>Obama in Africa

> Sorry for my absence here on the blog. It’s been a busy week. Anyways, no one (hopefully) hold any grudges today, not towards a lazy blogger nor towards a fellow human with a different opinion, today, the feeling is united.

America has elected a person bigger than a national politician for their next president. Barack Obama is the first African-American to be elected president of the United States, but he is so much more. A politician who speaks about hope in a way that tears people’s eyes and about change that people can believe in. It’s been a long time since politicians were met with such massive cheer, almost religious devotion anywhere in the world.

For me personally, I am of course happy a man with Caucasian and African parents (just like my future children) can become president of the world’s super power. However, I believe the aspect of bringing politics “back on track”, suggesting a politician is a role model and an inspiration is even more important.

In Africa as a whole the hopes for Obama’s presidency is high. South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe said in a statement:

“Your election to this high office of the American people carries with it hope for millions of your country men and women as much as it is for millions of people of particularly of the African descent both in the continent of Africa as well as those in the diaspora.”

Kenya’s president declared tomorrow a public holiday.

Here in Ghana, the election has been the big topic for discussion of the week and several “Obama parties” were organized yesterday night (I sadly fell asleep on my couch). One more is due tonight at the Accra night club The Office. Most my Facebook friends had written something on the election as their “status”. In the office this morning we talked about the election with smiling faces.

I believe my husband summarized the joyous feeling well as he was getting ready to go to work this morning:

“Today, I’m wearing white!”

Pic from Chicago Sun and Obama’s trip to Kenya in 2006.

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>Credit Crunch in Africa?

> The last weeks as the “global” financial crisis has rolled out, I have been thinking about the impact for Ghana. What will the implication be for African countries such as the one I live in when US and Europe are experiencing a sharp decline that can only be partially slowed down by tens or even hundreds of BILLION dollars.

Will Africa’s already weak economies get hit by the financial splatter of the West?

No, I don’t think so. At least not that much. Less aid? Yeah maybe. But when it comes to dealing with a bubble…Hey, there’s no bubble to deal with. Actually, there is barely any credit in the Ghanaian economy – everything is cash.

You buy a house in a cash (or more like it buy some bricks today and some pipes tomorrow), car in cash, you get paid in cash (or a check that you immediately cash after a long wait in a bank queue) and interest rates for loans read about a hefty 27-33 percent, making them a no go option for most people. Also, Ghana and bigger part of Africa south of the Sahara (with the exception for maybe South Africa) is not really a part of the so called global financial markets.

Hence, the advice is to now invest in Africa. Our strong and solvent markets are now, finally, hyped by financial advisers see for instance here and here and here.

Even the World Bank and their economist Shanta Devarajan who runs the Afropositive blog Africa Can, seems to agree with me. In Ghana, the whole crisis is rarely discussed, maybe because of the upcoming elections or maybe because people just have an instinctive feel it wont affect Ghana.

Maybe it is Africa’s turn now!

Pic: The sky is blue but not cloud free in Accra, Ghana.

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>Obama Mania in Ghana

> “Have you seen the debate?”

In Ghana, the campaign is on. I heard from a friend you can’t buy billboard space in this country until after elections. But what election are we talking about again?

The debate in question was not between Akufo-Addo and Mills but instead between McCain and Obama. Discussions on the upcoming American presidential election is as vibrant here as the domestic. Of course the American election affects the entire world and I am positive that Obama with his Kenyan heritage is creating a buzz in all of Africa, therefore also in Ghana. Another explanation is that Ghana has it’s eye to the world to a much larger extent than other nation states, say France or the US. We learn about all news from the outside world. And debate it too.

But back to the elections. I have seen street vendors selling a (pirated?) copy of Obama’s biography, at a function last week a young man was sporting a T-shirt with this text “Obama is my homeboy” and yesterday when going to work, this driver showed her support for Obama (see pic).

What election are we talking about again?

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>Election Fever in Ghana

>They are all the same!

The esteem for politicians is not all that high in Ghana. Some of the sentiments, I can relate to, maybe it is the universal gossip about the boss, but what is different here is the accusation of everyday corruption. My fellow Ghanaians blame their politicians for “chopping money” – meaning eating it as in buying big cars and offices for themselves, or giving contracts to relatives who know little about building roads/hospitals/etc. or simply spending more time outside Ghana talking than in Ghana making change.

