Category Archives: GH2013

Profiting off of Agbogbloshie, Ghana’s Slum Safari

*Please forgive the delivery and language in this post. The reality of what’s going on on the ground deserves more eloquence than I possess. What I have discovered is truly disgusting, and it’s a new low…even for a country with dubious scruples like Ghana.

I have been doing so reading about Agbobgloshie lately to find out how the residents there have been faring since the government wiped out their homes and businesses with bulldozers flanked by armed personnel earlier this year. For those who do not know, Agbobgloshie is the second largest and most toxic e-waste dump on the planet. Not just in Africa…on the entire globe.

Most of the waste is illegally shipped in from Europe and America.

Agbobgloshie goes by many names. Some refer to it as Old Fadama. It has also been nicknamed Sodom and Gomorrah – everyone agrees it is hell on earth. Children who have spent every moment since birth breathing in the toxic fumes that burn round the clock routinely die of cancer in that area. Every step you take on the oozing, sludgy ground is perilous. The earth is pocked with broken glass from busted up television sets, exposed industrial wiring and sharp edges of the remains of freezers, vehicles, discarded things that the West no longer wanted. Once a wetland with crystal blue waters that you could see straight through to the sandy bottom, this now poisonous environment is home to thousands of people – some 40,000 by some estimates. They come from all over the country in search of employment in the capital city. Employment opportunities are already scarce for educated residents with roots in the capital that go back at least two generations. Nepotism is the order of the day and class-ism ensures that big breaks that lead to real opportunities remain in the ranks of a particular few.

It is in this hostile environment that economic migrants/refugees find themselves once they move with the hope of supporting themselves and their families outside of the Greater Accra region. Where the government is concerned -whether NDC or the opposition –  they are the recipients of very little beyond failed policies, broken promises and political rip offs. Still, these residents of Earth’s second most toxic dump nestled firmly in the seventh filthiest country on the planet are resourceful and have managed to eke out a living for themselves. And as if the insult of all that they have endured thus far has not been enough, they have been and are being taken advantage of in the most degrading way. Their poverty and suffering is being exploited as fodder for voyeurs who view their suffering as nothing more than a curiosity  or “a destination for travelers looking to experience another walk of life.

Ad selling tours to the slum

Ad selling tours to the slum

Just moments ago, I stumbled upon http://www.viator.com which bills itself as a TripAdvisor (R) company. Thinking that I had found what must surely be a hoax site, I called the toll-free number to speak with a customer service rep to get further information. The unidentified rep gave me as much information as she could (which means be read from the posted information from the website) and asked me if I would like to book through their company for a slum tour. It would only cost me a mere $34. Tours required a minimum of 12 participants for a 3 hour trek through the slum that would begin at 9 am. Quick math informed me that the amount generated for this tour would amount to a little over $400. According to statsghana.gov, the average Ghanaian makes $154 a month. Viator is a broker for the local company who organizes the tours. The rep would not tell me who that was until I booked and confirmed a trip. However, she assured me that this person or entity would ensure my safety and even offer translation services, should I need it when “interacting with the resourceful locals who have managed to make a new life for themselves in such harsh conditions”.

I find it difficult to conjure the vocabulary needed to express how disgusting this venture is.

You may recall the Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa near Bloemfontein, South Africa which offers a shanty town experience for those who want to “experience poverty” without the inconvenience of actually experiencing poverty. Imaginatively named Shanty Town, the rooms replicate the experience of living in one room corrugated metal and wood homes, similar to those that many impoverished South Africans call home. The difference is, these campsites come with hot water, electricity and wifi. The venture shocked much of the civilized world for its insensitivity. Nevertheless, it thrives. Why? Because something about Black suffering is only strong enough to illicit shock, but never enough indignation to demand cessation of the offense …particularly if there is a profit to be made off of it.

slum

The idea that there are Ghanaians involved in a scheme to show off the injury, suffering and distress of fellow Ghanaians for their portion of $34 a head is reprehensible. How much of that money makes its way back into the community? If the slum tours that take place in South Africa and the Caribbean are anything to judge by, it’s very little. The least these unscrupulous operators could do is re-invest in the community to help meet some of it’s needs, or as an old lady whom I recently had the pleasure of dining with said recently: “If you’re going to f*ck me over, at least kiss me first.”

There is so much wrong with Ghanaian society. We’ve absolutely failed this generation, and quite possibly four more generations to come with the sort of depravity we’ve permitted. From corruption, to protecting perpetrators of child rape, to confining the mentally incapacitated to prison without trial or representation, the veritable erasure of what it means to be a Ghanaian and the pride that calling yourself by this name once held…the list is endless and frankly, exhausting.

