Tag Archives: ghana

Beyond Otiko: Thoughts on Rape, Responsibilities and Roles

In Matthew 11:15, Jesus spoke to the multitude of all the prophecies concerning John the Baptist and the fulfillment of the law. He exhorted those who had gathered in his presence saying, “He who has ears, let him hear!” I interpret the tone of the phrase as coming from a man who was weary of repeating himself on an issue that should have been done and settled, given the remarkable life John had led…the fruits of which the people had had the opportunity to witness. Nevertheless, and despite the signs and wonders and evidence, there were still those who doubted the word of the Lord regarding his mission to fulfill the law and John’s mandate to prepare the way. They rejected the call to repentance. The people did not have ears to hear because they were wedded to the old information they had been indoctrinated with. They were dumb to the truth for no other reason than they could not bear to open themselves up to the possibility that their belief system was flawed.

So it is with many philosophies that guide our lives. So it is also with our beliefs about rape. Who has an ear to hear?

Fresh off the heels of her troubling remarks at a Speech and Prize Giving Day at an all girls’ high school, Otiko Djaba Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection went on to double down on her position wherein she drew a correlation between attire and incidents of rape, despite the fact that research and evidence show the contrary. Studies show that the cultures with the most rigid views and laws that police women’s bodies have the highest incidents of rape, globally. Furthermore, a 2013 United Nations-funded survey of more than 10,000 men, the most common reasons for rape included sexual entitlement, seeking of entertainment and as a punishment. Masculinity, dominance over women and participation in gangs were noted as associated factors in the report. This is in direct contradiction to the to the advice was giving as mother to her children and that she was speaking to her “sisters and children”.

I’m a mother as well, and this is neither information for advise that I would ever give my children – male or female – because it reinforces stereotypes about a woman’s worth and the clothing choices she makes day by day. It is “advice” that serves as an excuse to absolve men of their responsibility for the crime that is rape and sexual assault. And thirdly, it ignores the real reason men…and women prey on victims. They do it because they CAN.

This matter goes beyond Otiko Djaba, a woman who won early praise for her confidence and her unbending position on issues under her purview. The world needs more confident women in positions of power; however there is a point where confidence becomes conceit. Otiko Djaba is teetering dangerously close to the latter, and there is no room for vain gloriousness in a ministry charged with the protection of children. If one has erred, one must seek wisdom, regroup and be prepared to do better in the future. Otiko Djaba has shown no indication that she’s prepared to take any of these steps, the consequences of such failure will have negative repercussions that ripple throughout the culture. She says she is pleased that her utterances have “sparked a conversation about who we are”, but that’s where her imagination stops. Ghanaians are always talking about who we are. At what point do we begin talking about who we want to become?

Really, do we want to be a nation that raises weak-minded men and timid women neither of whom can trust themselves or each other, or are we going to strive for a time where we grow in strength, character and co-operation? At some point, we must eschew this dogged pursuit of mediocrity that is guiding the nation – and its citizens – to ruin, and pursue a course of enlightenment. That begins in large part with listening…something as a culture we fail abysmally at.

In preparing to write this post, I was compelled to review global statistics on rape, as well as the myriad circumstances under which rape occurred. I also took the opportunity to talk to a few members of a demographic that goes largely ignored whenever the topic of rape and victims comes up: African men.

Contrary to what those in moral authority would have us believe, rape seldom has anything to lust or failure to control it. Rape is a weapon – a tool to exert dominance and control over a person whom one considers inferior. It’s been an effective method to demoralize one’s enemies during times of war and unrest. When the Janjaweed went on a violent genocidal rampage through Darfur, part of their strategy included rape with the aim of ethnic cleansing. It was methodical and intentional and had nothing to do with the length of the skirt of any woman in the region. South Africa currently holds the record for the highest number of reported rapes (an average of 500,000 cases a year), crimes that include corrective rape (i.e. a sick attempt to turn same gender loving women straight), gang rape, baby rape and rape of the elderly. Consider also the case of Theo, the Black youth worker in France who was violently sodomized with a baton during a police baton…a rape that the unit deemed an “accident”.  Rape is about humiliation and control, not lust and desire. Let those who have ears hear and understand that rape is a very black and white issue. Without the element of consent, any sexual contact with another human being is considered an assault, and using “provocative attire” as an excuse is no excuse at all. Do you know how many drivers provoke me on the road with their incompetence? Is a failure to yield then an excuse for me to get out of my car and grab ‘em in the crotch?

The frustrating part remains that there is no definitive demarcation for what falls under the category of rape. There is no uniformity. Under federal definitions of rape, Brock Turner would have received a much longer and harsher sentence. However the jurisdiction in which he was tried defines rape as penal penetration. Turner violated his incapacitated victim with his fingers and was released within mere months. There needs to be uniformity in the definition of rape if we are to get true justice for victims. Having a standard will also eliminate confusion for those people who cannot wrap their heads around the idea of consent.

But back to the Gender Minister and Black and African men.

