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A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Ghana

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Life in Ghana

A Population with Many Ethnicities

In Ghana, social life is characterized by various influences from the nation’s many ethnicities. Fortunately, the country does not, or only rarely, experience the tensions that plague many other multiethnic nations in Africa; the different ethnicities have managed to remain in a state of relatively peaceful coexistence throughout the nation’s recent history. Differences in tribal heritage, language (see below) and religion — while Christianity is the most widespread faith, there are sizeable Muslim communities, particularly in the north — only make Ghanaian culture more interesting, rather than being a cause for strife.

The largest ethnic groups in Ghana today are the Akan, Mole-Dagbon, Ewe, and Ga-Dangme. Between the four of them, they represent about 85% of the population. Other ethnic groups include the Guan, Grusi, and Gurma, amongst others. Foreigners who have opted for life in Ghana are not too numerously represented, but tend to flock together in the main urban centers and economic powerhouses, some of which we have discussed in our article on moving to Ghana.

A Multilingual Country

Depending on where you are planning to spend your future life in Ghana, the dominating, or rather most numerous, ethnicity will obviously differ. With it, the language you are most likely to hear on the street or the market will change: the many different tribes living in Ghana speak a whopping 70 languages between them. For obvious reasons, living a sensible and satisfying life would be impossible without a lingua franca. English is the language that assumes this task. While it is not the native tongue of the majority of the population, it is a mandatory subject in schools and the language of official and economic life. Thus, you should not have problems getting through the day relying only on your English skills.

Several other languages are recognized as official by the government and deemed “government-sponsored languages” by the Bureau of Ghana Languages, namely Akan, Ewe, Ga, Dangme, Nzema, Dagbani, Dagaare, Gonja, and Kasem. Due to this immense wealth in languages, it should not be surprising that a good portion of the population is multilingual and fluent in other languages besides their native tongue and English. French experiences a steady rise in popularity and prestige, and it is not uncommon to meet Ghanaians, particularly in professional settings, who are fluent in French.

Getting to Know the Culture and Cuisine

Chances are that you will not be able to spend more than three months in Ghana without witnessing a holiday or festival observed by at least part of the population. While Ghanaian culture is most often represented by the heritage of the largest group of the population, the Akan, there is a wealth of cultural festivities to discover, and music and dance almost always are central parts of the celebrations. The cultural heritage of the nation is also a considerable draw for tourists visiting the country — expats living in Ghana should definitely take the opportunity to partake in these unique and fascinating festivals whenever it arises!

In terms of cuisine, starchy staple foods made from locally available produce as well as soups and stews are the center of a good Ghanaian meal. You should definitely not pass on the opportunity of feasting on some delicious fufu, a dish consisting of pounded plantains and cassava or yams, with a side of soup or sauce to dip the dough in. Another wildly popular dish is Red Red, a bean stew served with fried plantain.

Health Issues and Healthcare in Ghana

Pressing Problems

Ghana’s problems related to healthcare and health infrastructure in general are both numerous and serious. The nation agreed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) derived from the 2000 UN Millennium Declaration and has, in fact, made giant steps towards achieving a number of them. Most notable are probably the achievements made for Goals One and Two, which address extreme poverty and hunger, as well as education, respectively. However, Ghana has fallen short on reaching several other goals connected to health. Infant and child mortality, one of the issues addressed in the MDG, remains high, as does maternal mortality — in fact, circumstances for expecting mothers have been worsening towards the end of the past decade.

Other severe problems not addressed in the MDG pose even more serious risks for the health of the Ghanaian populace. Malaria, transferred by the Anopheles mosquito, is one of the most severe illnesses in the country, both by infection and mortality rate. HIV and AIDS are just as dangerous and, unfortunately, very widespread: Ghana is among the countries with the highest rate of people living with HIV/AIDS and deaths caused by the disease. When preparing for your expat assignment to Ghana, please prepare yourself thoroughly for the infectious diseases and other health issues that might await you. You can find a section devoted to the topic below.

All about the Healthcare System

While Ghana’s government has increased its expenditure for healthcare more than threefold within the past 10 years, healthcare infrastructure is still patchy and inadequate, especially outside of the large conurbations such as Accra. Within cities, hospitals and emergency services are available, but not quite up to Western standards. The availability of healthcare institutions and even doctors is very limited in the countryside, and traditional African medicine is the go-to option for large portions of the rural population that cannot afford travelling long distances for healthcare.

