Saturday, January 19, 2008

Optimism in Ghana

There's a wave of optimism gripping Ghana ahead of tomorrow's opening match of the 2008 Cup of Nations.

Staging Africa's most prestigious sporting event will cast a positive international spotlight on the small but stable West African state when much of the world's poorest continent is still gripped by conflict, disease and poverty.

Organizers hope the event will also bring as much as $1 billion into Ghana's fast-growing economy, mostly through tourism, service and advertising sectors but also trickling down to taxi drivers and street vendors selling food and trinkets.

"Almost everybody, every community is benefiting," Ghana's Finance Minister Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu said in an interview with Reuters in London this week.

He said the country, which has hosted the African Nations Cup finals three times and won four times, would try to use the income to generate more economic activity and prepare to stage even more prestigious international events.

Ghana would bid in coming years to stage the African Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and the World Cup, he said.

"We are now in the spotlight of the world -- it's a rare image-building opportunity," said Fred Pappoe, vice-chairman of the Ghana Football Association (GFA).

He described the three-week tournament, which will be played in the capital and three other venues, as a "massive feast" for soccer fans and ordinary Ghanaians.

Excited crowds are already filling the streets of Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi and Tamale, many of them souvenir sellers anxious to make a quick buck by hawking an array of soccer jerseys, T-shirts, mugs and key-rings.

Buildings across the country, from government offices to shacks in the shantytowns, have sprouted Ghana's red, gold and green flag with its distinctive black star as Ghanaians hope their "Black Stars" team can win the Cup for a fifth time.

It's wonderful when sports can give people national pride, bring in a little much-needed money and instill confidence in the future.

Go get 'em, Ghana!

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