Viewing by month: July 2010



“If you just slow down, you’ll get where you’re going,” wise words from 28-year old Makafui Agbotta, the IT king of Critical TV here in Accra.

In my haste to try and assemble a camera kit which contained one broken PD-150 Sony Cam (with no playback), a broken tripod (compliments of the tro-tros of Accra), and a non-existent microphone, I failed to see the wisdom of Makafui’s utterances.

We were on our way to the Volta region of Ghana, long known as being one of Ghana’s most beautiful locales. The purpose of our visit, however was less about the ambiance and more about some it’s most forgotten inhabitants. The lepers. Cured, but in some ways forgotten.

Makafui wishes to make it absolutely clear “I am an IT man,” he laughs. “I cannot go more than two hours without the Internet. I scoff at his statement as I’ve battled the power outages that happen regularly in this country and know he must have had to sacrifice online time for a short fuse or two. But I digress. Makafui’s point as we bumped along the dusty roads from Sogakope to Ho, Volta was “I am not a journalist. I am merely here to support you.” I enlisted Makafui as a translator as my Twi is borderline pathetic and my Ewe is non-existent.

At this point I am looking to Makafui as a mentor. He tells me to slow down when I start to speak, walk and act faster. He’s a saint.

Makafui gladly used his leave time to come with me to the far reaches of Volta. What awaited him was the mountains he remembered as a child and the empty sewers he missed so much. (The sewers are empty, he tell me, because the inhabitants of Volta burn what seems like 90 percent of their garbage, so while their sewers are far less clogged than that of Accra, their lungs are full of smoke.) Within 24 hours of arriving, Makafui was exposed to a rigorous schedule that consisted of finding, filming and interviewing lepers. We visit the Schoonhoven Cured Lepers Village and met survivors, who over-fill the rooms.

We meet lepers like Rosina, who sometimes goes for over three days without food because she can only eat when an NGO or private donor gives to the Poly Clinic near to her colony. We meet lepers like Kofi, whose legs have degenerated so much that he farms on his knees (what he farms is sometimes all he has to eat). We meet lepers like Malarina, whose left eye is sealed shut from her disease, yet still she wears glasses with one lens in, one out to remind her she still has one good eye.

Still, as we head back on a bumpy bus ride home Makafui chomps at the bit to check his e-mail. He’s heard that Vodaphone, his other employer, is downsizing and he wants to make sure he won’t be affected. Jobs like his are hard to come by here in Ghana. “So Makafui, have I convinced you these stories matter and you should hop on the journalist band wagon?” I give him the eye as I yell over the engine. “When journalists make money, I may S.J,” he laughs. He again reminds me to slow down and rest.

As the shooting ensues the next day, Makafui is no longer just translating answers for me, he’s asking the questions. He starts to watch me as I work and rework the broken tripod, and offers to shoot. He asks one of the main benefactors of lepers in the community what else she plans on doing to make more housing, more food and more aid available. He angrily tells me these are some of the people his government should care for the most. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he says, not for the first time.

As Makafui prepares to leave Volta on the third day he tells me he’s going to invest in his own video camera and tripod. He wants to start shooting documentaries on stories ” just like this.” He saw the missing fingers and toes, he heard the voices of people who, despite all of their loneliness and sometimes helplessness, ask you how you’re doing and thank you for just holding their hand for one fleeting moment without flinching. When I return to Accra I check my e-mail and see Makafui has already posted videos on facebook of his Volta excursion. One is of us letting a three-year old look down the lens of the video camera, the grandson of 90-year old Rosina. There’s more video to come from him, he texts me.

“We’ll make a journalist of you yet,” I mutter under my breath. I walk home from the internet café slow, so I can take in where I am going.

RE:Pieces published


Despite my trepidations about having a photo taken of me for the Daily Guide here in Accra (that made me look like a wannabe blonder version of Christiane Amanpour), I was encouraged by Jefferson Sackey ( the reporter for the show I work on, and well known around the nation) to have a professional photo appearing on his International Page and I heeded the advisory. The earring in the top of my ear is not to be confused with a crystal colored ear piece, it was simple an oversight on my part, and the photo was taken at 7am. My only after thought is that earring is the earth and my ear orbits around it- it’s massive and needs to be killed before it spreads. Anyways onwards to my JHR blog posting
” Think of the poor areas in Accra like a scab, if you pick it and leave it open, dirt will settle there and it will become infected, the entire limb might then become infected, and then you need to cut it off.”