The elections are coming up in December and the frontrunners are Nana Akufo-Addo and Professor John Atta Mills. Akufo-Addu is the flag bearer of the ruling NPP and Mills is currently in opposition with NDC.

I am planning to write one post each week about the election fever until we know who is the new president of Ghana.

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>Medal? Yes, Please But First A Good Pension!

> Recent debates over the costs for the National Awards that took place on July 3rd in Accra make me think of the campaign in my birth country long before I was born where social democrats fought for social benefits before medals to the affluent. It seems like that is still a battle that needs to be fought.

Apparently only the medals for this big gala with the theme “Branding Ghana for a Prosperous Future” cost more than 1,4 million USD. Of course that annoys people in a country with many, many problems that could be helped significantly by that same amount.

Not surprisingly, the sitting president defends the the gala and claims all the medals were “legitimate” and “constitutional”.

Its been a whole circus, starting when the opposition leader was nominated for a big medal and later turned down the honor. Others were happier saying that this exercise proved that Ghana was a real democracy. Then there were information that there had been no bidding for the medals, then that the contract, and thus cost, was given to provide medals not just for this year, but for the following two. However, the biggest discussion has been around the most expensive piece of gold, the “Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana” or the medal President Kufuor created for himself – as the newspapers write, he himself suggests it is an insignia which each new President will be given as he or she is sworn into office, to be worn on all formal national occasions and be given a replica when stepping down only if desired.

The president’s spokesman’s addition to the same discussion was not convincing:
“We hope no one is suggesting that the State Chain to compliment this sword should come in brass.”

– Ehrm, yes! Brass would have been wise and done more for the “Branding of Ghana” than the dusty ol’image now provided of an Africa with leaders in gold chains and big palaces oblivious to the strife outside the castle walls.

Pic of the discussed piece of gold, borrowed and slightly cropped from ghanaweb.com

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>The Birth of A Good Health Policy

>Since July 1st of this year, maternal health care in Ghana is free. I have seen this fantastic policy being carried out in front of my own eyes since my husband’s niece gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on July 5th. She did not know about the new health care initiative and a few weeks before the birth she asked me for the 90 GHC (as much in USD) to be able to go to the hospital for the arrival of her baby. The alternative for her, as for so many other Ghanaian mothers-to-be, was giving birth at home.

Then the policy came into effect and in stead of providing the money, I was there to help out with acquiring the free care. Together we filled out numerous papers and forms, searched for a photographer take four (!) passport photos (the day of the checking out was a Sunday so the photographer had gone to church). The mother had to sign up in advance (she did so on the 3rd, two days prior to the birth). I believe that together all these things possibly can serve as red tape, making it too difficult to obtain the free policy. But if you do succeed, and this is very good news, all care and medicine related to the pregnancy is free. South Africa has the same policy since 1994 with very promising results.

According to one of Ghana’s main newspapers, this initative has already become a success in Ghana. Over the last two and a half weeks, over 50 000 expecting mothers have registered with the scheme which is funded in collaboration with the British Government (42 million pounds over 4 years).

Maternal mortality rate is a big problem in Ghana and with the spotlight given to it by the UN Millenium Development Goals (“Improve Maternal Health” is Goal No 5) finally, a big step has been taken to improve the situation for mothers in Ghana.

Update: I found a BBC web-discussion on how to stop the maternal deaths in Africa with some interesting insights from fellow Africans.

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>Panafricaism in Ghana

> Check out my article (only in Swedish) in the latest edition of the Swedish Travelling Exhibition/ Riksutställningars Newsletter Spana!.

After visiting the cool national museum in Accra, I wrote about its history, organization and visitors and in do doing managed to combine my two top interests art and politics in one project! Additionally, when interviewing the management of the museum I found that migration/brain-drain is a problem also in the museum sector. As a result this post has the most “tags” I have ever given to a text on the blog.


Picture taken by me of two young museum visitors, and beutifully reddened by Spana!’s editor Mårten Jansson.

