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

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 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.



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My Reactions to the Swedish Turn-Around in Refugee Crisis

In shock and disbelief, I read that the Swedish governing coalition has more or less closed Sweden’s boarders. From the initial “Refugees Welcome” attitude to closed doors. The reason is taking in 80 000 refugees over the last two months (!) has stretched Sweden’s infrastructure and services.

In addition, the EU neighbours (except for Germany) are not pulling their weight and Sweden’s PM said he hopes this will send a signal to them. In detail, the following was announced:

“Sweden’s new asylum regime will apply for three years. Temporary residence permits will be granted to all refugees apart from those relocated to Sweden under the EU’s quota scheme and families with children and unaccompanied children who have already arrived.

Sweden’s border police also announced a doubling of officers on Sweden’s southern coast, where most refugees arrive. Since the imposition of border controls on 12 November, the average number of asylum seekers has fallen from 1,507 per day to 1,222, according to immigration officials.” (the Guardian)

As a Swedish citizen, I feel disappointed with my politicians (I voted for the current PM) and was hoping for a less reactive and conservative leadership. Especially toward the background of Sweden being extremely stable financially – to the point on negative interest rates(!) and according to Swedish Central Bank Director Ingves, Sweden could even benefit economically from a large scale inflow of migrants/refugees as that would grow the economy, increase jobs and make the ageing population younger. Many solutions to infrastructure and service limitations have not been tested!

After several discussions on social media and at home, I have arrived at the same basic question over and over again:

Where do you draw the line when helping others?

Sadly, its a question with no easy answer. Because how do you make sure your help is sustainable, that you do not sacrifice yourself or your values in the process? But also, Sweden cannot take in all 11 million Syrians fleeing, so no restrictions at all can also not work? However, I feel, and this is based more on feeling than fact, I admit, that Sweden drew this line too soon. One of the richest countries in the world could lead by example – there are already so many great stories in Swedish media on families taking in refugees, schools working collaboratively with Swedish training for newcomers, and citizens contributing with what they can –  I feel there was more to build on there, instead of quickly closing the boarders as soon as the going got tough. As Swedes mobilize to demonstrate the new refugee policy, I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

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Lights Out in Accra: Dumsor Gets Worse

Since many months we have had a schedule for planned electricity cuts, or dumsor as we onomatopoetically call it here (due to the sound when a whole neighbourhood goes off DUUUM and comes back ‘SOR!)  (dum is Twi for “turn off” and sor for “turn on” I have been informed by a reader, thanks!) I didn’t want to believe the rumours of a new schedule with 24hours of no light and 12 hours with light? But alas it is true.

Just a few days ago my favourite author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a piece for the New York Times called Lights out in Lagos. Much in her story resonates with the Ghanaian situation. Ngozi Adichie laments: “I spend more on diesel than on food!” What is even more painful for both Ghanaians and Nigerians is:

“how many medical catastrophes have occurred in public hospitals because of “no light,” how much agricultural produce has gone to waste, how many students forced to study in stuffy, hot air have failed exams, how many small businesses have foundered. What greatness have we lost, what brilliance stillborn?


Comments on the worsening situation in Ghana is also worrying. Some comments on social media (it seems all of them are about power these days):

I never thought I would say this, but this new 24 hour load shedding schedule makes me seriously want to flee Ghana for other shores.

24 hr load shedding is the limit! It goes from being a fond talking/joking point between Ghanaians to becoming a health and safety issue.


One of my friends, talented health blogger Kobby Blay wrote a list begging Ghana’s now two ministries dealing with power (all with the same staff?) to consider his plight. He wrote:

 Please give me electricity at home so:

  1. I will always be happy going home
  2. My wife don’t have to call me from the house [saying] we do not have light
  3. Our baby can sleep without waking up oftenbecause of the unbearable heat
  4. We can avoid the mosquito and malaria that come with it
  5. Our foodstuffs wont have to go badbecausse our fridge depends on power
  6. My online business can continue to earn me some extra income to fend for my familt
  7. My phone can be reached in case of calls from work

The problem is of course costly to solve and promising steps have been taken. Meanwhile however, many Ghanaians will not get a good night’s sleep. 




