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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.

 

Help! My ‘Torso Beads’ Are Too Tight and I’m Afraid…

“Hey Malaka! What are the credentials for wearing Krobo waist beads?”

“Have a waist, I suppose. I dunno. I’m not Krobo.”

“Ah.”

My younger cousin from my American side of the family was the one making this inquiry. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and to my knowledge, has never been out of the country. Now, she was asking me about waist beads…Krobo waist beads, specifically. What had piqued her interest in this particular region of Ghana?

Krobo is a small town in the Eastern Region of Ghana, and as far as I am concerned, is an enduring bastion of our fast-fading culture. Krobos are known for hot girls, hard work and elaborate beadwork. Still, the do not hold a monopoly on bead making/wearing in the region, so I was a bit miffed that my cousin did not inquire about Akuapem waist beads. I suppose it’s because Larteh people are more famous for their juju than their accessories.

Anyway.

My cousin’s inquiry gave me pause, and made me reminisce a little about my own waist beads. Even though I’ve worn traditional beads at some point in every stage in my life, I began wearing them consistently back in 2002 as a nod to our ancestral beauty practices. On a visit to Ghana in that time, several women of my parent’s generation were quick to share their disdain and disapproval for the presence of the beads around my waist.

“This is something villagers do,” one woman spat.

Ah, ah. It wasn’t her waist, and she didn’t buy them for me. I resisted the urge to spit back at her and roll my eyes, instead nodding like the “good African girl” my father silently implored me to be in public.

My favorite waist beads were crafted by an old woman who lived in Osu behind Kikiriki Kitchen. She had strung some for one of my best friends in colors and shapes I had never seen before. She even had 3 or 4 gold spun beads strung on the line, which had such an alluring and hypnotic effect that I have to confess that it was nothing but pure envy that took me on the perilous trek over a 20 foot wide gutter bridged on either end by a rickety piece of wood.

“Her beads are not cheap o,” my friend warned in advance. “She is a master bead maker.”

“Oh, it’s just beads. How expensive can it be?” I scoffed.

The elderly woman greeted us with the cool of a woman who had seen and done it all. A halo of curly grey hair crowned her round head. She was in no particular rush to service us. I liked and disliked her instantly.

“Where do you want your beads to sit?” she asked.

“Here,” I said, pointing to the top of my hip. “I want them to sit low.”

After I had been measured and fitted, the old lady named her price. I balked, but then I remembered that beads were once a unit of currency and a measure for one’s wealth and status in the community. I empty my wallet and stare imploringly at my friend.  I think I still owe her money.  It was well worth it though. I have always loved those beads.

It is those same beads digging into my torso today.

Yes, you heard that right: The beads that once sat demure and seductively across my hips are now cutting off my circulation around my rib cage, digging into my skin, causing me nightmares in my sleep. And it’s ALL my cousin’s fault! If she hadn’t gone poking her artsy, inquisitive nose into this aspect of our culture, I would have left this vainglorious past with my waist beads buried in the past! You see, I took the beads off in the middle of my first pregnancy and haven’t thought about them since. After Aya was born, I got another set that were strung on elastic, but I never considered them quite as beautiful as the ones I’d gotten in Osu so I stopped wearing them, too. But once my cousin asked about (Krobo) beads, I fished them out of my jewelry box, inhaled and slipped them over my head and breasts. Now they are STUCK.

I can’t believe how much my body has changed! The transformation has been radical, and not for the better. They always tell you how having kids changes your body, and I have accepted the man hairs on my chin and chest, the feet that have grown in both length and width…even the kangaroo pouch that is the hallmark of four C-sections. Am I now expected to accept that my torso in 2015 holds the same dimensions of my waist 15 years ago? Heaven forbid!

While trawling through Poka Arts’ images on Instagram, I came across two images that sum up my demise perfectly. No, no. Look! It will help you understand my struggle.

