Author Archives: Gwyneth Dunsford

About Gwyneth Dunsford

Gwyneth’s passion for journalism and radio grew from a year-long exchange she took to Oslo, Norway where she not only produced but also hosted an English-language radio program. In 2009 she studied media and communications in Washington D.C. through the prestigious Washington Center and during that time, she took a journalism ethics class at the Associated Press, sparking her interest in human rights journalism. Gwyneth has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a Comparative Literature and French degree from the University of Alberta. Gwyneth has freelanced for a variety of media outlets including Global Maritimes, News 95.7, The Chronicle Herald and Xtra! Canada. She now joins the Journalists for Human Rights team at Diamond FM Radio in Tamale, Ghana as a Rights Media Radio Intern.

Mob justice in Northern Ghana

Men argue over the fate of the alleged thief.

Photo by Gwyneth Dunsford

Northern Ghana is a powder keg, waiting for a fuse. Whether it’s a dispute over the enskinment of a chief or over a bad left turn in traffic, things turn violent quickly.

This week, as I was reporting on mob justice, the violence turned to me.

Walking through downtown Tamale on a sunny afternoon, I hear a commotion outside a small mosque. It isn’t time for afternoon prayers, so I am surprised to find 100 people gathered outside the doors. I look on bemused, wondering what the fuss is over. A friendly bystander gives me some context.

“There’s a thief. He’s inside the mosque. You see, them with sticks? He must stay inside or he will be beaten.”

Innocent until proven guilty. It’s a fundamental human right and the basis of Commonwealth law. Yet something tells me the mob wouldn’t be too impressed with my paltry legal knowledge.

“But the police station is just there,” I say gesturing down the street. “Why don’t they take him there?”

We are 100 metres away from the biggest police station in Northern Ghana, the district offices of the Ghana Police Service. The irony is not lost on me.

I want to start taking pictures, but first I have to assess the risks. In Ghana, violence against journalists is not unheard of. My bulky Nikon SRL is not easy to disguise. The crowd’s anger is reaching its zenith.

Comforted by the daylight and proximity of female bystanders, I start photographing. My journalistic instincts take over. I take wide shot of the crowd from a safe distance. Some women gesture at me and try to jump out of my shot, but I ignore them.

The alleged thief emerges from the mosque and the crowd swarm him, some brandishing sticks. Nursing a fresh head wound, he somehow manages to evade them by climbing into a taxi.

Bystanders observe the violence outside the mosque

Photo by Gwyneth Dunsford

Undeterred, the mob surrounds the car, rocking it back and forth. It’s all happening so quickly, it’s impossible to see what’s happening. A few minutes pass before the car is allowed to leave.

The crowd starts to disperse. Pulses are raised and the crowd needs a new scapegoat: me. I have been ignored until this point and am surprised when a young man approaches me.

“Why are you snapping pictures?” he demands, his brow drenched in sweat

“I am just watching,” I shrug and smile. I am hoping my characteristic, wide grin will diffuse the situation.

He laughs, as if to say “silly foreigner” and rejoins the throng.

“You shouldn’t be snapping. Close.”

This advice comes from a man in a tan suit, who looks to work at the hospital.

“Why?” I ask earnestly.

The man draws closer, inches away from my face. A crowd of onlookers is now joining around us.

“Things will end badly for you. They will snatch your camera and spoil it.”

My temperature is rising. Now I am getting reckless

“Are you threatening me?” I ask. “Who are you anyways?”

The tan-suited gentleman backpeddles.

“No, I am not threatening you. You are not permitted to snap photos. Where will you put them?”

Despite his assurances that he is not threatening me, he and four onlookers are closing in on me.

Emboldened by the fact I am leaving in two weeks, I tell them what I think of their advice.

“I don’t care.”

I loop my camera around my neck, swing my backpack onto my stomach and start to walk away.

The jeering crowd follows. I hear sandals flopping against the pavement, running towards me. I brace myself to be hit from behind.

One of the women who didn’t want her picture taken is following me. She’s tall, wearing a flowery blue blouse and is livid. Thankfully her friend is holding her back, a safe 10 metres away.