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My Blogging Year 2014

It has been a sad year in many ways. A year of death, disease and loss for me and many others. I have also worked hard on my four careers – social media, research, teaching and family life!

Screenshot 2014-12-30 00.14.03(2)
Sad moments
The year started on a sad note for me, my blog had gone missing. I learned to do more regular backups.

End of the Word?

Then people died. People that were amazing, successful and well-known or I just knew well. Komla Dumor died in January, Shirley Temple (who had a surprising link to Ghana I found out) in February, in April my favourite author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in August Emmanuel Okyere, in November my dear Godmother who had been sick for some time passed away. In December, I lost fellow obruni blogger Mad in Ghana. Ebola hit some countries in West Africa but affected us all.

Blog scoops
Getting to debate on Twitter with a sitting minister of state was amazing, although I was smashed pretty hard over the head by Hanna Tetteh, Ghana’s minister of Foreign Affairs in a debate about the tourism policy. Another citizen journalism highlight was when I broke the news on the hole in the Accra-Tema motorway on my blog.

Plenty Politics
Current debates in Ghana covered on my blog included if a government university should be allowed to charge a toll to enter its campus, the State of the Nation address, race, women in electoral politics, inflation, the world cup, power problems and corruption. Many times we laughed and cried at the same time at our issues…

I worked hard!
My work was covered on my blog as well. For instance, my writing process and a one month stay at the Nordic Africa institute, teaching social theory at Ashesi University College. I wrote an article about Nigerian political protests and tweeted in English from Almedalen in Sweden. I also attended a conference, seminars and a workshop.

BloggingGhana stuff
We had a fast year! We were mentioned in The Guardian, got our own office or hub, organised BlogCamp and BlogAwards…

I also branched out into Instagram and Pinterest and had the most active year ever on Twitter.
But most importantly, I became the mother of another girl! 

Thank you for reading my blog in 2014! I will be back in 2015 with much more…

See earlier yearly summaries: 2012, 2011
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Corruption in Ghana: What to do? (Occupy Ghana)

This week, I have been ranting on social media about corruption and how sick I am of it.

In my head, it has sounded much like this recollection of Prof. Adei’s recent and furious speech to the Audit Service : “Impunity…abuse of public office…fiasco…norm rather than exception”. However, the important thing is not what has happened (guineafowls, GYEEDA, SUBAH, cocaine, Woyome, CHRAJ-hotel and WorldCup comes to mind immediately) but what needs to be done.

1920352_704094466328010_6514441539004930424_nAbout a year ago, I sat next to Prof. Adei at the canteen at Ashesi where he taught leadership that semester. The conversation was good, his analysis clear, but what stood out was the positive energy: it doesn’t have to be like this, it can be different. A group called Occupy Ghana (currently 25 000 likes on Facebook) has taken this to heart and have through protests, petitions and lectures started challenging the status-quo.

Or as Prof. Adei said it with his clear analysis and positive outlook earlier this month:

“Civil society must continue to speak up and pressure the state to change the situation completely, so that a new culture of responsibility and accountability will replace the current terrible state of affairs.”

Only if we who differ with the indeed “terrible state of affairs” come together there will be a change. That is why I am openly supporting Occupy Ghana by wearing red today. Are you?

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Nigeria’s Non-Violent Protest Movements Deserve More Attention!

An article I have written about political movements in Ghana’s neighboring country of Nigeria was recently published on the CIHA blog( Critical Investigations in Humanitarianisms in Africa).

I wrote:

“In a country where citizens are on their own for organizing almost every aspect of life, be it electricity, health, schooling or security – all this in stark contrast to the affluence the oil industry brings to a select few – there is much to protest about. In Africa’s most populous nation and, since recently, biggest economy, there is diversity in protests as well. While extremist Boko Haram is receiving increased attention in the media worldwide for its horrid and violent actions, nonviolent movements Change Movement Nigeria and Enough is Enough Nigeria work mostly under the international news radar”.

Read the whole article here: Nigeria’s Non-Violent Protest Movements Gathering Momentum.

