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!)

Artefact Speech #atAshesi

The last three weeks, the class I teach this semester, Written and Oral Communication has focused on the oral communication part. We have spoken about Rhetorics and its ancient beginnings, sustained importance, watched Patrick Awuah’s TED speech from 2007 and analyzed it rhetorically and after that, students crafted their own speeches with themselves and an artefact that represents them in some way as the topic.

I adore this assignment designed by my anthropologist colleague Joseph Oduro-Frimpong and revel in the intimate group meetings I have with my students. In short five minute speeches, students get up in front of their peers, practice rhetorics, and open themselves and share – and my do they share!

We are invited to hear about family tragedies and lost opportunities, crazy love stories and incredible triumphs, supportive siblings and bouts of sickness, but also books that change lives, sporting equipment, diaries and bibles, instruments, or even little trinkets and everyday objects are loaded with meaning. The speeches are sometimes inspirational and other times funny, and as the assignment dictates, most often supported by all three corners of the Rhetorical Triangle. Only confidence is missing sometimes! We address this with love-bombing the presenting student with “what worked well here?”-feedback. And only after highlighting the good we discuss what can be improved in the delivery.

Every year this is my favorite assignment as it allows me to meet with a smaller subsection of the bigger class of 47-48 students and get to know them a little better. This year, I was especially impressed.  After just two months in university, these first-year students’ are able to speak with wisdom, bravery, and authenticity, and they reminded me that when students are given the chance, they can indeed be teachers.

Artefact speech 2018
Thank you all for sharing so generously!

 

 

A Whirlwind of Events: #NAD2018, #NEFScienceWeek, #FIFAfrica18, #MIASA

The fall semester has just started and that means it is like a new year for us academics. I have decided to go back to a paper calendar to make sure I do not overbook myself (when the space for a day is filled, my day is filled!). However, September was slightly overfilled anyways. But with some great events:

#NAD2018

Nordic Africa Days is a biannual conference organized by the Nordic Africa Institute. It is my “home conference” as a Swedish researched in Ghana and I have been attending since 2007!

This year, I organized a panel session with my colleague Michael Boampong called Conceptualizing Youth Mobilities and presented a paper within it.

 

#NEFScienceWeek

Next Einstein forum contacted me about moderating a panel which proved to be very interesting where industry representative Ethel Cofie or Women in Tech/ Edel Consulting Ltd met education representative Dr. Patrick Arthur from University on Ghana on the gap between STEM education and industry. Some highlights from the conversations:

  • Review primary education to make sure we educate producers (eg. programmers), not consumers (eg. users of Word and PowerPoint).
  • Make sure the higher education sector is wired for innovation by having incentive structures not just for peer-reviewed journal articles, but also for innovation/entrepreneurial initiative.

  • #NEFScienceWeek

#FIFAfrica18

Forum for Internet Freedom in Africa organized by CIPESA and MFWA is something I luckily happened to come across as I was doing research for a new project I have initiated on Internet Freedom and Internet Shutdowns. It turned out the experts were on their way to Accra! The same week as finding out about this conference, I was able to join its last afternoon. It was a fantastic networking opportunity and the sessions I visited launched reports like The State of Internet Freedom in Africa and the Internet Universality Indicators, discussed how to measure Internet Shutdowns and how to advocate effectively for them not happening.

#MIASA

The Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa funded by the German government had its inaugural conference at University of Ghana – I only made it to the very final and concluding session. The institute has planned for some interdisciplinary and interesting studies investigating big issues, from the concluding presentation, however, I worry that the research groups and methods seemed to already have been decided in Germany and that could mean the so-called collaboration in actual fact is only a satellite department of a German institution coming to Ghana. I hope I am wrong…

My paper calendar…

…is that beautiful blue book with gold details. On the inside it gives me a full week’s overview and just enough space to list my meetings and main to-dos for each day. I realize it is less stressful to have a finite space for planning my time.

How do you make sure your days and weeks are not overfilled, but allow for quality work and breathing pauses?

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.

