Black Lives Matter: “There is no social contract”, says Trevor Noah

These days, just like many others, I am keenly following everything on the Black Lives Matter protests in the Unites States, and in the last days the rest of the world including 1000s on the street here in Stockholm. Is now the time racism will finally die? I think of my friends in the US and wonder how they are feeling. I look for Instagram posts about white allyship. I sit with long-reads tracing the history of racism. An eerie feeling rises: nothing of this is new.

The best input so far, I feel, is a heartfelt 18 minute clip by talk show host (and house god) Trevor Noah. He argues that the protests were to be expected as the US social contract was repeatedly trashed when black citizens daily have to fear for their lives by law enforcement.

“Why should the citizens of a society adhere to the laws when the law-enforcers themselves don’t?”, as Trevor Noah puts it.

The social contract is an idea, a thought model for what a society is. I taught social contract theory in my Social Theory class at Ashesi University in Ghana for 10 years, so I immediately liked this way of understanding the situation at hand. The social contract, even in its cruelest, most authoritarian form as expressed by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan has one caveat – when your life is threatened…when your life does not matter to the leadership, the social contract no longer exists. When the society is no longer protecting you, you are back in the state of nature, the “all against all” situation where there are no more any rules – because what do you have to lose if your life is at stake?

To educate ourselves about the history behind the racism we see across the globe and to discuss how that reality is relevant today, the Social Theory class also read Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyesi’s novel Homegoing (I can very much recommend it) which follows the descendants of two sisters from Ghana – one sold into slavery and transported over the seas to the US, one staying in green Ghana. The message that Africans on the continent and those in the diaspora are connected is driven home well-well. In a post from 2016 related to this issue, Ghanaian blogger Jamila Abdulai wrote,

“I’ve been observing the lack of dialogue on the Black Lives Matter cause and racism in America among Africans, particularly on the continent, with great trepidation. Sure, some of us are sharing one or two articles, but we are largely silent on the issue, not uttering a word. Not to mention the fact that there hasn’t so much as been a beep from our so-called leaders either. That’s why I’m writing this. To appeal to your conscious, to plead with you to wake up.”

But maybe there are things that are new, this time around. This time, Ghana’s president Akuffo-Addo did share a statement that I think it is worth reposting.

White people also do better on acknowledging the movement this time around, at least on my timelines. People share resources and hashtags, seem to be learning about racism and allyship just like myself, and express support. I especially liked a post talking about “black people’s joy and thriving” as the goal beyond black lives matter.

While the protests continue, at home we have daily conversations on what it means to be black or white in Ghana, Sweden, and the world today. I know many other families in Sweden have similar conversations. We think about the changes over time and frankly, we are impatient with the slow change.

I watch the clips. I read everything I can find. I unlearn and learn my own role.  I shudder at the evil in this world.

I also smile when I see how many of us support the struggle. Will we live to see racism wiped out, will we experience a broad understanding of that black lives matter and see racism replaced with true humanism, respect for life, and black joy?

A few ways to support the cause in Sweden: (Please add more in the comments!)

“Shared History” and Decolonising the #RoyalVisitGhana

Last week British successor to the throne, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, more popularly known as Camilla, came to Ghana for a four-day visit. The tour was part of a 9 day West Africa visit with stops in not just Ghana, but the Gambia and Nigeria as well.

Britain was heavily involved in the transatlantic slave trade which greatly affected and weakened what is now Ghana, subsequently tightened its grasp through bloody wars with the local kings and leaders, especially the Ashanti kingdom. In 1874, the protectorate of Gold Coast was proclaimed and until 1957 when Ghanaian freedom fighters negotiated independence, the British flag flew over this land and Gold Coast people were killed, exploited, and without basic rights. Hence, a state visit from the former colonizer with such a power imbalance infused history is symbolically important and interesting to study – and discuss, see info on an event below!

With this background, I was shocked and outraged when I saw the UK in Ghana facebook account discussed the visit with the words “celebration of a shared culture” – how is this bloody past equal to “a shared love of Ghanaian music”? Since when?

