Expert Insight - How cultural and social factors impact your business in Ghana

Your business success in Ghana can hinge on the way you speak about your family, the things you use your left hand for and your respect for religion. In this Expert Insight Eric Osei, business analyst and author of the recently published book Doing Business in Ghana, talks us through the sensitivities, intricacies and opportunities.

Ghana is a highly diverse nation, home to 100 different ethnic groups spread amongst the 10 regions of the country, where a particular language is usually dominant. Although the official language is English, most Ghanaians speak at least one local language. Rural-urban migration has contributed to Akan (Twi) becoming the most widely spoken local language in the country (49.3%). This is followed by Mole-Dagbani (15.2%), Ewe (11.7 %) and the smaller groups Ga-Dangme, Guan, Gurma, Gurunsi and Mande- Busanga.

World's most religious country
There is no official state religion, and freedom of worship is a constitutional right in Ghana, but religion has a strong influence on day to day life of the people. Ghana emerged as the world's most religious country in a poll conducted by the Christian Science Monitor in 2012, with 96% of respondents stating that they are religious.

As a result of the influence of the British colonisation, Christianity is the predominant religion in Ghana. It is practised by about 70% of the population. The second most popular religion is Islam, which is practised by more than 15% of the population. In view of this, Sundays and Saturdays (for Christians) are set aside mainly for church related activities. Fridays are the Islamic worship days. It is therefore not strange to see the streets of the country very quiet on Saturday and Sunday mornings, with most shops closed. Days of Christian and Islam festivals are always declared statutory National Holidays.

Tribal beliefs
Such festivals are celebrated annually or bi-annually by different tribes or towns in various parts of the country. They could be in commemoration of past events or in recognition of some personalities. Traditional festivals are celebrated in various parts of the country throughout the year and for various purposes. Festivals in Ghana could be broadly categorized under the following themes: celebrating the farming season, communal Spirit, remembering the gods and ancestors and religious festivals.

Owing to the highly religious nature of Ghanaians, it is imperative for investors to know a bit about the customs of their Ghanaian partners to foster cordial relations. Many customs in the Ghanaian society are influenced by both traditional tribal beliefs and Christian or Muslim traditions.

Left hand
One thing that Ghanaians frown upon is the use of the left hand. Visitors need to be conscious of this and use only the right hand when interacting with the local people as much as possible. Using the left hand, especially in most rural settings, is considered taboo. Hand over money with your right hand, eat only with your right hand (you may be excused if you are a leftie), and if you forget and use your left in an interaction, apologise and smile.

In Ghana, like most other African nations, the left hand is used for self-cleaning and thus perceived as unhygienic, unclean and symbolically 'inferior'. Though conditions in Ghana have greatly improved with regards to personal sanitation, this custom will likely remain for a long time. Ghana is rapidly advancing, and with such advancements comes a compromise on some of these customs. You are likely to find several Ghanaians who would not be bothered at all by your use of the left hand (they might be lefties themselves). Just get to know who you are dealing with at any given time.

Another thing worth noting is that loyalty and family pride are central to Ghanaian society. Family defines social status and can determine values and behaviours. The individual is subordinate to the family or collective. It is important to always maintain good reputation, dignity and honor since the whole family will share in any loss of honor by a member of the family.

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