Nurses observe the scrum outside the mosque

Photo by Gwyneth Dunsford

Sal’minga,” she hisses.

She starts yelling expletives at me that I can’t print here.

I beam at her and say, “Bye bye now”.

I continue walking away.

A nurse walks alongside me and gives a reproving look.

“You cannot show those pictures,” she says, chastising me. “It is a shame to the hospital.”

“I’m a journalist,” I explain. “I am here to witness what’s happening. If you have security problems you need to fix them.”

Behind the nurse, my bullies continue to taunt me.

“Your ugly legs! Your ugly legs! Look at your ugly legs!

I continue to walk away and escape the crowd in an internet cafe.

Somehow I thought I was immune to the violence and threats; that my Canadian passport and white skin meant that the mob couldn’t come after me. I was wrong, but I am grateful I discovered this before it was too late.

Ghanaian journalist lectures JHR chapter about rights media

Francis Npong speaks at the jhr-IIJ media forum

Photo by Robin McGeough

On May 19, the JHR chapter at Tamale’s International Institute of Journalism hosted a community forum about witchcamps.

Among the speakers was human rights journalist Francis Npong, the northern correspondent for The Enquirer newspaper. When Npong addressed the students, he gave a solid introduction to rights media in the Northern Region.

Here is an abridged transcript of his speech. For un-edited audio, listen here.

On choosing a career in journalism

“Now as journalists, if I asked this question: ‘Why are you here? Why do you want to be a journalist?’. If your answer is ‘I want to be rich’, you have chosen [the] wrong profession. I am telling you. If you say ‘I want to be loved by everybody, because journalists are supposed to be popular’, this is the wrong profession or the wrong idea … You are not supposed to be loved by any other person or to be rich. Journalism is … a profession that does reward [financially].”

On journalists’ loyalty

“The journalist[‘s] loyalty, should not be to the state. It should be to individuals and the public. I define my public as the weak, the poor, the sick, the marginalized. Let’s talk about the marginalized; those who do not have any power or the voice to say whatever they feel like saying.”

On the role of journalists in Ghana

“Now, the world is changing. The role of the media or journalists now goes beyond just the traditional role of informing, educating [and ] entertaining. The world needs journalists today more than 30 years ago. This century needs more dedicated journalists than any other century.

Why am I saying all [this]? You can see a lot of things happening… We used to say people didn’t have education, now [someone in] every house somebody has completed [secondary school] and the probability that the person reads or writes is very high.

So why are we still reporting on human rights abuses? And a whole lot of issues that do not speak well of us. That is why there is the need for us to step up [with] our profession, our education to be journalists so we can [correct] the situations that are all over … even within our houses.”

On protecting the identities of survivors of human rights abuses

“People put images of abused children, women or whoever in front [pages] without regard for their dignity… That is very bad. Recently … I published a story on allegations of witches … I put a picture and when you look at it, you will see an image but you cannot see the face. That is an aspect of human rights journalism. You see, you put the picture there and people should not be able to identify the image vividly. Because if I see the woman walking on the road, I’ll say ‘Ah, is that not the woman I saw in the papers?’. So that marginalization will continue.”

On the intentions of journalists

“Society is dynamic. Norms, regulation and rules in society can be changed depending on the activeness of journalists… But we are doing this consciously … in line with professionalism. In journalism, we call it the big five principal. In everything that you do, there must be:

  • The truth
  • Accuracy in what you are doing
  • You must be independent, do not allow yourself to be influenced.
  • In all that you do, you must be fair
  • Commitment to minimize harm in all that you do.

In Rwanda, all the genocide that happened was just [from] the pen of a journalist, who caused that mess … What have you gained from the [genocide]?

In journalism, we are writing, not because of writing’s sake. If you … want to write as a journalist, because you can to write and get a main by-line, forget it! That is not the motive for a journalist … ”

On the dangers of human rights reporting in Tamale

“When I came to Tamale, people asked ‘How can you leave Kumasi … and come to Northern Region to do what, you want to be killed?’. I said no, I want to be part of the change. If there is a change today, I am happy to be part of the change.