 

But was later informed of the major billboards around town which had President Akuffo Addo and Prince Charles on them along with the text “Shared History, Shared Future”, a message that both omits and distorts reality and hence insults the intelligence of Ghanaians. What is shared about being exploited? What is shared from one entity exporting its language, education system, religion at the expense of the other? What is shared if one nation colonized the other?

A Facebook friend also pointed out that the shared future, propped up by an acute need for trading partners for the UK ahead of the automatic (Br)exit from the EU next year…

 

And there were other things:

 

As Ghanaian artist Fuse ODG complained in this video and Satirist Machiavelli drew something only Ghanaians can understand…

Now, this is not just Britain’s doing. Ghana has to think harder in how it positions itself when power visits. Look at the Benin traditional leader asking Prince Charles to return stolen goods, for instance. Or is there a gain to Ghana (or the Ghanaian elite?) for playing along I do not understand?

Come discuss tonight Saturday 10 Nov at Libreria at 6.30pm!

Learn about the Issues from UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

I shared the following with the Ashesi Community and thought I might also share it with my readers:

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Prof. Philip Alston has concluded his visit to Ghana and will fast-track his full rapport to come out in June (as opposed to often a year after the visit). While we wait for the full rapport on the situation for the most vulnerable Ghanaians, we can read his press statement.

I believe this statement is important anyone who:

  • Wishes to be well-informed on the situation on the ground for Ghanaians when it comes to extreme poverty.
  • Would like a well-respected human rights professor’s view on the most pressing human rights issues of Ghana (Prof Alston earlier visited USA and Nigeria to do similar reports).
  • is planning impactful research, as the press statement is a good starting point for current and relevant data and for pointing out pressing areas for intervention.

Some highlights from the press statement:

Issues where the topics of human rights and extreme poverty intersect: Gender, Criminal Justice, Urban Poverty, people living in informal settlements, sexual orientation and gender identity, persons with disability.

GOOD NEWS: “Ghana remains a champion of democracy in Africa, and its record in achieving certain Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is impressive. It met the targets for halving extreme poverty and halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, and it achieved the goals relating to universal primary education and gender parity in primary school. Today, it is set to become Africa’s fastest-growing economy in 2018.”

BAD NEWS (echoing the poverty research carried out by Dr. Cooke) “Inequality is higher than it has ever been in Ghana, while almost one-quarter of the population lives in poverty and one person in every twelve lives in extreme poverty. Spending on social protection is very low by the standards of most comparable African countries, and very little is spent on social assistance. Ghana has many admirable programs, but no discernible plans for funding many of them adequately. As a result, a large number of Ghanaian do not enjoy their basic economic and social human rights and the prospects for meeting many of the Sustainable Development Goals are not encouraging.”

I had the opportunity to interact with Prof Alston and his team while in Ghana and look forward to the full-text report in June and also the debate his visit to Ghana will spur ( I have already seen headings where the government “slams back” etc), hopefully to the benefit of the most vulnerable in our country.

Introducing the team behind #Justice4Her – and next steps for the campaign!

These are historical times. The week after the hashtag #metoo took over the world, Ghana saw the perhaps most successful social media campaign ever, #Justice4her, in response to a very brutal sexual assault case. I was impressed to see thousands of Ghanaians engaging and speaking out against sexual violence and society’s leniency. BBC reported on it as well. I reached out to Elizabeth Olympio and the Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) team behind the campaign to learn more. 

 

  1. Why was the #Justice4her campaign started?

The campaign was started in direct response to the news that a 4-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted in Assin Adadientem. I decided to channel my outrage by contacting a few like-minded friends to brainstorm about what we could do about the case. Our immediate concern was about getting the young child help. But we know that she is a representation of a bigger problem.

#Justice4Her is really a rallying call to get “justice” for “them”. Our use of “justice” is not restricted to the legal concept of justice and all that it entails, but also includes “practical help”, “changed attitudes”, and protection for a vulnerable population.

 

2. Who is behind it?

CASA is the Coalition Against Sexual Abuse.

We describe ourselves as an online social action group of concerned citizens. There is a core group of about 20 people in CASA and we collaborate with other groups and individuals who are interested in the same issue – getting help for child victims of sexual abuse.

