My Blogging Year 2011

Photo: Mattias Wiggberg

It is getting late. The year is almost ending. The time has come for bloggers to summarize the year. We all do it differently; I enjoyed  MsAfropolitan’s love letter, the book lists that hyper-readers Accra Books and things and A Fork in the Road shared and Africa Is A Country’s West African club hits!

My summary of the blogging year 2011 might not be possible to dance to, still here it is:

The year started out on a strong note. In January, I learned about Free and Open Source Software for Academics and analysed the Ghanaian “happiness culture“.

During February, I realized  in Swedish media Ghana is often portrayed like a success, economically, democratically and technologically. A more recent text buttressing my point is the top African success stories 2011 at Connected Africa.  This month I also celebrated my 30th birthday and my 500th blog post!

In March, I was inspired by DUST magazine and wrote my own You Know You Are In Accra When – jokes.

April was the month I got more serious and wrote about the mental health crisis in Ghana, sexual harassment and the unrest in Ivory Coast.

On Mother’s day I announced I was becoming a mother myself. At that point in May, my belly was so big everyone who saw me IRL knew. It was not like you needed to be an investigative journalist…  really is there just one investigative journalist in Ghana?

In June, I left Ghana for Europe. First stop was Marseille.  Then it was time for debating homosexuality. A debate that also made it to Global Voices.

In July, our daughter was born. What an experience! What a miracle! What a sweet soul!

In August, she was Virtually Outdoored. So was the Ashesi Berekuso Campus.

In September and October I was spending every hour of the day with our baby in Sweden. Taking walks, breastfeeding and blogging only sporadically.

Second week of November, I returned south and my daughter saw the green leaves and red soil of Ghana for the first time. And the green hoopoe!

In December, we had no water and I wrote about the EU Blue Card. And that was my 2011 year of blogging!

I am sure in the days to come, we will see many more chronicles of 2011 at Ghanablogging.com (soon to change name to BloggingGhana, but that is a story for 2012!)

Gott Nytt År! Afehyia pa! Happy New Year!

What Does Religion Have to Do with New Year in Ghana?

Ghana is a very religious society. I believe Ghana has the most churches and mosques per square km in the world. People usually answer “by the grace of God, I am well” when I ask how they are doing. Ghanaians all over Ghana go to church each Sunday or Mosque each Friday and sometimes on other days of the week too for Wednesday service, Qur’an teachings or “Friday-all-night”.

So it did surprise me a lot when I realized Christmas is not a big deal for Christians in Ghana. Ok, banks and shopping malls get all dolled up with tinsel, red bows and Christmas trees (although both my husband and I have seen trees turned upside down) and businesses are supposed to give their employees and clients “Christmas hampers” or baskets full of goodies (often rice, oil and cake).

But there is no general Ghanaian Xmas celebration style with say a huge dinner and gifts, nor is there a time for peace and quiet or to even assume your friends and family are busy – a friend was invited to a wedding on the 24th!

Then maybe it makes sense that New Year’s Eve is indeed a religious holiday. I just wonder where in the Bible church-leaders find their support for celebrating the end of the year rather than Jesus’ birthday…

So what does religion have to do with New Year’s Eve in Ghana? Well, on this evening many Ghanaians go to church, also those who rarely go (you know who you are!) will find a way to, everyone is dressed in white, the whole thing is quite peaceful and most churches congregate outdoors because of the huge crowds or as in the case of popular pastor Mensa Otabil (see the billboard pic taken in traffic today above which inspired this post) –  at the Accra Sports Stadium!

See other posts on Ghanaian New Year’s Eve here and here.

 

 

Top 3 Swedish Xmas Blogs

Ok, so the xmas spirit is not quite making its way to tropical Ghana. Here it is more banana, dust and business-as-usual than apple, snow and special holiday cheer.  Hence I tend to rely on the Internet for feeling.