In 2004, when were writing issues of corruption, bad governance, women’s rights abuses … For years, I was not sleeping my house. I am telling you, some of us [journalists] survived the storm.
I came here under flying bullets, flying stones and we were there to cover live [events].

It came to a time that I was accused by a police commander … of stealing a document in his office. Look at your safety. How [safe] are you? So it was a bad time to operate as a journalist and human rights journalism was very difficult to practice. But some of did it under a disguise.”

On interviewing survivors of human rights abuse

“You don’t ask silly questions. You must know what you are all about. You must be free to let anything to go through your ears and stay in your mind. But you must be able to sieve it, to be able to make an impact that you want to.

In the witches camp or refugee camp, you will not see them smiling. [So] you should not enter there and start to smile. Look at the mood of the situation and adjust yourself to that mood. Make sure that your lifestyle attracts the person closer to you. If not, they will shy away from you. Those are some of the tricks that when you are going to approach a victimized person you must learn to adopt this style. If not, you will go and you will not come away with the story.

You must build trust between yourself and the victims.

You must never reveal your source of information.”

On gender

“You go to every sector in society and you see that men are on top. And any woman who makes it to the top, they call her a ‘witch’, ‘iron lady’ or a whole lot of names. Do you ever see a man nicknamed like that? No. We are giving our women hell.”

Barriers to mental healthcare in Ghana’s Northern Region

Mami Sandow started hearing voices when she was nine years old.

“She used to roam, talking anyhow, climbing some kind of trees, ” says her brother, Fatawu Sandow. ” You asked her to stop, but she wouldn’t stop. She would just run and hit anything [and fall] down. ”

Mami is 16 years old now and is being treated for epileptic psychosis at Tamale Teaching Hospital She pulls down the left shoulder of her screen-printed dress to show deep scars on the shoulder blade. Her left ear is mangled; the lobe tattered and hanging loosely. Her injuries are self-inflicted; when she hears voices she throws herself at walls to get them to stop.

Seven years ago, when Mami first started exhibiting unusual behaviour, her family thought she was just misbehaving, says Fatawu. The severity of her symptoms increased until they realized she needed medical treatment.

“We thought it was jokes [but] it came to a time, we had to send her to the hospital,” says Fatawu.

Psychiatric drugs in Ghana

Some of the drugs prescribed to psychiatric patients at the Tamale Teaching Hospital.

When Mami first became sick, the family sent her to a hospital in Bolgatanga, about 150 km north of Tamale. A private hospital, her treatment cost over 3,000 GHC ($1,500 CDN). To pay the hospital fees, the family had to sell off property and rely on remittances paid from siblings in Accra.

“We sold everything, just to take care of her,” says Fatawu.

Mami needs around-the-clock attention, to prevent her from injuring herself or others. Fatawu is the sole caregiver, because his mother and father are too busy to help. Staying at home as come at a personal sacrifice to Fatawu.

“It’s even effected my education,” he says. “I was attending [the Tamale Islamic Senior High School] … but because of the sickness, I must come home to take care of her.”

Mami’s epilepsy is treated as a psychiatric illness because of the stigma attached to her behaviour, explains community health nurse David Agyarwa. He says poor understanding of mental health issues stops patients from getting treatment.

“Most people think that when somebody suffers from mental illness it is due to sin an individual committed or the individual is demon possessed,” says the native of Accra.

Agyarwa says there is a great need for psychiatric care in Tamale, yet the hospital does not have a ward. Today he’s conducting interviews in examination room 52; an overcrowded room that houses urological, pediatric and orthopaedic appointments on different days of the week.

“We are compelled to sit at any place [in the hospital] that we can get and do our [patient] history taking,” he says.

Agyarwa says this is problem for psychiatric patients with delicate temperaments. Also, if appointments are conducted in open waiting areas, it violates patient privacy.

The Tamale Teaching Hospital unveiled a new wing on April 30, with maternity, intensive care, neo-natal, radiology and surgical wards, but no provisions for psychiatric care. The $54 million CND building took two years to build and was funded by the Dutch and Ghanaian governments.  Psychiatric patients will be housed somewhere in the new facility, says the hospital’s public relations officer Gabriel Nii Otu Ankrah.

