In my introduction i talked about how my first job in Ghana at Stratcomm Africa taught me a lot of lessons about work life in Ghana. It also gave me some insights into the mindset of Ghanaians. I said i would go into them in another blog post so here it is. Trying to keep myself honest and do what i say i will do.
Lesson 1: The class system exists and you are treated according
So i started Stratcomm with another colleague whose name i wont mention here. We were both given the same contract and we both had the same issues with the contract. Namely a clause that said if we left the company, we would not work for or solicit any clients past, current or prospective. Now this is completely ridiculous because it means if you quit you basically have to change professions, but i digress. So my colleague had a completely different negotiation process than i did. He was told to either take it or leave it, and that he was being influenced by other parties (namely myself) and that he would not find a better offer on the table. He was told if he did not sign, there would be no offer and that was that. With me on the other hand, they listened to my grievances and tried different approaches. This brings me to my second lesson.
Lesson 2: Companies feel Ghanaians need them more than they need their labor
I remember this moment clearly because it was super funny to me. I was o my way to work, and my mother told me to “be nice to them” as she knew i was in contract negotiations with them, and that things weren’t going well. I went to the office and was approached by a manager who proceeded to ask me if i realized that if i didn’t sign the contract, there would be no offer on the table. Now i could have responded a number of different ways, but my American training kicked in, and i knew i had my parents support and blessing. So i reacted how any rational human being would react if they weren’t happy with a contract. I closed my computer and put it in my bag, stood up and put on my blazer and was about to leave. The manager then asked me what i was doing, to which i replied well he said there was no offer if i didn’t sign and i made it clear that i could not sign the contract the way it was, so i was leaving. His reaction made me smile inside. He replied “Ei you are hard oh”. To which i replied, no what you don’t realize is that i am here not because i need to be but because i want to be. It was then i realized the difference. I have a safety net. I know my parents will support me. I know i won’t ever be homeless, or go hungry. So i have the option of working where i want to work and doing what i actually enjoy. Other Ghanaians don’t share in this privilege. For them, they are essentially there because they need to be, and companies know this. Because they know this they hold this over them and treat them like cattle basically. (well not that bad but there is high turnover at a lot of companies). It’s a take it or leave it approach. There is no oh we really need you as a company, so lets meet halfway, it’s this is what we will give you, and if you don’t take it there are other people who will, and that is actually the truth.
Lesson 3: Time is not taken seriously
In my first week, we were supposed to have a meeting with a client. They were supposed to come into the office. Trying to prep and to be ready, i asked when the meeting was. The reply not only shocked but confused me. “3, 4, 5” . You can imagine my confusion. I was like so is it 3, 4 or 5pm? To which the reply was it could be any. Now i have heard of CPT (colored people time) but to schedule a meeting that could start at any time between 3pm, 4pm or 5pm was new to me. Not to my coworkers. It was then i realized that i would either have to fight everyday or i would conform.
Lesson 4: You are not in America
If i got 1 Ghana Cedi for every time someone told me that i was not in America because of something i said or expected, i could buy a plane ticket to the States at todays exchange rate. Basically there is a Ghanaian way of doing things and anything else warrants that response. It was their way of telling me that i was being “long’ and that they were fine with how things were running and didn’t need to hear any new ways of changing it, whether it was an improvement or not.
This was all 4 to 5 years ago, which is a long time in this market, and I am sure a lot has changed since then. Again these are just my experiences and observations. I am sure others have different points of view. Leave comments below if you have experienced any of this yourself.