– Ato Kwamena Dadzie , Acting News Director and recently charged journalist of Joy FM, Accra, Ghana

I have become a self-confessed groupie of Ato’s, I like his penchant for all things that push the envelope, and he does it with a smile (

Since then I have paid attention to these rarely reported “scabs.” I have been asked by my outlet ( Critical TV/ TV Africa) to submit a weekly International Report for Jefferson Sackey to the Daily Guide . Sackey’s pieces are often featured in the Guide, another newspaper JHR is working with.

Recently a massive flood waterlogged the Ashaiman and Agona Swedru region of Accra. The 40 deaths the flood took were about the only facts reported. Since the July floods thousands have been left homeless, food-less and helpless. Speaking on Joy Fm (, the MP for the area spoke angrily about how the National Disaster Relief Fund did a ” walk through” of the area, and nothing more. Since then she feels her people have been left with nothing but a tearful spiel from the president and she let it all out on air ( see audio clip Ghana News-JOy FM-Audio report -NADMO official almost slapped MP in a hot row Besides this clip being grossly entertaining it contains a message, the local ” scabs” in these flooded river communities come second, and the image of Ghana in the international community comes first.

Haiti- Six Months On…

Ghana’s Financial Arm Reaches Out, Instead of In

Haiti is ranked 148th of 179 countries on the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index -Ghana ranks 138th. Still 6 month’s ago Ghana contributed 3 million dollars towards earthquake relief in Hait. Six months later Ghana faces a humanitarian issue of its own.

The January earthquake that ruptured the already weakened country of Haiti unquestionably brought the country to its knees. Six months later the struggle ensues, despite billions of dollars of aid flowing in.

Ghana has played a part in the relief efforts while in the midst of a crisis of its own and this provokes interesting conversation among communities in Accra.

When Haiti called out for help the world answered. To this date the international community has pledged $5.3 billion in aid funds for the next 18 months to earthquake relief. Ghana answered, with a 3-million dollar contribution from the Mills government which left many Ghanaians scratching their heads- more so now in the wake of recent floods where no financial aid can be offered.

Six months almost to the date of the Haiti Earthquakes the people of Ashaiman and Agona Swedru suffered a disaster of their own when heavy rains caused major floods that overwhelmed the already poor drainage systems in the area. Forty people lost their lives in the floods and thousands more have been left homeless.

“It doesn’t make sense,” says 28- year old IT specialist Makafui Agbotta. He is one of a few Ghanaians confused by The Mill’s government’s stealthy donation to Haiti and non-existent contribution to flood efforts. Some might even argue that countries already considered to be third world themselves need not contribute to disaster funds outside of their own. This Ghanaian government appeared to have more than enough funds to give out as foreign aid, but nothing has been offered to flood victims here. The government cites there are no available funds.

“I know the government wanted to contribute to Haiti for humanitarian reasons,”Agbotta says with pity in his eyes, “but really they had nothing to gain…flood victims here have everything to lose- we are a developing country, we go for loans, so we shouldn’t have money to be donating, that’s more for the wealthier nations to fret about.”

Agbotta laughs, “If we were as rich as Donald Trump or Bill Gates, we could donate, but we’re not, we need the money as much as Haiti does really.”

The devastation in Haiti does not compare to that of floods in Ashaiman and Agona Swedru, much of Haiti’s capitol has been reduced to rubble. Still, foreign aid groups swell the streets and ghettos of Port au Prince; their engines run on contributions from wealthy nations in a position to help. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank estimated that the cost of “fixing” Haiti could be between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, based on a death toll of 300,000. Thousands of new amputees face the stark reality of living with disabilities in a country whose terrain and culture have never been hospitable to the disabled. In six months only 28,000 of the 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the earthquake have moved into new homes, and the Port-au-Prince area remains an example of life in ruins. This is hardly comparable to the damage done by floods here in Ghana.

Still, the U.S has committed $1.15 billion on top of the more than $900 million already spent by the international community.

One thing Haiti does have is the support of the international community and a continued commitment to its thriving in the aftermath of its tragedy. The flood victims here in Ghana have no promises from this government or the international community.

Earlier this month Joy Fm hosted a panel discussion with the MP for Tama West, the area affected by floods. Irene Addo Torshie tersely argued the National Disaster Management Organization had minimal resources to offer victims of the floods and she was appalled at the lack of attention paid to Tama West by government officials. The movement of three million dollars out of Ghana and into Haiti raises concern that Ghana as a developing nation might not need to extend the arm of charity when its own people suffer irrecoverably in the wake of the floods.

