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Opinions Mon, 4 Feb 2008

So, Who Is Ghana's Mr. Average?

It was Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, who described the average-looking face of W.H. Auden as "a compressed lump of volcanic lava in controlled convulsion." That is not your everyday average description of an average face, is it? And, what did you expect? Soyinka is not an average man; he is perhaps, the greatest literary icon in sub-Saharan Africa. He would prefer to speak above the average man, at least intellectually, but he would also be pleased if ungrateful blockheads, who cannot decipher the imagery behind an average literary expression about a village cockerel, appreciated his wisdom. Art, after all, has a universal dimension to it, averagely speaking.

The average Ghanaian may well have a lump on his face if he lives in a little village sandwiched between two rivers, where any of the rivers could serve as a toilet or drinking water on an average day. Or the average Ghanaian, in the words of Tony Mackay, a British tabloid columnist, may have an appearance beautiful enough to move ?a bishop to drill a hole in a stained glass window.? What kind of average bishop will do that anyway?


As usual Average would mean median, but it would also mean non-poor, a term I stumbled on in the course of my telephone interviews. The statistics on the official website of the Ghana Statistical Service are horrifying, just as they are revealing. A shocking 5.9% of Ghanaians are in the employ of the public sector. The semi public/parastatal has engaged only 2.9% of the population, while the private formal sector employs 7.8%. The biggest employer is the private informal sector, which gives a whooping 80.4% of Ghanaians something to do for a living. The question on my interview guide, which received the most unsatisfactory answer, is the location of the average Ghanaian. Nearly all my interviewees gave one answer: ?Sir, it depends?, as if the location of the average man is actually called ?It depends.? The joy with which I had started the study had nearly left me when a Joy FM source gave me a plausible answer: rural or urban-slums. That should make sense if 55.8% of Ghanaians still use wood as cooking fuel. Just 9.3% cook with electric energy or gas.


Even so, we are almost certain that the average Ghanaian will not be living in a village the size of a government department; he would need to live in a town or a city to be average. That would mean that the town or the city should be average, at least, with the capital Accra serving as the benchmark. Well, he may well be living in a cottage, because only 43.8% of us live an urban life. So, an unemployed trained carpenter, who lives in a decrepit structure in the poorest neighbourhood in Accra with his mother, a tomato seller with no trading capital, has a better potential of being average than his contemporary practicing his trade in a village a thousand miles after Tweapease? There is a world of difference between them, just as a civil servant working in the non-formal education sector in Bechem, Brong Ahafo, would think himself less average than a police constable who is always in the company of the IGP. Similarly, a businessman who drives the oldest version of a less pricy automobile and lives in a rented bungalow at Kojo Sardine, near Labone, would regard himself more average than the Labone Secondary School teacher next door, who lives on the school?s campus and has no car. Somewhere in the thicket of economic possibilities is Ghana?s Mr. Average, who must be searched and found.


A British newspaper published the photograph of a family standing in front of a weathered chalet in Agbogbloshie, and described them as a typical average family in Ghana. They had interviewed them and sought their opinion on the billions spent on the Ghana@50 celebrations. The report also commented on the extravagant lifestyle of the very rich citizens of the West African republic, and concluded whether it was worth making merry when the average Ghanaian is essentially a very poor man.


Armed with the knowledge that the British newspaper?s report was inaccurate, and inspired by a recent television programme that sought to define the average person in Britain, I embarked on a journey to find Ghana?s Mr. Average. From my little flat in South Harrow, North West London, it seemed ridiculous how I would find the average Ghanaian living in Ghana. This was the first bump on a road I know very well. To do this properly, I would need to travel across the country, observe and talk to people. I would need to agree on the typical profile of my target with institutions that have a sociological outlook. It would make sense to talk to the Population Council, the Institute of Social Statistical and Economic Research, the Statistical Service, research bodies and the universities. I would need the view of the civil servant, the nurse, the housewife and the kaya ?yee. It would be useful to talk to folks in the media and get the side of religious bodies, since nearly 75% of the population believes in a higher design. Of course, we are a free enterprise economy practicing a laughable blend of triumphant American capitalism and ?spiritual warefarism,? so the opinion of the businessman is crucial to the search of Mr. Average.