There is a group of men who live with silent and suppressed guilt and shame. They are fathers and husbands and by all accounts live normal lives. You know them. You may even be one of them. They go to work, maintain relationships, discuss current events with bravado and so on. But if you have the opportunity to have an honest conversation with these men, a fair number will admit that their first sexual encounter(s) were not consensual or that they had an acquaintance whose first encounter was coerced in some way.

“I would not say the first time I had sex, ‘I’ was having sex,” one man explained. “I would say sex was being done to me.”

“My mother used to leave me with the house help when I was 7 or 8 years old. As soon as my mom would leave she would pull my pants down and start sucking my penis,” said another.

“I know several of my friends who used to have sex with their baby sitters.” He continued with a smile, “But you know…when you’re 10 years old, you think that’s great!”

“By the time I was 12, all of my friends had had sex…and it wasn’t with someone our own age. It was usually an older woman.”

*source apa.org

My son turns 8 in May, and I can’t imagine someone touching him this way. It moves me to violence just to think about it. So what makes the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection’s utterances so shocking is not the content itself, but rather the source. To be so willfully obtuse about an issue that has so much breadth and depth – an ignored portion of which can be uncovered in the span of 30 minutes if you would just take the time – is not befitting of someone in that role. Madam Djaba likes to talk a lot about rights and responsibilities, but I think it would behoove us all if she spoke more about her responsibilities in her role. The misogynist in the street can almost be forgiven for his ignorance. She cannot be. Her statement that girls attract unwanted attention and rape is one laced in violence, and we cannot have a ministry guided and staffed by people who permit and excuse violence against any segment of society and then advocates that victims look inward to see what part they played in their own victimization. That goes for Ghana. That goes for anywhere.

People (men) often ask why rape is such an “emotional” topic for us. Invariably, someone will patronizingly advise us to calm down during the course of the conversation. This powerful scene from the Netflix series Luke Cage accurately depicts to sort of baseline rage that survivors of sexual abuse carry with them. See what happens to Cottonmouth after he accuses his cousin of “wanting it”.

 

 

A true “mother and sister” would recognize that there are a lot of injured people of both genders walking around in broad day light, trying to do the best they can while managing the burden of violation. They would listen, and then take than information to implement real solutions. A true “brother and father” would do the same. It’s time to start addressing perpetrators of rape and stop diverting responsibility onto the victims because it’s easier and those charged with protection are too lazy to do otherwise. We need someone who is going to be a voice in the wilderness, who will speak to those who have an ear to hear and carry a fresh word into their communities. And if that task too difficult for her, then Otiko Djaba is not the mother we need.

Advertisements

Someone Show Swagger Mama Otiko This Chart

You ever get tired of repeating yourself? You ever just get bone weary of saying the same thing over, and over and over again? You ever wish that you could find the words to make the carrousel of madness come to a grinding halt? That must be it; maybe it’s the way we’ve been saying it. All us feminists, and human rights activists and people with common sense and decency…perhaps our semantics just don’t connect or compute with the rest of them. And by ‘them’, I mean Otiko Afisa Djaba and her merry band of patriarchal, rape culture supporters attempting to defend the woman’s most recent contribution to the debasement of the Ghanaian mind.

Otiko Djaba is a Ghanaian politician and minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. Speaking at the 90th anniversary and Speech and Prize giving Day of the Krobo Girls Presbyterian Senior High School in the Eastern region, she concluded her soliloquy with the following admonishment for the impressionable students, saying:

“In conclusion, I want to say to you, be bold, be confident, be respectful. If you wear a short dress, it’s fashionable but know that it can attract somebody who would want to rape or defile you. You must be responsible for the choices you make”.

These are the words of the minister for social protection.

I can’t spend too much time on this, because everything that has been said on the matter on the supposed (bogus) relationship between rape and sartorial choices has been said an infinite number of times before. If you’ve read a book, read the news, watched Lifetime for any significant period of time – or hell – watched National Geographic, you will walk away with the understanding that the only responsible party in the act of rape is the person(s) perpetuating the crime. The rapist. Not the victim…the rapist.

otikoWomen like Mrs. Djaba are particularly dangerous in an environment governed by rape culture. She is a traitor to justice, although she probably believes her admonishments will positive long-term consequences. Quite the contrary. In putting the blame on girls who wear short skirts for their violent sexual assault, she gives would be rapists a free pass to use what they consider “provocative dress” as an excuse for their vile actions. Over the course of the 20th century, we saw and heard horror stories about women who were made to relive the incident of their attack on the witness stand.

“What were you wearing?”

“How much did you have to drink?”

“Were you flirting with him?”

“What did you think would happen if you were working at those late hours of the night?”

The treatment rape victims are subject has contributed to the dismal numbers of reported rape. Adding to how few convictions follow a trial, there is a sense among survivors that the follow up trauma is just not worth it. Otiko ‘Swagger Mama’ Djaba’s advice only adds rocket fuel to a freight train that’s long been running over rape survivor’s lives and teaches women and girls to blame themselves before such a possible attack happens.

