Koffi Mensah opened the whiskey bottle, poured a libation on the ground and prayed that the British would return to rule and put Ghana's economy in order.

Although Mensah, who admits to 70 years and probably is considerably older, may not have realized it, his wish, in a way, already is coming true.

For while the British are not about to reimpose the colonial rule they relinquished in 1957, they and other western nations and international institutions are trying to rectify Ghana's long slide from prosperity to destitution.

Two years ago, along with many other Ghanaians, the 10,000 residents of this once-prosperous farming town were near starvation and survived the drought thanks to western-donated emergency food shipments.

But the relative optimism voiced here these days is not just due to the abundant rains that have produced good crops.

The villagers know the West is helping, although they do not understand the details of the almost $1 billlion in aid provided by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Community and such donor nations as the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, West Germany and France.

That aid, and a more active government presence, have begun to leave visible traces.

Two years ago, driving from the capital of Accra was a jolting, three-hour expedition with more than half the 44-mile journey over a badly potholed remnant of once-paved road.

Now, thanks to self-help programs -- and aid-provided spares for graders -- villagers can make the trip in two hours. They donated their time and the government spent the money to grade the road.

Still, Mensah and the older villagers can remember the days when the journey took only 45 minutes. That was when Ghana was among the most prosperous of Third World countries and, under prime minister Kwame Nkrumah, an often strident voice badgering the colonial powers into freeing their African possessions.

As chickens scuttled around his dusty courtyard, Mensah insisted that without the Europeans "we couldn't even make decent simple textiles." The other men in the courtyard laughed nervously, but did not disagree.

Still, the government's National Mobilization Program is helping revitalize long declining cocoa cultivation, which provides nearly 60 percent of Ghana's export earnings, by providing farmers with free new trees.

The government is also giving cocoa farmers a better deal after a generation of deliberately underpaying them.

But cocoa farmers here, as elsewhere in Ghana, are mostly old men, and even with planned increases, the government's new price is not considered sufficient by experts to bolster production.

Ransford Sey, a physical education teacher who, like many villagers, also has a farm, said cocoa growers were especially happy that the government had started paying by check instead of by often worthless chits.

Nonetheless, some farmers complained that they did not have enough money to buy the goods that have started to reappear because of foreign aid. Two years ago there was a shortage of everything from soap to matches, from tires to canned goods.

Politically, the villagers seemed pleased that they had been given the right by the central government to vote out of office six of the 11 incumbents on the committee running local affairs.

"They hoarded the town's small allotment of goods for themselves," said one woman, explaining how pleased she had been to throw the local rascals off the committee.

Also pleasing to the villagers was the presence of more than half the hundred or so young men who had been expelled from Nigeria two years ago.

They had settled down to farming, thanks to the generosity of the recently deceased chief who had given them land to work upon their return. Not all villages had such generous chiefs, a group of men said.

A few of the other village boys, who had returned to Nigeria and had just been expelled again, sat around glumly.

Samuel Otchere said he had learned his lesson in 1983 and was now growing pineapples for export on good land provided by his uncle.

Joseph Kimi, a 25-year-old who had just returned from Nigeria, where he had worked in a plastic bag factory for $165 a month, said, "This time I got only a small welcome."

But by leaving for Nigeria a second time in 1983, he had relieved the serious threat of starvation faced by the other villagers, especially the aged and small children.

What would he do now? "Joseph thinks farming is too hard," his friend Mustafa Donker said amid general laughter. "He wants to join the police or drive a truck, but there's good money in farming now."