What Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa can learn from USA and Canada

By Azuka Onwuka

Nigerian and Ghanaian flags

The relationship between Nigeria and Ghana or Nigeria and South Africa can be embarrassingly petty.

Forget the usual rivalry that exists among nations when it comes to sports, as exemplified in the recently concluded Africa Cup of Nations, which was hosted and won by Ivory Coast.

Nigeria does not share borders with Ghana or South Africa, but in West Africa, for example, Nigeria and Ghana are the nearest English-speaking neighbours. There may be reasons for Nigeria and South Africa to have supremacy contest, but there is no reason for Nigeria and Ghana to have such. In terms of GDP, Nigeria and South Africa are usually among the top three in Africa. In terms of population, both countries are usually in the top six.

First, let us look at how Canada and the United States of America relate and compare it with how Nigeria and Ghana relate. Just like Nigeria is bigger than Ghana in virtually all fronts, the United States is also bigger than Canada in virtually all fronts. The few areas where Canada is bigger or better than the US include landmass. Canada has the second largest landmass in the world after Russia. The US is number three. When cities are ranked in terms of livability, Canada usually has three cities (Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto) in the top 10. The US usually has no city in the top 10. Thirdly, mass shootings don’t happen in Canada as often as they occur in the US.

But on other fronts like GDP, the US is number one in the world. The US has the largest and strongest military in the world. It has the biggest tech hub. It also has the biggest entertainment industry (music, movie, sports, comedy, etc.).

Canada and US are neighbours. They speak the same English, even though French is also spoken in Canada. Canada realizes that there is no basis for comparison between it and the US. While Canada has 40 million people, US has 330 million people. Canada does not see the US as a competitor; rather, it sees it as a wonderful ally. Canada concentrates on quality rather than quantity. It focuses on ensuring that it provides the best environment and quality of life for its citizens.

Canada uses the dollar as its currency just like the US, even though each country has its own dollar. Note that the United Kingdom that colonized both of them uses pound sterling as its currency. Canada drives on the right side of the road like the US, even though the UK drives on the left. Canada uses the same +1 dialling code as the US. The type of English Canada speaks is close to that of the US and much different from that of the UK.

But there are many more substantial areas where Canada aligns with the US. In global issues, if a country is an enemy of the US, it is almost automatically the enemy of Canada and vice versa. It is rare to see Canada and the US disagreeing on global issues. When Canadians travel to the US, the US officials check them right inside Canadian airports. When they land in the US, no further checks are carried out.

Even though Canada has its own movie industry, yet it aligns with the US movie industry. Its movie industry is seen as Hollywood. But colloquially, it is called Hollywood North, so as to add a thin line between it and that of the US. Canadian and American actors act together in movies. For example, most people in other continents who watch Hollywood films and listen to pop music usually don’t know that actors and musicians like Keanu Reeves, Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, Eugene Levy, Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Drake, etc., are Canadians.

Furthermore, the American basketball league called the National Basketball Association features Canadian teams. The Toronto Raptors are based in Ontario, Canada, while the Vancouver Grizzlies used to be based in British Columbia, Canada until the 2001-02 season when they relocated to Memphis, Tennessee in the US.  In addition, the American football league called the National Football League has been discussing how to establish a team in Toronto, Canada that will compete in the NFL, once certain conditions are met.

It should be noted that in all these instances, it is always Canada that is trying to join the US, and not the other way round. Canada does not try to rub shoulders with the US. Rather it tries to tap into the potential that US has. That does not mean that when there is a sporting competition involving the US and Canada that Canada will fold its arms and allow the US to win. No. They compete robustly on such cases but there is no bitterness in it.

Now compare that with the relationship between Nigeria and Ghana. What you see is not cooperation but unnecessary competition and rivalry. These are two countries that are in dire need of growth. But rather than pull forces together to get stronger, they pull apart and remain worse-off. In all ramifications, there is no basis for comparison between Nigeria and Ghana. With its 32 million population, Ghana is not in any way getting close to the 220 million population of Nigeria. Ghana’s GDP of 77.59 billion USD (2021) is also far from the 440.8 billion USD (2021) of Nigeria. Just like Canada which has a better quality of life than the US, Ghana may have better quality of life. It may also be a better organized and stable country than Nigeria.

But given the commonality of language between the two countries, their primary focus should be cooperation and collaboration. That is why even though people see it as a joke when they do the comparison between Nigerian jollof rice and Ghanaian jollof rice, I don’t subscribe to such jokes because they innocuously play on that spirit of competition instead of cooperation. Whenever a foreigner asks me which tastes better between Ghanaian jollof rice and Nigeria’s, I say that both taste nice, and that the person should taste them and see how beautiful, filling and nutritious African meals are. I add that that the person should also try the variant from Senegal from whose ethnic group called the Wolof the term jollof rice reportedly came.

Similarly, the cooperation that happened among Nigerian and Ghanaian actors in the last 1990s was exciting. After Living in Bondage was produced by Nek Videos in 1992 and the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood, experienced a boost and spread across Africa, it led to the rise in local productions in different African countries, especially Ghana. When I watched movies featuring Ghanaian actors like Van Vicker, Jackie Appiah, Nadia Buari, Majid Michel, John Dumelo, etc., I wished for collaboration between Nigerian actors and Ghanaian actors. Soon after, producers started doing that and tapped into the two markets. The same thing happened with the success recorded in music by Nigerians. It boosted the music industry in Ghana and other African countries. Today, Afrobeats is recognized by the world. Most non-Africans who play the songs can’t even differentiate between which musician is Nigerian, Ghanaian, Cameroonian or South African.

The competition that defines the relationship between Nigeria and Ghana as well as between Nigeria and South Africa is one sign that proves that they are developing countries, or put bluntly, under-developed countries. It is the crab mentality or pull-him-down syndrome. Successful people usually try to cooperate while struggling people usually have the mindset of “If I can’t have it, you also can’t have it.”

It is the same mindset that has held Nigeria down for decades through tribalism. If something good is about to come from an ethnic group that will make Nigeria great, the other ethnic groups will conspire to destroy it. They will prefer that everybody remains in the mud than to see that someone or something from another ethnic group is making Nigeria better.

Therefore, what should be paramount among Ghanaians and Nigerians and even South Africans should be creating avenues for collaboration and cooperation, not competition. There are many things Nigerians can learn from Ghanaians and vice versa. When the spirit of competition is suppressed and the spirit of cooperation manifests, both countries will see more opportunities for growth.

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