Best Nine of 2017 (and worst!)

It is time to summarize the year. These days it is easily done on Instagram and the Best Nine feature. As you can see it is a steady stream of colorful moments, from the top: 1. My sister-in-law Jenny and my niece Sapfo (Ghana style carried thanks to me!) discussing art in the Gallery at the plush Movenpick hotel, 2. My children being educated on how to pluck a chicken, 3. New dress from Kiki Clothing, 4. Chilling with Stonebwoy, 5. A blast from the past – my first visit to Ghana in 2004, 6. Ellen taking a stroll in our backyard, 7. Old dress at work, 8. SOS Tema School children very much related to me, 9. My kids at the Nubuke Foundation wall painted by children under the competent leadership of artist Bernard Akoi-Jackson.

So two moments at work, four with my kids, two with other kids, two in wax print fashion – three if you count baby carrying, one ninth hanging out with a celebrity, two in art spaces, one part remembering the past…

On the blog I have celebrated 10 years of living in Ghana, I have represented Sweden, stayed off social media for three weeks, shared the contents of my bag, been featured on one of my fav podcasts, and joined the debate on rape culture.

Of course, we all know these fav Instagram moments or blog posts are in no way representative of the year we have had, they are simply highlights or slivers of truth.

The nine worst moments were not shared on social media at all, but they were also part of my life. I have been misunderstood and mistaken. I have gone through loss, loneliness, stress, sickness, disappointment, while abroad I was locked into a glass cube at 5 am and saw my train to the airport depart without me (this should be its own blog post as I finally managed to break out McGuyver-style after realizing nobody would come to save me).

The worst moments on Instagram?

Well, apparently you do not like when I share photos of random documents or PTA meetings! But, of course as a blogger and lecturer, I do look at text much more than I do many other things…(Statistics from GabStats)

I am looking forward to 2018 and hope to meet you on Instagram, here on the blog, or somewhere else in this wondrous world. Thanks for reading!

 

Three Weeks without Social Media: Was I Happier in the End?

To be able to have a completely restful vacation, I took three weeks off social media this summer. What I intended was to not read or post anything on my three favorite social media platforms: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. As a total social media freak (I am someone who often hails social media as the revolution of our time), I was interested in this hiatus also from an experimental point of view: would it be difficult to keep off? Would I miss my social media timelines? My ubiquitous scrolling? What would be the effects?

The first few days

The first few days I kept a diary, this is what I noted:

Day 1 – I have set up my blog post on my social media break to post automatically in the morning, later in the day I went into Instagram in the evening to post the same info on my break. By mistake, I clicked the Twitter app. Closed it quickly. I have already deleted the Facebook app from my phone, now I put the remaining apps in a “social” folder on my phone and put it on the last screen, not the first.  Regretted when I thought of the art exhibit I’ll attend tomorrow and the conference next week. Else felt happy. Baked, finished a book. Had a glass of wine. Watched a tv-program.

Day 2 –  I have had a packed day and at the art exhibits and food fair I went to I wanted to post, that’s how I usually take in an event. Instead talked to a friend. It was good, but very different from how I usually experience such a happening.

Facebook sent me an email saying I had memories with my family. It felt a little bad to not see the memory, but also what a cheap trick that is to bring you in!

Day 3 – Methodically canceled all remaining social media app notifications. Went to a book club meeting and was present throughout. Watched in amazement when others drift away from the conversation with real people to check their screens all the time. In the evening, I had a question I wanted to post to my social media network. Later googled the question instead and found an answer.

Day 4 – I got messages from Odekro from parliament straight to my locked screen. Scrolled thru. That’s not strictly checking one’s timeline, right? I think this is because I “follow posts” on Twitter and I do not want to turn that off. (But really why not?)

Day 5 –  I am spending more time on WhatsApp actually having conversations with people. At an outing, I took very few pics, because now that I can’t share them…I feel calm and cut off from reality.

Day 6 – I realize I have read no news since I stopped social media. I went to my blog to see if anyone had commented on my blog post about the social media break. But people rarely comment on blogs anymore. I was inspired to read my favorite Instagrammers’ blogs.

 

What I Learned

  1. Notifications are Mean

It is no surprise that notifications of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are engineered to draw us in, have us watch just a few more photos on our timeline and just see one more video, but how difficult it was to get signed off from everywhere surprised me.  If you want to dig deeper, I enjoyed this medium article: This is How or Fear and Outrage is Being Sold for Profit.

  1. I read most my news from links on Social Media

We sometimes talk about echo-chambers; this seems to certainly be true for me. Totally unconsciously, I have read or watched no news at all in the last weeks, but solely relied on my husband to tell me crucial headline stories. For a political scientist, this is major.

  1. I get most event information on Social Media

Few people called, I heard of few events, I saw few people these weeks. I realize I get most of my information about events and parties, art openings, and meetings thru social media. Perhaps not surprising, but also completely excluding, as one then have to be on social media to meet people offline.

  1. I take photos to share them.

When I was doing research on photo storage last year, I came across an article that said storage will be superfluous in the near future as what people want to do with pictures in to share them. This was true for me these weeks. When I saw something nice, I’d remember I would not get to share it for the next weeks, then I thought to myself, what is the point?

