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Social Changes Seen as Ghana Builds Its Economy

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And for more on Ghana at 50, we're joined by Jean Davison, who founded the International Development and Education Association. The organization links small communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Jean lived and worked in Africa, including Ghana, for more than two decades. I asked her if Ghana's culture is changing while it builds up its economy.

Dr. JEAN DAVISON (Founder, International Development and Education Association): I think that they are working to try and bring about kind of an economy and society that honors their form of socialism, which is often known as African socialism because it embraces the concept that we will measure our wealth in people and addressing the needs of people rather than in terms of financial monetary terms.

CHIDEYA: Well, certainly with Oprah Winfrey opening her school in South Africa, you see a push for the education of African girls. And also throughout the continent, part of the issue is that girls very often are expected to work at a young age, everything from carrying water to caring for young children. What is Ghana doing to really further the status of girls and women?

Dr. DAVISON: They have all kinds of programs that are going on now, particularly in the north now. They're beginning to address the regional inequalities. In the northern part of Ghana, only 6 percent of girls were passing the secondary qualifying examination in 2003. And it went up in 2004, but then it dropped back down. So that for that three-year period, 21 percent of boys - but only 9 percent of girls - were qualifying to go on to education.

So now with the new emphasis, the Ministry of Education level on community-based education, which will enable the local communities to help out and take more responsibility for education, and it will also bring indigenous knowledge. The curriculum will be more in tune with the indigenous knowledge of the people living up in that area and will draw on their institutions. So making it more relevant to their needs will help bring in girls.

CHIDEYA: Now, Ghana led in really becoming free among sub-Saharan African nations, free from colonialism. It's also led in HIV-AIDS. It's got an infection rate of only 3 percent.

Dr. DAVISON: That's right.

CHIDEYA: When you've got nations in southern Africa and other parts of the continent that have a quarter of the people infected.

How did Ghana make that public health move to make sure that people did not get infected?

Dr. DAVISON: Well, originally, Ghana had its first case of AIDS back in March of 1986. But when Jerry Rawlings came to power in the '80s, he saw the importance and right away started a campaign to educate people. And that has consistently been at the forefront now under Kufour - the new president who was elected five or six years ago - and it's just about to take over the head of the African Union.

Once you get leadership committed and those around him, then it makes it much easier to address problems at local level, like the denial that it exists or the stigma that is attached to families, and also the gender discrepancies in terms of how are relationships between men and women.

CHIDEYA: So, as you look at Ghana right now and see it having had 50 years of freedom from colonial rule, what do you see ahead in the next 50 years?

Dr. DAVISON: I see an improvement in the education sector, as more and more resources are devoted to both education and health now that they're out from under the IMF loan debacle. I see a decrease in the overall population growth rate. It's now down to 2.2. There will be greater infrastructure.

Young Ghanians realize like young Africans all over that unless they know more about information technology and the Internet, their chances of getting a job in the future are limited. And where electricity exists, that's easy, but where it doesn't exist it's much harder.

So the need to be an emphasis, and I think Ghana is moving in this direction of world community development that embraces bringing in funding for electricity to begin setting up these community centers for youth, so they can use it and they go on to get jobs.

CHIDEYA: Well Dr. Davidson, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. DAVISON: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: Dr. Jean Davison founded the International Development and Education Association, which is a part of Global Exchange.

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CHIDEYA: Just ahead, a federal jury convicts Scooter Libby for lying to a jury. And two books on past lynchings and how they impact America today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.