Her statement, aside from being absolutely ludicrous, is completely false. Hemlines are not a factor in the propagating of sexual assault. If that were the case, there would be no cis/hetero male victims of rape…and yet the CDC reports that 1 in 71 men are the victims of rape. (I searched for statistics on male victims of rape in Ghana and found none.) What length were the skirts these male victims were wearing at the time of their assault? And what about the women who rape men? It would shock her and her supporters to know that this is a real phenomenon that stretches back centuries. I don’t blame her for her ignorance. Patriarchal systems have made it almost impossible to have a real conversation about sexual assaults on male bodies. Some aid organizations in Africa won’t even give funding to help victims of sexual assault if the reported statistics include men. Men in these situations are punished twice. Furthermore, it perpetuates a culture of silence that can only lead to greater frequency of rape, molestation and assault.

It might behoove Mrs. Djaba to take some extended courses in gender studies if this is the ministry she means to lead. Rape is a scourge on the Ghanaian populace, and it cuts across age and social status. Rapists are found in the slums of Agbogbloshie as well as the highest and most prestigious positions in the land. There is no way to “spot a rapist”. They are teachers, pastors, husbands, fathers, brothers and neighbors. They are not boogey men lurking in the dark. Most rape survivors are attacked by people they know, trust and/or are familiar with. That information needs to be a part of the national conversation and any ‘advice’ well-meaning but ill-informed people need to give. The circumstances under which people find themselves victims of rape are varied and complex, nevertheless they all have one thing in common: The motives and the intent of the rapist, those being to exert dominance, power and to fulfill a selfish and perverse sexual desire.

But lets talk about the boogey man, and what so many people think he/she looks like or where he lurks:

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 12.02.18 PM

Image source: Dailymail.com

An Iraqi refugee who raped a 10-year-old boy at a swimming pool has had his conviction overturned because a court didn’t prove he realized the boy was saying no.

The rapist, identified as Amir A, 20, violently sexually assaulted the boy in the changing room of Theresienbad pool in Austria claiming it was a ‘sexual emergency’ because he had not had sex for four months. This kid was swimming at the pool – a supposedly safe space – and had his body invaded in the most cruel and vile manner because this 20 year old man could not control his urges.

*****

While on Hajj, my friend’s cousin was walking back to her camp after completing her prayers. A man was following her, which was not out of the ordinary. There were thousands of people there and there is rarely an opportunity for privacy.

When they reached an alleyway the unknown man grabbed her, pulled her into the darkness, forced her face against the wall of a building and began to rub himself against her backside, stopping only until he had ejaculated through his clothing and onto her prayer clothes. He ran off immediately afterward. She was also in a supposed “safe space”: a pilgrimage to Mecca, where you would think that everyone’s mind was on Allah and dutifully fulfilling a pillar of faith. How could she know – or even fathom – that her fellow Muslim brother would have such vile thoughts on his mind at such a sacred time?

*****

I myself have written about my molestation at the hands of my now deceased uncle. I was 8 years old, barely pre-pubescent with a dry jheri curl. At the time he cornered me I had gone to my room to go and get a toy with my sister. After he stuck his tongue in my mouth, he turned to my sister to perform the same lewd act on her. Fortunately, my sister’s flight instincts have also been keen and on point. After she witnessed what he did to me, she ran out of the room. I on the other hand had not been so fortunate. I ‘let’ him do it, because it had already been drilled into me that adults were right and you always obey your elders. My reward for that obedience was enduring a sick feeling any time his name was mentioned and footing the bill for his funeral. Is the boogey man supposed to be your father’s blood brother? Convention says no.

At what point do we begin to counsel men and women about self control, rather than legislating bans on miniskirts, or forcing girls to cut their hair so as not to appear so ‘grown’, or ironing breasts of pre-teen girls in the hopes that a flat, disfigured chest will deter any unwanted attention? When will girls have the opportunity to experience the same freedom in their bodies that boys do?

mabuse.cameroon.breast.ironing.cnn.640x360

The irony of Otiko placing the blame for sexual assault on victims is not lost on many. This is a woman who sports a half shaven head, and who had to endure all kinds of denigration during her vetting process because of it. People said she did not represent Ghanaian culture, that she looked like a hooligan and loose woman who didn’t have common sense or morals. Those of us who defended her did so because we know that it’s not what’s on a woman’s head that makes her effective at her duties; it’s what’s in it. She was a symbol of the new, liberated Ghanaian woman who could defy convention and STILL earn the respect of the office she inhabited. These young, hopeful girls nicknamed her ‘Swagger Mama’, a moniker she apparently takes great delight in. She was cool, funky and confident and many high school age girls looked up to her. They still do.

So for her – Otiko Djaba in particular – to champion the most baseless tenant of rape culture and all its hypocrisy is not just shocking: it’s disappointing. And until Otiko does an about face on this issue, the woman herself will wind down the same path as her predecessor…as an utter disappointment herself.

