Late in December 2011, I visited Ghana on a holiday. I was in Ghana for the New Year’s celebration. Unlike the UK, where people take to the bars, streets and private homes to celebrate with plenty of drink, I was surprised to find that Ghanaians all go to church to celebrate what they call Crossover. These ceremonies are marked by evangelical singing, chanting and enthusiastic prayer. I went to the national football stadium in Accra and joined 40,000 revellers who were being led into the new year by a charismatic preacher and his entourage onstage. It was like a rock concert and the atmosphere was electric and moving.
In many ways, the energy I saw in that stadium reflected the energy I felt across Accra and to some extent in other part of the country that I visited. There’s an entrepreneurial energy about the place which suggests a growing economy and sense of self sufficiency. The recent discovery of oil lends to that impression, though the ever present issue of how the vast mineral wealth that Ghana possesses can yield benefit for the ordinary person is still a serious one that has yet to be addressed sufficiently. Nevertheless, large modern shopping malls are springing up across Accra and there seems to be no shortage of shoppers. In fact you can get anything now in Accra.
I also met some Chinese investors who are building a very large business and shopping complexion the outskirts of Accra. The Chinese property boom seems to have peaked and these investors are looking to Africa to make property investments. They told me that as far as they are concerned, Africa is the placebo invest at the moment. They were selling shop and business units and there was great demand for these units even before they had started building. Ghanaians were paying cash advances for these units. Corruption and complexities around land ownership remains the main stumbling block to the Ghanaian economy taking off, but despite these impediments, there seems to be a lot of activity. I am convinced that the is a lot more money in Ghana – and Africa in general – than meets the eye. The notion that Ghana is a country that needs aid is far from the truth; what is clearly needed is trade and if the issues around corruption could be dealt with, countries like Ghana would take off economically.
The film business, too, seems to be thriving. walking the streets of Accra, one will see these vans bedecked with posters and surrounded with hordes of sales people selling the latest DVD release of a locally produced film. These are digital films commercially produced on budgets somewhere between £20,000 and £50,000. Because of the methods of distribution – direct DVD and VCD sales – these films are distributed far into the rural communities and the result is a lively film business. They are local films, with local stars telling locally relevant stories and they are very popular. Nigeria, of course,mis the powerhouse of film production in Africa, so the Ghanaian market is also flooded with Nigerian films.
From a Western perspective one may question the quality of most of these films. But who are we to make a judgement; the films sell. What is the difference between rubbish that costs £100,000,000 to produce or rubbish that costs £20,000 to produce? I did, however, come across many Ghanaians that complained about the aesthetic and narrative quality of their films. And when it comes to documentaries, the tradition of locally produced documentary films – apart from promotional and basic training documentaries – is virtually non existent. There will one day be a market for quality fiction and documentary films and it will have to be Ghanaian filmmakers and Ghanaian audiences that grow together to create this quality cinema. The money is there. The entrepreneurial energy is there. The technology is there. The audiences are there. The filmmakers are ere. What is the magic ingredient that will help Ghanaian Film cross over into a new era?