A Stolen Childhood and a Reclaimed Story: Brigitte Sossou Perenyi

Recently, I was introduced to an elegant looking woman in a coffee shop in Accra. She was well-spoken, chic, and had a good sense of humor, and a hello turned into a 30-minute conversation. Towards the middle of the convo, she told me about having had the opportunity to make a BBC documentary about her life. I was quite impressed talking to a twenty-something with her own documentary and told her I would check it out.

The woman was Brigitte Sossou Perenyi and her story was “My stolen childhood: understanding the trokosi system”. This fantastic documentary chronicles Brigitte’s and thousands of other West African girls’ unfair fate of being human sacrifices. In some cultures in Ghana, Togo, and Benin, a committed sin is believed to cause sickness and death in the family which can only be stopped if a girl is “sacrificed” and made a slave of a shrine.

This documentary is fantastic as it shows how striving for understanding of wrongs made against you can free you, how returning to the scene of the crime and remembering together can let your courage spread to others. Our heroine travels the region and speaks to everyone from an Uber-driver, a group of elders, academics studying the practice at the University of Ghana, her trokosi friend who also managed to get free, her family, and to all of us who want to listen to her story. I spent another half-an-hour with Brigitte and cherished every moment of it.

Thank you Brigitte for reclaiming and sharing your story with so much courage and truth-telling!

Trokosi, or ritual servitude, was made a crime in 1998, but no one has been prosecuted for a practice that is still ongoing and affecting many lives.

Where is Africa on Open Data? Some answers from #AODC17

African Open Data Conference 2017, or #AODC17 for short, was a five-day affair in Accra last week (or up to a week if you included some pre and post arrangements). I was there for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, mostly because that is what my schedule allowed, but also because those days had the least of high-level dialogue – which is often not very productive – and I was more interested in African Open Data on the ground.

My observations:

1. The field of open data is exploding, the conference was a major to-do with buy in from Ghana’s president and many international organizations as well as several hundred delegates.

2. The networking was out of this world, among the most interesting people I met were academics Umaru Bah,  Jeanne Holm, activists from BudgITng and Connected Development, blogger Chioma Agwuegbo, tweeps  …students…old friends like Nnenna Nwakanma of World Wide Web Foundation, Nehemiah Attigah of Odekro (links for organizations or linked in profiles), Dorothy Gordon…

3. The individuals involved in Open Data are in much renaissance people, it is programmers-entrepreneurs-governance experts, professors-public servants, accountants-activists, story tellers-national security etc. I felt at home and got inspired to stop forcing expertise and continue on my “wide” career.

4. The base level of what constitute best practices in the open data space is not yet set, exemplified by that Government of Ghana can sponsor such a conference and yet not have passed the rather basic Right to Information bill (I learned at #AODC17 similar have been passed already by Nigeria: Freedom of Information, and Sierra Leone for instance). GovLab‘s “periodic table” (interactive link or see below) of Open Data captures what is needed beautifully. I just have one question: Now how do we go from talk shop to action?

 

5. The events held about town were a good attempt at integrating the conference objectives with its surroundings, so to speak opening the data of the conference, something often overlooked in conferences.

In all, these were intense days for me, days I feel have impacted my life in a number of important ways both with inspiration, and network. See tweets and next steps/links below.

Tweets from #AODC17

 


 

Next steps

Green Ghanaian Akua Akyaa Nkrumah is Gone

Environmental Technologist Akua Akyaa Nkrumah passed away on Thursday. She was, write her colleagues in the death announcement, a “mighty tree”. I think it is not often such words are used about a thirty-something, but those were the same words that came to mind as I heard of her passing on Friday morning. I am devastated. 

In lieu of the one-week meeting for family and friends that is customary in Ghana, I want to sit an imaginary living room and share here on my blog some of my thoughts. I imagine an overcrowded room, some of us are standing. I see Akyaa’s family and colleagues in the room, friends from BloggingGhana, Chale Wote, Ahaspora, Golda, Maame Aba, Jemila, Edward, Ato, Naa Oyoo, Efo. Now that we are all here, let’s remember.

