On Monday, a domestic emergency arose. We needed rice badly. But not just any rice. We needed Ghana Rice even though a bag of imported rice sits in the storeroom.
Our love affair with Ghana Rice began about five years ago. I don’t remember how or why but after that first bite of rice, it was unanimously agreed that it was the way to go. Fresher and tastier, Ghana Rice defies the exalted Sultana long grain perfumed rice as a worthy competitor. But despite its many advantages, Ghana Rice is what it is- made in Ghana.
An acquaintance mentioned cynically that if anything has “Ghana” as part of its header, then expect it to have problems. Obviously, there are various exceptions to this theory but it is a known fact that the Ghana brand needs a whole lot of revamping- case in point the Government of Ghana and the Electricity Company of Ghana whom we love to hate.
Ghana rice provides an apt metaphor for everything that is good and bad in Ghana as you will see in the several contradictions that arise in the matter of Ghana Rice. Is the rice good? Yes. So good and nice that Nestle Ghana, when it discovered its superior taste, drove its trucks to the farms to buy rice farm fresh. So good that our Ghana Rice wholesale dealer told us that his regular customers include a good number of foreigners. So good that when the Government of Ghana was sending relief items to Ebola-stricken West African neighbours, they included bags of premium Volta Rice.
Now Volta Rice is worthy of note because it is in a class on its own. And in spite of its bright yellow packaging, is hard to spot on the market. So hard to find that only well-connected people have access to it. True. The only bag we have ever gotten was gifted to us by a friend in high places. The politics of rice.
Back to the Monday emergency. Those of us who started eating Ghana Rice before the “made in Ghana campaign” got under way were a bit upset when it did. The government was letting out a secret we preferred to be kept secret. This is because if every Ghanaian started eating Ghana Rice, there wouldn’t be enough to go round. We’d have a rice shortage akin to the power shortage we call “dumsor”. There have been several times where I’d have to go Ghana Rice hunting because there would be no rice in stock, even at the GNPA. Already foreigners and foreign companies had discovered our rice and now was every Ghanaian to start eating it, too? That is why the Monday emergency was real.
But I needn’t fear so much. For you see, Ghana Rice faces an uphill task. Until it can conquer the flawed perception of Ghanaians that foreign is better than local, the Sultanas and Royal Feasts would still be king and queen of the rice market. But can you blame Ghanaians entirely? The lowest grade of rice is what was given to my secondary school students- stones, starch and all. So when these poor kids grow up they swear never to eat that horrid sandy lump of starch called rice ever again. And then we wonder why it is so hard to make them love our rice.
Even my love affair with Ghana Rice was sorely tested when on two different occasions we realized we had bought more than a bag of rice. The rice came with stones, husks and dirt. Imagine us slowly and carefully munching through 25 kilograms of rice and stones. And one bag was so starchy that it was impossible to cook without ending up with omo tuo or tuwo shinkafa. It was disheartening, to say the least. But if that is not patriotism, then I don’t know what is.
Contradictions. Your government tells you to eat local, but then you can’t even find it to buy. We run off to buy foreign-made while foreigners run the other way to buy from us. Our good rice is too good for our school feeding programme but good enough for other West Africans in need. Sometimes being a Ghanaian is hard. But it’s not just Ghana. Why is it cheaper to call the USA and UK than Liberia and Nigeria? Why is flying within ECOWAS (especially to Francophone countries) so expensive? Perhaps as Africans we need to define something, anything, that will make this continent work. And we need to love ourselves. Honestly, we do. Love thinks and plans and puts in energy to make things work. I need to love Ghana even when half the time I struggle to find something to love. Ah, I almost forgot. I sort of love Ghana Rice.
By Grace Ecklu