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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Nana Oye Lithur Vetted as Minister

In the news, ministerial vettings are ongoing with interesting turns around the new Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, a lawyer (im)famous for her activism around homosexuality and human rights generally.

During her parliamentary hearing, she had to use some “double speak” to be able to go through and still not alienate her fanbase. My favorite careful wording from the vetting was when she said she has “not said any word that I will promote homosexuality”. Luckily, noone asked her if she will “promote heterosexuality”! See clips from the vetting below, my favorite quote starts at 1.27.

I have met her once, at the Humanist conference late last year, and took this photo of when Nana Oye Lithur told us about a front page of (Ghana’s largest newspaper) the Daily Graphic that was a “worst case scenario” for an activist as it zeroed in on her as a supporter of something that is more than controversial in Ghana. However, as an encouragement for others with views against the norm she concluded “it wasn’t all that bad, no real bad things happened after this” and indeed she was right, it even didn’t stop her from a ministerial position just a few years later!


Although there were people against the nomination and much conspicuous debate, others also supported her and in the end she sailed through the vetting process and has now worked her first day. I am happy for Ghana. Oye Lithur is a clever woman and this is – even if no homosexual promotion will be carried out – a clear break with the homophobic past of Ghanaian political leadership.



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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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A Word from Late President Mills’ Son: Samuel Atta Mills

For the first time (that I am aware of anyways), our late president Mills’ son, Samuel Atta Mills, talks to media about his father, their relationship and his own ambitions in life.

He debunks the idea of that his relationship with “Prof” was strained and says he respects his stepmother and talks about his year living in the castle! He is a well spoken young man who towards the end of the interview does not decline he has political ambitions of his own…

The interview for BBC’s Outlook is a good one, but I wonder why he never (or did he? Please correct me if I am wrong) talked to Ghanaian media if he felt Ghanaians had the wrong understanding about his family?

Listen here.


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Interview with Dr. Abu Sakara of the CPP

On Friday, I did my second Frontline 2012 interview. This time, I had Dr. Abu Sakara of the CPP in the studio and the initial nerves from the maiden broadcast were gone.

Some other things were also different this time, for instance, we had to change studios as Ghana is going through a power sharing exercise due to damages on the West Africa Gas Pipeline, but I guess that is another blogpost…

Many of you want to view the interviews online. The TV3 team is working on putting the show on YouTube or similar, in the meantime, let me share some comments from viewers on Twitter:


Next week, Dr. Papa Kwesi Ndoum of the PPP is my guest, if you have questions for him, you can tweet or post them as comments here.

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GhanaDecides, iRegistered and Ghana Biometric Voter’s Registration

Participants at the Ghana Decides and iRegistered Campaign Launch

Over the last couple of years, I have been telling you about the growth of network of bloggers I belong to. The network started with eight bloggers and have over the years grown to include about 150 blogs, a website and many connections and friendships. This year, we are aiming higher!

We had our first meeting in July 2008, sent a blogger to Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in 2009, had our first international guests in August 2009, blogged on Obama’s visit and in 2011 we registered as an association. Earlier this year, the project group that had been working towards finding funding towards a project to create awareness and promote voting in Ghana had some good news, we had received funding from STAR-Ghana. The project is called GhanaDecides and aims at bringing the Ghanaian election 2012 online using social media.

This past Saturday, the same day as the biometric voter’s registration started, the GhanaDecides project had their launch. We also outdoored the iRegistered-campaign to spread information about voter’s registration.

I feel so happy and proud!

Follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and the GhanaDecides-website. Read also fellow blogger Sena Rick’s post

And do register to vote!

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Black Out, Media Ban and Coup D’Etat in Mali

Phew, what a busy news day!

It all started yesterday around 7.30 PM when the lights flickered like they do before an unplanned “power off”, then complete darkness followed.

Apparently the black out affected the entire nation of Ghana and still GRIDCO cannot account for how this could happen again – this was the fourth country wide black out this year. I had just completed by dinner and this power outage sent me straight to bed. Unfortunately, it also sent three very sick people at the ill equipped Komfo Anokye hospital in the Ashanti region into eternal sleep as their life support machines went off and the generator was not kicking in.