Elsie Dickson

Richard Anim

Eugenia Tachie-Menson

Elizabeth Olympio

Sara Asafu-Adjaye

Marcia Ashong

Nana Awere Damoah

Nana Akwasi Awuah

Mawuli Dake

Farida Bedwei

Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta

Ama Opoku-Agyemang

Amazing Grace Danso

Yemisi Parker-Osei

Kathleen Addy

Golda Addo

Naa Oyoo Kumodzi

3. The 72 hours or so of the campaign has been a huge success, the hashtag has engaged many Ghanaians and trended, media and bloggers have discussed it, police and politicians have reacted, a suspect of the rape has been arrested –  is the campaign over or what are the next steps?

The campaign is certainly not over. This is just the beginning. Our goal is to get people talking so we can drive change. The one thing that we have realized is that this issue is a hydra: a multi-headed beast. There are many facets to it and it would be unrealistic of us to think that a hashtag will solve the problem. The problem is an interface between cultural practices, social, medical and legal considerations as well as political will. The media also plays into changing the narrative. This is both an individual and a collective responsibility. We would like to see the solutions reflect all these considerations.

We acknowledge that one group cannot solve the problem. Many coalitions such as FIDA, WiLDAF Ghana, Gender Centre, WISE, The Ark Foundation, LAWA, AWLA etc.. have done significant work in the past, and we salute them. However, the fact that every day, another child is a victim of sexual abuse tells you that there is still work to be done.

Our next steps are to leverage the outrage into concrete and practical steps. First of all, we are planning a march to present our petition to the relevant players in the conversation. We will be providing additional information on this and other plans in due course.

Secondly, we are having crucial conversations behind the scenes, with the different players. Many of these conversations are away from the public eye. In fact, this is where change will be sparked. We believe that change starts with conversations – around kitchen tables, in living rooms, in trotros, market places, schools and offices. Success is not the number of laws on the books, or the number of signatures on a petition. Those are good. What would be a better indication of success would be conversations that spark a change in attitudes. A change that translates into reduced numbers of child abuse cases. Even one child victim is one too many!

Success is a change in the way child abuse victims are treated – from the moment that child tells an adult all the way to treatment – both physical and psychological, investigation and prosecution, sentencing, rehabilitation of both victim and offender; and also how the media reports the case. A change in all of these would be a mark of success.

 

It is a very daunting task, but we must end the culture of silence. It begins with conversations and ends with action and results. The question is are we ready, as individuals and as a nation, to take up this battle?

 

4. We often complain Ghanaians are not activists, what about this campaign do you think made Ghanaians act?

I don’t know if we have ever not had activists, in one way or the other. There have been many, many individuals and organizations that have been fighting this battle over the years. We are not the first or the only group in the trenches. I think what is different is that there are many more avenues available to us now.

Social media is an incredible force. I think that is what made the difference in our campaign and in many other campaigns on different issues. It’s easier to get the message out, it’s easier to express one’s outrage, plan protest marches and events, get the attention of government agencies and politicians. It amplifies both the problem and the solutions, and equally importantly, it helps more people get into the trenches.

 

5. What else would you like us to know?

This is a battle for life! Each of us has a responsibility. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Speak up! Talk about the problem and the solutions! Educate! Spread the word!
  2. Support victims!
  3. Hold your community leaders accountable!
  4. Be the change you want to see!
  5. Please look out for ways in which you can help!

 

Read also Circumspecte on 12 things you can do, this Pulse article with a word of caution about prison punishment only for offenders, blogger Oyoo Quartey’s blog post, and consider joining CASA’s Facebook group

7 Facebook Profiles to Follow on Sociopolitical Issues in Ghana

Sometimes I despair: the problems are too many, the poverty too jarring, the madness to intense, the attitude among the leaders appalling, truly everywhere I turn, I see costly mistakes.

Then I turn to these seven Ghanaian opinion leaders asking the right questions. Because we need to ask questions, we need to keep the pressure up, we need to not despair.

