Inflation Woes

Another round of inflation is making its way through the economy here. I’m sure that’s happening back in the States, and elsewhere, but here it just feels different. When I ask Ghanaians about it, they blame the price of fuel, which has gone up about 45% since we’ve been here, from about 2.80/gal to 4.10/gal. I think they are right, and relieved that it is not blamed it on the re-denomination o f the Cedi, now nine months old. Before the new money came out, where they chopped 4 zeros off, opponents warned of rampant inflation. They were right, but for a different reason.

As inflation works its way through the economy, it first showed up in the lorrie fares, what used to cost 1000 old Cedis, now costs 1500, except that we’re paying for it in new money, and so effectively, the price has gone from 10 cents to 15. Except that most Ghanaians still quote prices in the old currency, as for me, I’ll use the new money. Our 2008 Fulbright daughter Anna S., who rides the TroTros much more than we do, says it disheartening to watch the desperation that people fight over paying the new fares. [read her blog] Its not that they oppose the increase, they just don’ t have it. Eric says the same thing. He is trying to raise money for his engagement, and so drives TroTro on Sundays. Each Monday he comes back with a story about this or that fight, and sometimes a tear in his shirt.

Inflation is nothing new to Ghana. In the last 30 years, the Cedi, when compared to the dollar, has lost 834,683% or from 1:1.15 (in 1979 at the time of the 3rd Coup) to today 1:9600 (in old Cedi) or 1:0.96 (in new Cedi). Ghanaians are stoic in their suffering, but they find ways to cope.

After the lorrie fares, we next saw the increase in sachet water, or “pure water” sold pretty much at every traffic intersection with a light in Accra (even if the light isn’t working). The old price was three cents, but now its five, but oddly the cost of a small bag peanuts remains unchanged at five cents. We only feel the increase when we eat out, for example my favorite dinner is chicken and rice at Papaye, which used to be 3.10, but now its 4.60. I am sure they will give this increased price a name soon, like “the Kufuor Price”.

John A, Kufuor is the current president of Ghana who steps down at the end of this year, after eight in office. His name gets attached to many things that have happened during his tenure. Like the Kufuor Gallon — a 2.5 gallon yellow plastic container that water is carried in. Various parts of Accra have been without water the whole time we have been here, or as they say, “the pipe is not flowing.” So people take water from wherever the pipe is flowing, and do so in the Kufuor Gallon. Sometimes when we come home from church early we’ll find out courtyard filled with Kufuor Gallons, as our “guards” have invited their family over (since we are away) to get water. That also happens with our neighbors when they leave town, and we find when we go away for a long week-end, the upper tank is completely empty on our return. I guess I should get upset, but I figure that is just the obligation of those who have water have to those who don’t.

[Man head-loads a Kufuor Gallon]

Suffering named for the current president or dictator is a time honored tradition, in the early 1980s, when inflation was just starting to take off, and malnutrition was visible in the extend collar bones of the people, it was called a “Rawlings’ Chain, or a Rawlings’ Collar, as in “We were all sporting Rawlings’ Collar.” Its not unlike what one of my uncles called an outhouse that was dug by government funds during the Great Depression, he called it a “Roosevelt”.

Another Kufuor-ism is the name given to the double-decker transit buses that were bought by the Kufuor administration, they too are called Kufours, and the shorter non-double decker buses are called Theresa, after his wife who is about a foot shorter than he. These buses compete with the extensive system of TroTros that stretch across Ghana. That name itself has an interesting story. When I was here before, they were called lorries, or mammy-lorry, but somewhere between then and now, people started calling them TroTros.

[Bedford Lorry from 1960s, also called “Boneshakers” because of their wooden bench seats]

It seems that in the Ga language, the word Tro meant three pence, the penny coins that were used in the colonial days. Eric tells me the fare was a Tro (a three-pence coin), but with inflation, the price became TroTro, or small change. I’ve been amazed to see TroTros of one sort or another all across Africa, from Cairo, to Pretoria, and it seems they are the backbone of transportation on this continent. They can be identified as the battered heavily modified mini-buses, packed full of people, that are pretty much any public transit vehicle that isn’t a bus or a taxi.

So I contributed my own bit to inflation by giving to our staff a 10% pay increase to offset, what the Daily Graphic is stating is a 13.2% annual inflation rate. It could be worse, apparently in the year 2000, it was 40%. Even so the “squeeze is getting too much,” I hear, meaning the hardship between water shortages, and inflation, are taking their toll. I guess we should be thankful we’re not having the electricity problems like we were last year.

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