In the mornings we listen to popular radio channel Joy FM, belonging to the Multimedia Group. I especially like their morning show in which government representatives are often called upon to explain to us why development projects ahve stalled, salaries not been payed, goals not met. Today they announced that Ghana’s government had placed a ban on the Multimedia group, not allowing them to government press conferences and not granting interviews anymore. The deputy Information minister James Agyenim Boateng was reported to have said:

“We’ll find other platforms to carry out our messages. Multimedia journalists are not invited to cover state events”

This might sound very strange for a government to do during an election year, especially since the Multimedia Group is so popular. However on Twitter far from everybody was worried or surprised:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/nautyinaccra/status/182760268399521792″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/nii_ayertey/status/182794155846672385″]

Kojo Pumpuni Asante from the Center for Democratic Development was more concerned and suggested the move to ban a media house from state events was unconstitutional and a threat to press freedom,

“Chapter Five of the constitution on the Bill of Rights is very clear: it guarantees the freedom of the press. Chapter Six, on the Directive of State Policy, imposes an obligation on the executive and all arms of government to ensure that we have a democratic state. Article 21 of the constitution talks about our Right to Information, Chapter 12 of the constitution guarantees the independence of the media.”

In the evening, the government issued a clarifying statement outlining their grievances and events leading up to the decision. Also the statement ended on a hopeful and peace seeking note:

“Government remains committed to press freedom and would ensure that these freedoms are guaranteed at all times. In this regard, the Ministry of Information has accepted a request by the management of Multimedia for a meeting”

Follow the continuing discussion on Twitter under the hashtag #MultimediaBan

Finally, Mali, a West African country that has been a stable democracy for 20 years however with a growing conflict in its northern provinces, had its military take control of the country in a coup d’etat.

A foreign researcher in Mali, Bruce Whitehouse shares on his blog, a detailed and personal account of this tumultuous day starting at 7.30 am. The last section reads:

8:00 p.m.: Africable TV airs a pre-recorded interview with Capt. Amadou Sanogo, leader of the CNRDR. The journalist asks him, what assurance can you offer that you won’t organize fraudulent elections and cling to power yourself? Sanogo responds by saying he is an honest, sincere man who knows what he wants. At several points his remarks elicit applause from the soldiers gathered around him. He reiterates his goal to preserve Malian national unity. I notice he wears a US Marines eagle, globe and anchor pin on his fatigues: has he undergone USMC training at some point?

Asked what will become of overthrown president Touré, Sanogo replies in a roundabout way that the Malian people “know who is who, and who did what,” and that everyone must answer for what they have done. The final question concerns whether Sanogo is being manipulated by “certain members of the political class”–to this, Sanogo responds that he is so apolitical, he has never voted in his life.

Living in West Africa is most days not at all eventful, but rather relaxing, intriguing and fun. Today was a day when I instead felt drained and saddened by what seems to be steps backwards instead of the much awaited leap ahead.

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The Africa Debate Launch – A Brief Report

Back home after an interesting morning with BBC. The four panelists together with the 100 or so in the audience debated the issue I outlined yesterday in my post, Is an African spring necessary?

The panelists were Dr. Mike Kpessa from University of Ghana, a Political Analyst from South Africa, Anne Mugisha from the Activists for Change opposition movement in Uganda and Dr George Ayittey from Ghana/Washington DC. The audience was made up of journalists, lecturers and students, social media folks and civil society. I’d guess a third of the participants were women and the group included both youth and so-called matured people.

The discussion was almost from the get-go heated and somewhat unfocused – issues discussed included the usefulness of “black Africa” as a term, democratic struggle in Africa in the 1960s, Democracy as a process, Uganda’s opposition movement including their initiative Walk to Work, ANC turning 100, the definition of spring, the definition of Africa, the impact of structural adjustment programs, teh role of Africa’s middle class in politics and much more. Clearly, this is an engaging topic.

I was hoping to say something about the last issue, but friends Njoki E Wamai and Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah said what I wanted to say in fewer words…If to raise any critique against BBC’s format, it was maybe that few female voices were heard.

