Chinese Influence in Ghana
By Jonathan Ng
Thursday in Nima market, one of the largest slums in Accra, bustles with the energy of a place on the margins—somewhere desperation seeps into the crevices and bubbles and bursts in back alleys and side streets.
“China,” the word emanates from a young Ghanaian sitting on a bench. His face un-creased and playful, conveys his enthusiasm. “China,” he repeats again, causing me to turn at my new Ghanaian namesake.
“China, take me with you so that I can make you rich.”
Most Ghanaians’ reactions to me had never been so pointed. At first, when I arrived in Ghana, most people would shout “China” as I passed them, and though I initially thought they were just saying the country’s name, I realized they were just trying to get my attention. Usually, they commented simply on the fact that I was Chinese or would try to speak to me in Mandarin with simple phrases like 你好 (ni hao) hello. Yet, my interactions in Nima and in other areas of Ghana simply highlight the creeping arm of Chinese influence into not only superficial interactions of Ghanaians but also their pockets.
Chinese products, not surprisingly, abound in Ghana. On a taxi ride through Accra, a cab driver wearing a Huawei (a Chinese telecommunications company) shirt asked me about the significance of the characters on the shirt. While speaking with a woman who sells rugs in the local Nima market, she admitted that many of her “authentic” Ghanaian products came from China and that she was reselling them for a higher price. Even in the far-flung Nangodi tribe in the upper-east of the country, I found Chinese stools and chairs being used.
The spread of Chinese products in Ghana, however, is not a new find. In his study titled, “Chinese Investment in Ghana,” Joseph Abodakpi found that “heavily subsidized cheap Chinese [products] that are flooding the markets [make] it difficult to sell quality products produced in Ghana.” Moreover, Chinese investment from 2000-2008 contributed to 56% of Ghana’s general trade sector. These facts, figures, and tangible products convey the physical influence that the Chinese have on Ghana, yet despite these seemingly evident articles, there seems to be more unquantifiable aspect to Chinese influence.
My relationship with Ghanaians as being “Chinese,” however, touches on something more intangible. When speaking with a boy who worked in Mole National Park about where he learned to speak Chinese phrases, 你好 and 你说中文吗？(ni shuo zhong wen ma?) Do you speak Chinese, he recounted that his Chinese friend who worked for the company that built the road into the park taught him. Yet, even though he could speak these sentences, he did not know their meaning. When asking a waiter at Sweet Gardens Chinese Restaurant about whether or not many Chinese people frequented the restaurant and the many other Chinese restaurant that dot Tamale, he replied that they came sporadically, yet only when they weren’t frequenting the casinos.
China’s influence can be felt everywhere, yet the presence of Chinese nationals in Ghana, though tangibly apparent, exists as a specter in the West Sub-Saharan African country. My simply walking around Ghana exhibits the novelty of a physical and “Chinese” presence that pervades the economic markets of Ghana yet not the country’s personal spaces. Though China’s material impact exists all around the country, the arguably more important question to ask is: how should and will this expanding Chinese power continue to influence those in Ghana?
Jonathan Ng ’18 is a Political Science and English major in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.