African Fashion Week in Sweden #AFWS2016





14188586_946147242163470_9208120836886791545_oIt is the time of the year when otherwise gray and black clothed Stockholmers can OHHHH and AAAHHH to beautiful wax print, refined raffia, and curve hugging colour!
The African Fashion Week Sweden is on its third year and growing strong! Founder Ayesha Jones who also started the Gambia Fashion Week, explains in a blog interview why she started the week:

“I felt Sweden was lacking a platform for black/African creativity to be uplifted and celebrated. In a society were people are so diverse and multicultural I don’t understand why no one did this before me and I’m a strong believer of not pointing out flaws if I don’t have suggestions on how to adjust them.

I also wanted to do something that hopefully would leave an impact in the world and create a legacy that the next and future generations can be proud of and enjoy.”

I have my agents out and hope to give you more info after the main event today, 3rd Sept.

As a Swede living in Africa, I am so happy the fashion conscious but very conservative Swedes finally get a flavour of African fashion!

 

Mmofra Place – A Children’s Park in Dzorwulu, Accra

Today, I was invited to the opening of exhibit Our Climate: Think. Act. Change! Organized by Mmofra Foundation in their huge park-to-be in Dzorwulu ( Next to Marvels) and curated by Foundation For Contemporary Art.

I was happy to see such a promising space, lovely trees, a stage and space! I couldn’t even see the end of the park! There was a beautiful breeze as we sat under trees and listened to the speeches of the opening: Minister of Lands gave a personal rendition of his written speech, Architect Ralph Sutherland sat down and gave a heartfelt and touching talk as well as partners like the German Embassy and British High Commission and WASCAL.

I was also sad to think of how rare such an initiative is in Ghana. We build on all plots, chop down trees and lose out on greenery, breeze and relaxation!

The exhibit was varied and fun. I especially liked the “simple” things like the herb garden, the chair under greens and sculptures made from scrap. And the green bird mascot!

I hope many can visit Mmofra Place and be inspired to do something similar close to where they live – plant a tree, clean up a patch and be creative!

Here are some photos to inspire. Find more on Mmofra Foundation’s Facebook Page.

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Chale Wote 2014 – For Us Who Were Not There

In August, the Jamestown area of Accra is blessed with the Chale Wote street art festival (“chale wote” is slang for flip-flops). It is a vibrant, exciting and young event – I’m sad I was so far away this year!

However, Mesh Ghana provides a vibe from the festival in less than two minutes. Thank you!

Safari on the Blog was also there and took some amazing photos.

Credit: Safari on the Blog

See you there next year!

Posts from earlier Chale Wote festivals 2011, 2012, 2013

 

Learning from Your Mistakes: Ashesi and Thinking Like a Genius!

I was happy to see this message on Ashesi’s website. A brief article outlining what happened in the beginning of June, when Ashesi servers went offline and we became very difficult to reach. What happened? What did we do? What have we learned?

Today, I am launching my short summer course at Ashesi, just three afternoons for a small group of freshmen (or are you now sophomores?) The course is humbly called Think Like a Genius! and is modelled on Michael J. Gelb’s book “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day”. Interestingly the second of those seven steps is the willingness to learn from mistakes… What is that? You want to know the other steps? Alright. Here is an overview:

CURIOSITA:

Approaching life with insatiable curiosity and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning

DIMOSTRAZIONE:

Committing to test knowledge through experience, persistence and a willingness to learn from mistakes

SENSAZIONE:

Continually refining the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience

SFUMATO

Embracing ambiguity, paradox, and uncertaint

ARTE/SCIENZA

Balancing science and art, logic and imagination – ‘whole-brain thinking’

CORPORALITA

Cultivating grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise

CONNESSIONE

Recognizing and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things – ‘systems thinking’

 

For the full shebang on how to Think Like a Genius!, read the book or attend the course!

 

Photos from Ashesi Career Fair 2013

Today the Ashesi career fair took place. It was a big event with more than 60 employers visiting the campus. There were roll ups and folders and chocolates and CVs and students in business wear and public announcements and handshakes and business cards and elevator pitches and cameras and even Selma was there! 