Akyaa was a blogger and member of the organization I co-founded in 2008, BloggingGhana. Do read her last blog post on the 15 things NPP can do for the environment. She was a very present member, featured in our “By the Fireside”-events last year, and a feisty and fun discussant on issues we would deliberate on when the official meeting was over. She was a passionate professional working with Jekora Ventures, doing the hard work that is cleaning up Accra, one of the places in the world most in need of sanitation. She was proud of her work and often talked about her projects. Additionally, she was an inspiration and a fellow creative in a space where creativity is rare. She was also an ray of light in the field of environmentalism, desperately needed for a Ghana that is quickly becoming a dump site. Last year, she was featured on Jill of All Trades with this beautiful interview.

In the beginning of the year, Akyaa and I had quite a lot of interactions. We met up and talked about life, she helped my student with information, I got to learn about her initiative to take Eco thinking and social media to university students in the Green Ghanaian Eco Tour. The program was masterfully crafted, intended to reach all regions of Ghana, prefunded by an international donor who Akua had approached and written a proposal to. I took notes and confided in her that under so many years of discussing such an outreach for causes I feel strongly about, I never managed to. She generously shared the details that made her project a success.

In February, Akyaa brought her initiative to Ashesi University. I played only a small role and finally could not attend the program on the Saturday she came up with her team, but was following the tweets online from engaged students.


 

In her last year of living, Akyaa spread her worldview to hundreds (thousands?) of young people, opened a waste management plant, and taught me personally about activism and outreach. Now that she is no more with us, my only consolation is in these endeavors Akua Akyaa Nkrumah will live on. Green Ghanaian…dubbed Great Ghanaian by a mutual friend. Green Great Ghanaian. Our mighty tree. Thank you. Da yiy3.

BloggingGhana will remember her in an event soon. 

Ahaspora will be dedicating their June Happy Hour to celebrate her life.

Family GoFundMe collection for her burial.

Introducing Vickie Remoe and The Official Vickie Remoe Blog

Since many years, I am a fan of Vickie Remoe. How can one not love her spider-in-the-web business smarts, her flamboyant, sensual, and life-affirming style, and her constant reinventing of herself from journalist, to TV-show host, to magazine mogul, to returnee role model, to sexy mama, to marketing expert and the list goes on. Remoe is that person who always writes good content on social media and possibly who’s postings I comment on most, so believe that I  s-h-r-i-e-k-e-d  with joy when I saw she had started her own, self-hosted, personal blog!

I just had to ask Vickie Remoe some questions and share her with you!

 

1. Who are you and what do you do?
 
I’m a storyteller. Even when I’m working with clients and handling their marketing campaigns or drafting their marketing plans, what I feel I’m doing is telling a story. I run a small international marketing firm here in Accra, called Vickie Remoe and Company. We work for clients across the West African sub-region and amongst many other marketing services we help SMEs with the marketing plans they need to increase their sales leads and strategies for growth.

 

2. Why do you do what you do?

 

The sum total of my skills and experience these past 10 years have given me what I believe are insights or intelligence into selling and marketing in West Africa. So it is only natural to package all that and unload it for the benefit of paying clients.

 

3. What is The Official Vickie Remoe Blog and what is a GoWoman?

 

The Official Vickie Remoe Blog is a personal diary. It’s an outlet for me to use my writing not just to teach others but most importantly to tell my story as a means of finding clarity and peace.

 

GoWoman is from GoWoman Magazine, a magazine that I publish for and about what I call the 21st Century African Woman. A GoWoman is a woman who finds or makes a way where there isn’t one.

 

4. Why did you start blogging now?

 

I’ve been blogging for over a decade first on SwitSalone, then on GoWoman, but this is a personal self-centering undertaking. I started to blog because I need a place to connect my thoughts and talk about my own truth and lived experience. I’m not sure there is anyone else out there with my perspective, way of life, living as I am.

 

So I’m telling my story first and foremost for myself but also because I do have a following of young women who I feel need the content I put out, covering the things that would otherwise not be discussed in public. If I am honest and open about my life and my challenges and what I go through it might help them to also live their full lives.

 

5. How do you see Ghana today and where do you see Ghana in 5 years?

 

 

I’ve been here for almost 5 years and quite frankly I believe in Ghana. I have faith in Ghanaians that come what may
they’re going to stay invested and make sure Ghana is and becomes what they want it to be. This is a true democracy, not perfect, but true. In 5 years I think we’ll have more of the same; individual Ghanaians developing innovative solutions to everyday problems. I love Ghana and I hope to contribute to its development in my own way. This is home for better and for worse so we have to build it, all of us citizens and residents.

 

6. What is your best advice to someone who wants to create change?

 

You want to create change? Take small steps and actions. Don’t try to fix the macro problem, focus on what’s near, what’s close, and what you can start today.

