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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Aid the West: Design for the First World

white african I thought I’d promote this lovely competition, Design for the First World – in short, Dx1W, because it is witty, spot on and relevant. By addressing First World problems and speaking to professionals in developing countries, it is directly opposite to so much else I see. The more traditional approach, like the 10 ideas for Africa I wrote about the other week is so much more common.

So this is exciting! I know I’d spend too much time explaining it, so let me just give you the information in original:

“Dx1W has proclaimed 2010 International Year of the First World in Need, and has defined four main areas to address:
– Food Production and Eating Disorders,
– Aging Population and Low Birth rate,
– Immigration and Integration to Society,
– Sustainability and Overconsumption.

Furthermore, one of the major aims of the Year will be to demonstrate the beneficial effects of cultural diversity. We want to recognize the importance of transfers and exchanges between cultures through implicit or explicit dialogue that underlines how cultures and civilizations are interlinked and contribute to the progress of humankind.”

Yes, Food and eating…They have a point here. Population has been deemed the next big crisis for Europe, so good problem to attack. Immigration and integration issues gain attention by the day, but maybe my favorite is the issue of sustainability. If everybody shopped like the West, we’d need more earths!

Ok, some good topics and progress of humankind. Sounds good! Then the organizers of Dx1W go on on a little rant on “solutions” from the west which I think is well deserved, although I feel “pay back” might be taking it one step too far – aid or solutions most often has a good intention behind it (?). Similarily, I think this competition should be done with a helpful attitude and not as a frantic “pay back” attack.

“Our fellows in the first world often come to visit and give us their well intentioned but often very problematic “solutions”. We thought, why don’t we pay back? Dx1W is a competition for designers, artists, scientists, makers and thinkers in developing countries to provide solutions for First World problems.

Deadline May 30st, 2010 11:59 p.m. EST”

All this is just the beginning. For more inspiration, read the Dx1W Blog.

What do you think? Is this just the first initiative, of many to come, to help the First World? A silly prank? An idea that has your full support?

Pic borrowed from Swedish fashion company H&M’s spring collection 2009. Where they had borrowed their inspiration from was not too clear.

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Sponsoring Education: A Small Act

Just heard about the documentary A Small Act. The heartwarming story about a Swedish lady and a Kenyan school boy starts like this:

When Hilde Back sponsored a young, impoverished Kenyan student, she thought nothing of it. She paid roughly $15 dollars per term to keep him in primary school. She certainly never expected to hear from him, but many years later, she does.  The small contribution she made paid off – Chris Mburu went all the way to Harvard. Now, he’s a respected UN human rights lawyer, dedicating his life to battling genocide and crimes against humanity.

Many years later, Mburu decides to himself start a educational fund for needy children, much like himself growing up. What is so special about Mburu’s fund is he doesn’t take the credit for it, but rather decides to give it his benefactor’s name. Hilde Back educated one boy and he is now in a position to educate more children. The small act doesn’t seem so small anymore…

Doesn’t it sound just wonderful?

But then the election comes up in Kenya with all the confusion and violence. Also, few students seem to qualify for his fund due to poor elementary schooling. What happens now to the fund?

The film also has a blog, in which the filmmaker Jennifer Arnold tells us some interesting behind the screen stories, here is one about the screening for the Kenyans appearing in the film.

I told them I brought the film back, so they would know exactly what audiences would see and I wanted to answer any questions they had about what I had put in the story. Slowly they started to talk, telling me they didn’t think the film would be as real as it was. They said it was very, very touching. It made them feel both happy and sad. In the end they said the film showed the truth, and because it was all true it was good that I was going to show it, both here and abroad.

After the talk was done. We all went outside for tea. There seemed to be a huge amount of bonding and relief. They were teasing me, telling me I need to marry a Kikuyu because I know so much about them.

Of course not all sponsored kids go to Harvard, but maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe the lesson learned from this film is rather for the givers. Being involved makes a difference. And that is wonderful.

See the trailer below.

A SMALL ACT Trailer 2010 from Jennifer Arnold on Vimeo.

I’ll let you know when the film comes to Accra!

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>"The Birthplace of Cool" – Bono on Ghana

> I had totally missed that U2 singer, cum activist Bono wrote a column on Ghana and Africa in the New York Times just before Obama’s visit.

After reading the article I think to myself that something about Bono’s efforts is somehow so…arrogant and at the same time wonderfully naive. It talks about important things like the G8 meeting and how Africa is the birthplace of humanity. I guess it can’t be summarized, but here is a sneak peak to show you what I mean:

On a visit there (Ghana in May 2006), I met the minister for tourism and pitched the idea of marketing the country as the “birthplace of cool.” Just think, the music of Miles, the conversation of Kofi. He demurred … too cool, I guess.