Me, before my first kid:

photo 2(1)Yeah, I believe my body is a temple… but I pretty much eat whatever I want. It’s all good, because I work out 3-4 times a week and I play in a Gaelic football league. But you know, whatevs. Ooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of your chocolate ganache? Can I have it?  I’m going for a run later. No, silly! I don’t “diet”. I don’t need to. LOL!

Me, after all my kids:

photo 1(5)Yeah, I believe my body is a temple. I try to eat a plant-based diet, primarily…but then I get super hungry and end up eating pizza for breakfast…and lunch. Look, I just like to eat pizza. It’s quick, it’s easy, and the kids like it too! I try to work out whenever I get the chance, but I’m usually busy stressing over the kids…which leads to more stress eating. Oooooh! Are you gonna eat the rest of that chocolate ganache? I have a PTA meeting coming up because one of the girls roundhouse kicked another kid on the playground. It’s okay. I’m going to cry myself to sleep later. Maybe the pain from my tears will mask the pain of these beads digging into my back…

Nevertheless, I was happy that I could at least get my favorite beads onto my body, even if they weren’t fitting me in as appealing a manner as they once did. I excitedly sent a picture to my sister, anticipating her approval and matched excitement.

photo(16)

“What is this?”

“These are my waist beads, Adj! I haven’t worn them in years.”

“Why do they look so tight?”

“…Because they are tight.”

“I don’t think our ancestors intended for them to look this way.”

“Look. Just be happy I can get them on, okay? You always outchea jackin’ up my high.”

She floods my inbox with celebratory emojis  – illustrated applause, confetti and champagne glasses – and then goes silent. I hate my sister.I am looking miserable.

Marshall offers to lift my beads over my head if I would agree to simultaneously smash and lift my boobs so he can slide them over. I refuse. I hate the pain these beads have caused me, but I loathe the idea of them defeating me even more.

That’s all I have to say about that. Until memory becomes my reality, my rib cage beads and I remain ever yours!

The Foreboding Message in Walov’s Revolutionary Song, ‘Never Go Change’

When Michael Kwame Gbordzoe composed the lyrics to our national anthem,  ‘God Bless Our Homeland, Ghana’ culminating the first stanza with the refrain:

And help us to resist oppressor’s rule, with all our will and might forevermore

I wonder if he ever imagined that the government elected by the people, for the people, would eventually morph into the oppressor of the people.

There is no doubt that citizens are feeling burdened and hopeless in the country right now, and that is directly as a result of the way the country is being governed. From the executive office of the president, to the religious leaders that sway the emotions of the people, to our municipal mayors and educators, there is a frenzied – almost primal need to subjugate those who find themselves under the authority of anyone in these groups. Ghana has long been considered a hard place to live, but it is only recently that it has become near impossible for the native Ghanaian to thrive in his/her own homeland. Ghana is very kind to the expatriate corps, who navigate the system with ease thanks to the privilege that being paid in dollars/pounds sterling. Ghanaians themselves will go out of their way to show a foreigner that their lives and desires are preferred above their own. This has contributed to the climate and attitude that the native Ghanaian is not worth serving to one’s best. It is an attitude that Ghana’s political elite display with wanton flagrance, insulting the population and then offering half-hearted apologies for political expediency, if any at all.

It is in this bleak climate that Wanlov the Kubolor has penned what many consider the song of the soon coming revolution, ‘Never Go Change’. (The video released was online two days ago). The melody is haunting, the message a warning. The single black and whaite shot of what appears to be a homeless, but hardworking man sweating in his toil is a portent and reflection of life for the average Ghanaian today. I asked Kubolor to talk about his motivation for the arrangement and lyrics of the song.

wanlov-kubolor-resized

MOM: Musically, I think it’s a BIT of a departure from your usual subject matter. You usually tackle sexual attitudes and religion (this has earned you the moniker “controversial”)…so why politics now?