I know for a fact that this Old Fadama tour will not only continue after today, but thrive. There is not enough outrage left in the country to spare for the invisible poor. People have to worry about the shocks and spasms of the cedi and whether or not there will be petrol for the generator and A/C this evening. So what if a few white people want to gawk and the beggarly, Black proletariat like apes in their natural habitat?

human

I wish it wasn’t that way. It hurts me that it is.

The Night I was Assaulted – by Christabel Steel-Dadzie

Every day, Ghanaian women and men suffer the indignities of physical assault and verbal abuse by those who feel empowered and at liberty to do so. And while these follies are not uniquely Ghanaian in nature, they must be addressed head-on because they affect us as Ghanaians.  We only compound our inability to better ourselves and our society when we ignore the ills taking place in our midst – or worse – point to the ills of other societies for vindication, hoping to absolve ourselves from wrongdoing.

No one is immune from the rot that festers in the bowels and minds of the power hungry civil “servant”, security guard, mayor or police officer. The sludge they discharge with every mean act threatens to drown us all. I am grateful that Christabel Steel-Dadzie has had the courage to speak up about her assault. Please read her story till the end and share. It’s past time we begin to hold those who continue to abuse their posts accountable.

*****

I have so many emotions as I write about this incident – first because I had such an amazing Saturday celebrating my country – it’s beauty, it’s wealth, heritage, pride, etc…. but like most things in life, not long after your golden moments, you are starkly reminded of the reality of a broken system, a broken country…

My cousin asked me to help her run an errand, as family does, I hopped into the car, picked her and up and we were on for a fun 1-hour+ ride – we spent the whole journey reminiscing about the good old days, family members we had lost and were memorializing…

We arrived at our destination around 7:20pm and the following unfolded:

I got to the gate of a gated community I had been to several times. Surprisingly they opened the gate for me (later on lied that they didn’t open the gate but that they had let a taxi in prior to our getting there and I followed; somehow that taxi vanished…) Because I know how the system works and I have been brought up generally to obey ‘the law’, I stopped of my own volition. The (female) security guard was taken aback and it took her a few seconds before I think she realized she didn’t know me, so asked who I was looking for… I mentioned the name of the person I was going to see, but knowing she (my hostess) wasn’t the house owner, and they have been confused by that before, I begun to dial her number…

Security guard asks, as I dial – do you know the house number, I am talking on the phone and at the same time say, I am not sure, but she’s calling you. We hear the phone ringing in the security office… The security guard (female) says that I am blocking the entrance and therefore if a car is coming behind me they won’t be able to enter. I look in the rear view mirror, no car… The phone has stopped ringing so I know they have talked to my hostess… so I say again, she has responded, so can I simply go? I will move away if a car shows up…

There are 4 other men standing around, some in uniform, others not… Security guard tells me to go and park… I say, she has called, so can I go? Within a matter of seconds, 4 men are yelling at me to park, so I say in a very calm voice – “I am not sure why you are yelling at me, I haven’t done anything wrong and I don’t think you should treat humans this way.” Another man (not in uniform) shows up and pokes his fingers literally in my eyes and bellows “PARK! PARK! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? PARK!” At this point, I get upset and I say again, “you cannot talk to me that way, you need to calm down!”…. Dude then does what is done by most people in power “SHOWS ME WHERE POWER LIES!”… Yells his head off at us and stands in front of our vehicle… “You will not enter this community” “You will have to run over me first!”…. To be very honest with you, for a quick second, I almost moved forward just to prove a point – but thank God for the Cross and home training, I backed off and put off my engine.

My cousin at this point is livid; she says, “Ewuradjoa, since we are decent people and won’t run him over, let’s lock up and walk.” We get out of the car, and within seconds the so called security guard (not in uniform by the way), shoves me hard! I was shocked! Stood still for a quick second – What just happened? Did he just hit me? I wondered?… Found myself saying the words out loud “No, you didn’t just hit me!”… Oh apparently that was uncalled for; how dare me small girl driving (my father, or is it sugar daddy’s) four-wheel drive and I think I know everything – how can I question whether he’s hit me?

Oh then round two – He hits my arm again!

A woman who was entering the complex and saw him hit me – literally in the act (she was in her car with some kids) starts yelling – did you just hit a woman? You should never hit a woman, no matter what! And said a few more things that I didn’t hear and then drove off…

EWURADE! At this point, my cousin went ballistic! “How dare you touch her?” She pulls out her camera to document the issue, and dude-no-uniform-security-guard throws his arm at her – a punch that would have landed straight in her face, had she not moved swiftly backwards…

At this point, I am in so much shock that I go back and sit in the car – so

  1. He hit me!
  2. He hit me again because I questioned him and told him not to touch me

Then to top it all off

3. He attempts to hit my cousin (bo ne ni su style – sorry! I can’t find the English translation for this)

A number of people start gathering at the scene. I hear someone calling the head of security… I call my hostess… The ‘head of security’

(I put in inverted commas because I have no idea who anyone is, coz no one wears ID)… comes with another man to ask me what happened… I narrate the story; head of security walks away; comes back about 10 minutes later and says “He really hit you didn’t he?” I say “he sure did”… dude on the side goes “REALLY???” At this point, I get emotional! Did I not just narrate the entire story to this man a few minutes ago and tell him I was assaulted? Why should he question that I would make that up? Unfortunately, on paper, I can’t quite express this moment – I looked around – all men! I felt dirty; incomplete, I don’t even know what else… Why should I lie about such a thing?

