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Job 600

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 12:44 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Some countries are easy to grasp. You come and see - this is a police state, every step you take, every move you make is watched; that is a war-torn and struggling place, orphans, the disabled and widows tell you the country's story straight away.

I know - it's a simplification, but some countries are difficult to simplify, let alone to grasp. I think Ghana is one of them. On the one hand in all the Ghanaian cities we have been to the first thing you see is schoolkids wearing all kinds of uniforms. After some time you start to realise - that brown one is most common and must be of the state schools, these blue ones are always next to the church schools, and so on.

The school uniform gives you a hint why Accra's streets are clean and neat, Accra itself could have been placed anywhere in the world - in Central Asia, in the Far or Middle East. You see steady traffic - which is a sign of ubiquitous discipline - nobody rushes through - even the sellers of goods are making lines between the slow moving cars.

There's a certain order in seemingly chaotic street shops or kiosks when you approach big cities - almost all of the kiosks are given female Biblical names - from Eva to Ruth, through Esther and Mary, so you can buy some cutlery at Judith and washing powder at Margaret. You can see the sign of a random hotel called 'Messiah' with the accompanying promise: 'A glimpse of heaven'. Or a missionary slogan 'Jesus - just one touch'. And it's not just about Christian signs, there are posters of Muslim company 'Labbayka' - 'I'm here for you', there's a Hindu Temple of Africa and I'm sure - of others. So the feeling is that you are certainly in a religious, multi-faith and seemingly tolerant place.

Those two latter epithets - "multi" and "tolerant" came up in all discussions we had, be it in Takoradi - the new oil Eldorado of Ghana - about the future of oil for this country and whether oil is blessing or curse for the nation. Or at the Cape Coast University where we were discussing the history of slavery, linking this place to America. Every student proudly told the story of President Obama's recent visit here (for five Ghanaian cedi local drivers will even take you to see the hotel where he stayed). Heated discussion between engineers and surgeons on the one side and government ministers on the other also took place in Accra, and this time it was about electricity cuts in the country. A local gynaecologist spoke up in front of a minister about a horrible operation when the light went off while he was operating on a patient. Luckily someone had a torch so he could finish the job.

We went with our local guides to see with the so-called "Job 600" - a parliament building which was started by the first Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumo nearly 50 years ago. However due to whatever reason, it has never been finished. Apparently the latest argument against it is that MPs should have their offices in their constituencies. Apart from giving me a wonderful title (not worse than "Catch-22" as if 599 jobs were fulfilled and just that one...) it reminded me of my hometown, the Central Asian city of Tashkent, which is full of hollow buildings with only facades built and the rest left for better times.

But out of this mosaic I will draw open discussions about the oil, about the education, about the blackouts, even about the notorious "Job 600", and if you ask me, I would rather live in this country, which is impossible to grasp in one go, because that complexity is the sign of a country in the making.

Obviously it's better to live in a free and prosperous country, but if the choice is between a relatively stable police state and free, but chaotic country, which one would you prefer?

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