But as always, I’m here with solutions. Perhaps this chart will help all involved and clear up any confusion.

ef9136203ab412b9d33addaac2360b9f

It ought to be clear, but today is Sunday and I know that in a Church Near You, a ‘man of God’ is preaching about how provocative dress makes men rape, so we’ll have to have this same conversation in the near future.*Blank stare*

Heaven save my son and brothers from such men who would instill and nurture such a demonic and weak spirit in them.

Mourning the Nameless Adinkra Symbol

A blogging buddy of mine, whom I very much admire, redesigned her website a few months ago with stunning results. She is an essayist, and her posts are heavy on written content. Her redesign changed the way her readers interact with her words, employing color contrasts, a pleasing font and a bright white background that keeps the mind engaged. The human attention span has been shortened to an estimated 8 seconds due to our engagement with digital technology; however though her written posts are lengthy, requiring 5-7 minutes to complete, the reading experience is so pleasant that the time seems to fly by.

Part of that redesign included the creation of a custom logo as part of her branding. She wanted something that incorporated Sankofa, and worked with a graphic designer to create a striking logo around this Adinkra symbol.

index

 

When I saw it – and the explanation behind the design – I confess I had a visceral reaction. It’s not that I was/am unfamiliar with this symbol. It’s on gates and walls all over the country. The apoplectic response I was experiencing was due to nothing more than dissonance. These two ancient symbols cannot  possibly exist with the same meaning at the same time. Or could they?

Many people, myself included, do not associate this Adinkra symbol with Sankofa. The word “Sankofa” (translated as ‘go back and get it’) generally brings to mind a bird looking back at its tail. It’s an admonishment to look back to the past for wisdom and applying it to the present in order to positively affect the future. (Or, at least that’s what they told me in my 6th grade African studies class.) So what is the literal meaning behind this other symbol? Would the men/women responsible for their creation say affirmatively that there is no differentiating between the two (in meaning, translation or inspiration), beside their physical attributes?

sankofa_bird

If you had asked me even just a few weeks ago, I’d defer to Google and would have most likely accepted the conventional idea that these are both versions of Sankofa. However, since I’ve been giving so much thought to syntax and the evolution of language, I have my doubts. I recently wrote about the diluting of our local languages, which has resulted in the extinction of some words and the proliferation of others. Anglophiles have influenced and altered much of our language. We’ve seen it not just with conversational language, but with naming as well.

A post I came across a few years ago was written by someone who described how his/her family got their surname. Their ancestor, a man by the name of Dua, went to England as part of a delegation from Ghana. When he was asked about his name, he replied in English that his name was “calling wood” in an attempt to translate the meaning of his name. Dua is the Twi word for “wood”. I’m willing to bet that Mr. Dua translated his response directly from Twi to English, and so instead of saying “It means wood”, he responded “It is calling (misappropriation of ‘called’) wood”. In either event, the English then took to referring to him as Mr. Callingwood and eventually, the family named morphed into a more modern version spelling: ‘Collinwood’. Another friend of mine shared how her Fante family ended up with a very English sounding name, but she’s threatened to kill me if I should ever disclose the evolutionary process of how her very posh English surname. I like life, so I won’t. Just know that every Ghanaian with a British surname does not necessarily derive from British ancestry.

So what about this alternate Adinkra symbol? I believe this symbol has suffered from a similar fate; i.e. it’s origin and appellation has been attenuated. The two symbols – the bird looking back and coiled lines facing inward – are stark in their differences. The budding anthropologist in me cannot reconcile that they mean the exact same thing, and I think it would be culturally slothful of us to insist that it is. Just about every response I’ve received on what this symbol means and its actual designation has been “a variation of sankofa”. But then that’s about as accurate as saying my son is a variation of my daughter because they are both products of my uterus. Stone is Stone, and Aya is Aya. Surely each symbol is in possession of its own distinct, unique name.

I think about words a lot, and I have to wonder what the originators of Adinkra had in mind when they created the bird and the touching coils if indeed they have similar meanings. What necessitated the redundancy? When you consider any word – let’s take “hot”, for instance – does it have the power to completely convey the intensity behind that heat? Does it paint a perfect picture in the mind’s eye? Hardly; which is why the words “smoldering”, “molten”, etc. were invented. What idea do the two “birds” facing inward convey to a deeper level that the crane with an arched neck – or vice versa – fails to? And more importantly, what is its actual designation? Surely its proper name isn’t Variation or Alternative of Sankofa.

sankofa-bmp

My father’s last surviving ‘grandmother’ (she was actually a great aunt) just died at 105 years old. Perhaps she or one of her few remaining peers could give some insight into the depth of the matter…but you know how we treat our old folk. We venerate them in word only. There is something that a woman who’s lived to the age of 105 can teach us about health and lifestyle, but we’d rather ignore her and confine her to a seat in the family courtyard than invite her on TV or radio. Such a woman can hardly be considered relevant (or interesting) to audiences between the ages of 18-45, could she? As a result, Anglophiles, elites and cultural hijackers continue to set the agenda and another piece of our history is lost to memory and antiquity. And you know what? I’m pretty emotional about what we’re losing in this steady cultural erosion. How reliable is what we know?