So I said to the man, once I was able to catch a breath in between crying, “I am educated enough to know that it is a grievous issue to accuse a man of hitting me,… so I would never make that up!” Apparently this man only heard the word “educated” so started yelling at me and schooling me about how I didn’t know who he was or how educated he is!… At this point, I just give up!

I call my cousin and hostess; I announce to them – I am going to the police and I would love to see this man go to jail just to set an example of him to many! Of course, they all scoff… and apparently rightfully so, because I didn’t know what was just about to happen…

Fortunately, there is a police station around the corner (we find out later that the apartment complex built the station)… We get there – “Good evening (there were 2 officers I could see) I would like to file a complaint. I have just been assaulted.”… Out of nowhere I hear a male voice yelling “what did you do to him before he touched you?”… I almost fainted! WOW!!! (I later realize that there is another officer behind the counter lying on a bench as he yells at me)…

source: GhanatoGhana

source: GhanatoGhana

At this point, I give up! I can’t even find the words… So my cousin narrates the story… One of the cops writes my name and contact information on a tattered piece of paper … My cousin asks, “we would like to file a complaint; can we get the form?”… The officer responds in a very stand-offish voice, “there is no form… you have to go to a government hospital and get a doctor to endorse that you were assaulted, then you come back and then we will document the issue further and then find an investigator to go with you to find the person…” My cousin says, you realize we are way outside Accra and more than likely can’t get to a government hospital tonight? She retorts “that’s the system and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Oh and by the way, this is the only police station that I can continue the case with… so pretty much would have to go sit at a government hospital for say 5 hours; after a 2 hour drive, then do another 1-2 hour drive back to tell them that the doctor says they can’t physically see any bruises so it’s cool! Just WOWWWW!!!

At this point, I am confused, still shocked by what just happened, and I find myself walking back to the car… I am simply speechless! We drive back to the complex to drop off my hostess who has been apologizing the entire time for this embarrassing and uncalled for event… We get to the gate and the ‘head of security’ comes to me to tell me that since his CCTV camera is not working, there is nothing he can do about the situation; moreover all the other staff who witnessed the event have just told him that the guy never touched me… He continues to say that it is my prerogative to pursue the police case, but on his end, it’s pretty much a done deal… I respond “Sir, wait until he kills someone before you do something about it! Since that’s the order of the day in our country.”

We drive off…

Am I physically hurt? – my arm hurts only slightly, but I am absolutely fine… I contemplated the entire night if I wanted to pursue the case… but I realized the sad truth – we have a broken system, and it’s as simple as that! A system that frustrates the ‘victim’ to the point that more often than not, you’ll just let the matter go… which is where I am. For the first time ever, I really wish I knew some commandoes who would go and ‘rough’ them up! I swear, that’s my innate feeling! But again, Thank God for the Cross, so I know what is right and won’t advocate for that – but I can really relate to instant justice within our system…

Ok… Let’s just say I was completely wrong; even then, he had absolutely no right to hit me – TWICE! And then no one would believe it; then those who saw it just blatantly lied! Then I go to the cops and they yell at me with an accusing tone of being responsible for why I was hit??!!! And I bet you my last cedi that I will meet them all at church on Sunday, or at the mosque on Friday… There’s so much wrong with all of this right here!…

I am writing this, not because I have been hospitalized, but because I want to tell my story, even if you think it’s not substantial enough, an assault is an assault, and should simply not be allowed! I am still meditating and trying to figure out why this happened to me, as I am a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason”… I think maybe God allowed me to go through this to help me relate to someone else who is going through the same thing and – possibly doesn’t know her right; or believes that she should let it go”… People, assault is not about physical bruises but more about the emotional and psychological implications of the assault…. And we should all stand up to our broken system, in any little way shape or form, to make changes…  

 

THIS MADNESS MUST STOP!

I’m Absolutely Furious With Shirley, Leila And Nicole

I would have written a 1600 word post about my angst, but I have to run out and meet Akuba Sheen(!) for pancakes in 10 minutes.

Ghana will celebrate 60 years of independence in 2017. In 60 years, no one has dramatized the struggle that our people have gone through. Sure, there are loads of documentaries, but none that tell the personal stories of the selfless men and women who sacrificed life, limb and wealth to give us our freedom.

