I (pictured) moved from Ghana to the United States when I was 12 years old. Being outside the continent was the first time I experienced the shame of being African. My classmates saw no value in me and derided me for my “Africanness.” I eventually began to see myself through their eyes and hated being connected to a continent of no hope, achievement, and direction.
At 18 years old, I decided to rediscover Africa. This time, not through the eyes of those around me, but instead, through the eyes of history. I read works of Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Wangari Matthai, Thomas Sankara, and Malcom X, among others, and I immediately fell in love with Ghana.
My love for Ghana did not stem from the fact that it was my country of birth; rather, I was infected by Nkrumah’s hope, passion, and vision for the country and its role in building the United States of Africa.
I became obsessed with learning more about this great nation and read everything there was to find on Nkrumah and Ghana. It finally made sense: for 10 years, I lived in America and never applied for citizenship.
Why should I yearn for third-class citizenship elsewhere when I am the daughter of the first sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence, when I come from a country of royals, a country that proved that Africans are capable of achieving economic liberation from the shackles of colonialism and showed Africans their greatness.
I was African, I was Ghanaian, and I was proud.
I moved to Ghana after graduating from college. I had no plans and only wanted to learn as much from this great land as I had yearned for all those years in the United States.
I barely brought any clothes and shoes because I wanted to buy and wear local handmade products to show off my Ghanaian pride. My first visit to Oxford Street in Accra, I was dazzled by all the beautiful African prints and products on the market; in fact, so dazzled that I decided to start a manufacturing company making quality bags from Ghana.
I hired a bag maker and went to Kantamanto, a market in Accra, to buy the amazing raw materials I needed to start manufacturing. It was not until the third week of manufacturing that I learned that all the materials we were using were actually imported.
Buying something that looked African from the Kantamanto did not necessarily mean the material was sourced from Africa.
Now one can argue my manufacturing company was adding value to the imported fabrics by manufacturing them locally. But was this enough?
I was saddened that instead of patronizing the country’s superior local fabrics and raw materials, we were importing fabrics.
Just like when I was that 12-year-old girl, Ghana was succumbing to the belief that it was not good enough to supply its citizens and the world authentic products and allowed its insecurities to cripple its manufacturing sector.
I was disappointed with myself. I had not done the due diligence in my research on the source of the “African” products I bought. Rather, I had invested time, energy, and money in to something that contradicted my beliefs.
I could excuse a vendor in Harlem selling me non-African goods as African, but to come to Ghana — home of Kente, Batakari, Tie and Dye and many other amazing handmade products — and find that the market was bombarded with inferior imported goods was disheartening.
Moreover, most manufacturers hand-made quality products are old because young people do not see manufacturing local products as a profitable venture and have neglected it.
Who will pick up the art of turning raw materials into finished goods once these old men and women become too tired to work?
Some questions arose for me:
- Why do our market women source abroad instead of sourcing from local manufacturers?
- Why were the markets on Oxford Street selling imported Dashikis as “African”?
- Why did we not have a trademark for high-quality products made with locally sourced raw materials?
- Why were we all following a very flawed global trend of made-in-Africa that hindered our own national agenda to promote local consumption of locally manufactured goods?
Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah once said, “Every time we import goods that we could manufacture if all conditions were available, we are continuing our economic dependence and delaying our industrial growth.”
By buying local goods made from locally sourced raw materials we invest in “building up our body of knowledge, techniques, and skills to make us more self-confident and self-sufficient to push towards economic independence,” Dr. Kwame Nkrumah also said.
I recently heard the president promoting made-in-Ghana products and that the ministry of trade had been put in charge of leading this movement. Then, I heard of recent efforts, such as a made-in-Ghana committee, a made-in-Ghana logo, and Batakari Friday.
But still some questions linger:
- Where are the resources to subsidize local manufacturers making high-quality products from locally sourced raw materials?
- Where is the campaign educating Ghanaians on sourcing locally and contributing to adding value at every stage of production?
- Where is the awareness on the importance of building a strong manufacturing sector needed to decrease our dependence on imported products we can make locally and giving us better terms of trade?
“All talks of economic reconstruction are just empty words if we do not seriously address ourselves to the question of basic industrialization of this country,” Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said.
But this problem is not only a Ghanaian problem. It is, in fact, an African problem. In a time when the world is demanding finished goods from Africa, we have no reason to only supply raw materials; we have no reason to be at the very bottom of the global supply chain. More importantly, we have no reason to import that which we are capable of manufacturing locally.
We need to take local manufacturing seriously toward the end goal of promoting a more self-sustainable Ghana and Africa as a whole.
I am back in Ghana to get involved with such initiatives and welcome the work and expertise of public and private individuals who are passionate about implementing “A Better Ghana.”