 

7. What do you want to promote?

 

I follow a lot of women on social media. Women who exhibit their own light and are doing big and small wondrous things. They inspire me to keep doing me. To me, that’s what I get the most from social media, stories, and inspiration from others that set my soul on fire and give me strength. Some of them I don’t know at all.

 

Locally, I’m inspired by women in business who could be doing anything else but choose to follow their passions in seemingly unconventional fields. My local heroines are Yvette over at Cafe Kwae, Maggie over at Niobe Spa, Maabena  at Fitvolution and of course everyone’s favorite blogger and writer Jemila from Circumspecte. Those are taking the path less chosen, creating footprints for others who may not otherwise know how to get there.

 

Thank you for sharing, Vickie! I especially liked how you promoted other women “creating footprints for others” (sounds just like someone I know!) and your positive imagining of Ghana in the future. I wish Vickie all the best with her personal and very readable blog The Official Vickie Remoe Blog – two recent posts I read on dating married men and miscarriage – and suggest you follow her on FB and Instagram.

Guest Post: Being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home

After my blog post on my 10 years in Ghana last week, I received numerous comments, ideas for celebrations (leaning towards a night at TeaBaa with friends) as well as congratulatory messages. Over the weekend, I also received a very special email as a response to my blog post from someone who understands my position extremely well, someone who is living a life with one foot in Canada and one in Ghana. I really enjoyed Rod McLaren‘s email and therefore asked him if I could share it with my readers on the blog. Luckily he said yes, here is his email.

___________________________________________________________

 

Good morning, Kajsa,

You just observed your ten year anniversary in Ghana – congratulations. You are one of those special individuals who have the perseverance and positive outlook on life that is required for the long haul. Good on you!

Several of your observations resonated with me and prompted me to write to you today. You and I have met only briefly, but I have followed your Facebook posts. I feel like we are connected because of the common experience of being a foreigner in a country that we want to call home.

When I moved to Ghana in 2001, I had already logged the equivalent of close to three years in the country if one took into account the two years that I taught in Half Assini 1971-73 plus the many visits over the ensuing 28 years, visits that were always a month or longer each time. In 2001, I was quite convinced that I would remain in Ghana until the end of my life, and that my ashes would become part of the red laterite soil of West Africa. Well, I didn’t quite make it. After 10 years, for reasons that have only in part to do with Ghana, I returned to Canada.

Rod McLaren with his son Akwasi.

Ghana can be very frustrating at times. I am not referring to the day-to-day life, which I thoroughly enjoyed or the “real” people (i.e. not bureaucrats), especially those in the villages, who for the most part live with enthusiasm and energy and joy. However, it can be tiring to be called obruni after a while, and especially so when that comes from someone behind a desk at Ghana Immigration Service who knows and has seen less of the country than I have and who was not even born when I learned to chop fufu. My biggest Ghanaian disappointment was not being granted citizenship, even though I applied as soon as I qualified, and followed up on the application repeatedly.

It is now six years since I returned to Canada. My return has been challenging in two ways. I have had to learn to adapt, and in some ways, this has been more difficult than the adaptations that the move to Ghana required. In the first place, Canada is not the same country that I left, due to the restructuring that had taken place at the hands of an extreme right wing government. It is not a kind country anymore – the focus is more on resource extraction regardless of the cost to citizens, Indigenous rights, and the environment.The restructuring continues under a different political party that puts on a pretty face but is still directed by the same neoliberal ideology as its predecessor.

There is another, more personal challenge, one that you mentioned in your post. Even though I am back in the country of my birth, I feel as though I am an outsider who sees Canada and the world through the eyes of my experience in Africa. It is not easy at times to find people who share a common point of view.

In spite of that, I am happy with my life. I am blessed to be living with a very generous woman. I have been able to pursue activities that are my passion. My health continues to be very good. My children and grandchildren are well. My past has blessed me with wonderful memories. Life is good.

And so I will close with my wishes for another ten wonderful years for you and your family. Carry on blogging.

Best wishes,

Rod McLaren

Ghana, Rape Culture, and Sexual Consent: From Otiko Djaba to #LetsTalkConsent and #HowShortWasYourSkirt

Two weeks ago, many Ghanaians were in shock after hearing the reported statement from the Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection at a senior high school she visited. This text is only partly about what the Minister said, and mainly about the useful conversation that ensued about who bears the responsibility for rape and how talking about sex and consent can be transformative.