The time is now. I’m asking women in film to fix this before it’s too late. Lets gather these stories while those who lived to witness the events are still among us! Like I said, I have already volunteered to be the casting director. I must also contribute my quota, anaa?

Do you agree with me? Shouldn’t Ghana have a biopic about its birth done by now? And wouldn’t ANY of these ladies do a fabulous job at it? Look at the mastery Ava brought to ‘Selma’. Shirley is capable of that and more. We are waiting, y’all. Tick-tock, tick-tock!

 

Misogyny Retards the Growth of Our Nation

 Misogyny

noun

Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

 

On April 23rd, Mark Ashong confidently strode into the offices of one of Ghana’s top cellular and data services providers for an interview with the executives that would be deciding his fate. Had had applied for a position as a network engineer in December, and the hiring process had been a long and arduous one. Still, the rewards that came with gainful employment with such a globally recognized brand would outweigh any inconveniences he had suffered over the last few months. Today, he would be meeting with a panel to gauge how he performed under pressure.

A demure secretary with a pixie hair cut showed him into the boardroom where the VP, CTO and his (eventual) team lead were seated. Mark rushed over to shake each of their hands firmly, and thanked them again for the opportunity to meet with them. The team lead was the first to speak.

“I see here that you graduated with a degree in microbiology in 2002?”

“Yes,” replied Mark. He got this question a lot. How does biology support your work in technology? He already had an answer with the phrases “attention to detail” and “creative thinking” prepared.

“So that would make you…what? 35 years old?” the VP asked, her eyes askance.

Mark was taken aback by this query about his age, but thought it best to show respect to these ranking members of the company he hoped to work for and said, “I’m 36…yes.”

“Are you married?”

Mark Ashong grunted his reply. Yes; he had just gotten married in December.

The CTO clicked her tongued and rested her chin in her hands. Finally, she leaned in and looked Mark square in the eye, asking, “Don’t you think this position would be a little too demanding for you? What would your wife think of the long hours you’d have to put in here? Wouldn’t you be better off with less responsibility so that you could better attend the needs of your home?”

By now, Mark was completely aghast. What did any of these questions have to do with his 8 years’ experience as a network engineer? Trying to draw the conversation away from his personal life, he fished out 3 copies of his CV and handed them over to the directors saying,

“As you can see from my work history and references, I am no stranger to hard work and am willing to put in the time needed to get the job done. I would be a great asset to your company.”

“Mark…can you fry an egg?”
“No,” Mark said brusquely, “but I can architect a Cisco enterprise infrastructure for a Fortune 500 company in two days.”

The three executives glanced at one another before thanking Mark for coming in. He would have their decision by the next day. Stunned, Mark Ashong gathered his belongings and went home to wait for the call. The next day, he recognized the voice of the petite officer manager. She was delighted to inform him that the execs had offered Mark the position of Administrative Assistant to the Team Lead. Would he be willing to come in and sign his office letter?

“How could this be? I applied for the position of Network Engineer!” he gasped.

The secretary lowered her voice, telling Mark in confidence that the decision was made to give him a less demanding position out of concern for his home life. It was never good for a man to be too far away from his wife. Surely he understood that? Mark nodded silently on the other end and shut off his cell phone. What choice did he have? He wanted to work for this company. It could possibly lead to future growth, right? He signed the offer letter and spent the next 2 years sharpening pencils and ordering office supplies. Mark Ashong had been passed up for one promotion after another because he refused to sleep with the President of the cellular and data company. It was standard practice if a man wanted to get ahead in this business, but he couldn’t degrade himself in this way. And that is how one of the brightest and best network engineers fell through Ghana’s development cracks.

******

You’re probably reading this and scratching your chin. How on earth could anyone allow this to happen, you may be asking yourself? The fact is scenarios just like this happen every day in cities and towns all over Ghana… and women – not men like Mark – are primary targets of such discriminatory treatment. Women in Ghana are discouraged from reaching their full potential for a myriad of reasons we are yet to make any true sense of. So far, the only justification for holding women back in the spheres of politics, education, spiritual leadership roles and finance is because it is the “natural order” of things…according to misogynists. And make no mistake: Ghana is overrun with misogynist philosophies, doctrines and policies.

I consider Nana Yaw Asiedu to be one of the most thoughtful and inquisitive minds on social media. He is one of the few people I have encountered who has invested the time to ask questions with a true desire to understand a point of view, and to do it with the utmost probity. It was he who asked:

Why is it taking Africans so long to realize the inseparable link between misogyny and underdevelopment?