Wanlov: Musically it is because I am known for rapping/singing on beats, but I started listening to Sixto Rodriguez over 2 years now and have been learning acoustic guitar from Kyekyeku & Tumi Ansah (M3NSA’s dad). Also dumsor is to blame for me learning guitar…but I think you meant topic-wise. I have always rapped/sung about politics from jump. The first song on my first album “Green Card” was called 50th Dependence and sadly all the lyrics from then are even more relevant now. 

MOM: Have you been meaning to do this song for a while, or was it spontaneous considering the political climate Ghana is in now?

Wanlov: I wrote this song a few months ago and debuted it at the Lauryn Hill concert in Accra. The crowd response gave me goosebumps. This is the song of the revolution.

MOM: ‘Never Go Change’ reminds me of Lauryn Hill’s I Find it Hard to Say (Rebel) in which she calls out authority figures for diminishing the value of Black life and oppressed people. She rhetorically asks “Why don’t you rebel”. It’s apropos that you would open for her with this!

Wanlov: [It] was not a conscious decision, but it crossed my mind to ask her to do (record) the song with me. However she was in a bad space because she had just lost her band leader so I shunned. Maybe if the song goes worldwide will ask her to revisit it with me ;)

MOM: You’re one of the few celebrities who has used his voice to address social ills. Do you take on this mandate BECAUSE of your celebrity, or does your fame give you the platform to advocate for causes you would be engaging in regardless?

Wanlov: I do not consider myself a celebrity…just an unpopular popular citizen who knows better and wants that better to be a basic Ghanaian right.

MOM: Do you expect any backlash for releasing this song, particularly for the call to “cut off their heads and splatter blood all over the walls”?

Wanlov: It would surprise me…they do not take the entire country seriously…why would they take me seriously? Besides they kill people every day through their lack of action or abundance of greedy or uninformed decisions. 

MOM: Why did you choose to use such a calm, melodic beat instead of something more angry and edgy?

Wanlov: I am past angry…I am now in the calm & calculated zone waiting for my people to arrive.

MOM: The song is a jeremiad about the flagrant display of greed in the face of so much suffering in the nation. Our political and social elite seem to be able to get away with the most heinous crimes with absolute impunity, and because they can, they do. And they will never change. But at the end of the song, you ask the listener: “Like you, you go change?” Do you think we ALL have the potential for corruption at the levels we’re seeing? And if so, is there really any hope for Ghana? It doesn’t seem to matter who we vote into power, the question keeps coming back: “Like you, you go change?” After all, these guys went to our schools and live in our communities. They are a part of us. What keeps this cycle of crap going, in your opinion?

Wanlov: The only reason something radical has not been done yet about corruption is because we are all waiting for our turn to get into a position and exploit it selfishly. We admire successful corruption stories. For example, Woyome is a hero to many. Ministers implicated in corruption are hailed and called honorable.

There is no hope for Ghana to change peacefully in the next 2 generations. My youngest sister who finished high school 2 years ago paid for a school sweater her first year. She and her mates did not get the sweater they paid for in the 3 years they attended that school till today. They were punished if they wore “non-prescribed” sweaters which they needed to because the school is in the mountains and it gets very cold when the sun sets. Upon all the maths and science and whatever they studied, the biggest practical lesson they learnt was behavioral. The teachers/staff they looked up to taught them that when you are in power you are not accountable.

Also our generation did not grow up seeing our parents bribing police by the roadside or tipping the ECG worker to not cut the illegal connection, but our children are growing up seeing this as normal…so imagine the next century…

This cycle keeps going because of the fine balance of colonial legacy, capitalism, religion, shortsightedness, nepotism, patriarchy, pretend patriotism & cultural/spiritual poverty. It has been set up nicely and will keep repeating till the pipes burst in the ever depraved marginalized slums who can’t even afford to follow a religion to sedate them. They will ravage everything shiny and attack anyone above their level of livelihood. Then Ghana will start from its ashes instead of continuing from the tree tops.