In Haiti Relief Agencies are working directly with hands-on mayors in metropolitan Port-au-Prince to ensure housing becomes available for the displaced and homeless. Six months later it seems it’s one small step ahead for Haiti, and one big step behind for the people of Ashaiman and Agona Swedru in as many months- to this date no homes have been rebuilt and little aid is making its way in. That 3 million sure would come in handy.

Be sure to catch Jefferson Sackey’s International Assignment next Tuesday at 9pm. For viewers in Ghana, it’s on TV Africa and SKYY Digital. Direct from Toronto, Canada, Jefferson Sackey will be conducting various interviews with key reporters on the ground in Haiti on progress made so far. He is the guest speaker tomorrow at the Human Rights Documentary Festival in Toronto.

RE: first postings from JHR

My blog postings on JHR’s site will be viewable soon. But for now here is one from one of my collegues in Malawi.

Time running out?

by Philippa Croome on July 20, 2010 · 0 comments

in IYIP Rights Media Internships,Malawi

Oh, elections. Back home, they seem to pop up more often than not. Voter turnout is low, apathy even worse. But we don’t doubt that every however often, they’ll happen.

Here in Malawi, it’s been a decade since the last local elections. And after the scheduled May election was once again bumped to November 23, (on top of the 2005 elections being avoided due to financial constraints pegged on the famine), the skepticism surrounding these elections is hardly surprising.

“They’re not going to happen,” a co-worker tells me. He says the government is scared – of decentralization that would threaten the governing DPP’s hold, and of losing the control they’ve become accustomed to.

Last year, Parliament approved of giving MPs voting power at the local level. It means the minister of justice, also an MP, will have control at every level of government.

“There is already a structure in the country – we need to have elections to fill the people into that structure,” says Unandi Banda, Executive Director of the National Elections Systems Trust, a local NGO that looks to educate the electoral base.

“So far the Electoral Commission is saying they have not received resources from the treasury and development partners to start activities…but it is our prayer that these activities start as soon as possible, because time is not on our side.”

An interview with the commission last week revealed that funding is key. Only two thirds of their 3 million kwacha (just over $21,000 CDN) budget for running the elections has been committed to by government. Another 1 million kwachas ($7,100 CDN) still has to be met by outside donors through the UNDP, not to mention activities including equipment gathering, a ward demarcation, cleaning up the voter’s roll as well as civic education.

It’s a lot to do in four months, but Chief Election Officer David Bandawe for the commission insists it’s enough time.

“We’re still getting ready,” he says, “but the developing partners will come in to fill in the gap.”

The commission has said they expect to release its calendar of events “within two to three weeks.”

And despite admirable movements such as the 50/50 campaign for equal representation of women – heralded for its success at the last federal election (increasing representation from 14 to 22 percent), my coworker’s skepticism remains. But he isn’t alone in his feeling. The mention of elections brings a laugh from the Malawians I’ve spoken to on the matter – “We’ll see,” they say.

The public’s appetite for politics that would make local elections here vibrant and exciting is not being fed. In Malawi, community rules, and lack of access to the political wheel from rural areas is exactly what makes grassroots politics so necessary.

Banda agrees. “Deliberating in the local assemblies on issues affecting development of their areas – these are the people who represent the grassroots, the real developmental needs.”

Let’s just hope those needs will have enough time to be met.
BY Phillipa Croome

Re: Where does the Yoga Fit In


Staying True to the Yoga

“All is coming,” I remind myself as I step onto the balcony of my hotel. I can smell fish and there is a child screaming his lungs out on the deck below me but I roll out my mat, smiling at the sound of a child. I have Simon and Garfunkel playing in the speakers my father gave me just before I left Halifax. They’ve already become dusty and dirty in the few days since I’ve arrived, but who cares as long as they make a little sound. It’s 7am in Accra; all I can hear is the echo of my own voice in my head telling yoga students that twisting practices are a digestive treat. I need to take some of my own advice so today I set my intention on my first 3 chakras (Lower back, Pelvic Floor and Belly) and I take to my practice. As my spine weaves around my legs in fierce twist (Paravritta Utktasana) I pray that some of the night’s violent bowel attacks will evaporate with each breath. I am so physically beat from a bout of diarrhea that lasted the whole night that even my skin hurts. But I breathe. Over to the other side I twist, “ see me and Julio down by the schoolyard,” Paul Simon belts out.