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Quite a tall list! That will be responsible journalism. Responsible to whom? I am used to average journalism, so I will edit out some of my interviewees. The prospect is daunting, but it is not as difficult as that of the British budding writer who had never traveled to Canada in her life, but managed to give an accurate description of the ins and outs of life in Canada, complete with all its landscape and other geographical properties. She was so brilliant she won an award for it. I don?t expect any award for this; just a lot of criticisms, as the average person in Ghana is wont to do. Let?s see what experts had to say.


My interview guide was planked on the consideration that 39.5% of Ghanaians live below the poverty line. 44.8% live on less than $1 a day and 78.5% on $2 a day. 50% of children in the north are malnourished while Accra alone has 13% underfed children. An important public sector source said: ?a person must be able to spend 3.7 Million cedis a year on food and non-food to considered non-poor.? It recognized a quintet distribution of living standards: very poor, poor, middle, rich and the very rich. The average age was given as 38 and the average income as 1-2 million a month. He would be married and have three children. He would not read a book but he would be literate, at least to the secondary level. The average man will not cook for his wife and would believe in God, attending church four Sundays a month. He would spend 10-15 minutes on the telephone. He would live in a compound house and have a TV set.


A social and economic research body said the average Ghanaian is a poor person. He would not have access to landline telephone but may have a mobile phone. He would also have a radio and may be TV. The source observed a marked feature of city life, where ?a class is evolving as those who live outside the city but are roped in as city dwellers.? The source put the average education at post JSS. He would be computer illiterate and would spend some 500,000 cedis monthly on a hall and chamber accommodation in a compound house. He would not read a book and would use public transport. His typical food would necessarily have a corn element but rice is coming along more forcefully these days.


An FM station in Sunyani said, ?the average Ghanaian is illiterate and would live in a village.? His monthly salary will be 200,000 cedis and would not usually save a pesewa. He would be married and have about 4 children. The average age, according to the source, will be 30 or more and he would not give to charity. On religion, the source said the average person would believe in God and other spirits and own a radio set.


Another radio station based in Accra said our target will not have a car and would have a monthly income in excess of 100,000 cedis. He would be married and have 3-5 children. The usual accommodation will be a hall and chamber in a compound house. The average Ghanaian would go to church at least three times in a month. He is a typical ?call be back? person during telephone conversations. He could afford a second hand television set. The average education is post SSS, according to the media organization. ?Charley?, is gradually giving way to ?What?s up? as the average man?s buzzword.

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According to a population body, the average Ghanaian is a secondary school graduate and lives in the city. ?A person is average if he can afford three square meals a day.? The average salary was given as 2-4 million. The average person, the source added, is not a poor person. A private research organization, however, said the average person is a poor man who would rent a room in a compound house and pay at least 100,000 a month. He would work in the informal sector and would have a post SSS education. On the question of how many books he would read in a year, the source was emphatic: ?Forget it.?


Earlier on, a source from the advertising industry had said the average Ghanaian will read the Graphic and would be politically aware. He would be capable of hiring a taxi if he doesn?t own a car. He could save some money but would have no foreign holiday. A telecom sales manager said the average Ghanaian loves a Nokia phone. He would have ?working English.? He would usually want his callers to call him back and would speak endlessly if he is not the one paying. I could not get the angle of the universities.


At the end of the exercise, I arrived at a rather imperfect (this is no survey by any measure) definition of Ghana?s Mr. Average: He is 37, eats corn, does not save, is a rural dweller or lives in a compound house in urban slums, has a second hand TV, believes in God, will never read a book, politically aware, and would want callers to call him back on his Nokia phone. He would not give to charity and is married with 4 kids.


The average Briton, if you care to know, is 40 years, drives a Ford Fiesta, owns a house worth ?200,000, earns ?23,556, has two kids, takes a foreign holiday and reads books. How average are you?

Email: btawiah@hotmail.com / quesiquesi@hotmail.co.uk

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.


Columnist: Tawiah, Benjamin