Here are my top seven Facebook profiles to follow on sociopolitical issues in Ghana.

  1. Golda Addo 
  2. Bright Simons 
  3. Ethel D. Cofie (see her this week on #EthelCofieStartupSchool!)
  4. Franklin Cudjoe 
  5. Jemila Wumpini Abdulai (Meet her at #Cirqmixer, July 22)
  6. Kwame Gyan 
  7. Kathleen Addy

Chin up, follow them today!

Illustration borrowed from here.

New Year, New President

It is a new year and in Ghana (and very soon in the US) that means a new president! Nana Akufo-Addo, 72 years, was sworn in last weekend and the major event featured one positive media storm concerning President Akufo-Addo’s attire, and one negative concerning the heavy use of unreferenced material in key sections of the speech.

The negative aspect has gotten ample attention online, culminating in being ridiculed by Trevor Noah (who suggested Akufo-Addo also plagiarised Melania Trump, who in turn recently plagiarised a speech by Michele Obama). The administration’s new speech writer also apologised.

So let me move on to the positives…I was completely in awe of the President’s bespoke Kente/Adinkra/Gonja cloth. It was colourful (almost to the point of being psychedelic), regal (Kente is worn like the Greek toga over the shoulder, or perhaps it is the Greek toga that is worn like Kente?), and filled with symbolism.

The Kente cloth is traditionally woven is narrow strips later joined together. However here, it was not just Kente in the box of stripes, it was a national blend. Journalist Charles Benoni Okine explained in an article in the Daily Graphic:

“He’s taken the best of the various peoples represented throughout Ghana, and created a beautiful patchwork tapestry reflecting the traditions and the unity of the Ghanaian people. Ashanti kente with proverbs such as “Akokobaatan” – compassion and discipline, and “Nkyimkyim” – life is not a straight path. Obama kente which is derived from the Ga and Ewe people’s Adanudo cloth, and created with embossed and appliquéd patterns. Adinkra symbols, an Akan tradition, such as “Akoma” the heart and a symbol of love, “Bese Saka” a bunch of cola nuts and a symbol of abundance, and “Ohene Aniwa” which is a symbol of vigilance.  There are also pieces of Gonja cloth from the North of Ghana.”

Wasn’t it interesting it included an Ga and Ewe form of Kente known as Obama kente? And that textile from south to north was represented? That adinkra symbols were included with messages for the Ghanaian people?

In an article with more photos by OMGVoice, Twitter sources offered more clues. Apparently this type of joined, adorned, and appliquéd cloth is the highest form of Kente and reserved for kings (and Presidents), it is called Ago.

I wish we could know more, who designed it, who made it, how long time it took. Do let me know if you read it somewhere! Or perhaps the mystique around this centre stage piece of clothing adds that extra flair and elevation to Ghana’s new President? If so, I rest my Kente case.

Photo credit: Nana Akufo-Addo’s official website.

My Election Day: From Basic Level to Analyst

I had an excellent election day, divided in three clear sections. It seems the country also had an excellent election day, with a few exceptions discussed below. 

1. Family time
familyIn the morning, my five year old asked:

– Why am I not going to school today?

I answered:

– Because today is election day.

– What is election? Came the response. A Masters Degree in political science and a PhD in African Studies are not necessarily assets when getting to the basics. I took a deep breath and tried:

– It is when we chose who will decide in the country. We call that person president or prime minister.

– I want to be president! I will decide what to do and then you will decide what we should not do, ok, mama?

Morning proceeded calmly with family time. Our nanny had left the night before to go vote after a short campaign to join her party.

2. Voting

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In the afternoon, we went to my husband’s childhood neighbourhood where he is still registered as a voter. There was no queue, voting was swift and easy in the double voting register at the Chemu school in Community 4, Tema.

Of course, I did not vote as I am not a Ghanaian citizen (yet). It was great to see the positive atmosphere and how elections rather brought people together – at least in this community – than created divisions.