 

Do you have any clues about the name and meaning behind this symbol? Do you think my doubts are justified? I’d love to hear what you think before the comments close in 24 hours!

Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport Gets A Facelift – But Corruption, Bribery Prevail

There’s ALWAYS some sort of bribery or money bilking scam going on at Kotoka International Airport. Between the yellow fever vaccination booklet scam, the baggage handlers stealing your luggage, and the customs officers’ expectant query about what you have “brought them from America”, it’s always a miracle when the traveler exits the airport’s sliding doors with their wits intact. Kotoka is a den of iniquity. It is a chaotic, incomprehensible hellscape. If you’ve entered Ghana via that airport in the last 20 years, you will attest that this is no exaggeration. Ice Cube got outta Compton with more ease than you will through Kotoka and its parking lot.

But there’s great news! The linear processes aren’t getting any better and the staff are just as arrogant and deceptive, but the airport is getting a facelift! *confetti*

Jemila Abdulai, my sister in blog, recently returned from Germany and had Ghana’s special blend of corruption thrown right into her face as she was trying to Uber home. And since we are storytellers, she did what was only natural: she told the story of how she was subjected to extortion by the airport’s workers. For that ‘crime’, her award-winning blog was hacked. (It’s back up and running now. I personally think the hack was practice for whoever the IGP is going hire on election day, but that’s because I’m a cynic with trust issues.)

With her permission I am re-blogging her account of the ridiculous and heinous events here…because they can’t hack us ALL. And because we’re all tired of them pulling this ish.

Kotoka-branded
By JEMILA ABDULAI

Kotoka International Airport, Ghana’s only international airport, is getting a facelift and it’s beginning to show. From the new “visa on arrival” desk to the expanded arrivals immigration hall and luggage pickup carousels, the much-needed renovation project, which apparently started in 2014, is helping ease some of the congestion travelers experience through the port of entry. As they say however, beauty is only skin-deep. What about the other, more arduous surgery? The one that expunges memories of power plays and solicitation by airport officials and staff, saves the country millions of dollars, and securely establishes Ghana as the gateway to West Africa it claims to be? When does that work begin?

Stepping off the plane around 8:30pm on June 16, 2016, I was tired, but happy to be home. After days of dreary, cold weather in Germany, I didn’t mind that I had walked right into a travel guide or blog post: the balmy, hot Ghanaian air rushing to envelope itself around me while the unmistakable hint of salt danced about. As myself and the other passengers were transported by bus from the aircraft to the arrivals door, I caught a glimpse of bright lights in the distance: the very lights guiding workers through the night as they worked on constructing the new airport terminal. Terminal 3.

Only moments earlier, a KLM crew member had announced over loudspeaker, “Photos and videos on the airport premises are prohibited”. This is a first, I thought to myself, before shrugging it off. Maybe they want to keep things under wraps until the official unveiling, I reckoned – to offer a pleasant surprise to those who have yet to see the renovations.

Having already filled my arrival form, it took me five minutes to get through passport control and make my way over to the carousel. It would take another 30 minutes before my suitcase came into view. While waiting, I checked the Uber app periodically to see whether there were any cars in the vicinity. I finally found one as I placed my luggage on the airport stroller and headed towards the exit: it was five minutes away. After putting in my request, I continued towards customs control, bracing myself for the usual questions: “What did you bring me?” “Where and why did you travel?” “What’s in your bag?” Nothing. Not a single question. Well, that’s different, I thought to myself. Different, but welcome. After 14 hours of total travel time on subway, train and airplane, I was tired and looking forward to taking a shower and going straight to bed. The clock said 9pm, but my body knew better: it was 11pm. Jet lag had me running two hours ahead of time.

Continue reading at Circumspecte.com

Pictures of Muhammed Ali For You From My Dad

The Greatest, the Prettiest, the Butterfly AND the Bee. There was no one – no one! – like Muhammed Ali.

The world lost yet another icon this week. Muhammed Ali, born Cassius Clay, died at age 74 surrounded by family and friends in a circle of love. His daughter Leila said that his wouldn’t stop beating for 30 minutes after all his organs failed. Doctors had never seen anything like it. He died like he lived: full of surprises, showboating and awe-inspiring.

Physically, Ali cut an imposing figure and was as lightening quick with his tongue as he was with his jab. I never knew much about Ali, except that my dad and everyone my dad knew loved him. That means I too loved him by proxy. However, I never studied him as a historical figure or researched facts about his life. I don’t have any fond memories about what Muhammed Ali meant or affected me personally. It would be disingenuous for me to say that he inspired me personally, though I know he inspired millions. I desperately wish that that was my testimony. The more a read of him, the more of a loss – a retroactive missing out – I feel.

At least I have the memory of certain Ali-isms being quoted with regularity in our home…or at least, one phrase in particular was: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. (The phrase once uttered obliged the speaker to skit and shadowbox in the moment.)

I grew up with these pictures of Muhammed Ali in an album that my father kept proudly stashed on a bookshelf in our home. I vaguely remember friends of his dropping by the house and exclaiming “Ei! Kwasi! Where did you take these pictures?” My dad would smile mischievously in response and tell the query-maker not to worry about it.