“Because of the importance we attach to psychiatric care, the space will be created for them in the new building, temporarily,” says Ankrah. “[But] the original plan didn’t include space for the psychiatric unit.”

The Ghanian government is prioritizing mental healthcare after the March 2 passage of the country’s Mental Health Bill. The bill promises to de-centralize treatment from the three mental hospitals in southern Ghana, to community hospitals across the country.

Unaware of the government’s new mandate on mental healthcare, Fatawu is simply grateful for his sister’s new course of treatment. Mami hasn’t had a psychotic attack for one week, he says.

“Now it’s good [since] we started coming here, collecting the drugs,” he says. “Now [the illness is] no more [affecting] her, so now she is free.”

Ghanaian police covers up child abuse, says legal expert

A child abuse case is being covered up by Tamale’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DVVSU), a Ghanaian legal expert says.

Saratu Mahama of the International Federation of Women’s Lawyers (FIDA) says the unit is not pursuing the case because of outside influence.

“I believe there was some pressure,” says Mahama, from FIDA’s office in Kalpohin Estates. “I think there is someone, either from the family or an opinion leader, that is coming in to withdraw the case.”

Mahama learned this information last week during a phone conversation with a DOVVSU staff member.

The case in question involves the vicious beating of an 8 year old girl. On April 13, a witness reported that the victim was beaten by her uncle, says Inspector Lawrence Adombiri.

[Editorial note: The name of the suspect has been withheld as he has not formally been charged.]

The witness heard screaming from a neighbouring house and forced himself inside. He found the girl’s grandmother barricading a door shut. The child’s screams could be heard from within. The neighbour forced the door open and the girl ran outside, blood rushing down her face. The uncle followed her out of the room, a car fan belt in hand.

The victim suffered a fractured right wrist, deep abrasions on her back and a gaping head wound. The girl was treated at the Seventh Day Adventist’s Hospital and released into her father’s care.

According to Adombiri, the suspect told police that his niece is a “spoiled child” and she was being punished for stealing 2 cedi (approximately $1 CAD). Despite this testimony and the eye-witness’ report, the suspect is out on bail.

As a condition of the suspect’s release, he is required to report to the police daily. The suspect did not report to police on April 20, says Insp. Adombiri. He says his unit is continuing to investigate the case.

As a case-worker on domestic abuse issues, Mahama says she frequently sees cases that are not investigated properly.

“Most of the time, we see the [alleged] perpetrator being freed, without being presented in court and it’s very frustrating,” says Mahama.

Iddrisu Inusah of the Commission for Humans Rights and Administrative Justice says the suspect should have seen a judge before being let out on bail.

Yet, Inusah says it is difficult to investigate and prosecute domestic violence cases in the Northern Region. He says victims frequently withdraw their statements, for fear of being ostracized by their families or communities.

“The family they will decide ‘oh no, no … this matter shouldn’t go through the court systems, this shouldn’t go through the police’,” says Inusah.

African women in media: Making waves in radio

Bridget Nambah

Photo by Gwyneth Dunsford

“Mostly ladies are known to be shy … [too] shy to talk in public.”

This is a strange declaration from Bridget Nambah, a DJ and talk show producer at Tamale’s Diamond FM. The 19-year-old from Ghana’s Northern Region is fighting her own stereotyping. She has been broadcasting since high school, when she snuck into public speaking seminars to learn her craft.

“In Ghana here, most often ladies don’t report,” she says.” [Producers] want the ladies to be comfortable. When they are sending out reporters, they are mostly sending out the males. A man can easily defend himself from danger but a lady cannot do that.”

While female journalists are becoming more common in urban centres like Accra, Tamale is still an outpost for traditional gender norms, says gender expert Safia Mousah. She says leadership qualities are not fostered in Ghanaian women, so they do not pursue professions like journalism.

“In our culture, the women always takes the backstage,” says Mousah, who works for the anti-poverty NGO, Action Aid. “She takes all the instructions.”

