Problem Fatigue: Korle Bu, NIA, and Weija Dam

Often, the news cycle in Ghana excites me and seemingly puts pressure on people in charge. So far so good. However, at times, the news feel like projectiles that blow up too close to comfort and just keep coming BOOM BOOM BOOM without breathing space to the point of me and other people going “what is happening to us?”, “WHY?” or similar while throwing our hands in the air. 

This week, and its only Tuesday!, for instance we heard about:

All these problems are major, critical, and totally unacceptable. They all are not new, but historical problems that have not been adequately addressed. On radio this morning, the Korle Bu Hospital CEO Dr. Buckle said the surgery ward issue dates back to 2014  and the article on the identification card suggests the exercise begun in 2003, albeit is still not completed!

All these problems have multiple people (departments! ministries! experts!) working on them, seemingly not making much progress – or what do I know- but at least not solving issues!  For instance the identification card was here highlighted in a forum organised by a media house and the World Bank – why not championed by the parliament or the authority created for identification, I do not understand. It seems the problems are too big to get solved by public servants or politicians? Or they lack the skill, funds, or political will?

If so, solutions to problems are likely linked to more citizen engagement. But how do we get there? How do we make sure we channel rage, direct energy, and funnel ideas for solutions –  and not for apathy?

Ghanaians Going Places: Journalist Umaru Sanda

IMG_4842I first met Umaru last summer at his workplace radio station Citi FM in Accra. I was much impressed with his work (cool when phones start to ring non-stop, quick when to determine what big man or woman to follow up with, a good discussant on critical issues, wide smile) and glad to hear his efforts have been acknowledged internationally.

 

Umaru Sanda has been invited to attend World Water Week in Stockholm to accept the WASH award given for outstanding reporting on water and sanitation issues. With the current cholera outbreak I don’t know what other topic than the (relentless) quest for clean water could be more critical at the moment.
He received the award based on documentary Water Wahala which you can listen to here:

 

I have been upset about this issue before and how there seems to be no political will what so ever to change it. Here are posts from 2011, 2010 and 2009.

 

I am happy this fine journalist also got to see my native Sweden. Ayekoo, Umaru!

 

Photo: Umaru in the back, hand in the sky! July 2013 
 

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!

 

Utility Tariffs to Go Up: Ghana Connect Debate on Joy FM

In the news the last couple of days, we could read that the Public Utility Regulatory Commission (PURC) is having talks with government, initiated by the Volta River Authority (VRA) the biggest power producer in Ghana, on increasing tariffs for electricity and water. See  this Joy FM report for instance.

I have been invited to share my views on JoyFMs new program Ghana Connect – a program that allows regular Ghanaians – and myself – to voice our opinions together with stakeholders. Tonight VRA has been invited.

The producer/host sent me this blurb:

“Utility tariffs are set to go up. The only question now remains when and not if.  You must be prepared to pay as much as 166 per cent more for electricity and water than you are paying now. The expert consultations have already started but on Ghana Connect this Friday, we connect the Ghanaian consumer in Ghana and beyond to interrogate the proposed tariff increases. Are you ready to pay more and how much is enough?”

My argument in brief is:
  1. At some point we need to pay what utilities actually cost in order for the service to be sustainable.
  2. Utility subsidies favor middle and upper class people more than the poor as generators and poly tanks use more than dumso-dumso and buckets.
  3. Electricity production is complicated, but there is NO REASON why Ghana should not be able to provide potable water for its population.
  4. Increasing prices by more than 100% is not advisable as ripple effects are huge and people need to plan expenses. What is the plan for the next five years?
  5. On the other hand, private solutions (batteries/generators and pure/bottled water cost much much more) and from a Swedish perspective we have a lot to win from solving these issues together rather than apart.

As I sent out an email to BloggingGhana about this radio program, many of our members provided their two pesewas – so this issue is HOT!  Someone called the increase “draconian” another person said “I would prefer to pay, than to pretend to be paying bills as they also pretend to be giving me a service.”

Tune in at 6.30 PM if you want to hear me voice my views.

Running a Marathon OR At Home with a Two-Year-Old

Being at home all day with a two-year-old is similar to running a marathon.

She sets off into any direction and fast! She has a flair for dangerous things (electronics, sharp objects, vases filled with water…) and as soon as you do not pay attention she might have thrown all textiles in the house into the water-filled zink or emptied her lunch plate into a paper suitcase (both has happened to me today!) Before you even have time to get angry she is on a different project. She laughs and dances, sings and claps.

And then off again. Where is she now? Gotta run!

Water Crisis in Greater Accra: Report from Tema

For months, the water supply has been erratic in Community 11, the area of Tema, Ghana where we live. Since I came back to Ghana about one month ago, we have had water only seven days.

In more densly populated areas in Tema like community 4 and Michel Camp where relatives live, there has been no water at all for a full month. That might not impress many Accra folk who have been without piped water for years(!), but in our communities we are used to water flowing and are therefore poorly prepared for a sudden halt in services. Now desperate Tema people are collecting water from the open gutters…

Although there are rumors for the cause and duration of this water problem (Teshie and Nungua is getting our water / pipes are old / there has been a major leak etc), there seems to be no reliable information to be had. An undated(!) entry at Ghana Broadcasting Corporation quotes the responsible minister, Mr Bagbin, as saying

“government will soon go into negotiation with Duraplast Limited to find ways for the company to supply the Ghana Water Company with high quality PVC pipes to replace the outdated once to ensure equal distribution”.

A statement that leave me with many questions. Another article, now from The Chronicle is looking at the longterm water problem. In it one of my Ghanaian heros, Mr Azeem from Ghana Integrity Initiative, claims 1,49 billion USD is needed to solve the problem of water supply by 2020. He also is sitting on the very interesting information that Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) is currently supplying half of the demand or 551,000 cubic metres per day, as against a daily demand of 939.000 cubic metres.