  1. I should have considered going off the Internet completely for a fuller rest.

I thought I still need to be on WhatsApp (but really why? I could have set an away message) and have access to the Internet (you know, to…Google stuff). But those opportunities were exploited by my synapses (a.k.a. me) and I read many, many blogs, even had one or two late night surf-binges, and that was not what I had intended for my social media break. I think that is how I filled the “scroll-void” or the habitual social media checks.

 

New Habits

I will now more consciously decide when and how much I will be using social media. To be honest, as I am easing my way back into social media, I am feeling a little bit disgusted by the whole speed of all timelines, beautiful photos, and heated opinions. It seems they all flash by only to be replaced by another. When I started work this week, I have the following habits in mind:

  • I will give myself some time during my commute to specifically follow what news is discussed and what events are on and then again during the evening commute.
  • I will give myself some time during my commute to specifically follow what news is discussed and what events are on and then again during the evening commute.
  • I will turn my phone off in the evening, after 9 pm and turn it on in the morning. I will continue to keep the gadgets outside the bedroom – they should be charged elsewhere! Listen to Arianna Huffington on this!
  • I need to do something about my news intake as well, but do not have a solution yet.
  • I will continue to have all push notifications turned off.
  • I will spend less time on Instagram and more on reading my fav blogs/listening to fav podcasts. This as I feel Instagram particularly makes me feel someway bi, and the blogs have many times the same photos, but with more context.
  • I did miss Twitter and the flashing by of all kinds of information. I will engage less in political debate…hm, no, that is not realistic, but I will compliment major conversation with some further action: petitions, small donations, offline engagement, and so on.
  • I will continuously take a yearly break from social media and the Internet.

 

Did Being Off Social Media Make Me Happier?

I did spend more time reading, sleeping, playing with my children, talking to my husband, but being off Social Media did maybe make me relax more, but not make me feel happier. I would have to say no, I actually felt sad!

Sad as I “couldn’t” share interesting things I experienced with the world, but at the same time the time off gave me some perspective on the way social media builds on human psychology and how, once the notifications come off, we can start using it for what we want again.

Have you ever taken a social media break? Do you limit your social media intake in some way? Let’s learn from each-other!

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

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

My observations:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Tweets from #AODC17

 


 

Next steps

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.

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

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

 

The Speech

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

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

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

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

Blogger Nnyamewaa fumed:

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

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

 

The Rapes

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

 

The Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What is Rape Culture? 

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

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

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

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

 

What can we do?

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

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

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

 

 

Introducing The Flint and its Initiator: Emmanuel Quartey

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

1. Who are you and what do you do?

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

2. Why do you do what you do?

I do what I do:

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

3. What is The Flint?

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

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

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

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

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

We need to learn how to do hard things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of Social Media in Ghana’s 2016 Elections

On Thursday, I was a guest on the radio program Interrogating Africa discussing what the role of social media is in Ghana’s upcoming elections.

Interrogating Africa is an initiative by the Institute of African Studies and broadcast on University of Ghana’s Radio Universe 105.7 FM every Thursday 2-3PM. I was interviewed by my former class mate in the PhD program, Dr. Edem Adottey.

We talked about what social media is ( a revolution), how Ghanaians debate and engage online, how many Ghanaians have access to the Internet (about one third), Post-Truth Politics and false news, what the Kalyppo Challenge really was all about (that’s another post!), and how social media will impact on elections (more research is needed!).

You can see the interview here:

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

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

atta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My Children on the Blog

So in-between blogging, researching, and teaching, I do have a private life. The main part of that life is my two children. I have mentioned them every now and then here on the blog, like when they were born: Selma in 2011  & Ellen in 2014, and in a post on our racialized lives “You are yellow and I am brown” and in a post on how to carry a baby Ghana style (one of my few videos). 

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However, I would like to write a little more here on the blog about my children, things we do together, and challenges we face as a family. I will do so under the category: Parenting.

While some might feel one should not “expose” children online, I see my online life as a part of my life and it feels strange to “hide” them away from my blog. Also as my children grow and frankly become more fun to hang out with, I think I have more to say about them, their activities, and about life with children more generally. I am mindful of that they are their own people who should get to tell their own story, but until they start their own blogs (oh, what a dizzying thought!), I think I can say quite a bit more without compromising their integrity.

If you have ideas on topics you’d like to read relating to life with children, do leave a comment!

Mobex16 and some thoughts on how event organisers in Ghana can better engage with social media influencers

On Tuesday, I went to the tech fair Mobex16 in the Accra International Conference Center. I had only planned to swiftly stop by, but ended up staying all morning. Networking was great!

However, this blogpost is on some other observations I made in relation to Mobex16. I came with my phone, ready to tweet, and laughingly told a friend that I have been here for 8 min and already posted 3 tweets. I was on fire!

I tweeted about the registration and started taking photos for Instagram. I am a promoter of all things Ghana, especially tech stuff, and I was happy to share the experience with my now 9000+ followers on Twitter and 600+ followers on Instagram.