Why indeed, when the evidence is so clear? Women comprise of 51% of the population and yet are subject to false cultural barriers to their development. There is a dearth of (wo)man power in many sectors that would bring wealth and development to the nation; but where we should be training girls to tinker and build automobiles and aircraft, we rather encourage them to sew and braid hair. There is nothing wrong with pursuing a profession in hair dressing if that’s your passion, but as any woman who has been on the receiving end of burned edges or 3 inches of hair chopped off by a bitter hairdresser will tell you, it would be much better if the coiffeuse had never set for in a salon! It’s devastating for all involved. Women must be encouraged to explore as many avenues as possible and not just acceptable/anticipated gender specific roles.

A student at work

Photo source: Black Youth Project

If we are truly serious about Ghana’s development, we must do away completely with misogynist attitudes, particularly in the realms of social justice and activism. We must begin to address the issues and causes that women champion by their merits, and not judge them by the workings of her vagina. It’s as if Ghana, the lips of a vagina have more power to communicate than the lips a woman speaks with. Whether she has given birth, the number of sexual partners (or lack thereof), or her presumed barrenness are indicators of her worth or whether she’s worthy to lead. Men have never suffered these confines – confines that do not even speak to character.

Ghana is losing yet another valuable and precious resource to the scourge of misogyny. The country is hemorrhaging talent via brain drain – and shockingly – within its own borders. We are killing talent and potential because men are too frightened to admit that a woman might be a valuable ally and too many women view themselves as merit-less. Let’s change this, before it’s too hard and too late to reverse the retarded course we’re on.

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.” – Brigham Young

A nation can’t truly function unless ALL of its citizens have their rights respected and their potential maximized.

 

 

Raffia Reinvents Ancient Elegance

“I have an anecdote about one of the reasons our fabric means so much to me. As I mentioned, my father was in the Foreign Service. It is a rule that Ghanaian diplomats must wear Ghanaian national attire whenever the Embassy hosts an Independence Day party. In the early 1980’s, my family lived in Copenhagen. Our first 6th March there, my father wore Kente cloth slung across one shoulder in the Akan style. He was cold and uncomfortable the entire time. He never wore Kente again. The following year, he wore a thick batakari smock outfit complete with pantaloons and a cap. It was a tiny rebellion but to him, it made sense. It was warm, he felt comfortable and it was still a handwoven outfit – just not from Bonwire.” – Madonna Kendona-Sowah.

“***

Mark Twain once said that “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” I have always loved this quote. I affirms my long-held belief that if you ever want to know anything about the attitudes that a person holds about him/herself or how they view the world, one has only to take a quick glance at their clothing. I can tell a lot about a person simply by looking at their shoes, but that’s a conversation for another day. Today, we are talking about Raffia – an exciting a relatively new company that is revolutionizing Ghanaian fashion with an old classic.

Madonna Kendona-Sowah founded the company in 2013 after she looked around and realized that there was an element missing from Ghana’s mainstream fashion industry: there were no Northern textiles featured in any of the country’s shows and glossy magazines. There certainly weren’t any being shown on the international glossies either. That’s when Kendona-Sowah seized the opportunity to change this.

Madonna Kendona-Sowah

Madonna Kendona-Sowah

I’m personally glad she did, because I have to be honest: fashion in Ghana has become quite dull. We’ve seem most of the stuff on the runway in one form or another for decades now. Vlisco wax print is ubiquitous, kente even more so. Every collection features a backless dress, a mullet skirt or an asymmetric frock done in bold (imported) print or non-indigenous textiles embellished or fringed with kente. . It’s all very pretty, but it’s been done. To quote Edna Mode from The Incredibles, “I never look back dahhhling! Fashion only looks forward!”

To most Ghanaians, the North remains a mystery. Those of us who were born and live(d) in the capital were discouraged from including the Northern region in our travels for exploration. We were told “It’s too far” or “There is nothing to see in the North anyway”, indicating that there is nothing of value that comes from the North. A quick investigation into some of Ghana’s most beloved delicacies shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Southerners love Hausa koko and waakye, both imports to the coast from the North. Chinchinga (khebab), shea butter, kola nuts and a host of other gems that enhance Ghanaian life that we have yet to fully appreciate all come from the region. It only makes sense that the next big thing in fashion should come from one of its children.

 

Please talk about yourself for a bit. What is your Ghanaian heritage?

 My parents are both from Navrongo in the Upper East Region. I was born in Accra but raised in Europe and West Africa because my father was in the Foreign Service. Prior to launching Raffia, my experience of the North was sporadic visits to see my grandparents but I have always had a very strong sense of belonging to the North. I’m very proud of my heritage.

You’ve chosen to use raffia as the medium for your designs. Ghana is usually associated with kente and/or VLISCO wax prints exclusively. When did you realize there was a void in fashion?

I’d like to make a quick clarification before I answer this: the fabric is actually called “Gonja cloth” because of its origins in Daboya, in the heart of Gonjaland in the Northern Region. I chose the name “Raffia” as a metaphor for how something that is seemingly unremarkable in its raw state (an analogy for Ghanaians’ perceptions of Northern Ghana) can be used to make something beautiful.