Ma bre (Translation: I’m tired)

 

Watch ‘Never Go Change’ here:

*NB: A day after this interview, news broke that Adams Mahama, the Upper East Chairman for the new Patriotic Party (NPP), had been the victim of an acid attack by two unnamed assailants. His injuries were deemed critical, and sadly cost him his life. He was part of political dispute and the victim of his own party’s in-fighting.

Politicians cannot continue to rely on the goodwill and pseudo spirituality/piety of the Ghanaian public. People are angry. People are frustrated. People are losing their capacity to tap into their compassion and humanity.

No right thinking person would condone these attacks, but ALL right thinking people must ask what sort of desperation would lead a person to resort to this kind of violence and address it at the root. The roots are obvious and exposed, but it is up to us as Ghanaians to admit that they are rotten and tend to them accordingly. It’s not as simple as “because Africans are savages”. To rely on that as an explanation is to willfully dismiss the many obvious and reoccurring wrongs in our society today.

A Legacy of Broken Promises, Shattered Dreams and Our Ecomini

Yvonne Nelson is a Ghanaian actress and a producer. Physically, she was built for modeling or volleyball. Academically, she could have been anything she wanted. Professionally, she chose to enter into the entertainment arena, and has worked towards it with such passion and dedication that she has earned the moniker of “celebrity”. Yvonne Nelson is now leading the charge for a May 16th 3dumsormuststop vigil and is now the voice of a “voiceless people”… but it ought not be so. Ghanaians should not need Yvonne Nelson to speak for us.

But we do.

We need Yvonne Nelson, Lydia Forson, Sarkodie, EFYA, Shatta Wale and any other individual with a platform and a regional/international presence to speak for us, because our own government has methodically and intentionally rendered us voiceless. They have stripped the people of their power and their voice for their own selfish gain, hoping that the elite and celebrity classes would be also so equally egocentrically driven that they would leave the masses to flounder and drown in our mess. The bloodsucking members of Ghana’s military leadership, parliament and eventual executive branch have taken Ghanaians for fools for almost 40 years in all that time, did not account for the fact that some of us may have been brought up with some national pride and would one day call them out for their misdeeds.

It started with One Simple Step. It continued with the Occupy Ghana marches. Today it is the #dumsormuststop vigil. Tomorrow, there will be another call to arms. Ghanaians will NOT stop until our government has delivered to us all that it has promised and all that is ours by right as a nation.

Ghana’s energy crisis is but one of many crises the country has to grapple with. We have a long standing employment crisis which has led to decades of Brain Drain. We still have a health crisis with a deficit of doctors in many specialized fields, including psychiatry and oncology. Ghana’s education system is churning out thousands of graduates every year with no critical thinking or reasoning skills. Many of them serve in public office. We have a series of environmental crises, compounded by poor city planning and management. The energy crisis has only gone further to compound all of these existing problems. We were not promised an attempt to keep a lid on a mashup of disasters by our leadership. We certainly were not promised a government that would create more problems for its people. Ghanaians were promised a fair, transparent, empathetic and efficient government and the bill has come due. The people have come to collect.

2020viz

The (P)NDC has overseen the lion’s share of Ghana’s (under)development since Flight Lt JJ Rawlings unleashed his coup to end all coups in 1981. Ghana has been on an oscillating pendulum of hopeful progress and decline ever since. There was a plan to bring the country on par with its Asian counterparts Singapore and Malaysia called Vision 2020 which I wrote about here. (A copy of the document also exists online if you are curious about the details.)

The (P)NDC government anticipated population growth decades ago, and talked about a mixed approach to solving this foreseen problem to include wind, solar and nuclear energy. What the people got instead was daylight robbery. Our coffers were looted by officials with federal monies being deposited into Swiss accounts; our sugar, rubber, tomato processing and shoe making factories were decimated; our beaches which could rival any in the Caribbean for their beauty were fouled with human waste. When our brothers venture to sea, they haul back tin cans, diapers and bio-waste in their nets. This is in our food supply. Now Ghanaians MUST import basic lifestyle items like tomato paste, canned fish and toothpicks. But what’s worse, perishable food items (like frozen chicken) are held up in port for weeks and go rotten in freezers that cease operation when the lights go off. They are held up in port because the workers are not paid, and the only way to clear one’s items is to pay your way through the intentionally constructed labyrinth of bureaucracy that features an itching palm at every turn.