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Race, White Privilege and My Daughter

Doll-test“Mommy is yellow. I not yellow!” 

My daughter is not even three, but rubs at my arm and then glances over at her own. It has only been days since I watched the Swedish documentary “Raskortet” about race and racism in Sweden today. I know I shouldn’t be shocked, but I am. Shocked that brown-skinned people have to endure abuse, both physical and psychological in my native country.

In a row of interviews, black – as they call themselves – Swedes share how they got used to be called ugly, have strategies for sudden violence when they are out in town  and in a clip three of them simultaneously recalls getting racist comments from a boss and getting pressured into laughing it off. Horrid. The documentary is framed by the Clarks’ Doll experiment that shows children given a choice between a brown and a white doll – and most choosing the “more beautiful” white doll.

I am a Swede who did not think about race much growing up, however due to my life choices (marrying a Ghanaian black man, living in Ghana as a favoured minority, teaching young African students politics,  yes, including colonialism, being an Africanist at an African university and re-discovering that I am white) I now get the issue “in my face” every day.

I remember the first time I was told about “white privilege”, this invisible favor I did not ask for but that separates my life from lives of those of color.  I have access to many spaces, no questions asked; I am assumed in Ghana to on account on my skin colour be truthful and kind; I can afford luxuries like a research degree and pedicure that most of my fellow Ghanaian women cannot. I have no answers, race still makes me uncomfortable. I have no answers, despite being aware, I enjoy my white privileges. I have no answers, but I have learned to not be afraid of talking about race.

 She is not yet three years old and her skin is the most beautiful shade of golden brown. Today she has realised my skin has a different hue and that is true. However, it hurts that others might think less of her just because of that, or even worse, that she will internalize that feeling and think less of herself.

Photo borrowed from Children and the Civil Rights.

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Road Tolls and Accountability: The Hole(!) in the Accra-Tema Motorway

I probably should not write this as my parents will be worried when they read it, but the Accra-Tema motorway (or Tema-Accra motorway as we who live in Tema call it) is falling apart.

When I drove to work on Tuesday, I was halted by some serious traffic after just a kilometer or so. I assumed it was one of the common accidents, but was surprised to find the traffic was caused by a hole in one of the bridges on the motorway. The water below could be seen through the hole…


I subsequently tweeted a warning:

All traveling from Tema to Accra, be careful as one of the bridges, right lane, has a big, gaping hole! @Citi973 @BloggingGhana

— Kajsa Hallberg Adu (@kajsaha) March 11, 2014

As I returned home in the evening around 8PM, the traffic now stretched from the hole all the way to Tema. I tweeted that too:

This evening the #motorway hole caused major traffic…what is being done? @YoungSirGh @BloggingGhana @police_gov_gh @Citi973

— Kajsa Hallberg Adu (@kajsaha) March 11, 2014

This morning, I set my alarm to 5.30 AM to “dodge” the traffic, but was still caught for 30 min by it and tweeted that too (that is what I do when stuck!)

Today’s “hole traffic” already winding on the Tema side of the #motorway @RichardDelaSky @BloggingGhana @InformGhana

— Kajsa Hallberg Adu (@kajsaha) March 12, 2014

I was happy to just minutes later hear the CitiFM Morningshow crew bringing the issue up and even calling the Minister for Roads and Highways for an explanation. Driving on the Accra-Tema motorway is not free, I pay toll every time I enter, so does everyone else. Finding that the road is not well maintained, that street lights and railings which get hit never are replaced and  holes in the bridges (not the first time) makes me angry! Where is that money?

They are now going to do repairs, but morning show host Bernard Avle asked an important question:

“What is the status of other bridges on the motorway?”- @benkoku @Citi973

— Kajsa Hallberg Adu (@kajsaha) March 12, 2014

As I drive on the motorway everyday, I would like to know. I think my parents would like to know too.

Earlier posts on the motorway: New Ghana Road Tolls Today, One Year of Road Toll in Ghana: My Experience and Kwame Nkrumah: The city of Tema (part 2).