Back to your question: I wore Gonja cloth dresses to my Master’s graduation ceremonies in 2010. My Ghanaian friends and relatives saw the pictures on Facebook and were so surprised that the fabric could be made into something other than “kaba and slit”. I was in the US then so it didn’t hit me until I moved home the following year and saw that while the smock had been popularized, most designers were working with wax prints. It wasn’t until 2013 that I saw this as an opportunity to do something different but meaningful with Gonja cloth.

Who or what inspires your fashion choices and design concepts?

The French designer Isabel Marant’s old professor of hers once told her to only design clothes she would wear herself. I think I tend to start from there.

For both collections, I focused on simple, elegant silhouettes. The Gonja cloth is of spectacularly high quality and I like to think it speaks for itself so I tried not to overwhelm the fabric with busy designs.

For the second collection I was inspired by the leading ladies of Hollywood’s Golden Age – I have always loved the clean lines of their clothes and their effortless sophistication.

raffia 2

The North is usually associated with poverty, neglected and lack of opportunities. However we’ve seen stellar personalities in business and entertainment (Wiyaala, Nuong Faalong, Sangu Delle, Blitz the Ambassador, etc) come from the area. Do you feel that there is a renaissance occurring in the North?

Absolutely. I think our parents’ generation worked hard to assimilate in the Southern urban areas because the South was where everything was. Our parents had it harder than us – they had strong accents, completely different values, even the foods they ate were different. Now we – their children – are realizing that we are the only ones who can bridge the gap by working to provide opportunities for people there, by encouraging other Ghanaians to visit and see what we’re about and by changing perceptions about the area.

What are your future plans for your company? Would you like to see raffia (the material) go as commercial as say wax print or batik? I think wax and batik are losing their excitement because they are used for everything from shoes, to hand bags to briefcases. Do you think raffia will become as ubiquitous? Would you be sorry if it did?

My priority now is to grow gradually and in the right way. We want to increase our customer base in Ghana and abroad so we’ll work on more trunk shows and getting more retailers. Another priority is to get a retail space in Accra.

No, I think the appeal of the Gonja cloth, like Kente, apart from its craftsmanship is its exclusivity. I don’t think Gonja cloth will become pervasive because it is expensive to make and difficult to work with. Kente is still very much a luxury fabric – even the advent of printed Kente didn’t change that. I’m confident that Gonja cloth won’t lose its value.

A skirt from the upcoming collection

A skirt from the upcoming collection

If you could dress ANYONE in your brand, who would it be and why?

I would dress Solange Knowles – she’s chic and edgy. Everything looks good on her- she throws things together that otherwise wouldn’t work and somehow pulls it off. She has a wonderful sense of style and I would love to see what she would do with one of our pieces.

 

Oh.

She didn’t want to say she wanted to dress me…but it’s okay! When you guys are drooling over my new, exotic threads this fall, you’ll know where I got them from. (You can thank  me now.) Learn more about Raffia, visit http://www.raffiagh.com or @raffiagh on twitter.

 

 

 

 

Development and Decay: The Blame Game Changes Nothing When the Flood Water Rise Again

There are a couple of things about Accra that the casual observer will note and that the average pupil is taught about the typography of Ghana’s capital city:

  1. Accra is situated in a coastal plain
  2. The city is 91 meters elevation above the sea level
  3. Accra – and other coastal villages and towns – are vulnerable to sea level rise brought on by climate change
  4. Accra sits in a watershed area

 

With rampant and disorganized urbanization on the rise, these and other factors make Accra and its environs the perfect candidates for flooding. The soil in the coastal plains is primarily made up of red clay. Loamy soil is found to the north in the temperate zones (Ashanti Region), while there is more sand and clay in in the arid North. Each of these zones requires a specialized network of specific materials to best suit soil and typography types. No one in Ghana’s government has seen to the sewage and drainage needs of the cities and towns that dot the country since Kwame Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966. Tema – the ONLY planned city in the entire nation – remains a testament to Osagyefo’s vision and penchant for foresight. Unlike Accra, Tema does not experience flooding when seasonal rains fall twice a year.

nkrumah overthrow

The reasons for Accra’s epic failure are numerous and manifold. Since 1966, the country once (and still) ruled from the capital was mired in a series of coup d’états and counter coups. For 30 years, one military dictator after another sought to fatten himself and his cronies on the fat of the land and the suffering of the people. Money meant for development and public works went straight into private Swiss bank accounts. Instead of focusing on planning for the future, Ghana’s leadership was fixated on “strong man” politics and showing opponents where the power lies. Meanwhile, the metropolis continued to grow, both in terms of population and private infrastructure, but there were never any funds dedicated to expanding the municipal utility grids, an epidemic the continues today. There are families in Haatso, Adenta and Kasoa who have never enjoyed a shower or washed a dish with water provided by the city. They rely on boreholes and/or water trucked in to fill PolyTanks on their premises. This is not how a modern city is meant to operate. These are the fruits of corruption.