Here are my top three Swedish xmas feel providers:

1. Nina

How much more Christmassy can you get? Answer: A little more than 100% as Nina, a professional photographer, not only covers Swedish xmas, but the Gotlandic one too (that is we come from the same island, Gotland, in Sweden). She posts xmas deluxe with lovely xmas “pyssel” (the English “craft” does not cover the entire meaning of “pyssel”), delicious and beautiful xmas treats and views of a frosty island – just like in my childhood dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Underbara Clara

Sweden’s best professional blogger. From a cottage in northern Sweden she produces pure xmas spirit and a little jävlarannamma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Linnea

For my everyday-life-in-Sweden-fix, I turn to former school mate cum professional mother Linnea. She writes about buying environmental xmasgifts, worrying about slippery roads and posting pics of her adorable child and here her belly with child number two. Ahhh, Sweden!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am so thankful to you for helping me get onboard the xmas train! This afternoon, I am forcing the xmas spirit to arrive by putting on a xmas CD, baking some ginger cookies and packing my bags for tomorrow.

Christmas eve will be celebrated in 30 degrees celcius, but among Scandinavian friends and with some of the foods, treats and presents!

Merry xmas! God jul!

Migrants and Human Rights – Tribunal 12 in Ghana?

Yesterday, I got the question if I can help set up a live broadcast of Tribunal 12 in Ghana. So I asked myself, What is Tribunal 12? This is what I found on their website.

Date: 12 May, 2012

Location: Sergels torg & Kulturhuset in Stockholm and all over Europe. (And maybe Ghana! My comment.)

People who flee to Europe are often met with disbelief and suspicion. Many are directly deported at the borders, despite risking their lives. Others are held up in prison-like detention centres lacking basic human rights. Once inside Europe, people are subjected to lengthy and complex asylum processes, often without legal advice. The vast majority of asylum applications are rejected, forcing people to return to extreme dangers. In order to survive, many choose to live hidden without any legal rights.

At Tribunal 12, Europe will be held accountable for these failures.

Inspired by the International War Crimes Tribunal that was formed by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1967, Tribunal 12 sets out to locate the moral, legal and political responsibilities as well as call for a change within the system.

Reading on, the practicalities of the tribunal is that it will all take place in one day, including the ruling of an expert jury. Four sessions (“border control, the asylum process, undocumented migrants, and detention & deportation”) will be held where a prosecutor presents evidence. Drama and art, personal stories and expert witnesses will all be part of the evidence. The program is backed by, among others, The Swedish Forum for Human Rights and Swedish National theatre, Riksteatern.

I find it very useful to question the current treatment of international migrants. And in such a creative way too. Here in Ghana, we often poke fun of what Ghanaian travelers will face at airports when traveling (“watch out for the rubber glove!”, “don’t forget to bring all your used passports for…well, for what really?!” etc). That is, traveling WITH THE CORRECT PAPERS. Not migrating. Not fleeing.

Also, it seems very cool (if I can use such a word in such a serious context) to do something with the inspiration of Russell and Sartre – read more on the Russell-tribunal here. I like!

So, watch this space as I will try and figure out where and how we can take this live event to Ghana. Comment below if you want to be a part of it!
Pic borrowed from Tribunal 12.

This post is a belated Monday Migration post.

 

The EU Blue Card – What Will It Mean to African Professionals?

Today, I am researching The EU Blue Card, a directive passed by the EU in 2009 to simplify immigration for highly skilled workers from non-EU countries. The directive is to be fully implemented into legislation by member countries this year.

The EU Blue Card is modeled on the US Green Card and is hence a temporary work visa (1-4 years) and at the same time a one-stop-shop for applying for residency and work permit.

On the europa.eu website which collects, summarizes and explains EU legislation it is stated that the objective of this particular directive is to:

improve the European Union’s (EU) ability to attract highly qualified workers from third countries. The aim is not only to enhance competitiveness within the context of the Lisbon strategy, but also to limit brain drain. (my italics)

The Lisbon strategy or agenda was drafted in March 2000 and reviewed in 2005 and was the overarching direction for the union aiming to turn EU into “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010”. I can see how the EU Blue Card is in alignment with this ambitious goal  and how it helps to attract highly qualified workers. However, I have a hard time understanding how it will limit brain-drain.