That long forgotten and oft repeated moments didn’t mean until just now when he Whatsapp’d me and asked me to share these rare photos with my friends and readers. I asked him how he procured the shots. The answer shocked me. This my father! And here I was thinking I was wild in my youth. This rogue old man was even more the rogue in his 20’s.

You also want to know how he got these pictures, eh?

Don’t worry about it.

What you are looking at are pictures of Muhammed Ali during his visit to Ghana in 1964. He met with President Nkrumah and Asantehene Prempeh in Accra and Kumasi. I once read that he wore kente cloth wherever he went and insisted on being addressed by his given Akan name whilst in the country.

What a class act.

Please peruse and feel free to share these pictures on all your social networks in celebration of a true son of Africa. If someone out there can digitally clean them up, don’t forget to redirect back here so we can all see!

 

IMG_4456 IMG_4457 IMG_4458 IMG_4459 IMG_4460 IMG_4461 IMG_4462 IMG_4463 IMG_4464 IMG_4465 IMG_4466 IMG_4467

How Far: M3NSA Asks The Question Every Ghanaian Should Be Asking Themselves

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.37.34 AM

Where dey the savior we dey look for? E be some guy inside the sky or e be me den you?

 

This is the rhetorical question that forms the opening lines to ‘How Far’, the Afro-electronic anthem that the ancestors and 36 unidentified deities delivered through M3NSA last year. We’re here today to discuss the video that was quietly released on March 24th. I tweeted that I it was my opinion that this is M3NSA’s best work to date, and that’s no meager acknowledgement. M3NSA – who simultaneously occupies space as the other half of both the FOKN Bois and RedRed – has a long and impressive body of work to his credit. However, ‘How Far’ distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack.

To put it into context for those who are unfamiliar with either the artist or his work, Mathematically, M3NSA’s ‘How Far’ is proportional to Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ under the category of Kendrick’s Grammy performance. No, really. It’s just that dope.

In the coming days, there will be many think pieces written about the video and the symbolism RedRed employed to interrogate the question of how far has Ghana really come after “independence” and/or how far is the citizenry going to let things deteriorate before we decide we’ve hit critical mass.

M3NSA has never shied away from uncomfortable conversations in his music. Typically employing humor and mockery as tools, he and Wanlov (his partner in FOKN crime) hold up a mirror to society, demand that we look at our blemished reflection and hold ourselves accountable. ‘How Far’ transcends that approach. Ghanaians have gotten comfortable with the reflection of a country swimming in filth, feces and corruption. We’ve ‘given it to God’ and explained our proclivities away by saying ‘this is Ghana’. So instead of taking us to the reflecting pool in order to gaze at our countenance, M3NSA drowned us in its waters, submerging himself in the process.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.55.48 AM

In the video, he assumes several different identities of the ubiquitous Ghanaian citizen: The syto schooler who’s only aspiration is to chew and pour information presented to him in the classroom, rather than to think critically. The profusely sweating police officer stationed at his post looking busy but doing nothing, really. The dissatisfied nurse who will have to go on strike just to receive her salary. The street hawker dashing through the roads in search of a customer – any customer. The preacher warning his congregation of some doom to come if they don’t change their ways. These – not mud huts or roaming lions – are iconic images of Ghana, and Accra in particular.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.36.08 AM

Directed by Jarreth Merz, I believe the use of Jamestown as the main backdrop for the video was absolutely intentional and unquestionably brilliant. Jamestown is one of the oldest districts in Accra. It served as the nerve center for commerce and governance on the Gold Coast. The lighthouse that M3NSA stood atop guided European ships into port and would’ve been one of the last things African slaves leaving the coast would have seen as they were being ferried away to a life of perpetual misery. Jamestown in its heyday was probably cosmopolitan and glorious. Had it been preserved, modern day Ghanaians might have found a way long ago to reap pecuniary benefits for themselves after the departure of the British (the recently created Chale Wote festival notwithstanding). Instead, the entire area has fallen into disrepair and decay – like most of Ghana. Jamestown in the ‘How Far’ video thus becomes a metaphor for the condition of the rest of the country; and not just in infrastructure, but in mentality as well. Twin images of bright eyed children and snowy egrets playing and feasting in filth represent the dual realities of an existence that is both beauteousness and grotesqueness.

In short, we’ve had an opportunity to see how far we could take Ghana and squandered it.

Source: How Far

Source: How Far

It was M3NSA’s emphatic, repeated refrain of “God bless our homeland Ghana” (the title of our national anthem), that was most remarkable to me. M3NSA unquestionably shuns religion and I’ve never heard him speak of a belief in any deity, only a belief in self. One only has to circle back to the opening lines of the song for evidence of this. Yet in crying out for God to bless our homeland Ghana, he creates a fascinating juxtaposition that the listener has to grapple with. Are we going to wait for a Man in the sky to fix this mess that we’ve created or does the savior we look for lie within me and you? Maybe the answer is somewhere in between. How far are we willing to go get solutions?