 

The Speech

In her speech, Honourable Minister Otiko Djaba advised the high school girls in front of her, she said:

“If you wear a short dress, it’s fashionable but, know that it can attract somebody who would want to rape or defile you. You must be responsible for the choices you make”

In an excellent historical contextualization of the statement (and the ministry in the limelight) by Prof Akosua Adomako Ampofo, the professor suggested:

“The problem that everyone who has criticized her remarks refers to, is the link she made between short dresses and rape. There are many reasons not to wear a very short dress—so as not to draw unwanted attention to oneself, to dress to suit the occasion, to provide a professional appearance, to not expose one’s underwear if you want to climb a bus or cross your legs—but risking rape is not one of them and the connection is tenuous at best and dangerous at worst since it makes the victims responsible.”

Blogger Nnyamewaa fumed:

“Often victims are subjected to awful queries like “what were you doing in his room” and “what were you wearing,” suggesting that they’re somehow to blame for the actions of the rapist. Minister, your comment did exactly what rapists want, ignore their actions and place the burden of preventing rape on women. It serves no one than just perpetuates the rape culture, allowing rapists to get away with their crimes.”

That is, connecting appearance and rape is shifting blame from a perpetrator to a victim. How is that OK?

 

The Rapes

We see reports of rape and “defilement” (rape of child) often in the news. Brutal gang rapes and people in power such as police, teachers, and guardians attacking rather than helping. This recent article about how many families cannot afford to report a rape I think summarize the way many Ghanaians see the issue (settlement fees of GHS 500 or $125 are apparently common).

 

The Reaction

Ghana has been all but quiet on the issue in the last couple of weeks. First, there was a Twitter conversation #letstalkconsent, I believe coming out of journalist and public speaker Nana Akosua Hanson‘s event series on sex and consent. Online the #letstalkconsent hashtag trended and hundreds of Ghanaians discussed the issue. See a summary of the conversation on Storify.

The whole #letstalkconsent conversation reminded me quite a lot of the Swedish conversation on sexual consent from 2010 that was called #prataomdet  (“let’s talk about it”) happening in the aftermath of the very public Julian Assange rape case. The beauty of that conversation was to talk about the gray areas of sex – the times when sex goes from being exciting to scary and that we all have the right to say STOP.

In addition, Podcast Unfiltered hosted by journalist Nana Ama Agyemang Asante has covered the issue from many angles: in an episode on rape with Efua Prah, gender expert and my colleague at Ashesi University, in an episode on casual sex and consent with Eyram Seshie and Jessica Boifio.

Podcast The Other Room hosted by Cel, Kess, Aj and Vee also discussed this issue from the angle of safe spaces (Ep. 06). The name of the podcast, of course, is an ironic take on Nigerian President Buhari’s idea on where his wife belongs.

Last week, journalist and lecturer Esther Armah organized a forum for media people that sought to discuss how issues of rape and consent are covered in the news media (the conversation also came to be about the role of blogs, in a way I have never heard blogs be discussed in Ghana before, is this a sign of that blogs are finally seen as a force to reckon with in Ghana? Perhaps this is another post!) The #Reimagine2017 event covered both ethical aspects of journalism and public rape cases and media’s role in covering them.

At Ashesi University where I teach, the Vagina Monologues were staged. Guided by Faculty Intern and director Caira Lee, students also wrote their own texts about sexual transgressions and shared them with the audience. From the article on the Ashesi website:

“Restaging the Monologues within our context was important because it helps spread awareness about sexuality,” said Lilian Awuor ’18. “It creates a platform for young women to share their struggles, thoughts and feelings on how it is like being a young woman in Africa today.”

This week, activists and film-folk in Accra like AWDF‘s Jessica Horn, Maternal Health Channel’s Ivy Prosper and An African City‘s Maame Adjei and Nicole Amartefio together with LetsTalkConsent have started another campaign on the same topic: #HowShortWasYourSkirt. Short films that comment on the skirt length (are you listening Honourable Otiko Djaba?), on issues of intoxication, on what we should tell young people about rape.

There are likely many more initiatives out there that have skipped my end-of-semester-two-kids-at-home-busy radar, but these are events, programs, articles I have read, listened to or participated in and support fully.

 

What is Rape Culture? 

