Recently, I watched an episode of “Jungle Gold” for the first time – and the last time; it was despicable. I was outraged and appalled, and I barely got through half an episode, writes Nana T. Baffour-Awuah.
“Jungle Gold” is an American reality television show on the Discovery Channel and available on DSTV. The channel’s website describes the premise of the second series as follows: “Scott and George [American men] are back in Ghana in search of new territory to strike it rich … having been robbed at gunpoint during their last stay in Ghana, they are placing everything on the line to try and find gold…The daily drama is intense as they battle the muddy jungle, desperate illegal miners, and angry neighbours.”
Sounds like a couple of smart, ballsy guys on an exciting treasure hunt, right? Wrong. What this show is, in fact, is a blatant display of modern-day imperialist nonsense helmed by western media and a duo of neocolonialist buffoons. I won’t get into how disgusting and disappointing it is that it is Discovery Channel that transmits the travesty – my father, a diehard Discovery Channel fan, is turning in his grave. But I will get into why this is ridiculous, and what it has to do with Ghana’s sociopolitical state.
Everything about the show’s production – right down to its name, “Jungle Gold” – portrays Scott and George as bright, gutsy white men braving this treacherous land of dimwitted, sometimes dangerous natives. It’s the typical colonialist/dark-continent narrative. On their quest, our intrepid duo pay the poor, hungry locals way above the minimum wage to risk their lives in dangerous mining practices – accompanied by rousing theme music and anthropological-study-style narration, no doubt.
Of course, the show’s producers do not find it consequential enough to focus on the effects of surface mining on local populations and workers. The lack of environmental sustainability, serious health risks for workers, damage to water resources, and shaky legal footing of foreigners engaging in small-scale mining are not sufficiently addressed. Yes, our heroes are not heroes at all – quite the opposite. Oh, and let’s not forget that the one time that a local farmer dares to challenge them, he is beaten and choked into submission. Discovery Channel have placed a clip of this incident on YouTube, entitled “Hostility in the Jungle”, presenting the farmer as an illegitimate hostile force standing in the way of our American heroes.
From a literary perspective, this is a brilliant demonstration of how exquisite story-shaping can craft a hero out of anything and anyone. But there is so much else wrong here – ethically, politically and socio-economically.
Fortunately, as the series shows, this Ghanaian jaunt did not end well for George and Scott. The Ghanaian government announces that they wanted to arrest them and try them for illegal mining. The American miners and the Discovery Channel film crew have to flee the country to avoid arrest.
However, despite the success of the Americans eventually being chased out of the country, it is heartbreaking that some Ghanaians collaborated with their nonsense. Those two nitwits, who lost everything and fell into debt with the collapse of the US property market in 2008, travelled to a “jungle” to take resources, and then broadcast it to the entire world – all the while aided by some of the apparent “jungle-dwellers”. Absolutely pathetic. But hold up. It’s too easy to rant about “unpatriotic villagers” who we may deem too uneducated to recognise their exploitation. It is too convenient and comfortable to not think through why these victims are vulnerable to this corruption, especially when one’s stomach is full, and one’s paycheck is fat.
Socio-economic inequality, limited education and employment and inadequate provision of services leave some people vulnerable to neocolonial banditry. The stark, unfortunate truth is that a people failed by a government rife with misplaced priorities and inadequacy is bound to reap the bitter fruits of that failure.
There is a huge problem when the president of the country blames an energy crisis on people’s television-watching habits while some doctors have to resort to flashlights as makeshift surgical lighting. It is downright tragic when a cabinet minister’s suggestion for tackling illegal small-scale mining – the same methods of mining that “Jungle Gold” flaunts all over our TV screens – is drones. In both cases, we see leaders failing to get to grips with the fundamental issues that create our energy shortage or epidemic of illegal mining.
With this lack of leadership, it is not much of a surprise when centuries after their forefathers stole our gold, men like Scott and George can dig up Ghanaian soil and riverbeds and try to take our gold too.
It’s all well and good to recognise the problem and who plays a role in it. However, when a system is broken and failing its people, the biggest failures are the people who sit and wait for the government to fix it. We need to take responsibility for one another and ourselves. We need to begin to invest in one another and ourselves and re-invest until the developments and changes become apparent. It is only when we as a people have developed and strengthened our voice that we can truly hold our leaders accountable for their actions.
I see this already taking form in multiple ways. It is present at Ashesi University, a liberal arts college founded in 2002 outside Accra. I see it in Ghanaian companies, like Heel The World, which are redefining how we do business. In the socio-cultural space, musical game changers such as Efya, acclaimed designers such as Christie Brown, and change-makers such as Ahaspora Young Professionals are leading the way. There is a new wave of innovators, activists, writers, and passionate political theorists, and I am so excited by them.
There is hope. But we must try harder and do more. Some of us have been luckier, more privileged than others, and it is our implicit responsibility to deploy those advantages to benefit others; to invest in our potential in such a way that our individual triumphs become springboards for the less advantaged. While it falls on each to make a difference, to whom much is given, much is expected.
The fight against neocolonialism is as individual as it is collective.