Sweden’s Colonial Past

In a very interesting piece for Africa Is A Country Blog (the one “that’s not about famine, Bono, or Barack Obama”), Swedish journalist Johan Palme points out that there seems to be a strong recent interest in the Colonial past of Sweden. Because despite what our history classes told us, of course there was.

He talks to historian David Nilsson who says:

“It is true that Swedish interests in Africa were only marginal at the time, and Sweden remained a minor player. But qualitatively I see no distinct line between Sweden and other countries,” he says. “Sweden went to Berlin as a peer among nations, accepted and condoned the proceedings. It was a political justification of a social process that had already begun as Swedish officers and missionaries were already taking part in the colonization of Africa.”

I remember my first visit  to the Ghanaian tourism site, the Cape Coast castle, where slaves were kept in waiting for transport overseas and being horrified when told that Swedes first established a trade point here. “First the Swedes, then the Danes, Portuguese and Brits…”, the guide went on with a monotone voice. I was confused, but my mouth was already talking:

– But the Swedes were never involved in slave trade, right?

The guide glanced over at me and did not have to respond. I got it. The feeling was chilling.

Palme debates why this colonial discussion is now appearing on several fronts  and concludes interestingly that the apparent newfound guilt is maybe merely a fashion and nothing deeper like wanting to understand our history fully:

“Rather than radically re-engineering its [Sweden’s] relationships internationally, perhaps it [looking into the colonial past] is a mere cosmetic paint to appear good again, good by today’s standards.”

A good, and chilling, read!

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CNN and the Ghanaian Government: Interview with President Mahama and Media Ethics

Today I get the prompt to “upload my question to the CNN interview with president Mahama”. I think to myself, CNN…Ghanaian government. Was there not a thing there? Going through my emails, in a discussion thread on the perils of “too positive” media coverage, I find a link to this blog post by a BloggingGhana colleague, Roxanne L Scott from the end of May 2013.

In summary, Roxanne writes that the Ghanaian government payed 1,5 million USD to CNN in 2012 for positive coverage under the “CNN Eye on Ghana Project”. The project was centered around tourism and investment and produced stories such as “Welcome to Ghana: Historic castles, exotic wildlife and a golden coast”. (Scroll down and the slideshow title reads: “Ghana: the jewel of West Africa”) This project is no secret, it is covered in official documents!

In the same documents, we can read about the plans for 2013: “the Ministry [of tourism] will augment its Marketing Ghana Programme through intensive use of the international media. Funding will be mobilized in pursuit of the CNN Eye on Ghana project…”

(Docs below I have borrowed from Roxanne)

Roxanne writes:

“I’d love some clarification for how this $1.5 Million goes in reference to CNN.

If it is in fact payment, its unethical.

I recently learned at an arts and culture journalism workshop in Ghana it’s quite the norm for media houses to charge artists and organizations for coverage according to time. For example one can call a radio station in Ghana and get the price for a featured interview. Event planners also charge journalists to “cover” their event. Political parties engage in this as well. After press conferences, political parties pay journalists for coverage.

I thought it was a journalists job to look for the news. A journalists creates the content. If you’re being paid by an organization to cover the news, or if you’re charging for individuals/organizations to feature their content, thats more public relations (PR) and its unethical. You really shouldn’t call yourself a journalist.”

The media ethics debate in Ghana has a long way to go. However, it is not just in Ghana the lines between journalism and PR is blurred, as Roxanne rightly points out. The president’s CNN interview is scheduled for some time in October. Meanwhile, it looks like the CNN Eye on Ghana program alive and well and possibly “augmented” for this year. Does that CNN Eye on Ghana Project involve a primetime presidential interview? Later today over at CNN the window for uploading your video questions for president Mahama closes. CNN iReport, urges:

“Send us your questions for the president in a video (15 seconds or less, please) and they could be asked on CNN!”