Rape culture or a culture that condones rape is built on a patriarchal societal structure. In such a structure, women are responsible if there is a sexual transgression, women have to limit their lives to be safe, women should be thinking about what they wear. Prof. Adomako-Ampofo again:

“…when we talk about so-called “women’s issues” such as violence against women, including rape, these are in fact “gendered” issues. In other words, if we take the case of rape, women are disproportionately the victims of rape and men are disproportionately the perpetrators. This is because rape is about exerting power and control, and men generally have more “power” in society than women do. Therefore, the ministry is expected to address the gendered nature of our societies when it addresses issues such as rape.”

This 2005 expert paper prepared by Elizabeth Ardayfio-Shandorf for the UN of over 3000 individuals in Ghana suggested:

“Female respondents were asked whether any man had forced sex on them. Likewise male respondents were asked whether they have forced and had sex with any woman (whether a wife or a girlfriend) against her wishes. Eight percent (8%) of the females said they have had that experience before and 5% of the men also said they had forced sex on their wives and girlfriends. According to the males, this happens when women/girls always request for money from them and deny them sex in return. It is also meant to settle a quarrel between them.[..]On the question of what action was taken after these acts, 59% said they never reported these actions to anybody.”

 

What can we do?

Many societies have a rape culture, Ghana from everything I have discussed above most definitely does, and to change it I believe we can and should:

  • discuss sex openly to make sure young people know as much as possible about sex
  • place sexual consent center stage, not what she wore, where they were, or what time it was
  • make rape a criminal rather than a civil offense so that charges cannot be dropped and threats to doing so will always be fruitless
  • educate ourselves about patriarchy, rape culture, and slut-shaming
  • get outraged and speak up to make a difference

When the Minister who is supposed to protect young women does the opposite, it is a time to throw your hands up in disbelief and shock, but it is also the time to roll up your sleeves and educate. In this post, I have sought to highlight some of the activists in Ghana leading the ensuing educative, enlightening conversations. Thank you for transforming the conversation. I applaud you.

 

 

Introducing The Flint and its Initiator: Emmanuel Quartey

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email with a very long text about WhatsApp marketing in Accra. Sure, I am a social media fan, but marketing and WhatsApp are not exactly my areas of interest. Still, I read the entire article and said to myself, something like: “I need to know more about this high quality initiative taking social media so seriously in our local context”. So, I contacted the initiator and asked him a few questions. Here is my interview with Emmanuel.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Emmanuel Quartey, and up until very recently, I was the General Manager of the MEST Incubator (which funds and supports early stage tech startups) in Accra. I consider myself primarily a product designer, but to be honest, I find the “what do you do” question increasingly difficult to answer these days. For money, I’m currently doing product design and digital marketing consulting. Otherwise, I’m working on The Flint, and saying “Yes” to all sorts of inbound requests from founders and VCs to chat about some a broad range of topics. So in summary: I write, I design, I figure out how to get people excited about things on the internet, and I have conversations with interesting people who’re working on interesting things.

2. Why do you do what you do?

I do what I do:

  • Because I want to know how and why things are. I get a special bone-deep thrill from understanding how things work, especially human systems. When this happens, I want to tell everyone about what I learned.
  • Because I’m fascinated by the relationship between the words of ideas, and the world of made things. I’m driven by the desire to understand how it is that some ideas make the leap from a mind to “reality,” while others get smothered immediately.
  • Because I feel I’ve been incredibly lucky and privileged, and I feel an obligation to make the opportunities I’ve had available for as many people as possible.
  • Much of this is motivated by my mother, whose life has been defined by service to others.
  • I’ve been very motivated throughout my life by school – I’ve had incredible teachers and the attended institutions with very strong missions. Primary school was St. Paul Methodist in Tema, whose motto was “Knowledge is Power”, High school was SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College, whose motto is “Knowledge in the Service of Africa”, College was Yale, whose motto, “Lux et Veritas” means “Light and Truth”…It sounds corny but that underlying message of learning and sharing knowledge means A LOT to me and drives a surprising amount of my thinking and actions.
  • Even more, I am motivated by fear and anger. Fear because there are these horrible forces out in the world and I worry that we’re not equipped to withstand them. Anger because we could be so much more. We could be SO much more.

3. What is The Flint?

On a very practical level, The Flint is an online publication about technology in Africa, aimed primarily at non-technical African entrepreneurs who’re eager to leverage technology to achieve more. I meet so many people pursuing fascinating ideas, but they lack the exposure to simple tools and processes that’ll help with user acquisition, recruitment, etc etc. Technology can be a productivity-enhancing multiplier for literally everyone, but too much of the knowledge is trapped in highly technical writing aimed at tech startups.