On the eve of June 4th, 88 mm of rain fell on the capital city. Buildings not built to code collapsed. A Goil filling station leaking fuel exploded, killing 73 people on the spot. Some estimates say 100. All over the city, there were children – sometimes whole families – swept away in the flood. One trotro driver interviewed by CitiFM held back tears and fought for composure as he named 5 friends who died right in front of him. Before the waters had receded and before we had a chance to bury the dead, the blame game began.

Government leaders like, Mayor Oko Vanderpuije, were swift to point the finger at the citizenry, stating that it was those who built on waterways that were the cause of these floods. With the backing of the presidency, he has begun to tear down the homes and businesses of those who have found themselves the unlucky scapegoats of this draconian campaign. What the Mayor and others have failed to address and acknowledge is that in order for a person on business to build on a waterway or flood zone, they had to get city approval at some level. Whether that was under the table or with a certified document, land was sold by someone in authority. Rather than tearing down buildings, the Mayor and the President would do well to tear down the rot employed in their respective offices.

Citizens were quick to point the finger back, reciting a history of promises over the last 3 years that Accra would never flood again. Some went so far as to unearth newspaper clippings from 1988 citing the same flood events, followed by the same recycled promises.

Next, we pointed the finger at one another. We are the ones who drop litter on the ground. Non-biodegradable plastics wreak havoc on the environment, and when the casually discarded items choke our sewer system, they compound an already detrimental situation.

The fact is, there is plenty of blame to go around. Blaming the government and vice versa isn’t going to solve this problem, and if the citizens of Accra and other major cities do not take care, we will be singing this same song and sipping on the bitterness of our present tears in 6 months when the rain comes again.

We will not get a new citywide (or countrywide) underground sewer system by 2016. That’s an unfortunate but real fact. There are short term measures that we can take though. The first that MUST be tackled is the plastic that covers the beaches, roads and major gutters in the metropolis and outlying areas. Ghana must also refuse to become a dumping ground for the world’s e-waste. Computer hulls, motherboards, towers and wires are not biodegradable. They are not just poisoning the soil, they are poisoning our people and changing the nature of the soil, making it more water retentive. Those found funneling e-waste into the country must be held to account.

We have to ban plastic. Look to Rwanda for proof that the Ghanaian CAN (and must) do away with this scourge. Once it is banned, we can then focus on re-purposing the plastic that litters our shores and wetlands. It can be used as building material roads and houses and even clothing/accessories. Many of the Ghanaian expatriates who fled Ghana during the great Brain Drain era in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s ( during the coup and democratic reformation eras) would be happy to lend their scientific expertise, if only they felt welcomed to do so. There is no need to go to Germany for “brain work” – to quote General Mosquito – when we have loads of smart and knowledgeable Ghanaians (at home and abroad) who are itching to do their part to help the country be great again.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, we MUST have scheduled and reliable rubbish collection provided by both public and private sanitation companies. Because let’s face it: we can talk about educating the masses against littering and calling on the government to desilt waterways and gutters: but unless there are stop gap measures on the front end to ensure that plastic and other rubbish is disposed of responsibly by ALL, we are just kidding ourselves and chasing our tails.

cgw3amlyyt_gutter

The greatest irony of the flood is that it exposed all of the corruption Ghanaians in the middle and lower income classes have been agitating against for the past year or more. Officials rarely take notice of demonstrations unless there is property damage, violent crime or loss of life. Protestors did not have to lift a finger to destroy property. Flood, fire and wind obliterated the gas station of the unscrupulous owner who did not have his building inspected for leaks and up to code. It is heartbreaking that so many people died as a result of the type of negligence that is rife in every system in the country. Some may recall when the multistory Melcom shopping center collapsed and the horror that ensued, carnage that was rooted in the same negligence with regard to building codes in much of the capital city.

The flooding disaster in Accra was avoidable. All of the evidence has born that out. But it is not unique. Kumasi also experienced similar flooding in February of this year. The root causes and reasons are the same: there was no city planning and no soil consideration. Kumasi is a Garden City without any gardens. There are few trees to absorb the rain, as they have all been cut down. Water needs somewhere to go, and it is within the Ghanaians power to direct it.

We are not ants. There is no reason that Ghanaians should scatter and perish when it rains.

 

 

 

Flood and Fire, Blood and Bone

“Mercy, where are you?”

“I’m in a lorry with Aba. The rains are very heavy. We aren’t moving.”

Obodai grunted on the other end of the phone. Mercy could tell her husband was trying to be strong, but his voice quivered a bit when he said, “Just get home as soon as you can. I’ll meet you there.”