3. BloggingGhana in the Situation Roomelection-obesrver

BloggingGhana’s GhanaDecides project was approached about being part of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and the National Peace Council’s  observer group. The group convened during the whole election day in a situation room of sorts, but as I needed to be part of family time and voting, I only joined in the afternoon.

team

I was introduced to the team of 30 or so “yellow shirt” observers collating reports from all the regions of Ghana, the 10 “green shirt” observers or analysts – where I had to pinch my arm, because that where I belonged! BloggingGhana/GhanaDecides had its own table filled with bottles, chords, and screens (see photo above). After a while the members of the highest level of the observers – the decision room stopped by after a tour including other situation rooms and the electoral commission.

A major convo was around the Jaman North Constituency now voting tomorrow after the failure of party agents to first agree on the electoral roll and then of the electoral commission to get materials out to the 92 polling stations. Jaman North is located between Ivory Coast to the west, the Bui National Park to the north, and the Tain constituency to the east that voted one day late in 2012 for similar reasons. How many voters are registered in Jaman North? I have not seen any official data yet. Will follow up tomorrow!

Another thing we see as the results trickle in is that the turnout seems low – after some 30 000 votes have been counted, the turnout hoovers around 57-58%. In 2012, the turnout was close to 80%. Following this closely too.

At this moment, most observers have returned home and a few of us are wrapping up the day to the sound of provisional MP results trickling in. 

See you online tomorrow – until then follow GhanaDecides.com and #GhanaDecides on all social media channels – over night run by our diaspora team!

Guest on State of Affairs about Election2016

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with-nanaaba

On Wednesday morning we all woke up to a new world, a world where Donal Trump is the president elect of the US. It was perhaps not a shock to me in the same way brexit hit, I think I even had a hunch as I chose to not check my phone, not turn on the radio until I had dropped my daughter off at school. When I finally turned on the radio in my car, I heard a familiar, but yet different voice. It sounded like a calm and kind Trump. Then it hit me, the only way he would sound like that is if…if…I pulled the car to the side of the road and just stared ahead.

That sweet spoken president elect is not the candidate we have gotten to know in the last year or who shouted “You’re fired!” on his TV-shows.

By a string of coincidences, I ended my Wednesday on live-TV on the popular politics show “State of Affairs” on GhOne discussing Trumps historical win with Nana Aba Anamoah and Prof. Baffuor Agyeman-Duah, founder of CDD, formerly a governance advisor with UN and now with the John A. Kufuor Foundation.

So what did I say?

I believe I said I was disappointed the American people did not make history when they had a chance of a woman leading the US, although Clinton was of course not just a woman, but also definitely the establishment personified. I said I was very worried about outcomes of Trumps presidency.

When we talked about effects for Africa, we discussed trade and aid, I looked at the budget of the USAID in Ghana ($162,8M in 2015) and opened for that for instance malaria prevention would take a big hit if their funding was cut. On trade, I was inspired by Jerome of CediTalk’s analysis.

However, my co-panelist Prof. Agyeman-Duah was more positive and said he does not think Trump can tear up already signed agreements on trade. After that I got a good punch line, one that a tweep caught:

Seinabo Sey’s Statement at the #Grammis16 Awards Made Me Think

Swedish-Gambian artist Seinabo Sey has become a big star in Sweden over the last year with her big voice, straightforward songs, and performances in all the important places (even Conan O’Brian). This week, she was given the prestigious closing performance slot of the Swedish music awards, the Grammis. There she also won the Pop Award of the year.

I had heard of her performance, and this evening, I decided to watch the entire awards gala. After 17 awards, finally it was time: Sey is alone on stage, lit from a spotlight above creating a beautiful classical singer aura and start singing her song “Easy”. After the wailing intro, a row of black women dressed in all black walk in to stand behind Sey, more keep coming, and more again, they are so many they fill up the stage and one row also comes in just below the stage. Sey segways into the song “Hard Time” where the lyrics go: hard time forgetting/even harder to forget/before you do same/you might regret/ The women have a neutral or even serious look on their face and “just stand there”.

It was amazing! See for yourselves!

After the performance Sey has gotten the question of what she meant by the performance. To the Swedish Television Company, SVT, she said:

– Jag vill att folk ska tänka själva. Det är konst – det är ljud och bild – och jag tror att människor gör mer när de får tänka själva än när de blir tillsagda vad de ska tänka.