The NPP had 8 years to change the course of this tide, and in my opinion did not do enough to do so. Nevertheless, President Kufuor did a lot more for the country’s reputation in his two terms than any other leader besides Nkrumah. It is mind boggling what the Mills/Mahama combo has been able to undo in such a short time.

Ghanaians are scratching out a living. This is not what we were promised! We are literally under siege by those whose lifestyle our taxes and fealty finance. Every week, several times a week, the population is insulted by either the current president or some member of his cabinet. We are called “unsmart”. We are called “prostitutes”. We are told we are doing the dirty work of the opposition while our infants are dying in non-functioning incubators or our fathers gasp for last breaths because the hospital lifts do not work and the oxygen tanks are on the bottom floor. We are taunted to vote them out if we dare. Yentie obiaa…we don’t hear you, we don’t care.

In our culture, the worst thing you can call someone is a liar. As far as I know, there is no word in any of our vernacular for “maybe”. Our tradition mandates that either you do something or you don’t- and you certainly don’t make a promise that you have no means or intention of keeping. In other words, let your yes be “yes” and your no be “no”.

Ghanaians are angry, frustrated and feeling hopeless and it is President Mahama’s fault, no matter what his minions, sakawa boys and yakiri kubuus may say. Rhetorically, they ask: “So did dumsor start with President Mahama? Is he the one who brought it? Heh? Did Mahama cause dumsor?!?!”

What pseudo Socratic thinking.

No. He didn’t. We’ve had a power crisis since the 80’s. However, he ran and won his election on the premise and promise that he had the answers to solve the crisis. It was part of his manifesto. He made it a habit.

 

Now that Ghanaians are demanding that he keep his promise, his sycophants have charged us to come up with ideas, rather than criticize. One of Ghana’s most learned sons did just that, and offered to provide his services for free. Benjamin Dedjoe is  the Chief Electrical Engineer for the US Army Corp of Engineers’ Arsenal division. He was rejected by the Ministry of Power and Energy and told that it was not expertise that was lacking, but rather “resources”.

Rejection Letter MOPE

A year later a Ghanaian delegation including a man wearing his wife’s coat went to Germany in search of their expertise to solve our problems. Until the Germans can solve our African created problems, the government wants us to conserve energy. How can one conserve something (s)he gets 30% access to?

This is why Ghanaians are angry. Our future is being sabotaged. Our past is being denigrated. The culprits responsible for this mayhem are lacking in both compassion and common sense, and the people are expected to be silent in the face of such abuse. We will not be.

I’m looking forward to the day with Yvonne Nelson and our celebrity core will not have to serve as the “voice of the people”. I look forward to the day when we get our power back. It is soon coming…I can feel it. In the meantime, we march, tweet, think and agitate with her.

Oh John Dumelo! Why Should we Try to be Rome?

This post isn’t about John Dumelo, my ex-boo. A while ago I wrote about how much I admired him and how compassionate and brilliant he was. Then we went and started speaking off script in a series of videos, tweets and radio interviews and my regard for him imploded. The gravitational pull of my contempt for him destroyed the walls of the ivory tower I’d mentally placed him in. It’s not like someone close to him hadn’t warned me about John Dumelo earlier, either. But as the old adage says: I can show you better than I can tell you.

This post isn’t about John Dumelo. It’s about a nation of John Dumelo’s – or rather a large enough section of population that share his philosophies and thought processes. These are the people who – in the midst of the worst power crisis Ghana has ever seen – want to lead us to proverbial Rome.