I dunno.

Like M3NSA said after that beat drops, this thing is tricky.

 

M3NSA and ELO source: Accra dot Alt

M3NSA and ELO
source: Accra dot Alt

 

PS: And Imma need someone to analyze that beat. That thang was a monster! Did you hear that? That was some Mozart level work right there! Well done, ELO. Come claim your shine some.

A Maid, A Clothesline and a Mob: Normalized Abuse in an African Country

My grandmother used to live in a flat at Asylum Down in the early 80s. The building was dark with shallow stairs made of brittle concrete that produced the sensation of walking on sandpaper as you ascended them. Having been most likely constructed during the colonial era, there was no indoor plumbing. It was therefore incumbent upon my grandmother to give my sister and I a bath in her metal basin in the flat’s corridor and after we’d eased ourselves in a chamber pot, to dump our waste into a pit latrine that sat about 30 yards away from the apartment building.

40802-pc

I felt this was a terrible inconvenience for my attentive grandmother whom I loved dearly, so one day I decided I would be a “big girl” and use the toilet at the latrine as I’d seen her do before. I was shocked by my encounter with wood, stone and excrement. The stench of ten thousand rectal evacuations hit me with the strength of a provoked bull as I opened the door. I was scared. It also didn’t help to have a team of Asylum Down area boys were hooting outside of the latrine as I tried in vain to take a dump. I thought maybe if I stayed in there long enough, they would lose interest and go away? But boys are such a tenacious species. When I couldn’t stand the olfactory assault any longer,  I threw the wooden door open and sprinted past my tormentors. My buttocks itched something fierce because I’d neglected to bring toilet paper to wipe with and foolishly sat on the seat with no barrier. Needless to say, I’ve never been to a latrine since.

Still, I loved that flat. It never occurred to me that the inhabitants of Asylum Down were “poor”. In my juvenile mind, they had all the creature comforts to make life a delight. There was a kenkey seller who patrolled the neighborhood every morning at dawn; down the road there was a salon painted with magical powder-blue paint where women sat and laughed and gossiped; the kids never had to go to school and spent their days kicking around a grimy brown football or playing high jump with a structure made of palm tree branches. How could life be better? The crown jewel of this splendor was the massive iron gate that separated my uncle Kwaku Banker’s two-story home from the humble dwelling places of the rest of the area’s common folk.

Though we were only at Asylum Down for a short while, a number of events I experienced in those few months left an indelible impression on me as a girl: As a Ghanaian girl, specifically. It was in those months that I witnessed my first and only killer bee attack. A swarm had flown into the city, stinging terrified inhabitants with abandon. From her bedroom window, my grandmother watched men and women scream and scurry through the streets with an almost amused look on her face. I begged her to bring her head into the window and shut it, lest she be stung and die, but she ignored me. In a cruel twist of irony, a rogue bee flew through the window and stung me on my belly. Grandma expertly removed the stinger and I sat in the corner afterward and left that old magical, untouchable woman to her own devices until the swarm disappeared and the commotion dissipated.

A few weeks later, I was standing on the balcony looking at the kids playing in the dirt when I heard a thunderous shout… like a crowd roaring at a soccer match. All the boys went running in the direction of the noise and then disappeared into a throng of Asylum Down residents who were responsible for the noise. In the center of this mass of black humanity was a man who was ducking and trying to cover his face. His eyes were swollen and blood seeped from his forehead.

I asked my grandmother if I could go down and see what had happened.

“No,” she said sternly.

My grandmother was never stern with me, so her tone took me aback. I ignored my injured feelings and watched stone-faced as the young man was continuously beaten by the furious crowd and eventually saved by a passing police officer with a rifle who locked him in a vulcanizer’s shed for his own safety until a car could come and take him away. A neighbor came to report what happened to my grandmother, who mmmm’d and aaahhh’d with understanding as the story unfolded.

“What happened, Grandma?”

“The man was a thief,” she replied simply.

“What did he steal?”

She pointed to the web of line that the community used throughout the week. “He took someone’s shirt from the clothesline.”

She didn’t seem bothered at all. Why wasn’t she bothered? It was just a shirt; a ratty old shirt! What was it with Ghanaians that made them want to hit people so much? How was this “justice”? This was a part of my culture that caused me great anxiety and anger, frankly. (I had recently become acquainted with the cane.) Nevertheless, the dark side of my young self hoped that one person in particular would find herself on the receiving end of this brand of justice – and she lived behind Uncle Kwaku Banker’s iron gate.

All of my father’s close relations and friends bore appellations that were related to their profession or occupation. “Uncle Kwaku Banker” was obviously a banker. Likewise “Uncle Lawyer” was a lawyer (I didn’t discover his real name until I was 16), and so on. Kwaku Banker lived a good life by anyone’s standards and was always giggling. I found his presence comforting, but I never got the sense that his wife appreciated him half as much as the rest of us did. I suppose that’s why she tried to poison him with the help of her son in 2002. Uncle Kwaku’s wife – Mary – was a yellow woman with a yellow jehri curl. She was fat and short and looked like a butterball; but unlike butter, she was bitter and she was mean. My God, was she mean.

