for their management. You do this because the people holding you accountable pressure you to demonstrate the direct benefits – even if those benefits are only immediate and not necessarily contributing to development.
We discuss what necessary investment in government institutions are required and conclude that it is more than just resources and capacity, but also empowerment. Chanting in my head “Workshops in Tamale, all day, everyday” and I nearly weep at the thought of one more workshop the Director at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture district office I worked at is forced to attend.
But all of us at the table holding our raisin croissants and cappuccinos throw up our hands in bewilderment as we attempt to come up with ideas of how to build trust. Or how to convince donors to take a risk.
These are the types of detailed, deep and challenging discussions about development I have had over the past year. Not just about the public sector or agricultural development, but also the private sector, water and sanitation, education, health and how gender fits around it all in a very messy complex way. Like the secret sauce on a McDonald’s Big Mac Burger, you know it is what holds everything together – the secret ingredient – but you cannot for the life of you figure out how to put the right components together to seal the deal on what makes the hamburger so damn tasty.
I look out the window and see the classic UNDP white land cruiser, topped with the longest radio signaler, skyrocketing over any car that is near it. I realize that the constant flow and representation of development – UN trucks, informal lunches with World Bank officials, policy directors, grassroots organizations and living everyday with’Dorthy’- will no longer be immediate in my life. The random man I eat breakfast probably will not be the Director at the UN for child rights in Ghana or a new company CEO looking to provide affordable water pumps to as many villages possible.
It has been a privilege to work in Ghana. I am nothing but grateful for the professional and personal growth that has accompanied it. It has not been easy-o but it has been beyond worthwhile.
I am grateful for the long conversations I have had with worthy friends, where I play coach and assist them in making tough decisions for the future. I am more than excited for them and cannot wait to maintain our relationship. I am grateful for the tough work days at the office that forced me to get out to the field, challenge myself to learn and ask. I am grateful for the lights out that pushed me to talk to people as opposed to hiding in my room with my computer. I am grateful for every single person who asked how I am feeling and brought me juice when I was not physically well. For every person who lent me their phone, pushed my motorcycle for me, stayed up late to make sure I arrived safely somewhere or have been waiting on the end of a phone call in Canada counting the days until I am back. I am even grateful of those people who have really hurt me in the past few months – I have learnt to persevere and you made my skin a bit thicker, a bit harder.
I wonder whether I have sufficiently taken advantage of the experience. Whether I could have done more – gone to more meetings, had more conversations – but I guess you can always do more. That coulda, woulda, shoulda attitude hits me hard like a weight on my chest. I wonder whether I built sufficient relationships beyond shallow conversations and turned them into something more meaningful that will outlast communication difficulties to the African continent.
What is next?
The next two months I will spend at home in Toronto with my family and friends. Also running several errands, such as getting through more doctors appointments than I usually attend in a year. I also intend to come up with a few organizational solutions at EWB National Office in Toronto, but that is a whole other can of worms that I do not know whether I have the enthusiasm to do.
I will then venture off to England to do a full time one year Masters degree at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University. There I will be pushed to solidify my opinions about development, reunited with a few friends, a new culture and environment and the most important man in my life. Who knows, hopefully I will come out with the dream job or a meaningful direction and next step in my life. It won’t come easy though and I anticipate some tough decisions every step a long the way.
I might also pursue a consultancy position for a different type of agricultural project, hopefully bringing me back to the African continent in a different capacity.
Now, I am in Accra, next stop Toronto!