Welcome to Ghana, land of my birth. Akwaaba! In the metropolitan areas, there is a load shedding schedule that cycles on 36-48 hours of electricity off, 12 hours on. I’ve heard of people going on 8 day stretches without electricity. My father was one of them. There is very little manufacturing that takes place in Ghana for a myriad of reasons: Corruption, coups, mismanagement, fraud. Pick a combo from the menu; the results are the same. Ghana consumes WAY more than it produces, and the power crisis only goes further to hinder the efforts the few manufacturers that dare to operate under these conditions. In the middle of all these comes John Dumelo, megastar actor and beneficiary of the ruling government’s World Cop “generosity”.

He appealed to Ghanaians to give the president time to fix the power crisis.

“After all, Rome was not built in a day.”

You see this? This is the sort of Post Traumatic Colonial Disorder that plagues the nation. This is anti-Blackness. THIS is why Ghana is spiraling downward. Remember when MP Nelson Baani (NDC) wanted to stone/hang adulterous women because “that’s what they do in Afghanistan”? He was reminded before he went slithering back into obscurity that Ghana is NOT Afghanistan, it is not a caliphate and his job is not to function as anyone’s executioner. But it’s not his fault. Like John Dumelo, Nelson Baani suffers from Post Traumatic Colonial Disorder. He can’t think for himself. He relies on a prescribed set of rules from people who have never had his or his own people’s interests at heart to dictate what and HOW he thinks.

Why would we want to look like Rome, I ask you?

The Romans were notorious copycats. They stole from the Greeks, North Africans and Persians. They appropriated global cultures and presented it as their own inventions with such veracity that the antics of Kylie Jenner and Iggy Azalea pale in comparison. They were a democratic society, but they were far from egalitarian. Their survival and progeny was wholly dependent on violence, and that violence kept power and privilege centralized in the hands of the few. The strategies that Romans used to facilitate slavery would later serve as the handbook for a successful 400 years of African enslavement in America, right down to determining who was fit to reproduce and who wasn’t. Oh, and they had some really nice gardens, pottery, aqueducts and a coliseum. But is Roman society what Ghana is meant to aspire to?

Oh, John Dumelo-ites!

In making his comments about Ghanaians and their expectations for leadership to do their jobs in regards to solving the energy crisis, the actor came off as insensitive and completely out of touch. This was the impetus for fellow entertainer Yvonne Nelson’s hashtag #dumsormuststop which went viral in hours. It consequently led to an interview with the BBC the next day. This of course, made government officials livid. Several of them went on a rampage, calling Yvonne Nelson and her compatriots “liars” and seeking to discredit them. Please. The proof is at Kotoka (Ghana’s international airport), where the lights just off a few weeks ago for the world to see.

But let me show you how dumsor (lights on – lights off) affecting real people. The following infographics have been brought to you by Fazebook and Twirra.

The Problem:

photo 1(4)

 

The Promise(s):

The Influential Defenders of Incompetence:

jmelo

 The Outrage/Grief/Disbelief:

The “Unofficial” Official Government Response:

photo 2

In case you are wondering who this misogynistic bloke who is more interested in policing the bodies and relationship statuses of Ghanaian women, he is a former aid to “D” President’s Chief of Staff. Chances are, he’s still functioning somewhere in Ghana’s government.

photo(1)

And that is the cycle, my friends. This is why Ghana will NEVER progress…because at the end of the day, our political officials, religious leaders and business titans are more concerned with the location and preferences of a woman’s vagina than they are dedicated to solving pressing issues.

Because Rome.

My Favorite Moments from the 2015 VGMAs

Last night (and part of this morning), Vodofone hosted Ghana’s version of the MTV/American Music Awards in this year’s edition of the Ghana Music Awards Festival. Whereas the average American Awards show is 2-3 hours, the VGMAs was an endurance testing 6-7 hour affair which ended around 5 am GMT.