I am guessing the most critical voices  (if they even can be captured in less than 15 sec!) – “What is the relationship between CNN and the Ghanian government?” and “Can we trust this interview to be objective on the basis that the Ghanaian government is paying CNN for coverage?” will likely not be featured…

My colleague Roxanne ended her blogpost in May with a plea to CNN for some clarification. She never heard back. I hope this time CNN will answer.

Please share this blogpost with your networks if you also want to know more from CNN on their relationship with the Ghanaian government.

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End of Elections 2012: #TheVerdict of the #ElectionPetition is in!

Yesterday in the early afternoon around 1 PM most of Ghana was tuned into a radio channel or had its eyes glued to a TV screen. Since morning, we had been waiting for the verdict of the supreme court on the election petition. The judges came in and after a few minutes, the courtroom crowd stood up. 8 months of questions about the leadership of Ghana was over.

NDC and Mahama had been confirmed as winners of the presidential election.

Canadian journalist Iain Merlow was in a restaurant as the verdict came in:

““They say we are not meant to celebrate,” the man said, as he sat down for lunch, reflecting the weeks of media discussions about the need for peace, about the need for both sides to accept the verdict without violence or rallies, without over-the-top celebrations or protests. At one point, there was a pretty vigorous media debate about whether there was actually too much talk of peace, whether some were being slightly less than genuine with their peace talk, and whether there was even a need for it all.”

Nnenna followed #theVerdict on social media:

“Oh là là, Ghana Tweeps nailed it. They took pictures, they reported. They tweeted, retweeted, shared, and kept the hype. While we waited for the judges to give #TheVerdict, we even got to the point of asking people to share what they were doing while waiting.. It will be interesting to see a MashUp of the tweets on both tags: #ElectionPetition and #TheVerdict.”

Kwaku Spider checked out the headlines.

“Judgement Day is here”


Kofi Annan suggested:

“This success must not blind us to the flaws in our electoral system that the judicial review has brought to light. All concerned need to work energetically to ensure that these flaws are addressed through the necessary institutional reforms.

We have a bright future to build together, as the Ghanaian people. That future begins today.”

And taking into account that future, today, some of us bloggers met online in a GhanaDecides sponsored G+ Hangout to discuss the verdict and the election petition’s impact on our country. It was a very constructive discussion with many different opinions shared and challenged. 

The discussion is about 1 hour. For a summary, see this Storify put together by Jemila who also moderated the discussion.

The elections 2012 are officially over!





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Swedish News Article Feat. Election Petition Verdict

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 8.44.41 PM

While Ghana holds its breath (ok, not really) for the election petition verdict coming tomorrow, my friend sent me this timely Swedish news article from one of Sweden’s premier morning papers with a heading that reads (in translation) “Belief in Future Despite Worrying Wait for Election Results in Ghana”.

I am cited in there, from an interview done some months back, saying:


–President Mahama är säkert försvagad av att valresultatet diskuteras dagligen i tv och radio och gör inte många utspel. Det senaste halvåret har varit besvärligt med många strejker bland lärare och läkare i offentlig sektor och en elkris med många dagliga avbrott. I det område jag bor är vi av med elen sex timmar varannan dag, berättar Kajsa Hallberg Adu som bor med man och barn i Tema, utanför huvudstaden Accra.


– President Mahama is likely made weaker by that the election results daily are questioned in TV and radio and does few interventions. The last six months have been difficult with many strikes among teachers and medical doctors in the public sector and an electricity crisis. Where I live we do not have electricty 6 hours every other day, says Kajsa Hallberg Adu who lives with husband and child in Tema, just outside the capital Accra.

For the record I also spoke of things going well and stressed there was no panic. But reading this again makes me remember that times have really been tough for some time…

The article is concluded with a (wo)man on the street who voted for Akuffo-Addo who says she will accept the supreme court verdict.

–Jag kan stå ut med John Mahama också. Det gör inte så stor skillnad.