Haha, pitched (haha, that word alone!) a marketing idea to a Minister of Tourism after having spent a few days in a country, how arrogant is not that?…but on the other hand, if now Bono says Ghana is cool, then why not take his word for it?! I guess we thought about marketing our chocolate, our gold, but we never really thought of marketing our ability to be cool.

And now three year after Bono’s visit, does Ghana even have a tourism marketing strategy?

The column can be found here.

Pic: Bono in Ghana 2006 borrowed from

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>SIDA Jobs: Update

>In June, I wrote about a job scam using the name of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA here.

Today, SIDA’s information unit have made a statement (see it in full here) where they officially denounce this so called job opportunity.

Advertisements for recruitment to positions as Project Officer at Swedish International Development Agency (Sub Regional Office) in Ghana, have been published in local newspapers in Ghana. Sida has NOT published these advertisements. There are currently no posts available for Sida in Ghana.

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>The New Liberia: Far From Budumburam

> Just outside of Ghana’s capitol Accra lies Budumburam, the vast refugee camp for Liberians with was founded with the help of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR in 1990. A volunteer describes the camp like this:

Spatially, the camp is divided into twelve zones, ten of which are in the main camp area and two on the other side of the main road from Accra. Beyond the entrance to the camp is the main square which is surrounded by small stalls. In the middle are the UNHCR notice boards, which are checked regularly in hope of resettlement placement in the U.S.
Around the main square are the principal public amenities such as the camp clinic. The two main streets leading from the square are lined with small shops, stalls, bars, video clubs and Internet cafes. In addition to the official camp zones, there are also four “Gaps”: areas outside of the officially recognized organization of the camp. Mostly young people who came without parents or other relatives inhabit the Gaps. Together they form a sub-culture based heavily on black American youth culture and Rastafariah identity. The Gaps tend to be shunned by most people in the mainstream camp.

Between midnight and 5am there is a self-imposed curfew at camp and there are neighbourhood watch teams who patrol the camp at night. Even if I were allowed to walk around camp at night I for sure would not as there are no electricity which means you can’t see shit and the camp it self is a enormous labyrinth of small streets and allies so the possibility to get lost is as big as it gets.

The water and sanitation facilities at the camp are poor, and together with waste disposal need urgent attention. Due to the poor and expensive sanitation facilities on camp, many residents are resorting to “The Gulf”, a patch of bushy land at the outer perimeter of the camp. This is a problem because the Gulf is where accounts of molestation, rape and murder are taken place.

What is going on in this camp is a real shame, from just driving by it looks like a gigantic slum that has been misplaced. When reading the account above, I realize it is worse. Luckily as of recently many NGOs, researchers and volunteers walk the camp and shed light on what is going on there.

What is going on in Liberia itself, and why you should go there for vacation is discussed in this personable Washington Post article. Reading it I realize I have a lot to learn about the new Liberia.

For instance, did you know they have Star beer in Liberia too?

Pic with the Liberia flag with embedded map borrowed from

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>The Economist’s Analysis of Obama’s Visit

> See weekly news magazine The Economist’s levelheaded article on Obama’s visit “How Different is His Policy” here.

They are probably right in principal: the American policy on Africa might not see too many changes even under Obama’s administration, but clearly no Economist reporter got the on-the-ground energy from Obama’s visit to Ghana – “well received” does not start to cover the euforia!

President Obama made a point to visit Africa within his first year as president and by so doing shared the enormous attention he still carries with the continent. In respectfully and boldly delivering some well-known truths like “development depends on good governance” to an African parliament Obama did something to us living in Africa that cannot be measured in monetary policy.

The “tone shifting a bit” makes the whole difference.

Pic borrowed from the above discussed article in The Economist.

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>Why Is Africa Begging?

> Last night, I went to the Goethe Institute in Accra to see their current exhibit open. I go to a lot of these events, being a lover of the arts, but this one was special becuase the artists were school children – well, rather youths – and hence represent the future of Ghanaian art.

There were giraffes, portraits, market scenes and animal sculptures – most notably a beautiful plaster owl made by a young man not much bigger then the owl itself.

But there was also a piece that grabbed my attention because of its clear message. Allison Elisabeth and Pele Vuncujovi had together created the African continent in papier maché – richly decorated in red, green and gold. In the middle of the continent a pair of black hands mysteriously stretch out, as if they were asking for something. As you stand back to look at the installation, you see a question mark circling the hands.

In the picture the artists by their work.

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>Obama to Ghana!

> Hurray! American president Obama is due to visit Ghana on the 10-11 of July, according to Ghanaian news.

When I heard, I was a bit surprised this visit comes so soon in the presidency, Bush Jr waited to his very last 6 months, for instance. But I guess it corresponds to the different foreign policy pushed by the new president. When I discussed the upcoming visit with some Ghanaian friends it was joy and laughter all around:

Yeah, that will really be a party/It will be bigger than Clinton’s visit/I have never been to any event at Independence Square, but Chaley, for that one…

Pic borrowed from Obama in Mexico earlier this week.