It had been 2 hours since the rain had started. A slight drizzle which then transformed into a persistent, steady deluge had brought the entire downtown area of Accra to a halt. The traffic jam had started from Circle. Mercy shifted in her seat and looked behind her. The never ending line of cars looked like a bloated octopus, growing a new limb with another car, truck and trotro materializing from the outside of the city, each filled with desperate people trying to get home. The only thing moving in this fetid brine of surging gutter and rain water was the water itself. The vehicles were stagnant.

Aba, just 2 years old, was listless and hungry. She pawed at her mother’s face, defiantly reaching for Mercy’s hand bag to fish for snacks.

“Aba, there is nothing for you to eat in there,” she whispered harshly. “No…no! Stop crying! We’ll be home soon. We’ll see our house and daddy soon.”

Aba would not be placated. The other passengers stared at the two, some with compassion, others with irritation. The driver’s mate – a pimple-faced boy of no more than 15 – was rude when he informed Mercy that he would either have to silence the child or get out. No one objected to his decree. Mercy was miffed.

“Driver, y3 b3 si aha (we will get down here),” Mercy said. The mate opened the door and let her and the squalling child out, slamming the metal door behind them with a bang.

Water fell from the sky in buckets as it began to rain anew, beating Aba and Mercy mercilessly now that they had found themselves outside and on the road. Suddenly, a chorus of screams cut through the air. The knee-deep water in the roads had begun to swell, the bloated octopus coming alive. It waved its tentacles shaking off unwanted pieces of itself, distorting its body as it tipped over vehicles filled with frightened human beings. Mercy watched as the lorry she was just in tipped over, its terrified inhabitants scurrying out of narrow windows for escape. She did not see the driver’s mate emerge. She trembled as she dug into her shirt for her phone. Only one bar left.

She spoke haltingly to her husband. “Obo. I had to get down from the car. I am going to see if one of the buildings will allow me and Aba to enter. The battery on my phone will soon finish.”

Obodai was full of questions, but Mercy begged him to wait until she had found shelter so that they could talk properly.

“I’m carrying Aba. I have to go. Pray for us.”

“Okay, okay…I will pray. I will see you soon.”

“I love you…”

*Click*

The phone died, cutting their conversation prematurely short. Had he heard her? Never mind. She would tell him again when this ordeal was over.

The water now had reached the middle of Mercy’s thighs. She was a petite woman, who stood at 5 a mere feet in the kitten heels she infrequently wore. But they were strong thighs, tempered by years of walking on Accra’s beaches and frolicking at the coast. She considered water a friend. In all her 23 years, she had never seen a buddy turn to foe so quickly.

Mercy trudged through the sludge and surging water, making a direct a beeline for one of the formidable business buildings at Circle as possible. She was now crossing the bridge at the outdoor market’s edge. A dead cat floated by her, shrouded by a halo of trash – cheap plastic imports from China and India, Indomie packets and a plethora of polythene bags. These were the hallmarks of progressive and modern Ghanaian life. She ignored whatever it was that was clinging to her calf, refusing to imagine what it could be, and shifted her daughter on her back. Aba was much calmer, now that they were outside of the stuffy lorry. Despite the chaos, the toddler began to coo.

“We are almost there, Babs!” Mercy heaved. This was more for her own exhortation than it was for the child’s.

To her disappointment, the office buildings were locked up…darkened by dumsor and void of human life. She assumed all the workers were now stuck in the traffic she had extracted herself from. What to do now? Walk.

Mercy sighed and kicked off her flip flops. This was higher ground, but still pretty deep as far as she was concerned. She felt her body weaken from being exposed to the elements for so long. Aba had stopped cooing, and was now breathing heavily. Her baby had gone to sleep. Good.

Now back on the road-turned-river, she paused to consider which direction she should take, resting her weary forehead against the side of a concrete wall. It collapsed. A brick slammed into her temple, disorienting her. There was a shriek, maybe two…Mercy could tell. All she knew was that Aba’s comforting weight was no longer on her back. She had to find her daughter, but where?

Dizzy

Dizzy

Dizzy

The world existed in colors and sound she had never seen or heard before. In cobalt blues and orangey-reds…her vision veiled by dragons and fire. But where was Aba in all of this?

“Mama!”

Ah! There she was. There Aba was amongst the swirling, Milo brown water, bobbing like a newborn light. Mercy scooped up her child and held her to breast.

Dizzy

Dizzy

Dizzy

“You see? You see, Aba? I told you we would make it home. Now let us lay down in our bed and rest.”

 

When the storm subsided and the waters receded, Mercy and Aba’s corpses were discovered the next day.

 

flooding*This post is a tribute to the unknown mother and child discovered clutching each other after the June 3rd Accra Floods. Out of respect for their humanity, I am not posting their picture here. May their souls and all of those lost in the devastation rest in perfect peace.