I am not the first to question this, migration and development have been discussed together for many years now and others before me have pointed this out for this particular directive. In 2007, African ministers of health viced their worry of that this scheme would increase the brain drain of health professionals from their countries. Also, Professor Kingsley Banya has also written a conference paper where he in the abstract suggests the EU Blue Card scheme is “poaching Africa’s talent” (I am yet to find the full paper).

The rationale behind the EU Blue Card is the fact that EU has a low level of highly-skilled foreigners in its workforce when comparing to the US and Canada. Levels of 4% and 7% of the total labor force for US and Canada respectively, comparing to 1,7% for the EU is brought forward by the Migration Information Source here.

To qualify for the EU Blue Card, one must have a college diploma or five years occupational training, already have landed a job (countries can choose if individual or companies hiring them should apply) as well as show that the job the worker is migrating to do pays more than 1,5 times the country’s average salary.

Despite above-mentioned critique against the directive, it is being implemented as we speak (although some say it is way too slow) with very little debate within Europe and in the countries that are likely to be affected by the policy change.

In my opinion, what needs to be discussed further (and very soon measured)  is how the EU Blue card is to affect African professionals and their migration desicions. It seems nobody yet knows.

Will it lead to increased migration and possibly brain-drain or could there be positive effects for developing countries like increased circular migration when opportunity for legal migration increases? As my research area – Ghanaian students’ migration aspirations- encompasses the migration environment,or legal frameworks for migration, I will be including this European development in my study and discussion.

I will try to write on migration issues every Monday from now on! Need to get back into the research game!

Pic borrowed from The Swap Blog.

Water Crisis in Greater Accra: Report from Tema

For months, the water supply has been erratic in Community 11, the area of Tema, Ghana where we live. Since I came back to Ghana about one month ago, we have had water only seven days.

In more densly populated areas in Tema like community 4 and Michel Camp where relatives live, there has been no water at all for a full month. That might not impress many Accra folk who have been without piped water for years(!), but in our communities we are used to water flowing and are therefore poorly prepared for a sudden halt in services. Now desperate Tema people are collecting water from the open gutters…

Although there are rumors for the cause and duration of this water problem (Teshie and Nungua is getting our water / pipes are old / there has been a major leak etc), there seems to be no reliable information to be had. An undated(!) entry at Ghana Broadcasting Corporation quotes the responsible minister, Mr Bagbin, as saying

“government will soon go into negotiation with Duraplast Limited to find ways for the company to supply the Ghana Water Company with high quality PVC pipes to replace the outdated once to ensure equal distribution”.

A statement that leave me with many questions. Another article, now from The Chronicle is looking at the longterm water problem. In it one of my Ghanaian heros, Mr Azeem from Ghana Integrity Initiative, claims 1,49 billion USD is needed to solve the problem of water supply by 2020. He also is sitting on the very interesting information that Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) is currently supplying half of the demand or 551,000 cubic metres per day, as against a daily demand of 939.000 cubic metres.

GWCL provides no such information on their website (although they ironically do promote an “international training in customer management”). Sadly, I have seen nothing on news websites and not heard any announcements on radio. (Has there been any info in newspapers or on TV?). The informative website WaterWiki has more statistics, but no up-to-date info on what is happening in the area now. Under the headline of Sanitation status for Accra /Water supply, they matter-of-factly state the sad truth:

“in-plot piped water supply is much less frequent in low-income communities”.

What is going on? Where is the water? What is the Tema and Ashaiman municipalities doing about it? Why is GWCL not informing its customers about what is happening? (As they are able to still serve us with bills, we suspect they can if they want) Who is responsible for the effects of this drought of the pipes – like cholera and other diseases? And where is the outrage?

Read an earlier post on water here.

Picture borrowed from iconarchive.com

Afropositivism and Biggest Ever Inequality Between Rich and Poor

Today, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) (and often called the rich countries’ club) releases a report “Divided We Stand” (click here for more information and summary of Divided We Stand). It says that even though we have seen a period of growth, inequality between high income earners and low income earners in the OECD is on the increase and it is the biggest since 30 years.