–I can live with John Mahama too. It does not make a big difference.

I have the feeling this is a pretty representative view. Tomorrow and the ensuing days will tell…

Read the article in full here.



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Finally Free Speech in Ghana Defended: Prof. Audrey Gadzekpo

I was happy to hear Prof. Audrey Gadzekpo’s comments about free speech in Ghana following the Supreme Court’s actions the other week. I agree with her that a national conversation is central to democracy – and that actions like these are likely to cause people to censor themselves leading to a quieter civil society.

She said:

“What such pronouncement do is to put a general chill on public utterances and media coverage because it is not clear what is not too grievous… for a people who tolerated for a long time a culture of silence, many would say it is better to simply keep quiet and be safe than sorry.”

I agree with her in every part of her statement (longer on radio), but I also feel relieved a high profile academic spoke up.

Read the whole article here.

And then it was communicated you cannot write letters to the Supreme Court. Again, I don’t understand.

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Update: Free Speech and Disagreement in Ghana

The other day I was writing a post about two Ghanaians getting (brief) prison sentences for disrespecting the Supreme Court. This issue has been the inspiraton for jokes mimicking the telecom companies’ advertising textmessages “Talk and Get Jailed Promotion!”,  Akosua’s satires in Daily Guide have covered the issue, see above, and of course there has also been plenty of serious debate, on- and off line. In that debate, it seems many (most?) Ghanaians disagree with my point.

They feel a line was passed and it up to the Supreme Court to make the call where that line is drawn. Freedom of speech means freedom to say what you want, but then it can be judged offensive and you then have to pay the price.

All comments I got on my first blog post belong to this category, here are some excerpts:

“The rules of court proceedings are clear and the restriction of discussion on a case in court is for specific reasons. Such discussions can lead one to make pre-judicial comments” – Elikplim

“This is not a gag on free speech, it is the stifling of loose talkers and irresponsible journalism.” – Roddy Adjei

“My understanding of free speech is that one is not prevented from making a speech. just that. It cannot mean one must fail responsibility.” – Novisi

“The SC in my candid opinion did the right thing. It’s time people stop abusing “freedom of speech”.” – Abban Budu

One of the few people who did agree with me, a Ghanaian journalist now in graduate school overseas, made the point that we need those willing to test the limits to know where we stand as a nation. But also his argument was met with disbelief.

I love disagreement. Generally, it is interesting and educative and so also in this case. What I have learned is that Ghanaians are seriously concerned about the Supreme Court ruling (the one on the 2012 election outcome), tired of the people trying to stir up emotions and ready to sacrifice for stability. 

Tune into Ghana Connect on Joy FM Friday 5 July at 6.30-7.00 PM and hear Ghanaians debate the issue live.

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The Ashaiman Spring, BBC Africa Debate and African New Middle Class

Ashaiman collage

On Monday, drivers in the town of Ashaiman started a protest against the horrible state of the roads in the community. Daily Graphic reports that as early as 5 am, protesters had blocked the roads and by 6 am they had reahed the Tema motorway, taking over toll booths and blocking traffic to and fro Accra.

What is Ashaiman? It is a residential town where many workers of Tema (the industrial city) and Accra (the capital of Ghana) live. Although rent is cheaper here than in the neighbouring cities, many of Ashaiman’s inhabitants have to endure long hours of commuting. Although its population is twice that of Tema, it was only 5 years ago it got its own municipal district and local assembly.

Every day on my way home to Tema, I have to cross the traffic queues leading to Ashaiaman that is situated on the other side of the Tema motorway from where I live. Only crossing Ashaiman traffic many times takes upwards 20-30 minutes. As I later breeze in the opposite direction, I see people walking towards Ashaiman moving faster than the traffic all the way to the central part of Tema.