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>Africa Report x 2

> Today, I came across two interesting Africa Reports that I wante to share with you.

AR#1. The African Commission’s Final Report.

The African Commission , set up by the Danish government last year, is a high level group wanting to bring light to Africa’s opportunities and add new strategies to the development cooperation. I wonder if Dembisa Moyo that I wrote about last week thinks they succeeded.

Anyways, the group of really distinguished Africans and others includes Nigerias former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who I wrote about here and the Commission presents its recipy for development as follows: (this is the quick version, the 90-page report can be downloaded in pdf here).

1. The creation of an African Guarantee Fund in partnership with the African Development Bank aimed mobilizing loans for three billion USD and reducing the cost of access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises, SME’s. Africa’s SME’s provide 80 percent of output and jobs in Africa;

2. Ensuring access to energy at the local level by launching a new initiative in partnership with the EU and the African Development Bank. More than three-quarters of Africans lack access to electricity – a major constraint to economic development, doing business and standards of living;

3. Improving the business climate and Africa’s competitive edge by making sure that the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report covers all African countries. More than that, the Commission will work with a range of Africa-based entities to ensure that the findings of this benchmarking process is followed-up by the development of detailed policy responses and concrete reforms;

4. Unleashing the power of African entrepreneurship, both in start-up and existing enterprises, by providing advisory services and access to finance in order to allow young people to translate their good ideas into practical plans. The initiative will be implemented in partnership with the ILO and Youth Employment Network (a partnership between the UN, ILO and World Bank). It is expected that this initiative alone will create 40,000 new jobs and 20,000 new businesses;

5. Supporting higher education and research. Specifically, the initiative will increase the quantity and quality of artisans through apprenticeships, especially in the rural areas. Also, it will link tertiary research and business practices especially to expanding agricultural output.

I like how the Commission acknowledges the lack of electricity and how that is a basic problem in Africa (see what I wrote on it here). Also education is key, of course for development and currently the future for the African academy looks rather bleak. Just as in the north, links with research and businesses need to be improved. So, far I agree.

However, I am more sceptical towards yet another fund, the African Guarantee fund – I think many times it is information and reporting that is scarce – not a complete lack of money. And then sometimes I think the people in those high level meetings overstate the influence of their instruments. I mean, can the “World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report” really improve the business climate in Africa?

What do you think?

AR#2 Magazine The Africa Report.

I picked up a copy of this mag I haven’t seen before. I am a huge fan of news magazines like Focus on Africa and The Economist and today I found one that can compete.

In this mag, I liked the topics and the rich ways of describing current issues in Africa. I have studied it now for about 45 minutes, but is nowhere near done. I like that type of publication density.

The current issue of The Africa Report gave a very illuminating report of Mills’ first 100 days in power and came with an interesting economic report-booklet of Cote D’Ivoire.

I guess that makes it three Africa reports today…

In the top pic Africa’s future on the beach in Kromantse, Central Region, Ghana.

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>Dead Aid Debate II: Interview with Moyo

>Radio journalist Dave Lucas sent me this link to an interview with Dembisa Moyo in where she gets to explain her argument. She is well-spoken and lays out her arguments clearly. A man from Nigeria also voices his critique against the book and interestingly also talks about how to reverse the brain-drain out of Africa which I have touched on in these posts. Moyo then replies to the critique.

The interview is a 12 minutes I recommend to everyone interested in the aid-debate.

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>Dead Aid Debate

> Surfed into Guernica Magazine ( a wonderful web based magazine on art and politics!) and saw this interview with writer and economist Dembisa Moyo.

Moyo has recently written a book, “Dead Aid”. Her agument is that aid dependence is doing more to hurt than to help Africa. And that aid is being sustained not because there is evidence of progress, but because of the 500 000 people who work in the “aid industry”.

At the same time African governments are not taxing their people and hence people also expect little of them. Opaquness rather than transparancy, corruption rather than efficiencly describes governance in Africa.

Some people, like her teacher at Oxford and Harvard
Paul Collier, feel she is mostly correct and that her wishes of slashed aid will come true because of the current economic downturn.

Others like writer Madeleine Bunting thinks Moyo’s liberalist views are poorly underpinned and wonders what will happen to the poorest people, like the HIV infected, if aid is terminated.

The other day I met a fellow who works with the Millenium Challenge initiative to build roads and make agriculture more efficient in Ghana. A project costing USD 547 million. Some of the projcts he described, like facilitating the supply of vegetables to Accra and the harbor in Tema, is something I have never heard the Ghanaian government(s) suggest.

Then the question is why, is it because someone else is already doing it?

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