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Did President Mahama Go Too Far? State of the Nation 2014 #SOTNGhana

Screenshot 2014-02-28 11.30.30This week, the Ghanaian mediascape was cluttered with comments about the state of the nation address, held on Tuesday. All well and good. The problem was, most commentators were upset about the light tone of the speech, at a time that is hard for the wo/man on the street.

See for instance CitiFM or InformGhana‘s storify-summaries of the discussions on Twitter.

Read the whole State of the Nation address here on the presidency website.

Interestingly, my last post here on the blog was on Ghanaian political humor and I personally felt the president just “joined the grammar” (“Mr. Speaker, who said ‘Tweaa’?”) and spoke about politics in the most Ghanaian way possible, with some jokes and a hearty laughter.

But clearly, I was in minority. Most commentators sighed (or even booed) and said that our politicians have lost touch with the reality on ground. What do you think?


Pic borrowed from InformGhana, BloggingGhana’s new project.

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University of Ghana Road Toll

 The road toll has been in effect for two weeks and as a graduate student, I am of course not happy that in addition to fees that almost double from year to year, I now have to pay just to get on campus!

However, after the first weeks of confusion and queues that stretched long (my first day to enter, I waited for 25 minutes just to pay my 1 GHC (0,30 USD), some efficiency measures have been taken, including many more attendants in reflective vests to collect fees from motorists, a new entry point into the campus, and this morning the queue was negligible.

There has been much debate whether or not the university has the right to charge Ghanaians to drive on a public road without asking the parliament for permission (they grant all taxes and fees), but as I do not speak lawyerish, I am not sure what to think. They way I see the toll is that it is a very serious statement from the university telling Ghanaians:

“we are on our own now. The government does not support us and we must do cost recovery to survive!”.

Increased tuition fees is one measure, a road toll another.

Sadly, that message seems to have been lost between reflective vests, 1 GHC tickets and first page squabbles.

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Shirley Temple: Actress and Ambassador in Ghana

Shirley Temple Black Americans have for long understood the potential of a face known from film. Not just President Ronald Regan or Governor Arnold Schwartsenegger  made the transition from white screen to colorful politics, actress Shirley Temple did too.

In 1974 she landed in Ghana as the American ambassador. The country was 18 years out of colonialism, but head-deep into dependency, especially due to the American oil crisis at the time. Temple stayed in Ghana for two years.

When I first heard about this interesting career change and Temple’s time in Ghana, I marveled. I became almost obsessed with finding photos of Temple in Ghana and my eyes widened as I saw her coiffed hair bobbing around in the Ghanaian sun surrounded by traditional leaders and welcoming parades.

 It would be interesting to know more about what her everyday life in Ghana was like, maybe now that she is gone, some writings might appear? Some interviews will be done? but never the less, her life reminds us that no matter where you start in life, you might end up in Ghana, smiling in the sun.

Photo borrowed from The Guardian from a worthwhile biography.

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Mandela in Memoriam or How Should We Remember Him?

In 2005, I went to South Africa for a three week visit. It was amazing. I remember beautiful vistas of mountains and penguins, Freshly ground’s hit, pinstriped crowds on busy Jo’Burg streets, sweaty DJ sets at “Mama Africa Club” in Cape Town, ANC songs sung in a minivan somewhere on the Eastern Cape, touring the Apartheid museum with chills down my spine and braii moments with plenty of meat and laughter.

I also remember getting a text message from the first of my close friends to have a baby. “Boy has arrived! Mother and child are both healthy!” In my joy, I was looking for something to buy and soon found the perfect gift. A onesie with pink stripes and a stylized photo of Mandela. It was gift wrapped and delivered to the newborn child.

In the weeks since Nelson “Madiba” Mandela’s passing the discussion on how to remember Mandela. As a young lawyer? A son of a traditional leader? A terrorist? A prisoner? A father and husband? A world leader? A pacifist? A nice guy? The best guy ever?

mandela onesie

That I think of “Madiba” as a icon on a kid’s outfit, I find both horrible and hopeful. Horrible as it reduces a revolutionary to a commercial item, but also hopeful as his leadership – immortalised by a calm smile on an ageing face – in a small way will be remembered by the next generation across the globe. 

Photo borrowed from The Tuesday Photo.

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