– I want people to think for themselves. It is art – it is sound and image – and I think people do more when they are allowed to think for themselves than when they are told what to think.

Such a great and educative answer.

Her performance was most definitely a political statement and watching the clip from Ghana what went through my mind was: “I have never seen that many black women at once in Sweden, but they are there, they are there to stay, they are all ages, all shapes and sizes, all types of hair styles (gotta love black women!), they are there, how are they treated? How does it feel to be black in a political climate of xenophobia and outright racism? How does it feel to be a black woman in Sweden today? How will my daughters feel if they decide to live there?”

Earlier in February, I heard someone (blogger Ebba Kleeberg von Sydow?) review the Stockholm fashion week and comment there was surprisingly little political commentary in the fashion when Sweden is going through turbulent times politically. I was happy to see that did not happen to the yearly show-off of the Swedish music industry.

To use one’s platform is a requirement. Well done, Seinabo Sey. 

Problem Fatigue: Korle Bu, NIA, and Weija Dam

Often, the news cycle in Ghana excites me and seemingly puts pressure on people in charge. So far so good. However, at times, the news feel like projectiles that blow up too close to comfort and just keep coming BOOM BOOM BOOM without breathing space to the point of me and other people going “what is happening to us?”, “WHY?” or similar while throwing our hands in the air. 

This week, and its only Tuesday!, for instance we heard about:

All these problems are major, critical, and totally unacceptable. They all are not new, but historical problems that have not been adequately addressed. On radio this morning, the Korle Bu Hospital CEO Dr. Buckle said the surgery ward issue dates back to 2014  and the article on the identification card suggests the exercise begun in 2003, albeit is still not completed!

All these problems have multiple people (departments! ministries! experts!) working on them, seemingly not making much progress – or what do I know- but at least not solving issues!  For instance the identification card was here highlighted in a forum organised by a media house and the World Bank – why not championed by the parliament or the authority created for identification, I do not understand. It seems the problems are too big to get solved by public servants or politicians? Or they lack the skill, funds, or political will?

If so, solutions to problems are likely linked to more citizen engagement. But how do we get there? How do we make sure we channel rage, direct energy, and funnel ideas for solutions –  and not for apathy?

#SundayReads 24 Jan, 2016

sundayreads

Here are my first Sunday Reads for the year:

  1. Africa’s Boom IS NOT over. Mr Internet in Ghana (and now globally the African angel investor) Eric Osiakwan takes a stand and suggests the future jobs in Africa’s KINGS countries (alliteration for Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa) will be created in tech. (It was BTW published on Medium, a new form of blogging, I’d like to call it that makes excellent use of social media).

    “Africa’s millennials and digital natives, instead of looking for job or a way to vacate the continent, have caught on to the development of mobile web applications and are unleashing their creative juices and entrepreneurial prowess to disrupt traditional markets and address key pain-points for both rich and poor customers.”

    The Doctor Who Kills Doctors by Marc Parenteau. Terrible information presented with beautiful illustrations about what is happening in Syria.

  2. Screenshot 2016-01-24 22.25.28
  3. A Masters in Four years; My Ordeal at University of Ghana Graduate School. A very important text on what is slowing Ghana and higher education output down, sadly written only after graduation by one of Ghana’s top journalists, Manasse Azure Awuni.“The week after the graduation, I returned my academic gown and asked for my certificate. I was told it wasn’t ready. At the Graduate School I was given a chit after I submitted the gown and signed to that effect. I was supposed to present the chit later that week for my certificate. When I returned on Friday, I was told that the certificates were not ready.“Please, when will it be ready?” I asked.”
  4. Revolution 2.0, a 2013 text by Mohamed A. El-Erian on a book with the same name (by Wael Ghonim) which describes the Egyptian revolution in 2011.“The movement captured the interest of the disgruntled young and activists, and it secured their loyalty by engaging them in surveys, encouraging a high level of interactions on the [Facebook] page, and essentially reinventing crowd sourcing and decision-making…As important, if not more, the page administered by Ghonim and Abdelrahman Mansour (who joined the page on its third day as the second admin) achieved something that many thought improbable if not impossible: Encouraging an increasing number of young Egyptian to believe that they stood a chance at regaining a claim on their country and its destiny. In the process, they started gradually overcoming multiple barriers of fear that, both explicitly and implicitly, had relegated them to just impotent and frustrated observers.”
  5. Try Safe Mode. Apple’s support pages have been frequently visited these first weeks and days of the new year as my MacBook Pro 2011 has slowed down almost to a halt. After trying safemode (Embarrassingly, I did not even know there was such a thing!) and adding some RAM memory, I am now hoping for the best.