Women who are outspoken are deemed “deviant”, according to Mousah. She points to the lack of women in Ghanaian political life as a telling example of this. Female politicians are scrutinized harshly about everything from their hairstyles to their husbands; scrutiny from which their male colleagues are exempt.

“Looking at the very few women we have in leadership roles, in journalism, it’s very clear that  [society] is hard on them,” says Mousah.

Nambah credits her strong personality for her success.

“Generally in Africa, women are perceived to be relegated to the background”, says Akosua Kwartemaa, the female manager at Tamale’s Fiila FM.

Since starting at Fiila nine years ago, Kwartemaa has seen a slow progression of gender equality in media.

“Of late, things are changing,” she says. “We feel, what a man can do, we can do and even do it better.”

“You are doing great job” : feedback from stakeholder in Tamale

“How long we waiting?”, Lucy asks, as we sit under a small mango tree.

We are sitting outside the Cienfuegos Suglo Specialist Hospital, an obstetrics hospital in Tamale, Ghana and my patience is growing thin.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Barnabas B. Naa Gandau, is yet to arrive for the day and it’s already 3 p.m. .
We got here at 11 this morning. The head midwife, Hajia Fati Mahama, welcomed us to the nursing station and let us watch as they cleaned instruments and filled charts. But they won’t speak to us “on the record” until the hospital administrator arrived. Like most institutions in Ghana, we are side-lined by endless bureaucracy.

Lucy, my pupil, is impatient to leave while I try to stall. A nurse runs out after us, just in the nick of time.

“He will be here soon. You will see.”
As if it was summoned, a gleaming silver SUV pulls down the red, dirt road. It pulls into the makeshift garage, under a small gazebo awning.I leap to the SUV’s doors, to intercept Gandau.

Soon we are being ushered into his office with its sparkling floor and top of the line computer. As soon as we sit down, Gandau asks for our credentials. I stammer.

“How do I know you who you say you are?” Gandau asks, skeptically.

We write down our names and contact information on scraps of paper, as a form of shotgun business card.

I quickly start explaining our intent. We’re here to do a story on Ghanaian attitudes about labour and delivery.
I tell Gandua I’m a human rights journalist and his ears perk up.

He lists the steps to gaining access to the hospital. First we will need a letter of introduction, printed on the station’s letterhead. Then we will need to file a list of questions we want to ask. This could take weeks. I persist that we need to speak to the nurses now. Eventually, he acquiesces.

We interview nurses, new mothers and a few gurgling babies. We get insightful and interesting tape. Lucy and I are ecstatic.

We rush back to the station and as I’m uploading the mp3s, I quickly check my email. The subject reads “trial” and there is no text. It’s from Gandau at the hospital.I send a reply; thanking him for letting us visit the hospital, making sure my jhr signature is attached.

A few days later, I get the following email:
“Just visited ur [sic] website and realize u [sic] are doing great job. God Bless you all.
Stay [sic]Blesed. -Dr. Barnabas B. Naa Gandau”.

See pictures from the Cienfuegos Suglo Specialist Hospital.

Ghanaian women in media

Margaret Adongo is a love doctor.

Margaret Adongo giving an interview

And not only because the 27-year-old got married two months ago.

Adongo is the popular host of Fiila FM’s “Real Love” and one of the few female radio personalities in Tamale, Ghana.

Yet, for Adongo it wasn’t an easy rise to radio fame.

“Women in the north aren’t always being recognized,” says Adongo. “We should be treated equally. Privileges should be given for women to express themselves.”

To succeed in media, women must be confident and able to take criticism, says Adongo.

“I see myself as a man,” says Adongo. “I am too tough … I don’t allow people to sit on my interests. I do what I want to do.”

Adongo is the closest you get to a media celebrity in Tamale. During our conversation at a busy restaurant, she is approached repeatedly by friends and acquaintances. She says her status as an on-air personality sometimes gets her special treatment at Tamale Polytechnic, where she’s studying accountancy.

As far as Adongo is concerned, she was destined to be a broadcaster.

“In primary school, when they asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up I said I wanted to be a newsreader,” she says.