Reviews of the show have been mixed, with a number of people of the opinion that this was the worst VGMAs they’ve ever seen. This was my first time watching the show, and I felt privileged to be able to view it online. The fact that it was streaming worldwide was a win as far as I was concerned. I’m not a big awards show fan and avoid them wherever possible, but the VGMAs was worth eschewing my principles for just one night. It was many things: entertaining, confusing, dull and inspiring. Here are my favorite moments.

The Red Carpet

Sister Durrrby’s Dress: Ghana Twitter went absolutely insane over Deborah Vanessa’s dress last night. Hands down, she was the best dressed entity out there. I’m talking better decorated than the stage, the lights, and any bi-pedal being at the show. Sister Durrrby is often makes fashion statements with her clothing (or lack thereof *ahem* nudes *ahem*) and last night was no exception. She was a stunning mix of old world fantasy, modernity and queenliness. The dress was commissioned under the Wusuwaah’s Diary label after Deborah told her she wanted to “look like a princess” for the night. Home run! Check out the label’s tumbl’r account here.

 

Blaque Boy’s Coat: Chale, chale, chaaaale. Without a doubt, Blaque Boy was the worst dressed person on the red carpet, and that’s a pretty impressive feat, considering he’s a dude. Guys have two choices when it comes to red carpet attire: black or blue. Pick any shade of the two. Occasionally, you may even venture out and try on a white jacket – but even then, one must be careful. White jackets if done incorrectly can be interpreted as an attempt to pose for the new face of the Cream o’ Wheat box. As for Blaque Boy, he threw all caution to the wind and showed up as a mix of ringmaster, paisley upholstery and a meth overdose. And he took these liberties while in the function of the red carpet host. How were any of the viewers supposed to care what the artists where wearing when the host showed up as the conductor for a rave party? I think his coat was made in Ghana, which can be forgiven and is even admirable because…

 

Elizabeth Ofosu-Agyare, Ghana’s Minister of Tourism was filmed strutting the red carpet in a stunning azure dress with crystal details that was made in Morocco. Minister Ofusu-Agyare was trilling on and on about supporting Ghanaian artists and showing the world what Ghana is capable of in a Moroccan dress. What bigger night than this to showcase a local designer? Heh? But it’s okay. These are the tactics of the current government – to tell Ghanaians to patronize made in Ghana goods and then fail to do so themselves at critical moments themselves. She was right in line and step with this lip service administration. Well done, madam minister.

But you know who kept it real? Who kept it absolutely one hunned and ten? Yvonne Nelson. Yvonne Nelson don’t care what none of y’all think, how none of y’all feel or that you’re in your feelings about her looks. In what can only be described as Viola Wig Shedding moment, Ms. Nelson glided down the red carpet in a short ‘fro and bare feet you guys! Just coming off the heels of filming ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ which required her to cut her hair, she chose to rock her natural tresses without pressing, dying, weaving or gluing any attachments. This was really brave, particularly since Ghanaians are so critical of short hair on grown women. (That’s a whole ‘nother discussion.) Asked why her shoes were off, she said “They are Loub’s (Louboutins) and they are beautiful, but they hurt my feet.”

Yvonne-Nelson-at-2015-Ghana-Music-Awards

That’s grown woman stuff right there. Someone please come and dash her dambs, because clearly, she is fresh out!

 

The Show

Wiyaala was the opening act for the show and she brought it. She brought that old school – Tina Turner -rock goddess – Grace Jones – AC/DC – that funk and that power to the stage. Whooo! I wish I could find a gif for this one move she did with a back-up dancer where they melded – literally fused bodies – together using nothing but their thighs and toe nails. Then she did a back bend while balancing on his quads. I was like “ OH MY GAWD!!!!” And she never missed a note while singing Tinambanyi (Here We Come). I’m getting chills just recalling it. She looked like a frikking warrior deity. Someone said she could have taken bold Leonidas’ position in 300: Rise of the Strong Women. I agree. She’s taking the musical game, devouring it, and asking for seconds.