More conceptually, The Flint is also a vehicle for me to explore ideas around digital media. I believe that in the future, literally, every company will be a digital media company. By which I mean that every company will be in the business of acquiring, translating, storing, and distributing information. Manufacturing? Files (information) of objects will be transmitted (distributed) to be printed (translated) on site. Housing? Airbnb owns no property and yet manages the flow of information to put millions of people into millions of homes. Sports? Sports teams are already experimenting with placing fitness trackers on athletes and repackaging those statistics into content that is consumed by sports fans.

I genuinely believe this is the direction we’re heading in, and I very much want to understand as much as possible about how digital media entities work. What better way to run one myself? It’s very much an exercise in working and learning in public – in addition to the interviews, I’ll be sharing updates on what I’m learning while building The Flint. I’ll learn a ton and hope people will be interested in learning along with me.

4. The name clearly is about sparks, what fire to do want to light?

Racial justice means a lot to me. I want us to wake up to the fact that we have the tools to become masters of our own destiny. It begins by changing our relationship to our work – whatever “work” means to you from a chore, to craft. We need to 1) become craftspeople and domain experts in everything we do, and 2) we need to TEACH EACH OTHER how to level up.

We need to learn how to do hard things.

5. How do you see Ghana today and where do you see Ghana in 5 years?

Oh, goodness! Ghana leaves me both incredibly excited and intensely frustrated. I think Ghana is genuinely something special on the continent. I think our tiny nation has often proven that we have a remarkable ability to lead the way for the entire continent, and I think we’re dimly aware of that fact.

I don’t know where we’ll be in 5 years.

I hope we’re at a place where we realize we, collectively, need to be so much more serious about so many more things.

6. What is your best advise to someone who wants to create change?

I’m hesitant about answering this question but:
Courage is contagious. If you see something that isn’t right, say something, or do something about it to the extent of your ability. Someone once said that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. When you step up, you give other people permission to do same. They agree with you, but they were waiting for someone to say it first. “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” – Hillel the Elder

Find your tribe. Chosen families are powerful. Find your people who resonate on the same frequency as you and let them nourish you. It’s important to note that your tribe might not be your biological family or members of your school or religion. You might have to go far afield, but find them.

There will never be a perfect time. Planning can quickly become procrastination. Do it, even a small version of it. Do it now. Throw the bottle into the sea. Your people will find you, no matter how faint your signal.

Do cool things. Tell people about it. Repeat. People will mimic you. That’s how change happens, I think.

7. What do you want to promote? (a book that changed your life, what someone who wants to write for The Flint needs to do, go to grad school, don’t go to grad school etc.)

I’m very eager for people to contribute their knowledge to The Flint! The Flint wants to become a community of makers and craftspeople creating and sharing knowledge with each other.

If you don’t have the time to write, don’t worry – reach out to me and if I think your story will be instructive for others, I’ll write it for you. The things that make a good story for The Flint:

  • It reveals new facts or data that people would be surprised to know
  • It teaches a process/framework that can help a group of Africans do more
  • It involves technology in some way (note: “tech” can be as simple as a telephone)
    People can pitch ideas at emmanuel@theflint.io

Thank you for sharing, Emmanuel! I especially liked how you linked change not just to start-ups and entrepreneurship, but to civic courage and speaking up.  I wish Emmanuel all the best with his fiery, new project and hope you also like The Flint!

An “African Swede” is Gone: Remembering Hans Rosling

I don’t really have idols. I have never asked anyone for an autograph. I don’t like the idea of following celebrities. But I do have a few people I truly admire and of them only a few have anything at all in common with me. However some special people, Swedes with a strong bond to Africa, inspire me in a unique way. Professor Hans Rosling was one of them, first mentioned on my blog in 2008 (writer Henning Mankell another). He very sadly passed away yesterday, on my birthday, taken violently by cancer.

Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Gapminder. 