The couple had two sons, one in diapers and the other barely out of his toddler years. Auntie Mary (and I hated to call her “aunt”) insisted that I play with them when I came over to visit. But there are only so many blocks and games of ring-around-the-rosy a 7 year-old girl can play before she gets bored. Fortunately, Uncle Kwaku Banker and Auntie Mary had a girl living with them who was just about my age. I asked if I could play with her.

“No,” she said frostily. “You can play with my children.”

I just stared at her. Sensing that she had caused some offense, she immediately turned to sugar and asked if I wanted something to drink.

“Do you want some mineral?”

My eyes lit up and I nodded enthusiastically. I had just been introduced to Muscatella and was hoping they had some in the fridge.

Auntie Mary shouted for the girl to bring me a drink, which she quickly did…on a tray with a glass covered in white lace. To have someone my own age serving me made me really uncomfortable.

Soon, Mary announced she had to leave but that I was welcome to stay and walk across the street back to my grandmother when I was ready. She gave some instructions to the girl, gathered her bag, and roared out of the gate in her car.

Finally! The shrew was gone and I could play with someone my own age.

I asked the girl if she wanted to play. She explained in halting English that she couldn’t play because she had to work. Well, I understood that. It was like at home: you can’t go outside until you clean up your room, right? It only made sense that I help my new friend with her chores so that we could get on with the business of play. So I helped her dust, sweep (and horribly I confess, because I couldn’t work those peculiar Ghana brooms) and clean the kitchen. I was scraping a pot of something white – perhaps burnt banku, I don’t recall – and regaling her with a story about my life in America when we heard the gate open and Mary’s car pull in. A look of terror clouded the girl’s face. And suddenly, Mary’s fat frame filled the kitchen doorway. For some reason, she did not like what she saw.

She began screeching in vernacular. The young girl’s voice turned into a high-pitched whine. I was bewildered. What was going on?

Finally, Mary told me I had to leave. I objected, telling her that I was trying to help the girl with her work so we play and we weren’t done yet. I could see the rage simmering beneath her yellow skin. It was turning her face red. My new friend quietly walked me to the gate, where I cheerily informed her that I’d see her later so that we could play. She shut the gate without a word and padded back into the house where she was met with slaps.

You could hear her screams from the road. They echoed off the walls in that massive house. They pierced the air. They went on for an eternity.

And yet, none of the passersby on the road hearing them seemed bothered at all. Why weren’t they bothered by the sound of a little girl shrieking in anguish? Was this not the same group of people who flocked together to thrash a man for stealing a shirt? Was a little girl’s life therefore worth less than a secondhand clothing item? In my part of Africa, it would seem so.

That was over 30 years ago and in that time, our attitudes towards the worth of the life of Ghanaian women and girls have shifted very little. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 women experience physical abuse at the hands of their partners according to one study. This study does not include the results of the thousands of domestic workers who are routinely raped, sexually molested and physically assaulted by both male and female employers in the name of “discipline”. I wonder, how does inserting raw pepper into a 12-year-old girl’s vagina correct behavior, or slapping an employee with hot pizza increase employee productivity? These are just a few of the sick ways Ghanaian women’s bodies are maligned day after day.

source: ghanaian times

source: ghanaian times

As I write this, local boxing champion Braimah Isaac Kamoko (Bukom Banku) is reported to have offered his niece 400 cedis (about $103) to have sex with him. She refused 1) because it’s her right to and 2) because that’s her uncle. His response for being rebuffed was to punch her in the face repeatedly and to throw feces at her house. When her friend intervened, he beat her up to. Mr. Kamoko then dared her to go to the police, stating that it would come to nothing. Allegedly, he’s been physically and sexually abusing boys and girls in his community with impunity for years. He is now walking free, not even brought in for questioning. This fact is just as much a judgment against him as it is against those who profess to be upholders of the law. Where are the police in this matter, and can they be bought as Kamoko alleges?

We often assume that the perpetrators of abuse are illiterate boogeymen who operate in the shadows, skillfully avoiding the law. That’s the percevied “face” of an abuser. Nothing could be further from the truth. The worst perpetrators of abuse in the country operate in full view of the public. They are often respected members of our society and protected by power and privilege, and they exercise their sense of entitlement by preying on the weak and unworthy… who are more often than not women and girls.

It is this attitude that allows men like Bukom Banku and Peterpan CEO Young Gyu Lee to have the confidence to violate women without a second thought. Similarly, former MP Nelson Baani exhibited no perplexity when he proposed that women who cheat on their husbands be stoned or hanged for the act. It is this attitude that assured Mary  – and the uncountable women of privilege like her – that she was justified in what I am sure was continued abuse of my once young friend.

After all, it’s not like it we’re talking about shirt from a clothesline, right? It’s just a replaceable girl.

Image source: Fox/

Image source: Fox/

I implore you: if you see abuse, don’t turn a blind eye to it. Don’t be culpable. Speak up and save a life.