Those were the words spoken to me and a few dozen other attendees during an Oct. 2012 workshop my academic department (Agricultural Leadership, Education, & Communications) at Texas A&M University was hosting. ”Go to Africa”, he told us. The “he” was Tibor P. Nagy. Mr. Nagy is currently the Vice Provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University. Prior to that he was the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and Guinea, the Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Cameroon, and Togo, and had additional postings in Seychelles, Ethiopia, and Zambia. It is safe to say he knows Africa pretty well. He spoke on quite a few topics, but what stuck with me the most were his two main points a. Africa is abound with opportunities, and b. If you really want to help “develop” Africa you need to go there and see it for yourself. Like a mantra, “Go to Africa” he told us over and over again.
Well, here I am. In Africa. My first time stepping foot on the continent. In many ways it is much like I imagined it. A lot of dust and dirt. Mosquitoes are everywhere. Loud people dressed in colorful clothing. Women carrying everything imaginable on their heads. There are police checkpoints every 3 or 4 miles where there are always 2 or 3 police sitting in white plastic lawn chairs under the roof of a dingy highway office while another officer “checks” drivers for their vehicle registration (a taxi driver told me the “check” “costs” GH₵ 2, or about $1).
Yet, because this is my first time in Africa so much is new to me. Be forewarned, the following are broad generalizations which I make based on a mere few weeks in one small country in just one part of a hugely diverse continent. In Ghana, more specifically, Northern Ghana, people are tall! I have done most of my work in Guatemala where the chronic malnutrition (stunting) rate is about 50%. In rural Guatemala I am, at 5’10”, taller than nearly 99% of the people. In rural Northern Ghana, I am average height. People seem to eat (again, relative to my experience) a lot. And their diet seems well balanced. Chicken, goat, guinea fowl, beef, fish, cassava (fufu), maize (banku), rice, millet, peanut, pepper, cabbage, tomato, onion, yam, and quite a lot of other vegetables that I still have not identified! There are very few cars relative to people. It’s amazing how many people bike, walk, or ride a motorbike instead of ride in a car. Public transport seems pretty iffy, and except for one main highway, roads are all dirt. In the wet season (which is now) these roads turn to mud, and when cars drive on muddy roads they create giant potholes. I would rather walk than bump my head against the roof of a car or risk my life on the back of a motorbike.
I am here as a short-term consultant for ACDI/VOCA, an international NGO which does agricultural development work. They are funding me through USAID’s farmer-to-farmer program. My challenge is to help design an organic agricultural curriculum for a new school, the Ghana Institute of Organic Farming (GIOF), which is opening up in the Upper East region. I am working with the director, the GIOF teachers, professors from a nearby polytechnic institute, and Ghanaian staff from ACDI/VOCA to develop a curriculum, course sequencing, and some of the content. The school is scheduled to accept its first students just next month, so I am working warp speed. All of my partners are incredibly competent; Ghana is known for having a strong education system and it shows. I still have one more week till I complete my work and fly home. It has been a wonderful eye-opening experience (highlight eye-opening).
Africa has been very good to me. I am glad that I have taken Mr. Nagy’s advice, so I guess there is not much else I can say other than to become an echo, and urge others to “Come to Africa”.