I can feel myself feeling better and am glad I crawled off the toilet and onto my mat. I have learned to practice in the heat and think the students back at 108 Yoga will be proud at my transition. I spent the 3 weeks before I left ranting on about my imminent surrender to yoga in the heat, every day, for months. I brought along some helpful yoga resources and I’ve learned to tailor my personal practice to my body type and the new climate (Perfect Health, Deepak Chopra). My practice ends with a silent chant of Om and I open my eyes to see a bird flying towards me against an opaque, milky colored sky.

-Sj, Ghana, 2010.

RE: Bridging the gap between my old life and new


Day 3 in Ghana

I remember a scene in the movie “ The Beach” when Leonardo Dicaprio is lying on his bed in his rather modest hotel room in Thailand. He’s staring up at a ceiling fan that has this audible rickety sound….but it’s the only sound, and he just stares at the fan and you know that in his mind he’s thinking- “I have no fucking idea why I am here.” These moments eb and flow throughout the film but inevitably we see that he has an experience- it’s neither good nor bad, it’s frightening and it’s exciting, but most of all, it’s just a place he’d been. You’d think I’m painting Africa in this light but I’m not.

When I woke up this morning to the sound of the ceiling fan and the rancid smell of my pillow- I felt nothing but excitement, but…..the repetition of the ceiling fan did make me a little stir crazy and Dicaprio-esque….so I shut it off. I eased out of bed and sighed….I had to brave a cold shower in the dirtiest tub I’d ever come across. I attempted to be a maverick in that tub- finding ways to hold my razor and the handheld shower at the same time without spraying water all over the bathroom ( there was no shower curtain even though the sign in the bathroom clearly reads “ Please leave shower curtain in the bath before and after use). I put the cap back on the razor as quickly as I could and make sure that none of the blade touched what I felt was a dirty service ( but what is dirty anyway? It’s up for debate). I then stood tall as I shampooed my hair, then, the rinse. Holding the shower head in my hand I let the cold water cascade over my face then had a brief freak out when I realized I’d left my mouth partially opened. I pictured scores of eboli and bacteria flooding into my mouth because of my careless mistake and pursed my mouth shut as quick as I could, which then made me feel I couldn’t breathe as the cold water continued gushing down. Then I realized I was being a pussy, and a judgemental white woman and calmed down. I feel fine though I inhaled the “forbidden water.”

Learning one of many local language. Twi is the first.

I am overly excited at having learned five key Twi phrases slash words. I will write them out phonetically as this is how I’ve learned them

  1. Eh-kuum de Meh –means “I’m Hungry” Surprise surprise- this is the first word I asked Atto Kwamena Dadzie to teach me. He’s our in country director, an amazing political journalist and the author of this blog He looked at me a bit strangely but he gave up the phrase obligingly. Ato is extremely admired in Ghana for his bold political views. Check out his blog and you’ll not be disapointed (
  2. Meh Ma Who-achay- means “How are you this morning?” if you’re speaking to someone mid day you say “ Meh Mao Ah ha”, and if it’s the evening It’s “Meh Ma Ah-Jo”. “ Meh” means “I” in Twi.
  3. Etta-Sin- This simply means “how are you doing?”
  4. Sin- simply means “ How much”
  5. I save the best for last; “MayDassay”- Meh Dass eh is another way to say it. It is the term “ Thank you” but it literally translates to mean “ I lay myself before you with gratitude.” The way it’s spoken by a Ghanaian is so romantic and with such meaning that I haven’t quite gotten the guts to try it yet.

Today I am off to the School of Journalism here in Accra. Michael Cooke Editor the Toronto Star be making a presentation on the work the Star has been doing investigatively and beyond. The hope is to really shine a light on investigative reprting as there is a bit of a lean towards politics or sports here in Western Africa, rarely do rights issues surface, as issues. Last night as we all sat down to dinner ( I ate the Yassa, which is a Nigerian dish), one of the reporters here commented on how strangely journalism functions here-how in Canada it’s not strange to see a Journalist turn Politician- here it works slightly backwards- Politicians revert to Journalism. The information officer of the last political party in power has found himself in the shoes of a journalist and he’ll host us today.He most likely sees the power of the pen and is looking to use it to inform the public, not just shareholders. It’s then off to City Fm where Shawn will be posted, and to a few other outlets who seem eager to have JHR in their midst.