The World Exposition 2010, commonly known as Shanghai Expo, has officially opened here.
The Saturday morning indoor opening ceremony was low-key compared with the previous night’s cultural and technological spectacle.
No fewer than 250 school-children trooped the colours of the nations and organizations registered to exhibit while Chinese, International Exhibitions Bureau and Shanghai city officials unfurled their respective flags.
Over a vast 5.28 square kilometers of space in this city regarded as the world’s tenth largest, some 250 countries and international organisations are showcasing their efforts and determination to make the earth an environmentally healthier and more culturally enriching planet, under the theme, ‘Better Cities, Better Life’.
The theme is eloquently portrayed in official speeches, country-themes and tokens, especially in the architecture of pavilions and exhibits.
‘Norway, powered by nature’ is for instance, the theme of this Scandinavian country, and the pavilion is built around 15 trees (i.e. close to nature); Spain’s pavilion is a Big Basket and is made up of wicker panels, and Romania’s choice is the ‘Green Apple’.
Inside Denmark, the country is advocating more the use of bicycle and fewer carbon-emitting cars. In some pavilions are homes based on renewable energy, with houses that have solar system on the roof to supply all their energy needs.
On display also are giant electronic books, movies and sculptural works that dream about cities that have achieved peace through cooperation with the environment.
Wonderful pavilion architecture! They are a hymn to nature, an invitation to imagine what cities will look like in future.
The theme is portrayed even by the Chinese organizers’ determination to maintain a clean and green Expo park. The grass is green there are 72,000 out of the Expo’s total of two million volunteers based inside the Park whose duty is to keep the physical environment of the park spotless. They are part of the whole celebration of the Expo slogan: ‘Better city, better life’
Shanghai has increased security measures drastically in preparation for the event.
An additional 8,000 police officers have been brought in to help Shanghai's 46,000-strong police force to patrol the city.
Some countries had not opened their pavilions to the public by first day. One of them is Nigeria, whose official told the Times that the bulk of its exhibits had not arrived.
Like the few others, it saw no point in hurrying to open their gates to the world only to show empty space, especially to the highly inquisitive Chinese. “After all, this is only the first day in a fair of six months,” said the official. Nigeria, with Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa chose to build their own pavilions instead of renting space within the African giant pavilion.
Ghana is located within the general African space. For a country whose Ministry of Tourism is targeting a slice of the Chinese market, it is strange that its pavilion is hidden among the “crowd”.
The government of Ghana itself may not have had the money to do what Nigeria and the other four have done, but there is no earthly reason why the idea could not have been floated for the private tourism plants and others such as the airlines – both International and domestic – to have pooled resources for the purpose. There is a Ghanaian saying in which our elders wonder how anyone can claim to fear the eye and yet eat a whole head.
There was also no reason why Ghana could not have chosen to go the Nigerian way of not opening its stand on the first day if it had logistical problems. At the time of my visit up to late evening of the first day, the Ghana stand was empty, with the exception of some pictures and LED screens showing tourist attractions and other pictures of historical and cultural places interest.
Why? According to Mr Ben Heh, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Trade in charge of Exports, Ghana’s consignment had arrived in China but had been released from the Expo Warehouse by the Chinese authorities.
Only one exhibitor had arrived. He is Mr Edwin Matey Cofie, and true to the good fortunes of his company, Afrikicof Handicrafts Enterprise Ghana, his products were the centre of attraction at the Ghana’s Bazaar stand, a little removed from the main stand.
The market was good for this sole exhibitor, a dealer in handicraft, who told the Times he foresaw the danger in entrusting all his exhibits to the international carriers, both sea and air, so he be brought them, accompanied, from his two bases, Japan and Ghana.
By arrangement, his company, along with three others whose representatives had not arrived on the first day, will occupy the bazaar stand for one month, giving way to four others.
This arrangement in alternation is a fair deal initiated by Ghana’s Ministry of Trade to ensure that all the Ghanaian firms that had applied to exhibit have a good chance to do so.
The sheer size of the bazaar space, however, rules out the option of competitiveness, not necessarily between Ghana and other countries but more importantly, among Ghanaian companies wanting to attract by their unique selling propositions.
The design of Ghana’s pavilion is the work of a creative mind. It combines history with traditional architecture. The colours are also strong.
At the very entrance, anybody who loves international football cannot fail to be attracted.
There are full size cut-outs of Michael Essien and Stephen Adiyiah, each with a foot on the ball. Chinese children who come to the stand kick the ball; the young men and the adult pose for pictures by these great Ghanaian internationals.
Inside the pavilion are pictures of Ghanaian cultural, arts and historical icons, though (if you ask me) I cannot fathom how any Chinese or any other national will be attracted to Ghana by the picture of Egya Koo. Kwaw Ansah and Koo Nimo, yes; Efo Mawugbe, a Noyam dance artist, Van Vicker and Jackie Appiah, maybe; but even then, for the little space available to Ghana, it is a waste crowding so many miniscule pictures which do not attract from afar.
I dare say that even at close range, the visitors were wondering who these personalities were.
Dear reader, I am not under-estimating the popularity, in Ghana (and perhaps West Africa) of these and other artists on display such as Samini, Asabea, Reggie Rockstone etc; but for an exhibiting country that has so little money and can afford only so little space, the question the Ghanaian exhibition planners should have asked themselves was: Are these the country’s strongest selling propositions?