Prior to 2003, the healthcare coverage of Ghana’s residents was oftentimes insufficient, to say the least. The “cash and carry” scheme required the sick to pay for their treatment up front — impossible for large parts of the population. In an effort to combat this situation, the Ghanaian government has set up the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). Results were almost immediate, with the country seeing a plunge in deaths and a rise in patient numbers. The services of the NHIS are tailored towards the needs of Ghanaians: treatments for malaria, diarrhea, respiratory diseases, diabetes, hypertension and other widespread ailments are covered. Premiums are set at flexible rates ranging from 7.20 GHS to 48.00 GHS so as to make the scheme available even to low-income employees in the informal or self-employed sector. However, there is a waiting period of six months after application for the scheme for people working in aforementioned sectors.

Apart from government-funded hospitals, clinics and healthcare centers set up by religious groups play an important role in providing the population with much-needed medical assistance.

Health Insurance Is a Must

Expats in Ghana should definitely either buy an international health insurance plan from a provider specializing in such services, or discuss comprehensive health coverage with their prospective Ghanaian employer. If you have any chronic ailments or depend on prescription medication, do not forget to bring a supply of your medication as well as copies of the prescription and the generic names of the drugs when first going to Ghana.

Antimalarial medicine is available throughout the country. However, to ensure effectiveness and to reduce the risk of infection at arrival — malaria is a threat in all corners of the country — you should already buy medication in your home country. In Ghana, the antimalarial drugs Atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline, and mefloquine should be among your top choices. Try to stick to these, as some others may either not be effective or, even worse, come with very undesirable side effects. Other means of malaria prophylaxis include wearing long, bright garments, using insect repellent, and sleeping in air-conditioned and screened bedrooms.

Before departing to Ghana, make sure to get your immunizations renewed. Apart from the obligatory yellow fever vaccination you need proof of when applying for your visa, these immunizations are highly recommended:

  • Routine
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid
  • Polio
  • Meningitis
  • Rabies

Safety and Traffic in Ghana

Taking Care of Yourself Is Important

In part one of this article, we have already hinted at the fact that Ghana is generally a peaceful country. The crime rate is amongst the lowest in the West African region, and violence is fairly rare. In contrast to many other African countries, expats in Ghana have little to worry about, especially in the city centers of the large metropolises. Police presence made them safe places to be in. However, there is still the possibility of becoming a victim of theft or robbery, particularly in the early evening hours. Robbers use the heavy traffic to make away on small, maneuverable scooters or similar vehicles.

The international airport as well as empty streets in residential neighborhoods are also among the preferred areas for criminals, so be cautious. If you should ever be confronted with an armed robber, please comply instead of resisting, reasoning with them, or even engaging them. Apart from this, expats should not encounter many problems when sticking to common sense and the usual safety measures they are used to from any metropolis around the globe.

Stick with Cash Money and Pay Attention

While the credit card is undoubtedly an important part of the average expat life, you should try to reduce usage of your card to a minimum. Ghanaian criminals have all but mastered the art of credit card fraud, so it is best not to risk losing money in the first place. Other scams involve fraudulent business and employment offers directed at future expats via the Internet. Only use reputable job portals or, if possible, intra-company transfers when the wish to gather professional experience in Ghana. Do not react to unsolicited business offers!

We are sorry to have to state this next piece of advice: if you should receive emails and messages from a Ghanaian professing some kind of romantic interest to you, more often than not this is a criminal out for a quick scam. In fact, the possibilities of getting scammed in Ghana are manifold, so it is best to be wary of any unsolicited emails of any kind, or any offers that seem “too good to be true”: they often are.

Up for a Challenge? Think Twice

The majority of roads in Ghana’s urban areas are well (or at least reasonably) paved and maintained. Outside of major cities, you can expect roads to be of inferior quality. Potholes, unpaved roads and lack of side rails are major hazards. Street lighting is often insufficient all across the country. This, coupled with the fact that drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and all manner of livestock may behave erratically or get in front of you unexpectedly, makes travels at night a very risky endeavor we recommend to steer clear from.

When maneuvering the city, you will quickly find that while the government does indeed give the streets names, hardly anyone uses them. It’ll be best if you try to find your way using landmarks or any other striking features of the cityscape for orientation. This is also the usual way to give directions.

If you will be depending on your car during your time in Ghana, make sure you acquire an international driver’s permit from the responsible authority in your home country. Other means of getting around do exist, such as public transportation networks, but they are often rather hard to grasp for the uninitiated and also rather daunting.

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  • David Thyne

    Sharing expat experiences about Accra and the way of life in Ghana was really helpful to me. Thanks to InterNations!

  • Johanna S. Mattikanen

    Finding work in Ghana is not easy for an expat woman. InterNations members helped me get involved in a charity project.

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