After reading announcements for two years at Fiila, Adongo making the jump to newsreader and talk show host. She credits her success to the station’s manager, Akosua Kwartemaa.

“[Margaret] has grown over the years to be a good presenter,” says Kwartemaa. “I helped her so much because she listens. She learns.”

Adongo’s show combines an hour with romantic music with an hour talk show, discussing topics like healthy marriages and cheating spouses. “Real Love” airs weekly on Thursday at 10 p.m. until midnight.

Kwartemaa knows the challenges of being a woman working in media. A working mother, Kwartemas’s son and daughter obediently sit in Fiila’s lobby, as they wait to be taken home.

But, Kwartemaa is confident that women’s roles in media are changing for the better.

“Generally in Africa, women are perceived to be relegated to the background,” she says. “Women — in Africa, in Ghana — are being very vocal. We feel, what a man can do, we can do and even do it better.”

Kwartemaa recognizes her role in fostering Adongo, saying female role models are important.

“The young ones, they want someone to look up to,” says Kwartemaa. “The girls feel it is a male-dominated job, because most of the presenters are men. At least if [the women] are here, it urges them on.”

Kwartemaa’s daughter, Kristiana, 3, plays with her socks in the radio station’s lobby. Kwartemaa says if her daughter shows an interest, she’ll encourage her to pursue radio.

“I want to encourage women in particular …” she says. “Be bold and go for it.”

This is the first blog in a series about Ghanaian women in media. Check back soon for the second installment.

Ghanaian women march to promote peaceful elections

An audio slideshow of 40 women marching for peaceful elections in Tamale, Ghana

On International Women’s Day, 40 women in Tamale, Ghana marched to promote peaceful elections. The paraded the streets of the city, holding signs promoting their cause. They were addressed by Tamale mayor Alhaji Abdulai Haruna Friday. The event was sponsored by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding and the Swedish International Development Agency.

Photos by Robin McGeough and Gwyneth Dunsford.
Audio by Gwyneth Dunsford.

Hacks versus flacks: Ghana edition

“You want me to do what? You want a copy of all my questions?”

It’s the third time today I have spoken with Gabriel Nii Otu Ankrah, the public relations officer at the Tamale Teaching Hospital.

I started a story two weeks ago about labour and delivery practices in Ghana and I have yet to interview anyone.

Getting information in Ghana is challenging. In addition to conventional institutional bureaucracy, there are many barriers between journalists and the truth.

Letters of introduction must be printed on official stationary. Written requests for access to information must be filed with the appropriate office. The information gatekeepers are all the more skeptical because I’m a woman.

Once the appropriate requests are filed, the waiting begins. My letters to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ghana Prison Service and the hospital have gone unanswered.

I don’t like to be lead around like a pacified lamb, so three weeks ago I snuck into the hospital in search of stories. I thought I was inconspicuous; a white girl with a Zoom voice recorder.

I made it as far as hospital’s labour and delivery department before I was turned back.

The doctor ushered me into the green-hued ward, where the lackadaisical fan spun overhead. The midwives sat at the nursing station, gossiping and snacking on black berries.  When I pulled out my recorder to capture the din, they were suddenly not so friendly.

I am sent to the PR office, with my tail between my legs.

Two weeks later, I am no closer to getting my story and the hospital appears to have lost my letter.

Ankrah and I have been calling back and forth all morning.

“What name is on the letter?,” Ankrah asks.

“Mine. My name. Gwyneth Dunsford. G-W-Y-N-E-T-H D-U-N-S-F-O-R-D,” I reply, tersely.

“Ok ok. What organization?”

“Diamond FM,” I say, in frustration.

Then Ankrah asks the dynamite question.

“Can I please have a list of your questions?”

So far, I have obediently bowed to Ankrah’s requirements, but I draw the line here. I won’t do interviews under the watchful eye of the PR representative, when the subjects spout prepared answers.

Stirring up my calmest tone, I reply, “Thanks, Nii, but I think I will take another direction with this story”.

I hang up, take a deep breath and leave the office. I’m tired of waiting.

I will get the story, with or without Ankrah’s cooperation.