At this stage, I needed to charge my computer (as I really had plans of working out of an office) and with heavy tweeting during the opening and the president’s speech, my phone as well. Now there were no electrical sockets in the seminar room. I looked around and asked an usher. I tweeted about that.

After realising that no woman was to appear on the stage for the first two programs on the agenda or the entirety of my morning visit – the info I took from a information that was passed out to visitors, I tweeted about that.

Revisiting my Twitter timeline, I was likely inspired by Omojuwa (recently named Africa’s best Twitter profile) and his tweet on female leadership:

After I had left the seminar hall in search for power, I browsed the exhibit. Noticing that many Mobex16 stands did not really have a plan to engage with social media influencers, I talked to some exhibitors and tweeted about that.

You get my drift, I was engaging with the program, capturing both highlights and lowlights.  Tweeting and Instagramming. Now some did not like that:

…and my personal favorite:

I get it, I have been an event organiser and its not necessarily fun to hear about someone’s negative experience when you have been working 24/7 to even make the thing happen, but I do listen and think to myself “how can I improve?” I also try to be mindful of that whoever takes the time to write to complain, cares a whole lot more than the people that just “come to eat”. (Caveat: I am not sure what the relationship between the people behind the sour tweets above is to the event discussed).

A few months back, Poetra Asantewa  in an AccraWeDey-podcast said some very useful things about critique and how there is little room for it in the Ghanaian creative space. We just need to change that, so in the name of constructive critique, I’ll list some ideas for even better social media engagement for Ghanaian events below.

Tips for event organisers how to better engage with social media influencers:

  • Communicate a (usable, not too long, not too generic) hashtag and remind people in every room, space and on everything printed.
  • Create a physical space for social media influencers with sockets (most importantly, but perhaps also), coffee, desks with chairs and additional info on your program.
  • Think through what is in it for the (professional) social media influencer, can you pay for live-tweeting & blogging, or provide lunch, pay T&T, organise gifts from sponsors? Every post about your event is potentially valuable to you, how can you make the relationship with influencers sustainable?
  • Retweet/ share their praise. People on their way to the venue will want to see photos and reviews from the venue.
  • Corteusly respond to any critique as fast as possible. (Yes, that includes saying thank you to someone who is finding fault with your event!)

Something like this:

What would you add to the list?

Mzznaki Reps Ghana Well-Well!

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

My Flash Presentation and Workshop at Conference #DakarFutures2016

I’m spending a couple of days in Dakar for the “Innovation, Transformation, and sustainable futures in Africa”– conference organized by American Anthropological Association, African Studies Association, Codesria and WARA-WARC. The hashtag for the conference is virtual reality. I am giving one flash presentation (five minutes, 15 PowerPoint slides) and on Saturday a three hour workshop. My collaborators Dr Gordon Adomdza, Design professor at Ashesi, and Mr Kabiru Seidu, Ashesi alumni involved in VR with his company NubianVR, could not make it, so I have a big job to do!

Here are the blurbs.

 

Flash Presentation: Re-thinking “Education under Trees”File 10-01-2016, 6 44 03 PM

 

Where do you teach? In a classroom? Or a larger lecture hall, perhaps? Is it a place where you feel inspired? Your students feel inspired? Let me ask you: Is it an African space? Where you feel connected to the continent? Or is it mostly practical?

At the same time as “education under trees” or education without resources is being challenged in the African political space, the “education that never happens under trees” or does not relate to the physical world outside the campus must be problematized. Many schools and universities lock themselves away on beautiful campuses, while the purpose of any learning institution is to have a positive impact on the surrounding society. In addition, many classrooms are designed almost like stages for professors, instead of empowering students. Therefore, I feel static classrooms must be challenged and convenient, economically sustainable alternatives must arise.

In this flash presentation, I want to share innovation, transformation and sustainable futures of the African lecture hall and classroom.

 

Workshop: Learning Engagement in the Age of Social Media and Emerging Virtual Reality

IMG_0948This is a workshop on engaging, simple, and efficient use of Virtual Reality and Social Media in the classroom.

Recent developments of information technology offer new ways of teaching with small or no additional investments. With the use of Internet infrastructure already available on campuses around the continent and students’ own smart or feature phones, this workshop will show you how to bring social media and virtual reality into your syllabus. While there are many real world examples or experiences that could be made available to students, some experiences take time to acquire or do not occur at the most appropriate time in the learning cycle to achieve the desired learning goals. As a result, we explore opportunities to simulate real world examples and experiences through the design and development of virtual reality content with relevant social media integration to achieve learning goals.

 

The workshop will be a unique meeting between educators and will hone their different experiences and backgrounds. Based on teaching interests discussed in the first session, participants will be placed in groups that will work together on brainstorming a VR material to be produced. Alongside, practical tips on how to get started with VR and social media will be shared. Participants are encouraged to contribute. A tangible outcome and takeaway can be a crowd-sourced and active toolkit for learning engagement in the age of social media and emerging virtual reality.

 

…and finally here I am hanging out with a Senegalese rapper who speaks Swedish! Maxi Krezy!