See a summary – along with a great description of the Gini coefficient in this video:


However, what if we make that comparison outside the OECD…?

A few days back the Africa Governance Initiative, led by Tony Blair organized a high level forum to discuss Africa from a positive, forward-looking and empowered perspective. In the write-ups for the lovely website, Africa’s countries’ growth rates are positively discussed:

“there is a new story about Africa that is less familiar. It tells of an Africa in which poverty fell from 52% in 1990 to 40% in 2008. An Africa in which economic growth averaged 4.9% from 2000-2008”

The Economist in its Africa Rising issue (out now!) shares the view:

“Over the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the knock-on effect of the northern hemisphere’s slowdown, the IMF expects Africa to grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia.//Africa now has a fast-growing middle class: according to Standard Bank, around 60m Africans have an income of $3,000 a year, and 100m will in 2015.”

I am not saying they are wrong, actually it is ever so nice with some Afropositivism, but living in Ghana, a country where economic inequality stares me in the eye every hour of every day, I would like to say that looking at macro growth rates is not very informative.

Also, in saying that 60 million Africans, out of the 1 billion Africans in total, have a specific annual salary is not saying much (by the way, who in Europe be glad about USD 3000 per annum?) Without mentioning the cost of living, where African cities actually are among the most expensive in the world (Luanda, Njamena and Libreville in the top 10), food is getting more expensive by the day and did I mention clean water is a large share of weekly expenses in Ghana? Further: inflation is high, there is lack of credit, falling exchange rates, stagnating salaries – that USD 3000, does not go very far.

In light of these events, I suggest looking at the income equality between rich and poor, world wide, using the Gini index (courtesy of Wikipedia).

We see on this map that Africa is extremely unequal, ranging from green (0.35) to dark red (>0.60), but with also many countries not even being able to report data (gray).

It is easy to conclude, that without spreading the wealth, that celebrated economic growth is worth very little to the average African.

(…and possibly also to the rich who then need to invest heavily in security, but that is a different story).

Gbaa Mi Sané – Ghana Documentary in the Making

A few weeks back, I got a shout-out from AccraDOTAlt / the organizers of the initiative TalkParti (that I have posted on here and here) to back the documentary they are making. Using a website called Kickstarter, they ask for people like you and me to donate money for a documentary film.

Gbaa mi sané means “talk to me” in local language Ga. According to the AccraDOTAlt Kickstarter site:

“the aim of this documentary project is three-fold: 1) to document a youthful Accra, bold and cool enough to pull taboo subjects wide open 2) to get personal with young Ghanaians about their experiences on the margins of these subjects – as a lesbian woman, or a transgendered man, or a happy atheist, or a struggling artist in Ghana and 3) to exhibit the pulsating spirit of the indie music scene – the backbeat of Accra – through captivating performances and interviews with featured musicians.”

As I have been to many of these TalkParti events and experienced the uniquely creative and open atmosphere, today I was glad to donate USD 25. Although I find the aims of the documentary important and worthwhile, I have a slightly more personal reason for supporting the project. I want to show that documentary to my kids and say “Mommy was there when it all started!”

Do you think its important to document your surroundings?

(and if you by any chance also want to make sure this documentary is made, go to the Kickstarter page and follow the instructions, still one week to go before the opportunity to pledge is closed )

UPDATE: The project is now fully funded. Congrats to all of us and time to get to work, AccraDOTAlt!

Sprouting in the Tropics

Sprouts in my kitchen in Tema, Ghana I love eating fresh greens, but  – ironically – found them hard to come by here in the tropics. So I have turned to making my own through sprouting.

Sprouting is soaking a seed and then letting it grow a sprout, only to the eat the crunchy sprout for lunch!

It is a supereasy DIY-project, all you need is a sprouting jar (it is supposed to work with any jar and a mesh net for draining, but that has never worked for me),  some seeds to work with and clean water. Read more at the informative SproutPeople site.