At the end of the show, we in the audience were asked if the debate had made us change our position. I raised my hand then, because I was touched by Anne Mugisha’s stories from Uganda and felt I know so very little about what is going on in neighboring African countries, maybe a spring of sorts is indeed needed there?

Update: See fellow BloggingGhana member Edward’s post on the Arab spring and Social media.

Do tune in to The Africa Debate today, 27th January at 19h GMT on BBC Africa.

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Is an African Spring Necessary, Asks BBC

Short answer: No. Change can come gradually.

Long Answer: I have always been a very careful person. I do not climb trees, I watch my step, I avoid scary places and movies. So when it comes to the issue of revolution, because that is what the implied-to-in-this-heading-Arab-spring was, I feel we should thread with care. Maybe this is why I, a foreigner in Ghana now on my fifth year in the country, merge so well with the Ghanaian population. My feeling is that Ghanaians are also careful, balanced and not in a hurry to start any revolution any time soon. Revolutions are risky. Upheaval of central state structures causes major confusion and sometimes violence.

My reasons for being cautious is probably some mixture of nature and nurture that you have to ask my parents about, but Ghana’s, I think, is due to these three reasons.

1. Free Speech

Contrary to the North African and Arab countries, in Ghana, there is an opportunity to speak freely. Freedom house deems Ghana “free”. This is a chief requirement for any democracy. As an example, Transparency International /Ghana Integrity Initiative’s Vitus Azeem can ask the President to justify the dismissal of the Attorney General. The other day we became aware Anas Aremeyaw Anas can expose a state company’s corrupt practices. We cannot control what happens next, but being able to ask the question without repercussions is vital.

A side effect to free speech is that anger rarely builds up. Face it, a revolution takes a lot of energy, and that energy is many times fueled by anger.

2. Expectations on state

BBC in their write up on the topic suggests:

Today, ordinary citizens are demanding more of their governments than they have ever done before – and they are refusing to accept any form of mediocrity.

I disagree. In Ghana, despite the ever-present question “what will the government do about this?” , Ghanaians do not expect much from the state. Much like in the rest of the West African region, amenities like water, electricity, infrastructure as well as social deliverables such as some level of health care, education and security, we do not expect the state to provide, but rather help ourselves.

We buy our own water, we sit in the dark with battery driven lamps, we fill the pot holes on the road. We hope to work where we get private health insurance, we send our children to private school and build fences around our houses. Some even hire a guard.

I think for the oil producing, actually quite rich country of Nigeria, the one thing Nigerians expected from their government was fuel subsidies needed to run their generators,  for transport and for running most businesses when electricity on the grid, like the rest of the world enjoys, is a dream. When that was taken away, there was a protest. Yes, I know they said they protested against corruption too, but really that is nothing new and it had not made them take to the streets in numbers before.

3. Religion

The role of religion has been debated for the Arab Spring. The democratic deficit in the Arab countries have often been associated with the Islamic belief that belief and politics are one. I have read a bit here and there, but cannot be sure of the role religion had in the Arab Spring. Read more about the complexity of this question and how it varies between the Arab countries in this article on religion and transition to democracy concerning the Arab Spring by Hamdi Hassan.

However, the influence of religion in Ghana – and possibly in other West African states – seem to further cool sentiments and depoliticize human existence. (Yes, I am thinking very much in the wakes of Marx here). It seems the Ghanaian road to change will not be led by the church.

To conclude my argument, see this Tweet (now when I know how to re-post them, I can’t help myself) for instance.

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/DonaldWardGh/status/161783463018631168″]

An “Occupy” movement in Ghana – Osu is an area in central Accra – is laughable. “Enye easy” or “it isn’t easy” is exclaimed, much like it is used in daily speech – as to say “life in Ghana is not always easy, but let’s not hinge on that. Let’s cool down, let’s be careful, let’s meet the change slowly”.

BBC launches its new program The Africa Debate with a, thats right, debate in Accra “Is an African Spring Necessary?” on Friday 27 January 2012.