Hopefully I’ll last until next week when Sunday Reads will be back!

Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman, I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. I hope to make Sunday Reads a weekly feature to be shared here and on Twitter!

 

House Girl – A Film by Koby Adom on The Plight of Domestic Workers

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I recently linked up with Ghanaian filmmaker Koby Adom to learn more about his new project, House Girl, a short film dedicated to telling the story of the plight of young domestic workers in Ghana. I think we do not discuss the topic at all enough in Ghana and hence silently agree to, at times, terrible conditions for our country women.

When did you decide to make a film about house girls and why?

My mother and I are always having very long conversations about our life experiences and she is very open with me. A few years ago, she shared a story with me of when she witnessed the brutality inflicted on a house girl over a period of time while still living in Ghana in her younger years. It was happening in one of her friend’s houses by her friend’s mother. Being very articulate, my mum’s very detailed description of the events started sparking clear images of what it would be like in my head. These thoughts were chilling and gave me goosebumps and I wondered if any such thing would happen in contemporary Ghana so I researched it.Screenshot 2016-01-10 20.02.31

I have always remembered the story till this day and I went back to ask my mother more questions on occasion because it was hard to wrap my head around it. Being raised in London, there were certain things I was oblivious to so parts of the story just didn’t add up or make sense to me.

So when the end of my film school education was approaching, I decided to explore this story further for my graduation film. I was also very out of touch with Ghana and wanted to be reconnected with it so this was the perfect opportunity to explore that too; through film.

 

What is known about the issue? What is yet to be documented?

Having lived in Accra for just over a year when I was a child (1996-1998), I remember house girls/ house boys as the norm. However, my perception of that role in the house hold was positive because of the person who helped my family back then. She was like my older sister or a cool young aunty who helped out. My mum treated her like she would treat my siblings and I, but with a lot more respect – My mum still speaks very fondly of her now calling her ‘an angel’ because she took a lot of pressure off my mum’s shoulders at a time when it was most needed.
Furthermore, I visited Ghana in August 2015 and stayed Screenshot 2016-01-10 20.05.22with family I have in Accra. My family members treated their domestic workers with total respect, so I was still in the dark as to what would cause anybody to treat a human being like that. So I did some research on it to find out if such brutalities still happen in Ghana and was pretty upset with what I found: an article by Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi on www.modernghana.com entitled Corpses Have More Respect Than House Maids. This was a Ghanaian website, speaking about Ghana. It wasn’t an outside perspective. Adu-Gyamfi also mentions it is an issue which is hardly talked about, because of the cultural history behind it. That is one of the reasons why I decided to write a script about house girls; To shine light on a situation which can spark a conversation so action can be taken to reduce, if not eradicate such practices in Ghana and Africa as a whole.

Adu-Gyamfi’s article was bold, but I believe there should be a lot more Ghanaian media outlets starting the conversation about the issue. By taking responsibility of the problem, African countries can avoid negative perceptions from abroad, which also prevents outsiders coming in to try and solve the problem.

What is your goal with the film, what do you hope to achieve?

I have two main goals with this film: Firstly, I want to make a fantastic film about something serious to further my career as a filmmaker. At this stage of our careers, young student filmmakers don’t usually make short films to sell or make money. At this stage we are focused on finding an audience for our art to further our careers. The best thing about the London Film School is that we are taught very rigidly how to make films in a tough but effective two-year Masters program. As a result, we come out the other end knowing how to make films without thinking too much about it. This now gives us the opportunity to focus on our art and craft. Adding magical things to a film which we figure out ourselves. I am using this film to tell a story which needs to be told in a magical way do get my point across – We aim to enter this film into film festivals globally to get a wide audience for it and eventually release it online for even more people to see.