Through my sadness, I am thankful for his life and work, and I will remember Hans Rosling for:

  1. Making statistics sexy. His multidimensional videos on statistics are encouraging and educative and often tell the bigger picture story of that after all, the world is getting healthier, safer and fairer. See the video above for a great example. See link below for how to use Gapminder data in teaching.
  2. Pushing the World Bank, UN and other organisations to make their collected data a public good – free and available for all. This move is aligned with the Open Society and Access to Knowledge (A2K)  movements which seeks to openly share information to make the world a better place.
  3. Balancing being a successful academic with connecting to people. I recommend this recent article about Rosling and his work for a critical assessment of this impossible balance.
  4. Creating Dollar Street – an amazing resource to show us what economic conditions around the world really look like.
  5. Taking an active role in the Ebola crisis and a clear stand in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis (see video below). What is the purpose of being wise if you never speak up?

I’d like to call Rosling and “African Swede”, because I think he had African qualities – he understood storytelling and embodied Ubuntu – “I am because you are”. 

More than once, I have been in conversations about bringing Hans Rosling to Ghana. Maybe Gapmider’s co-founders Ola and Anna will come instead and discuss Gapminder and the advantages with a fact based outlook?

So I seem to like educators and writers. Who do you admire?

Follow @gapminder on social media and checkout the website Gapminder /Gapminder for Teachers if you have not yet.

Kwame Anthony Appiah gives the 2016 BBC #ReithLecture

This year´s BBC Reith Lecture is given by philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah. As you can possibly tell from his name, he hails from Ghana and is his lecture series he heavily draws from this – something for all of us who love Ghana to feel proud of and learn from.

Two lectures have already been aired (I wholeheartedly recommend listening to the podcasts). The first two of the total of four lectures cover Creed and Country. The last is to talk about Culture. The third lecture was recorded in Accra some two weeks ago and I was there! It was a Saturday and I happily tweeted:

The lecture with the tittle Mistaken Identities: Colour used the amazing true story of William Anthony Amo, a Ghanaian boy who became professor of philosophy in Germany in 1738, as its red thread (I also mention him in my dissertation!) and discussed race with nuance and insight. He spoke about the “racial fixation” and reminded us there is no such thing as race, really.

Afterward, there was an opportunity to ask questions and I was thinking of something my daughter had told me…when the host of the evening asked women present to add their voices to all the men asking questions, my hand went up.

Afterward when the Ashesi staffulty present took a photo with Prof. Appiah we were reminded that he also sits on the board of the university!

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If you want to find out if my question made it to the final cut of the 2016 Reith Lectures with Kwame Anthony Appiah, tune into BBC Worldservice, Channel 4 or the podcast today!

What’s in a Name? Ama Ata Aidoo, CEGENSA and Voting with Your Feet

Just like most other netizens and media consumers in Ghana, I have been following the issue of famous Ghanaian academic and writer Professor Ama Ata Aidoo’s walk out of an event where she was to be honoured. What happened on Saturday September 3rd was: Aidoo walks in, notices that the banner and the program has spelt one of her names wrongly. She walks out and while organisers beg her to return, she doesn’t.  Source and photo: Article on CitiFM.

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Aidoo’s daughter Kinna Likimani was the first one to report the issue on Twitter. Later she posted her tweets on Facebook as a post which was shared extensively. Full disclosure: I work with Kinna Likimani, respect her professionally, and like her a lot personally. Likimani wrote both about her mother’s relationship to Ghana and to being honoured. She explained:

“Ghanaians know how to do things right. We do.

What will not be happening is Ama Ata Aidoo enduring any bad treatment or anguish over honors or celebrations. No. Certainly not when folks like Korkor Amarteifio have set a standard.

Writers only ask to be read. That’s all.

My mother often quotes Efua Sutherland: “I was sitting my somewhere”. She lobbied for nothing, asked for nothing.

My mother is a highly sensitive person. The anguish would have followed her home and she would have wallowed for weeks.

She has done for Ghana and Ghana has responded with awards, honorary degrees, events. We thank all.

But at 76 years, Ama Ata Aidoo, after 60 years writing, publishing and teaching, will walk out.”

Then last week, Journalism professor Audrey Gadzekpo, wrote a compelling piece about this story from another point of view. Full disclosure: I have met prof Gadzekpo a number of times and she is one of my academic/activist role models. Gadzekpo suggested there were no winners to Aidoo’s walk out. She highlighted the important work of the event organizer Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy at the University of Ghana, CEGENSA, in advocating for women (I have blogged about their pioneering zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment for instance) and suggested:

“I point out the bona fides of the Centre not to excuse the misspelling on the banner and in the programme heading, but to simply provide information on a little known centre caught in the eye of a public storm and now defined by the unfortunate incident for people who had never heard of it or know very little about what it does.