I think what impresses me most with this event is how involved our students are, all 500 of them. This is not just for the soon-to-be-graduates, but freshmen volunteer as hosts for the visitors, students MC the event, students learn about where the might want to go in the future or where they can get an internship.

That engagement and apparent student ownership of the event makes me think it was a useful day for all!

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When I Donated Blood

In collaboration with STACC, my blogging group BloggingGhana led by Daixy has this holiday arranged for blood donations. It all started with Daixy reading about the acute lack of blood at the Korle Bu Hospital blood bank (Ghana’s biggest hospital, located downtown Accra). Being the doer she is, Daixy decided to put her NGO and social media skills together and before we could all say “blood drive”, four dates were set and online we started inviting friends to participate and donate blood.

Today was the third day, and I went to donate blood for the very first time. I was a little nervous. However, failing to convince anyone to join me, I realised many people were either scared of donating (obviously more scared than me!) or misinformed about the process, so when I went I made a deliberate effort of capturing it all.

So here you go, Kajsa gives blood:

Summary: Really, it wasn’t bad at all and took just an hour out of my day and then the actual blood giving was only 10 minutes!

The Gory Details (with pictures):

1:06 PM Arrived at Noguchi Institute where blood donation personnel had set up shop for the day. Daixy greeted me and tweeted to the world, I had arrived. I also said hi to the head and PR person for STACC and weighed in.

Clockwise: Noguchi, STACC personel, scale and Daixy.
Clockwise: Noguchi, STACC personel, scale and Daixy.

1.09 PM Greeted bloggers who had just donated. One of them had fainted after donating, likely because she did not eat well before donating. Also, she just came into the country from the cold north and the heat might have affected her. I had eaten lunch about half-an-hour before coming.

Friends, Form and Bag to fill!
Friends, Form and Bag to fill!

1.15 PM Filled a health declaration form and giggled as I truthfully declared I had NOT undergone circumcision over the last 12 months.

1.19 PM Was pricked in my thumb to check the HB or blood sugar level of my blood. If its under 12, one cannot donate. This pain was I think the worse, but alas, I have done it many times as they test your blood sugar repeatedly when you are pregnant.

 

Blood 2
Testing HB value.

1.25 PM My blood pressure was checked and it was OK.

Having my blood pressure checked.
Having my blood pressure checked.

1.27 PM I laid down on a bed and nurse put a needle in my arm. Yes, it did hurt a little, but for like 1 second. I promise! After that it feels uncomfortable, but not even close to any pain. The needle was first led to some small tubes, for testing my blood, and then to the bag as shown above. Relaxing on a bed was nice!

I was asked to open and close my hand to “pump” blood out. After a few minutes my hand got cold and then a lil’bit numb.

After about 10 minutes the blood did not flow too much and the nurse decided it was enough. I recon I had donated about 400 ml.

The intense bit. That wasn't even very intense.
The intense bit. That wasn’t even very intense.

1.38 PM The nurse pulled the needle out and put a ball of cotton on the sand grain sized wound and folded my arm over it. This did not hurt at all. She put a plaster on and I sat up and after a minute walked out the door.

1.45 PM I was given some Milo and crackers and sat there chatting to Daixy about the continuation of this quickly thrown together project.

1.50 PM I walked out, feeling just fine. Went to the bank and drove home. Left from the blood donation is only a plaster on my arm that I now take off – ouch – and these pictures I shared with you!

Milo, Relaxing, Friends and All in all, THUMBS UP!
Milo, Relaxing, Friends and All in all, THUMBS UP!

We are now thinking of how to get many more of you excited about donating blood! Next up is a Valentine’s Day Blood Drive and then maybe one in June on Blood Donor Day – but we want to make it like a party  or a fun day out with fresh juice, socialising and many more donors!

Let’s fill the blood banks in Ghana. It is a job for you and me, people who cares and who thinks none should have to die because blood banks are empty.

Some facts:

Don’t drink alcohol 24 h before and after donating blood.

A healthy woman can donate blood 3 times per year, a man 4 times.

25% of maternal deaths in Africa are attributed to a lack of blood for transfusion.

Resources: BloodBook, Blood Donation in Sweden and Safe Blood for Africa. Collages made with Pixlr.