The wisdom in the above choice of pictures is called in question when pictures of Obama’s visit to Ghana’s Cape Coast castle, for instance, have had to be squeezed in between somewhere. Someone may argue that the Chinese market is not sold on American presidents.
Maybe; but by the same token, I asked myself how many Chinese of this day and age will be attracted by pictures of Kwame Nkrumah shaking hands with former Chinese leader Chou en Lai?
It will bear repeating here that I am not, for a moment, attempting to reduce the stature of Africa’s Man of the Millenium. Far from that. My point is that for the market in which we are seeking to press our advantage, these are not the strongest selling propositions.
It is for the same reasons that I also did not see why the picture of current President John Evans Atta Mills should be so boldly displayed upfront (or anywhere, for that matter). No other country has pictures of their Heads of State; only South Africa is making a huge presence out of the world’s current icon, Nelson Mandela.
My argument still stands: Mandela is a strong brand currently.
The fear of my point being misunderstood in a highly politicized Ghana, causes me to pause, or even stop this comment altogether.
But I will try, knowing that Professor Mills is not petty. My prayer, as I write, is that this would not be misinterpreted to suggest my dislike of or disrespect for a man whose regime I have had occasion to defend against those who think that he is being slow (in a country where no former president or government in Ghana has, within three years (since 1957), been able to solve one-tenth of Ghana’s problems). Whoever will attempt to misrepresent my point should do well to give the Presdient a copy of my article.
If I am expressing these fears, it is because in Ghana’s politics, since time, this practice has been going on: there are people for whom this “speaking into a big man’s ear with their arm covering their mouth” is their only means of advancing in life, either politically or finding their daily bread.
As far back as the late 1950s such officious stooges and bootlickers misinterpreted E.K. Nyame’s Ponko Abodam song to the first President. Evidently the misinterpretation worked because Nkrumah promptly took away from this very good friend of his (E.K. Nyame), a bus he (Nkrumah) had bought for the musician’s band to use for their tours. The song itself was banned on air.
Well, back to Ghana at Shanghai Expo. By 12pm – up till 4pm – the two Ghanaian journalists (my colleague from Graphic and I) were the centre of attraction at the Ghana stand. We were instant celebrities. Why? Because we were in local Ghanaian attires made from local fabrics.
Every Chinese who was passing by and saw us at the Ghana stand requested to take a picture with us. Indeed, so many were the requests that if my Graphic colleague had listened to my advice for us to charge some money, we would have made enough to replenish our fast depleting financial resources.
It was obvious: the Chinese do not know Ghana. It is a fact: if the Chinese have to be attracted to Ghana, as tourists, they will come here on the back of what is unique about this nation – our culture, nothing more. Over here, they left us in no doubt that they would love to visit Ghana. Some of them actually produced their passports requesting that we stamp the visa pages! For others, only our signature was enough.
For any Ghanaian exhibitor planning to make a mark and money at the Expo, please, take my advice: go with enough cultural exhibits. You cannot fail to make your money. Dress like a Ghanaian: you cannot fail to attract.
Mr Cofie, the sole Ghanaian exhibitor (on the first day) was enjoying himself tremendously. When he was not engaged talking to visitors to the stand or selling for crisp yuan (or RMB) notes, he was obliging the Chinese for picture poses.
At our main country-stand, there were also pictures of the golden pod, the almighty cocoa. Our information was that when Ghana’s exhibits are eventually released from the Expo warehouse, there would be the physical cocoa pod and beans, plus chocolates.
It should be stressed that it is not the fault of any Ghanaian official that the exhibits have not been released. The Chinese do not joke with security. They want to make sure about every item that has entered that country. This causes some slight delays.
Indeed, that explains why Nigeria was still also expecting its exhibits, and why a few other African stands were not so full.
Ghana’s Day is July 8, and the Ministries of Trade and Tourism are planning quiet a bash.
The National Dance Company will be here. The Ghanaian organizers have extended an invitation to President Mills and Vice President Mahama; they are hoping that one of them will honour the invitation. It is known that the President will visit China this year. The organizers are hoping against hope that the visit will coincide with the Expo.
In May, Ghana is expecting a huge delegation here. This is the Investment delegation, organized in collaboration with the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They will be touring Chinese enterprises and laying business proposals before Chinese investors.
In future Ghana will need to make a bold declaration of her intention to make a larger presence at trade and tourism fairs.
The little I saw at our stand here shows that we have no experience in fair participation. I say this because of the choice of even the iconic personalities and Ghanaian places of attraction on show. On the LED screens that show pictures, there are places of so called interest that cause me to doubt if the Ghana Tourist Board was consulted in the matter.
One of the pictures on screen is the helicopter at the Efua Sutherland Children’s park! There are pictures of streets with taxis. As if other nations do not have taxis! Again, I wondered: who wants to come to Ghana to look at our Independence Arch!
Mr Ben Heh, a Deputy Director at the ministry of Trade in charge of Exports, was the sole official on the first day of the Expo.
Looking worried, his concern was the exhibits that had not arrived. His wish is for Ghana to take its rightful place at this fair. For a civil servant, you could not help but admire his passion. I know what I am saying: I have seen other civil servants on other government delegations, and I know how some behave. Ghana needs people like him, I told myself.
On the whole, however, Ghana is not a big player, even in the Africa pavilion. Even countries currently suffering the pains and pangs of war are more daring. One of the countries has actually mounted a CANOPY WALKWAY at its stand!