A back breaking labour

One of the most challenging aspects of living in Ghana, and I imagine in any developing country, is the massive gap between the rich and the poor.

Where we live, we are surrounded by very large grassy fields, which is one of the reasons its such a pleasant place to live. However, this grass needs to be cut, particularly in this tropical climate. This work is done 5 teams of approximately 6 men. The teams rotate about the mine site, cutting the grass with cutlasses (machetes), each holding a tall stick for support as they repeatedly bend to cut the grass. The uniformity of the work is amazing, looking as though it was cut by machine. And indeed, why not cut by lawn mower? Why not buy one machine to do this work? And indeed this is the answer, one machine would replace the livelihoods of all of these men.

And the material value of their labour?

I am told between GHC150-200 ($US79-105), per month.

Elections are being held in Ghana in December this year, and the media is already full of lively discussion about it. The last election in 2008, was a very close victory to the NDC (50.23%) over the NPP, and this year seems certain to be close again, despite the landslide predicted for the NPP by all the drivers I speak to about these things. One of the major promises being made by the (current opposition) NPP is free education for all. And while I know nothing of other election promises, and make no preference to either party, this seems such a simple, sensible step towards development. Of course, quantity needs to be matched with quality education.

I don’t pretend to know the causes or the solutions to the multifarious problems faced by developing countries, but I have spent an interesting morning reading unicef and CIA statistics on Ghana. And despite what we see each day as we drive through villages on our way to school, things in Ghana, by statistics at least, appear to be improving. Here are some loosely clustered statistics for you:

Ghana GDP real growth rate 13.5% (2011 estimate) – 3rd in the world (after Qatar and Mongolia, and well ahead of China’s 7th position; who would have guessed any of that?). Up from 4% in 2010. But with an inflation rate of 8.8% (source CIA). Oil production in the Gulf of Guinea started in 2010.

Gross National income (per capita) $USD1240 (source unicef). I presume this means per head of population, and not per working person.

HIV/AIDS rate, a comparatively low 1.8% (source unicef)

Population aged 0-14, 36.5% (source CIA)

% of population over 15 who can read and write 57.9% (source CIA), but for those aged 15-24 years, literacy is 79% (female) and 81% (male), with a school life expectancy of 10 years (source unicef).

76% of males and 77% of female primary school aged children are enrolled at school, with attendance rate of 75% and 74% respectively (source unicef).

But, 28.5% live below the poverty line (source CIA).

Out of 100 people, 71 have a mobile phone, while only 9 use the internet (2010 statistics) (source unicef).

Sorry if I’ve lost anyone with that stream of numbers. But it’s interesting, no?


4 responses to “A back breaking labour

  1. Hi Chrissie

    Those statistics are fascinating. Is it the case in Ghana like other west African nations that there is a richer Christian population in the south and a poorer muslim population in the north of the country? This seems to be the source of tensions in many of Ghana’s neibouring countries, but I don’t know about Ghana.

    How are the children finding school?

    Much love to you all. Jane


    • Hi Jane, yes exactly right. The north is poorer, lesser populated and does experience fighting, it is the only area of Ghana where travellers are warned to exercise caution. Interestingly, Muslims and Christians seem to get on very well elswhere in Ghana, and here at the mine, they alternate morning prayers between the 2 religions. Love C x


  2. Hi Chris.

    The stats are fascinating. Another great place to go for info is the international data section of the US Census Bureau.


    From this page you can explore demographic info for Ghana, make a population pyramid for Ghana and show how it will change by 2050. The pyramid shows a developing country, but one moving to smaller population growth and an older population by 2050. You can use the site to compare what Ghana is like to countries all over the the world. Australia is a classic developed slowish population growth country, and have a look at Japan where population is meant to decline. Quite a top heavy population pyramid in Japan.

    You can also look at other statistics on the US page. There are lots of debates about good indicators for development, with income being seen as not as reliable as some. Lots of people agree that life expectancy and infant mortality, (sadly the number of death per 1000 births) are more sound indicators of development than income). In Ghana the life expectancy at birth is 61 and projected to improve to 67 by 2050, in Australia it is 82 (83 by 2050). Life expectancy for indigenous Australians in 67.2 years on the most recent statistics.

    Most Developed countries have infant mortality between 5-15 (Australia is 5 in 2012….though that is as much as 2.5-3 times higher for indigenous Australians). The situation is Ghana is improving in relation to infant mortality. According to the stats of the US Census in Ghana it was 61 in 1995, 57 in 2005, 47 in 2012, and should be 33 by 2050. Similarly the decline in the birth rate happening in Ghana is generally seen as a sign of development. So, based on basic demographic development statistics things do seem to be improving in Ghana.

    The World bank also has a country site which gives interesting summary stats and has links too more…..


    This is probably a too detailed post back……I give a first year lecture and prac on this sort of stuff so I find it fascinating.

    Cheers, Kathy


    • Wow, thanks Kathy. It is compelling reading. Although probably immeasurable, I think an interesting exercise would be to compare changing expectations of the population, as it would reflect states of mind. For example, Ghana (here in the south anyway) has very few motorbikes (particularyto, say Mali), and when I ask why, it is always replied that people don’t want motorbikes, they want proper vehicles. Its a different level of expectation. Man, I wish I’d done Development Studies when I was at uni, it’s just so interesting. Does it make you depressed? C x


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