Secondly, I want people in the western world to know more about Ghana and how far it has come as a nation. In the same breath I want Ghanaians to know that there are issues that still need to be resolved internally and I want to encourage them to do so. I want this film to show Ghana in all it’s glory but also show everybody one area which needs fixing; focusing more on human rights for everybody within it’s borders. Whether it is in established cities like Accra or villages outside of the major cities.

 

Promo picHow do you make sure you: an educated male living abroad gets it right?

 I am so happy you asked me this question because I worried about this for a long time. However, like I said I asked my mother a lot of questions as well as my family who live in Accra. They have all been very helpful in helping me shape the narrative of this story from a cultural stand point.

Also my personal tutor at film school put me in touch with Erik Knudsen, an experienced Danish-Ghanaian filmmaker who had previously made films in Ghana. He was very easy to speak to and was in a similar position to myself; being Ghanaian by parentage but could still be considered an outsider. Erik read one of the drafts of my script and helped me to think further into the culture of Ghana. He advised me to visit Ghana and learn how things work for myself rather than rely on the memory I have of it from 1998 and stories from others which weren’t my own experiences. This was fantastic advice, because I could really take in the spirit of the nation by going there.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 19.51.59I also speak to my peers in the UK who also have African heritage (There are loads of us! Especially in London). We are all in the same position in terms of our knowledge of our respective motherland. One friend in particular, who is an actress shared an account of when her parents flew over a domestic worker from Nigeria to London and the brutalities happened here! I knew this existed, but I was horrified that people so close to me had actually seen and been through what my mother had told me. That is what really cemented my desire to make a film on this topic. I am big on human rights so something needs to be said about it.

I’m imagining filmmaking to be incredibly hard, tedious and expensive. Tell us of a moment in your filmmaking career that made it all worth it. 

ClosureWhile making my last short film ‘Closure’, I experienced the hardships that you mentioned. I didn’t sleep much because of everything that needed to be done. Once the film was financed, made and screened, I felt a great sense of pride from everything that came from it. I sent the film to a load of industry contacts and film magazines/ bloggers and the response was over-whelming. I got some good feed back from executives at big production and distribution companies like Lionsgate, Sky Movies, Warner Brothers and TWC. I also featured in an article on Indiewire, which is a huge online independent film magazine. This got me a lot of important contacts in this industry.

I also held a private screening for this film and over 350 people turned up to watch it and listen to our question and answer session. After all the hard work, it is great to know that people have appreciated your efforts and that people were affected/ influenced by the film. There is no better feeling than that and it makes all the hard work and challenges faced worth it.

Furthermore, I made a short documentary called ‘Deborah’s Letter’, which is about my little sister who was born with Spina Bifida and is in a wheel chair as a result. The film won the audience favourite award at the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival in Austin, Texas. I also received a lovely message from the festival director that the film touched the entire audience. These are the moments filmmakers live for. To know that we have put something from our head to the screen and it has had an impact on others. It is an amazing feeling.

Finally, any word of advise for young creatives?

Screenshot 2016-01-10 19.54.02If you want to do something LEARN it! Take the time, money and effort and invest it into your craft. Be patient. A lot of people want instant gratification and I was one of them. I have learnt that working hard and learning the industry and the craft will take me so much further than if I went diving head first with no knowledge. Nothing wrong with diving but don’t do it with no idea of what you are about to fall into. Knowledge is power.

Secondly, just be bold. Don’t be discouraged to do something because nobody has done it before. The way I see it, that thing hasn’t been done before because God has left it vacant for YOU. Everybody who is important in the world today did something that logic would have discouraged. Listen to people but you don’t have to follow them. Listen to why they say you shouldn’t do it and use it as research to figure how you are going to do it. BE BOLD!

You can support the HouseGirl film on KickStarter and follow it of Facebook and Twitter for updates.