GWCL provides no such information on their website (although they ironically do promote an “international training in customer management”). Sadly, I have seen nothing on news websites and not heard any announcements on radio. (Has there been any info in newspapers or on TV?). The informative website WaterWiki has more statistics, but no up-to-date info on what is happening in the area now. Under the headline of Sanitation status for Accra /Water supply, they matter-of-factly state the sad truth:

“in-plot piped water supply is much less frequent in low-income communities”.

What is going on? Where is the water? What is the Tema and Ashaiman municipalities doing about it? Why is GWCL not informing its customers about what is happening? (As they are able to still serve us with bills, we suspect they can if they want) Who is responsible for the effects of this drought of the pipes – like cholera and other diseases? And where is the outrage?

Read an earlier post on water here.

Picture borrowed from iconarchive.com

Afropositivism and Biggest Ever Inequality Between Rich and Poor

Today, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) (and often called the rich countries’ club) releases a report “Divided We Stand” (click here for more information and summary of Divided We Stand). It says that even though we have seen a period of growth, inequality between high income earners and low income earners in the OECD is on the increase and it is the biggest since 30 years.

See a summary – along with a great description of the Gini coefficient in this video:


However, what if we make that comparison outside the OECD…?

A few days back the Africa Governance Initiative, led by Tony Blair organized a high level forum to discuss Africa from a positive, forward-looking and empowered perspective. In the write-ups for the lovely website, Africa’s countries’ growth rates are positively discussed:

“there is a new story about Africa that is less familiar. It tells of an Africa in which poverty fell from 52% in 1990 to 40% in 2008. An Africa in which economic growth averaged 4.9% from 2000-2008”

The Economist in its Africa Rising issue (out now!) shares the view:

“Over the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the knock-on effect of the northern hemisphere’s slowdown, the IMF expects Africa to grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia.//Africa now has a fast-growing middle class: according to Standard Bank, around 60m Africans have an income of $3,000 a year, and 100m will in 2015.”

I am not saying they are wrong, actually it is ever so nice with some Afropositivism, but living in Ghana, a country where economic inequality stares me in the eye every hour of every day, I would like to say that looking at macro growth rates is not very informative.

Also, in saying that 60 million Africans, out of the 1 billion Africans in total, have a specific annual salary is not saying much (by the way, who in Europe be glad about USD 3000 per annum?) Without mentioning the cost of living, where African cities actually are among the most expensive in the world (Luanda, Njamena and Libreville in the top 10), food is getting more expensive by the day and did I mention clean water is a large share of weekly expenses in Ghana? Further: inflation is high, there is lack of credit, falling exchange rates, stagnating salaries – that USD 3000, does not go very far.

In light of these events, I suggest looking at the income equality between rich and poor, world wide, using the Gini index (courtesy of Wikipedia).

We see on this map that Africa is extremely unequal, ranging from green (0.35) to dark red (>0.60), but with also many countries not even being able to report data (gray).

It is easy to conclude, that without spreading the wealth, that celebrated economic growth is worth very little to the average African.

(…and possibly also to the rich who then need to invest heavily in security, but that is a different story).

You Know You Are in Accra When…

A celebrated part of new Dust magazine (that has been mentioned a number of times on this blog already) is the section called “you know you are in Accra when…”  Basically a list of fun stuff that we can see daily and only become funny when highlighted. I have observed, similar things have been posted on Twitter with the hashtag “onlyinGhana”.

Anyhow, I have some to share with you:

You know you are in Accra when…/Only in Ghana…

…an envelope can double as a bag to carry about town.

… A meal costs anywhere between 70 pesewas and 70 GHC.

…you hear “I’m coming, eh!” when someone walks away from you.

…parking is free, but throwing your trash, going to the washroom or drinking cholera free water has a steep price.

…you have to run to cross the street, even if the “green man” is giving you way.

These are just some I thought of when driving to work the other day – do let me know your homemade ones as well in the comment section below!

House Cleaning in Ghana

There was a program on TV called Extreme Home Makeover some years back (maybe its still on?), anyways, I sometimes think of that when it is time to clean our house here in Ghana.

The combination of louvre-windows or a house that is not completely sealed and dusty surroundings makes for so – much – dust – EVERYWHERE.

In wardrobes, in drawers, on books, on walls…Then we also have the left-behinds of the involuntary pets – spiderwebs, wall gecko droppings, dead flies, a leg of a cockroach etc. As Ghana is also a humid country certain things get moldy, especially clothing, bags and shoes, but also pillows, table cloths and napkins – that is if you don’t take them out every so often to dry in the sunlight. What I am trying to say is that a house in Ghana can get really, really dirty.

The difference to the TV-version of it is that I do not get to go on a luxurious vacation and only scream MOVE-THAT-BUS before my new house emerges, no, I have to be a part of the SERIOUS dust removal.

Why do I say EXTREME and SERIOUS?

Well, because of the normal cleaning routines in Ghana that seem harsh to me (although now that I am sitting in a clean house I understand the rationale). What about:

– Spreading all my shoes and purses over the lawn in our backyard
– Scrubbing all carpets with Omo
– POURING water on the floor and scrubbing (see small helper in pic)
– Emptying the bookshelf completely to wipe all the books down
– Carrying all “small furniture” i.e. tables, lamps, baskets, vases…outside for a thorough sweeping and finally my personal favorite:
– Hosing the windows/dirty mosquito netting down from the outside (yes, plenty of dirty water in the room)

Sigh, is it obvious that I hate cleaning day?