The MP of the area, Alfred Agbesi and the Municipal Chief Executive, Numo Adinortey Addison were accused by the demonstrators of not doing their jobs – providing better roads! – but could, according to the same newspaper, “not be reached for their comments”. However, the newspaper also reported “policemen and soldiers managed to bring the situation under control after 4 hours of violent protest…[and] would offer 24-hour patrol to residents and commuters”.


Today, I took part in the internationally broadcast BBC Africa Debate together with a delegation from Ashesi University College. The background of the debate “Can the middle class drive growth?” was both Obama’s travel to the continent, supposedly to augment trade, and the African Development Bank’s report on the New African Middle Class (PDF). Interestingly, the AfDB’s definition is people who spend 2-20 USD/day per capita. That means, just after the poverty level (less than 2 USD/day) comes now “middle-income”. This was debated along with what government needs to do and what we as individuals can do.

During the debate, the recent Ashaiman demonstration, called “the Ashaiman Spring” by some, was not mentioned, but maybe it should have been? Here we have people who have jobs, pay taxes, dutifully go to work everyday even when it means hours in traffic morning and evening – but not benefitting much.

All public amenities in Ghana need back-ups: water (buckets and poly tanks), education (private school if you can afford), health (herbal traditional medicine or private health insurance), electricity (candles, batteries and generators), waste collection (burning in your backyard), but poor roads are difficult to create your own private alternative for…

The representative from the AfDB concluded the debate by graciously admitting their definition of middle-class only talks about spending, but does not include living costs. We are many who know by experience that living a middle-class life in Ghana demands much more than a middle-class income and plenty of patience…

Listen to Ghana Connect on JOY FM Friday 28 June at 6.30- 7.00 PM for more on the “Ashaiman Spring” and BBC, 7 PM GMT for the full debate!


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African Union Day and Data Bootcamp in Ghana

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 10.04.00 PMThis weekend is Memorial Day (US), Mother’s Day (Sweden, Hurray for mom!) and African Union weekend (Africa). But how does one celebrate the African Union? I am not sure, but will spend the delayed holiday (in Ghana holidays that fall on weekends get “compensated” at the first possible weekday, in this case AU Day fell on Saturday 25 May, hence tomorrow, Monday 27th is the day off!) and two more days at a data bootcamp vamping up my data mining skills, maybe they can be beneficial for the continent?

Normally, I stay away from everything bootcampey as endurance is not my strongest side, I rather like to digest information slowly over time, but I have made this exception as I am very much interested in how data can become news and more people can get access to knowledge. Or is the words of the organizers:

“to boost analytical, evidence-based reportage by giving journalists the digital tools, access to data, and computational skills necessary for transforming the way that newsrooms function.”

We will learn how to “mine” and “scrape” data, how to build apps and websites to visualize the data and how to “pitch” ideas as to get funding. Teachers are a list of interesting people from techie/journalist Justin Arenstein that I have earlier met at a Google event to the Worldbank statistician Lynne Henderson and many more interesting folks.

I am excited about tomorrow and should probably hop to bed. Already, I have some ideas for apps that might not necessarily conform with the “extractive sector” that is a focus of this workshop and a hanging question: where does academia come into all of this?

Behind this data bootcamp is the African Media Initiative, the World Bank Institute, Google Africa and theOpen Institute. Thank you!

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Ghana’s Most Important Issue via The Maternal Health Channel

A wonderful initiative by Creative Storm is the Maternal Health Channel on GTV on Thursdays at 8PM and on TV3 on Fridays at 8.30 PM. The program sheds light on maternal health in Ghana, or rather the lack of it.

The series started with the story of Charity, a woman who did not survive giving birth.

Maternal Health Channel host Ivy in front of the government clinic in Kute Buem.
Maternal Health Channel host Ivy in front of the government clinic in Kute Buem.

MHC write on their very active Facebook page:

“Every maternal death is an intensely personal tragedy and it is essential to hear the stories of those who have suffered in order to illuminate an issue that is both immediate and far more complex than it seems on the surface.
We can change; Ghana can achieve Millennium Development Goal #5, the reduction of maternal mortality by 75% in the year 2015. The first step is EVERYONE having a discussion about an epidemic that is far too often overlooked. The first step is with YOU.”