I love that woman.

Dark Suburb. Humph. These boys. (Or boys and girls, no one knows.) Their show was so full of energy. I was exhausted! There were flipping dwarfs, bare chested dudes painted in white clay, lightening, growling, strips of leather; You get the picture. They are just different and in a league of their own. But as impressive as they are/were they couldn’t touch…

The Compozers Lawd have mercy. I said lawd *stomp* have *stomp* merrrrcy!!!!!! They opened up their set with a rock inspired, smooth version of the Ghanaian national anthem that was so incisive in its delivery it almost made me proud to be a Ghanaian again. (No seriously, the country is so wrecked I feel like we’re living through a lost episode of LOTR: The Desolation of Mahama.)

Musicianship is something we’re losing not only in Ghana, but globally, so it’s always a thrill to see people who can still play an instrument. My generation is the last to remember what it was like to go to a show with full bands backing a singer exclusively, rather than a DJs turn tables and it’s great to know that this sort of performance isn’t going the way of the pterodactyl just yet.

 

Special/Touching Moments

Wiyaala won awards for Best Female Vocalist and Best Songwriter, both well deserved. She worked really hard this year and the lyrics to all of her songs are important and impacting. When ascending the stage to accept her award, she brought her mother along to accept it with her. (Her mom also brought along her handbag.) Wiyaala has spoken frequently about her mother’s unwavering support for her dream to sing and entertain, and as a mother myself, watching the two of them together in that moment got me right in the uterus.

You know what else was special? Lydia Forson’s face when her co-presenter starting rambling in broken English and fake slangs about his business prowess and innovation. Apparently, every Ghanaian award show that was ever performed in the history of mankind was his idea. I asked Lydia to tell me exactly what she was thinking and in what exact order, but she hasn’t yet. She doesn’t need to. Every woman watching her face that moment was thinking it too.

Crazy dude in his crazy coat making crazy claims

source: Ameyaw Debrah Look at her face. Now imagine an epic side eye. Heish!

 

As excruciating as that was to watch, it was not nearly as painful as waiting for Daddy Lumba to take the stage to perform his set. Daddy Lumba’s back up dancers deserve the MVP Award for the night. This living legend sent 4 women in black booty shorts and crop tops to dance on stage like four hapless kittens while he sat back stage doing God-knows-what for a full 8 minutes. That’s 8 minutes of dead TV air time, watching 4 grown women jiggle and gyrate to nothing. Someone buy them Poki and meat pie. They’ve earned it!

Reggie Rockstone’s refusal to speak in English touched my heart. His group VVIP won something (by this time I was getting sleepy and didn’t care who won what), but in his portion of the acceptance speech (delivered in Twi), he commanded the entire auditorium to stand up and sing him ‘Happy Birthday’.

They sang in English.

 

Weirdness

In 2007 Tic Tac, aka Ghana’s Busta Rhymes, had a hit called ‘Philomena’. It was about a girl who had poor personal hygiene. It was/is arguably his best and most well-known song. He forgot all the words to this song on stage. Every last lyric. Why?

Akosua Agyapong is like our Rosie Perez. She was our Jennifer Lopez in the Fly Girls days. Akosua Agyapong did the robot during last night VGMAs. Akosua can’t dance anymore.

At one point, every hip life/hip hop was on stage pretending to be the African Oliver Twist, asking crazy questions like “please sir, can I have some more”. Apparently, they want the Ghana Music Association to make sure they are still getting paid when they are “no longer relevant”.

Dude.

Come on now. If you know you are planning to be irrelevant as an artist in a few years, invest your money NOW…and I mean right NOW.

As strange as that request was, nothing beat Blaque Boy’s slangs. He was speaking clear, intelligible English, but he just didn’t sound…right. Here, try this: Put your fist in your mouth. Now say ‘cup cake’. Now talk like that for the rest of the day. You see the problem?

 

I can’t wait for next year!