In the picture you see mung beans in the green jar in the back (the most common sprout in the world, thanks to the Chinese kitchen) and in the wider brown bowl in the front, I grow leafy Alfalfa, here only one day old sprouts.

The sprouting jars I bought in Germany. The mung beans I got at MaxMart (local shopping center here in Ghana)  the other day for about 5 GHC for a bag I believe will last me through summer 2012, as you need just a tablespoon for a jar full of sprouts. The alfalfa seeds I brought from Sweden.

The advantage of sprouting in the tropics are many. You always have greens at home for your salad, sandwich and stirfry. You know they are clean as you grew them yourself. It is environmentally friendly food with no packaging, very little transport per jar of food and hence also cheap.

Do you sprout? Does anyone know where I can find seeds to sprout in Ghana?

Back in Ghana and Green Wood Hoohoe

Saturday, Selma and I returned from the cold north to the warm south. Waiting here in Ghana were Selma’s father, her paternal grandparents and our big extended family including many good friends. Some of them we have seen the last couple of days, other we are still to meet this weekend.

Coming back always entails thawing aka getting used to the heat. First night is almost always fine, the second I woke up panting for air. The third day, I woke up to empty taps. I think I am halfway thawed so far…(Selma seems fine. Babies take this much better!)

Much is like I remember around our house, but plants have grown a lot in six months and our house was repainted by Selma’s father to welcome us home!

This afternoon, Selma and I sat outside admiring our newly painted house. But that wasn’t the only thing new! This beautiful tropical bird with an orange-red beak and long tail (called Green Wood Hoopoe I have deduced after some googling of “red beak and long tail”) also jumped around our backyard. Seemingly looking for insects to munch on. Smiling in the sun.

Picture borrowed from Wikipedia.

What to Bring from Sweden

I have been quiet here for a while, mainly because I am starting to say goodbye to life here in Sweden. As a part of that process, I have to decide what to take with me from Sweden to Ghana.

My first year in Ghana, that list was quite long. Edibles like kaviar, nyponsoppa, knäckebröd, and then loads of books formed a substantial part of my luggage. With time, the list has grown leaner both because I have learned to live without certain items (kaviar, nyponsoppa), but also because many items can now be bought in Ghana (knäckebröd, for instance – I buy the Ryvita bread at any supermarket).

This time, I am traveling with a Kindle in my bag, so most of the books I’d like to read carry no physical weight. (I’m still in awe, isn’t this amazing?)

This year, I think the list is down to:

  • Cheese and Coffee – the amounts and qualities I need cannot be found within my budget in Ghana
  • Swedish candy (Although, now I can apparently order it from Candy from Sweden)
  • Swedish Home Decor magazines (with that special blend of Scandinavian design and IKEA).

But of course, what I most want to take with me, I can’t. In my case – my Swedish family and then the bandwidth…

What do you have to bring from home when you travel?

Pic from Candy from Sweden

Swedish Society and Culture Lecture

Tomorrow I am lecturing on “Swedish Society and Culture” at Malmö University.

It is a topic I should know very well. I am a product of it. I studied Political Science with a focus on Scandinavia/comparative politics. In addition, it is a presentation that I have given earlier to students in Ghana (with good help from the Swedish Institute).

But maybe what makes me most suited to talk on this topic is that I have lived outside of Sweden for a majority of the last 10 years of my life. I think experiencing other societies (US, France and Ghana in my case) makes the specificities of Swedish society stand out more clearly. Also, living abroad makes you – or at least it has made me – an ambassador of my country. I find myself describing the Swedish model (defending the high taxes), explaining why Swedes are thought – see pic – to be overtly sexual (a myth stemming from artsy Swedish films in the 1950s) and displaying Swedish traditions and joie-de-vivre (disproving that Swedes would be extremely suicidal because of the darkness up north).

Tomorrow I will do it again. Wish me luck!

PS. My blog being messed up means that I have not felt inspired to post lately. Sorry to anyone who still follows this space! I think I will just keep posting and worry about the look when I have time. Update: It is now fixed!

Picture borrowed from the Swedish Bikini Team.