As a mother and a daughter and a citizen of the world, it angers me terribly that women should have to give up their life when giving life. We know it takes 9 months, we know you need vitamins and clean water, we know giving birth is a risk and a hard job, we know how to create the best possible chances for both mother and baby to survive – still women are  dying for no good reason at all.

This week, they go to Kute Buem in the Volta region, see pic. 

Personally, I think The Maternal Health Channel is one of the most important media initiatives in Ghana I have ever seen. It is massive, well thought out and quite digital (facebook, vimeo, tumblr, on Twitter use hashtag #mhcghana). If you agree with my sentiments or, better yet, with their mission to save more mothers and babies in Ghana, please spread this information to your networks, discuss online, blog on it and watch the program!

I have written on this topic before Why Are Mothers Still Dying? and When I Donated Blood and Ganyobinaa also wrote about MHC.

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Ghana’s Creative Economy and Its Challenges

Last month, I was moderating a talk on the Creative Economy in Ghana for the Adventurers in the Diaspora series follow them on Facebook to never miss their events!). What is the creative economy anyway? I did some research before accepting the job and came across a very inspiring 400 page report made in 2010 by the United Nation’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) PDF here.

Some highlights of the report, in my opinion, were its case studies including Nigeria’s Nollywood and the Africa Remix exhibit.

The report also offered 10 key messages for policy makers:

  • Whilst in 2008 there was a 12% reduction in world trade, exports of creative goods and services continue to grow at an average annual rate of 14% over the past 6 years, with the potential to become one of the most dynamic sectors of the world economy.
  • Growth is particularly apparent in ‘south-south’ trade: trade in creative good and services there grew at an average rate of 20% per annum over the same period, and the creative economy took an increasing market share of south-south trade.
  • The right mix of public policies and strategic choices are essential if the potential of the creative economy for economic development is to be achieved.  It is important, especially in developing countries, to develop a functioning ‘creative nexus’ to attract investors, build creative entrepreurial practices, and offer better IT access and infrastructure.
  • Policy strategies must recognise its multi-displinary nature – its economic, social, cultural and environmental linkages.
  • It is important for governments to review IP rules to avoid constraints and adapt to new realities.
  • The creative economy cuts across arts, business and connectivity, driving innovation and new business models. There should be a drive for better broadband infrastructure especially in the South. (my highlight)
  • The creative economy is both fragmented and socially inclusive. Pragmatic policy-making requires a better understanding of who the stakeholders in the creative economy are, how they relate to one another and how the creative sector relates to other economic sectors.
  • Policies for the creative economy also have to respond to demands from local communities for education, cultural identity and social inclusion, and environmental concerns.  An increasing number of municipalities are using the concept of creative cities to formulate urban development strategies and reinvigorate growth.
  • The firmness of the market for creative goods and services is an indicator of the importance of demand for ‘creative products’  in the post recession era, and should attract greater market share.
  • Every society is rooted in a creative economy, but each country is different, and needs to think about its particular strengths for development.  There is no one-size-fits-all policy.

The panelists Korkor Amartefio, Cultural practitioner, Dzifa Gomashie, Deputy Minister Nominee for Tourism, Culture and Arts, Odile Tevie, Nubuke Foundation and Zagba Oyortey, new director of  the Ghana National Museum, framed some issues for Ghana:

1. Little data

We do not know the size of the creative economy in Ghana. Not how much the arts market is worth, how much beads and traditional crafts add to GDP or what the growth of the music industry is. Room for much research! With this type of data, we could canvass for more of number two on this list!