I have read several comments suggesting the Centre did not know the correct spelling of its honoree’s name and had disrespected her by getting the spelling wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.

CEGENSA does know how to spell Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo’s name and is very familiar with her work. In all other correspondence with her and her foundation Mbaasem, before and during the planning of the competition, the Centre got the spelling right.”

Although, I understand the organizer CEGENSA’s situation as discussed by Gadzekpo: the overwhelming negative publicity focussed on a centre that has created real change for women, and the looooong enduring debate that followed – and that now I am adding to –  I would like to look beyond “who was right/wrong” and look to what we learned.

You see, I think Aidoo was not only sensitive or annoyed, but wanted to send a message about standards. Something like: Mistakes happen, but normalisation of those mistakes is dangerous! It is not OK to use misspelled banners and brochures, especially for an academic centre, especially when honouring someone and the mistake is in the name of that person, especially when you are an institution focused on women’s rights in a patriarchal society and role models are so few (although many of mine highlighted in this blogpost).

Maybe Aidoo was thinking about the embarrassing mistakes in official communication of late in Ghana, most notorious of them the State of the Nation program for 2016 that…I just can’t. Read Elizabeth Ohene’s furious account. In addition, Ansu-Kyeremeh lists a few other instances when attention to detail has been lacking in Ghanaian communication.

So here, I have to disagree with Gadzekpo. Sure, walking out is like sending an angry letter, it is not pretty. However, there is a win to making this extra “T” a big deal. After Ama Ata Aidoo walked out, the issue of striving for excellence in communication has been discussed in Ghana for TWO WEEKS, so walking out was successful from the point of view of creating a debate. As a lecturer of Written and Oral Communication, a learning moment for a nation on the importance of attention to detail, makes me happy. 

But what about the young women who had written stories for the competition? Gadzekpo listed the winners as Nana Yaa Asantewaa Asante-Darko, Margaret Adomako, Ruthfirst Eva Ayande,  Sarah Faakor Toseafa, and Awo Aba Odua Gyan. Their award night was ruined! Or was it really? I think Aidoo will find a way to read their stories, and so will many more of us (perhaps they can be published on the CEGENSA website?) While the young writers might have been initially disappointed,  soon I think they were rather empowered to see a woman who can: that a woman has choice. If she wants, she can always vote with her feet.

Now, would I have done the same? Would I walk out from a festive writing competition held in my honour because of my convictions? Probably not. But then again, I am not Ghana’s foremost trail-blazer feminist, writer, educator, and activist. I only aspire to be like her.

 

 

Mzznaki Reps Ghana Well-Well!

Ghanaian bride-to-be Mzznaki Tetteh is getting married later this month, but the attention has already started. After Mzznaki and her fiancé Kojo Amoah posted their pre-wedding photos online, the pictures have gone viral and sparked conversation.

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The response on Mzznaki’s instagram has been lauded as classy.

 

“She is one of the best people I have met and I am so happy to take her to the altar”, says Kojo in an interview.

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After the nurse and her engineer fiancé got international attention: Dailymail Uk, Yahoo.com (a nice article on fatshamin online), Today.com, Metro.uk and even Swedish Elle!Screenshot 2016-06-09 00.37.55

 

Yesterday, Mzznaki came on TV and spoke to Joy News to a quite rude Israel Lareya. She told her story and on a direct question on how much she weighs (!), she kept her cool and answered “hundred-and-sexy!” (Do yourself a favour and please turn off before creepy Lareya asks about her lingerie!!)

On her instagram profile, now followed by 36 000 people, Mzznaki describes herself as “A nurse, A sweet girl who loves fashion, A student, An achiever”. I think she can now add to her list:

“A social media sensation and A confident and widely admired ambassador of Ghana”.

KajsaHA on AccraWeDey Podcast

A few weeks back, podcast AccraWeDey – Ghana’s only culture an entertainment podcast – was invited to speak at a BloggingGhana meeting. Out of that event, a friendship has developed between BloggingGhana and AccraWeDey that on Sunday resulted in me being invited to be the special guest in the podcast!

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I spoke and laughed with Pokuaa and Joey and towards the end Nii (who had trouble finding a taxi on a quiet Sunday night) about blogging, kelewele, colonization and many other things. I also got super inspired to start my own podcast…
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The description of Season 2 Episode 7 goes:

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Why the episode is called “Are You Sure?” Well, if you listen, you will know!

>>> You can download or stream the episode here.