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Ghana Migration and Development Policies: New Working Paper from DIIS

This morning as I was brainstorming migration topics for my Migration Monday series, I was happy to discover the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) have recently published a working paper on Ghana’s Migration and Development Policies.

The paper is written by Dr. Nauja Kleist, who I met two years back over a bowl of Maquis Tante Marie soup in Accra, and is called
  “Let us Rebuild our Country” Migration-development scenarios in Ghana (the link takes you to a page where you can download the working paper).

What is wonderful with this type of well-written, current and to-the-point publication is that it summarizes big chunks of data: in this case the recent history of Ghanaian migration policy to today, views from high level state officials, diaspora and academics on those policies and finally the implementation of them. Which proves to be minimal. Or in Kleist’s vocab

“Migration-development scenarios in Ghana thus have a strong symbolic and performance dimension, constituting a policy spectacle with several audiences” (my italics).

In looking closer on this so called spectacle; what is new in migration policy, is that migration is not only seen as a threat, but also as an opportunity to increased development. In accordance, migrants are seen “as development actors”, Kleist suggests in the paper. This follows an international agenda to couple the two streams of discourse.

Although the international agenda seeping through African policy making does not strike Kleist, nor me, as strange (Kleist soberly states “Ghanaian migration policies and initiatives not only reflect efforts to strengthen national development, but also are shaped by European agendas”), something else does. Why is that in the “Migration-Development nexus” which sees opportunity in migration (“if well managed”),  remittances or a returnee is seen as great news, while the alternative gains – a native working in his/her country of origin – is never assessed?

Kleist addresses this only indirectly, but quite elegantly, by addressing the problems of the overtly positive scenario advocated by some Ghanaian officials:

“win-win-win situations for the sending and recieving countries and the migrant alike…not only presume ‘orderly’ and informed migration decisions and processes but also a range of other preconditions… emigrants are assumed to be from professions characterized by unemployment rather than a shortage of labour to avoid brain drain; in addition this scenario presupposes that social frictions primarily are rooted in (presumed) unemployment and not in other political, social or economic structures. Likewise, this scenario presumes that migrants get employment that match and upscale their qualifications, are exposed to high-level technology, and finally, that they return to Ghana and are able to utilize their new skills there.”

However, many of the Ghanaian migrants I know are well qualified, but work abroad in jobs below their qualifications. Still, Ghanaian migration provides opportunities for class mobility/salaries one can live on/education etc. for individuals. Migrants send money home and sometime, just like Kleist reports buy land, property and come home to retire. But does it lead to development for migrant sending countries?

Ultimately, Kleist states the obvious regarding the win-win-win scenario: “Such preconditions are rarely fulfilled” and mentions, without going into any detail, that there are also conflicts of interest between migrant sending and receiving nations. I agree and have written about such conflicting interests like the strategies the EU (with inspiration from Canada and the US) employ to sustain its knowledge economies of today and tomorrow.

I think it is where Kleist signs off that my research will pick up. I understand that sometimes you have to take what you can get (a returning migrant that might or might not have relevant skills or a bundle of her cash in an envelope), but isn’t it very clear that is always less than what you could have had (Africans finding gainful employment and paying taxes in their home countries)?

Instead of aiming for “well managed” migration, can migrant sending countries not aim higher?

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Update: Nana Konadu, Sweden and Ethics

So I was planning this great exposé about that Ghana now has a female running for the flagbearer of the ruling political party – aka this is as close as Ghana has been to a female president. On this issue, I have interviewed people, I have thought about it from several angles, but I somehow cannot get a good post out of it!

At the same time, I have now temporarily relocated to Sweden, which meant some serious packing, saying farewell to friends and family and stressing in Ghana! In Sweden, it has meant some serious adjusting, saying many hellos to friends and family and trying to wind down…

Next week, I will go to the city of Marseille in France for this symposium  on ethics. Lets see if I can do some blogging from there…If I can’t, it means another week of no posts here while I am sipping a café crème in the warm winds from the Mediterranean sea attending a symposium!

Pic of Nana Konadu Rawlings from GNA.

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