2. Little Government support

Apparently, government has not yet discovered the creative economy as a potential future gold mine. It seems, we are to busy with galamsay small scale gold miners, maybe…MUSIGA ha sbeen supported with a house, we have national centers of culture around the country, but apart from those structures (of which some seem to be falling apart), government is not surrounding itself with Ghanaian culture, promoting Ghanaian artists on their travels nor collecting Ghanaian art.

3. Lack of cooperation/information

From the discussion, a problem can be to find a space for an event. A suggestion was made to create a list of possible venues, their cost and availability for cultural practitioners to use. At a different event last week about marketing for cultural organizations, the lack of information was again highlighted. Organizations need training on how to sell themselves, but also structures for promotion and information sharing.

4. Education

The creative economy is much related to education, however the UNCTAD report itself does not really make the connection as noted by Pascal. In Ghana, creativity is not necessarily celebrated and on all levels of the economy we can see the effects of the lack of creativity. All from the 10th person selling the same food stuff in the same place to the bank that does not brand itself for any particular customer group or the CEO who never promotes creativity.

5. Money for enforcement of new laws

Since last year, Ghana has a new set on Intellectual Property laws (remember the “kenta” shoe?). That is great, but how do we make sure those laws are enforced?

The cure for it all is ENGAGEMENT. I was happy when the National Museum’s Mr Oyortey mentioned this in his very first contribution for the evening. The institutions need to engage with their audience and their counterparts, we the public need to attend events, buy art and let the creative economy make all our lives more sustainable and more fun!

Photos by Naa Oyoo Quartey/Ganyobinaa.

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Labor Day in Ghana with Doctors’ Strike

Labor day in Ghana had a strange feel to it with the theme of the day being “Pensions: Your Right and Responsibility”, and at the same time large scale strikes are ongoing on what I believe is the same topic! Medical doctors in public hospitals and pharmacists have been striking for four weeks and relationships are seemingly frosty between the parties of the conflict. For instance, National Labor Commission is suing the Ghana Medical Association, the President is suggesting workers should increase their productivity and “not with strikes and agitations” and the  Ghana Medical Association last week said the President should stop begging and meet demands!   

Personally, I have been very upset about the doctors strike now entering a month! I find it hard to gauge if the strike is well grounded. On the one side, earlier discussions on doctors and the work situation have haunted me; doctors fresh from university waiting more than a year for their first pay check, doctors in the rural hospitals working day and night in poor conditions with no extra pay and frankly just the statistics suggest we have an impossible situation on our hands, Ghana with 25 million inhabitants has 2,843 medical doctors. That is about 1 doctor per 10 000 inhabitants! To compare, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Nepal are doing better! (according to WHO) and Sweden has 38 physicians per 10 000 citizens (says Global Health Facts)…

On the other hand, if you have sworn the Hippocratic oath, how can you go on strike and let innocent people suffer?

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Ghana, a Country of Perpetual Power Problems?

 In Monday’s newspaper, new schedules for “lightoff” or power sharing were announced (Unfortunately not yet on LightOffGH). Again? Before the election, we were told that shortages were due to a cut in the gaspipeline from Nigeria, but although that has been fixed apparently power is currently scarce and scheduled to going off every other day, all day or evening! Now, that’s is worse than ever!

The implications of this situation is devastating for growth, business and –  face it  – sleep in a country that keeps to a cosy 30 degrees also at night and offers a darkness full of malaria mosquitoes. Without a fan, life is difficult!

You toss and turn

Then try to lie still as to not work up a sweat

You look over at your window

The curtain hangs as still as was it made from stone

No breeze tonight

You sigh

You close your eyes and think of the beach

Wind in your hair, waves hitting the shore…

…wait, what is that sound…bzz…. a mosquito?


I am still to hear about a plan for how Ghana will get out of this energy crisis. The vision offered on the Ministry of Energy’s website seems overtly ambitious: “To enable Ghana become a net exporter of fuel and power”. What is the medium term or even short term plan?

Dear Minister of Energy (do we even have one?), will we continue to live in darkness in 2013?

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