By Anesa Kratovac:
At first, this must seem a strange comparison to make, but as someone who has lived and worked in both countries, I have thought about the similarities and differences between them in depth…and here are my impressions. For starters, both India and Ghana are listed as medium-developed countries in the Human Development Index (published annually by the UN), meaning their socio-economic prosperity is approximately the same. Ghana has been doing very well in terms of GDP growth for a number of years, which has translated to some tangible social outcomes, and is a leader in terms of development statistics in the West African region. And so has India in the context of South Asia. The economic similarities between the two nations are quite interesting. For one, services revenue account for more than half of the GDP in both countries, followed by industry and agriculture. Secondly, inequality in terms of wealth distribution is (measured by the GINI index) relatively higher in India, mainly because there is such a discrepancy between poverty and wealth- as exemplified by big cities like Mumbai where poverty and wealth are at extremes. These extremes also present themselves in the per capita income measurement for 2013, where India is underscoring Ghana with approximately USD 1,500 to Ghana’s USD 1,800.
In addition to these economic explanations and the common legacy of British colonialism, my personal observations have expanded on this insight. For one, my time in Ghana was characterized by lagging institutional accountability, where simple procedures took time, bribes and stress to get accomplished. This is very similar to my experience in India, where professional accountability is still lagging and nothing works on time or as expected. Lack of institutional accountability breeds corruption, and that is a burden that Ghana, India and most developing countries share. The prominence of big urban centres with pockets of wealth, modern technology and commercialization, juxtaposed with the other parts of the country, which are mostly dominated by rural farm-land with high levels of poverty, is another resemblance. Most developed countries seem to have a greater number of towns with developed infrastructure and high levels of commercialization; the wealth distribution seems more evenly spread out across the demographic, especially in semi-industrialized areas where factories and companies choose to form headquarters and create new jobs because of lower operation costs.
In terms of infrastructure, there are also big similarities between the two countries in terms of underdeveloped transportation services. In Ghana, the informal and cheap transportation vans called “tro-tros,” a truly crammed and uncomfortable vehicles, carry many passengers throughout the country. I myself got a deep cut riding a tro-tro, whose metal-lined seating was exposed as sharp-protruding metal that continues to stress its passengers without avail. But due to lack of alternatives that are cheap and effective, tro-tros are the most popular means of getting around in Ghana. In the same respect, Indian buses and trains likewise provide the cheapest ways to get around, and because there are always more people in urban areas than the infrastructure can accommodate, people are jam-packed and exposed to various potential issues that confront such public settings.
Sanitation is likewise a big issue in both countries. Although Ghana is certainly less developed in this respect, with open sewages that embellish every street corner even in most developed areas, India’s sanitation problems are mostly confined to slums and rural areas. Despite this, there is a lack of proper education about common sanitary practices that even extends to the contamination of food and liquids- which is mostly apparent in a foreigner’s digestive outcomes, only because native citizens’ bodies are more resistant to common germs. The culture of sanitary practices has not yet infiltrated the livelihood paradigm and its effects are a heightened exposure to preventable illnesses. This notion also extends to lack of environmental appreciation and conservation, which breeds greater sanitation issues.
Another vivid memory of Ghana conjures its uniform-clad students filling the streets before and after school. Like in India where poverty level is high, Ghana institutes the uniform policy in order to create a learning environment devoid of social and economic differences among the students. In both countries, the public schools are seen as incapable of decently educating their students; therefore, most families opt for the quality of private schools, whose monthly student fees become another financial burden for a majority of families. This points to the inadequacy of government institutions in both countries and the vast underinvestment in institutional development and accountability.
Overall, I must say the street life and culture and emphasis on social ties is something that stays vivid in both memory and experience of Ghana and India. My friends in Ghana often comment on my pictures from India, stating how surprisingly familiar everything looks to them. So, what was the main point of these comparisons? It was simply to highlight vast similarities in the path to development in both countries, despite the vast differences in culture and demographics. Perhaps, these similarities lead to commonalities between vastly different places that, in my opinion, create a bond of brotherly understanding of issues and livelihoods that the average individual from a developed country cannot comprehend. When you experience corruption, poverty, sanitation problems and dwindling economic opportunities, you are bound to have more in common with those that go through the same experiences, no matter the national differences. Perhaps, levels of socioeconomic development bind our opportunities and livelihoods with those sharing the same national contexts. Notwithstanding and given that more than half of the world struggles with basic development needs, it is my belief through extensive travel and self- confirmed identity as a true “international” that our common experiences connect us more vividly than cultural affinities and patriotic bonds.