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>Women in Politics

> Having followed the American primaries, like everybody else on this planet, I must confess I was disappointed when Senator Rodham Clinton did not make to the democratic nomination. As she pointed out in her speech, held the same night Senator Obama was partying with his followers, not long ago women were not even entitled to vote. Now, that seems distant, but why is it still so difficult for women to reach the top positions?

Just as the United States, my two home countries Sweden and Ghana have yet to hope for a woman prime minister/president. As the elections are coming up in Ghana later this year, some groups have started to advocate for a female vice-president (chance for female head of state already bypassed).

At the same time the world press is arguing about if Senator Obama will ask Senator Rodham Clinton to be his running mate. Will this be the year of women historically breaking in the political inner circle or another term of suits only?

In the pic African heads of state in Accra for last year’s AU summit.

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>Equal Partner Visit

>Tonight, America’s 43rd president will be stepping on the red soil of Ghana. The “Trip to Africa” is according to the White House webpage a six day event where five African countries – one being Ghana – will be visited. An investment package will be launched, African policy will be discussed, and earlier presidential initiatives to combat HIV/AIDS and Malaria will be followed up on. In Ghanaian newspaper Accra Mail, the American Embassy spokesperson clarifies the US-Ghana relationship:

It is a partnership, it is not a top-down relationship, it is not imposition, it is a partnership among equals on issues of great concern.

What people on the street wonder is if while discussing “African policy”, the equal partner US is going to mention the far along plans of setting up a military base on Ghanaian territory, supposedly to protect nearby oil interests. Will then the equal partner Ghana feel free to decline a foreign militia without fearing any slowdown in the 55 million USD anually in aid? or in the mile long daily queu for American VISAs outside the newly built enormous American Embassy in Accra?

Or are we just worrying too much?

According to Ghana’s foreign minister Akwasi Osei-Adjei, there will be no talk of any American military base on Ghanaian soil, discussion will only relate to

some international issues of interest to both countries, particularly Ghana’s role in addressing security concerns in the troubled sub-region.

BBC also reports that “US drops African Military HQ Plans”, stating that the interest was low in African countries to host the US Africa Force, the Africa Command (AFRICOM), and that the headquarters will be based in Germany until further notice. My guess is that this disclaimer was launched to not start the “Trip to Africa” off on the wrong foot. Hey, if you don’t want to help us, thats ok. Really, we’re not upset…We’re just coming over to discuss some international issues of interest to us both…

It is difficult to remain balanced when a superpower is knocking on your door. To say it’s a partnership of equals is at best expressing a wish, not the reality.

The pic by Eric Draper was borrowed from whitehouse.gov, and showing Bush in Tanzania yesterday.

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>On Pan-Africaism

> The African Union is meeting this weekend in Accra. The way I know for sure it is happening right here is:
1. There is a huge billboard at road from the airport with President Kufuor welcoming the delegates.
2. All hotel rooms in Accra are booked, I am very aware of this because I have today tried to squeeze one more in…
3. Cars with police escorts with their sirens on are everywhere, and rumor says that Khadaffi is coming from Libya with a caravan of 150 cars through the desert…

Today and tomorrow the executive council is convening and the summit itself takes place on the 1st to 3rd July. All African states, except for Marocco who opposes the membership of West Sahara, meet to discuss. The meeting will for sure have symbolic meaning, since the initiative for an African union came from Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah and because Ghana, as the first sub-Saharan country to gain its independence, this year celebrates 50 years. I hope to get back to you also with substance on the united Africa’s future.

In the photo, Kufuor is shaking hands at a different meeting.
Photo:K. Hallberg

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>When will power crisis be solved?

>In Ghana, as I have reported earlier, there is a power crisis. It is very appearant in the everyday lives of Ghanaians because of the power sharing exercise in place – every third day the power is turned off for 12 hours. Yesterday however, a governmnet representative had some reassuring news to the Ghanaian public:

The deadline for complete stoppage of the load shedding is September 31. Now what we are hoping, and there are no guarantees yet, is that as indicators put in place come up, we will be able to review the load shedding and change the schedule before the complete end of the load shedding.

The opposition was not late to note that there is only 30 days in the month of September…

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