Author Archives: Kallee Lins

Challenging Corruption in Ghana

As Ghana undergoes the public consultation phase of its constitutional review process, citizens are forced to question their democratic values and whether or not their political institutions are protecting these ideals. Considered to be central to good governance and effective society is an absence of corruption, but governmental institutions existing to deal with cases of corruption are raising questions about whose vision of justice is actually being served under the existing system.

The Serious Fraud Office, Ghana’s foremost governmental anti-corruption institution, was created in 1993 under the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General to investigate economic crimes against the state. However, a strangling hold on its powers by the Attorney General’s Office impedes its effectiveness. “The institutions that fight corruption are so attached to the executive. They are simply not working,” said Professor Amakye Boateng, a political science lecturer at the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology (KNUST). “The interesting thing with our democracy is that when you have Party A in government, the cases that get prosecuted involve parties of the opposition. So when you have another party coming into office, then you get the cases of their opponents getting prosecuted. So, they will tell you when they get in power that there is no problem,” he explained. Boateng credits this issue to the fact that the Attorney General, who holds the ultimate decision whether to persecute a fraud case or not, is appointed by the president, and therefore likely to favour cases of the party in government.

There is concern about the disproportionate number of corruption cases prosecuted from within the parliamentary opposition. While the Attorney General regularly prosecutes crimes from within the opposition parties, many worry that issues of corruption persist untried within the Government. The appointment of high government officials such as the Attorney General is always a contentious issue in Ghana as it fits into the current debate about how much power should be vested in the presidency and places unnecessary pressure on public officials to abide by the wishes of the ruling party out of the fear of losing one’s post.

Ghana’s official government website even speaks highly of the fact that recent cases against the state brought to the SFO have all been ruled in favour of the government. In a section listing the accomplishments of the SFO, it reads, “The Ministry has dealt with a lot of constitutional codes, prominent among them are the Attorney General verses the NDC on three different occasions which all was ruled in favour of the government, as well as the Attorney General verses Tsatsu Tsikata on the constitutionality of the Fast Track court”.

A possible solution for the lop-sided tendencies of the SFO is to give it the power to prosecute crimes independently from the Attorney General. Even if the SFO is granted a prosecution body however, there remains the fact that the SFO only deals with serious economic crimes. Any instances involving fraud that are outside of its financial purview are ignored by the government’s anti-corruption body.

The SFO, by design, investigates and tries only the crimes of corruption that result in a significant, economic loss to the state. Members of civil society, however, have embraced the fact that corruption can be found in virtually every sphere of life, in one’s day to day interactions with businesses or public institutions, and is not limited to crimes of a strictly economic nature. Ghana’s legal definition of corruption includes only bribery according to Florence Dennis, the General Secretary of Ghana’s Anti-Corruption Coalition. The Coalition, along with Ghana’s Integrity Initiative, a national chapter of Transparency International, are just two groups championing the fight against corruption in civil society. They prefer to use the definition prescribed by the World Bank which includes fraud, extortion and money laundering. Mrs. Dennis commented on Ghana’s idea of corruption, “We are growing. We realize that corruption is more broad [sic.] than it is. It’s like an octopus with so many [legs] and attached to so many things, so we need to broaden our definition of corruption.”

Another option would be to pass the general anti-corruption mandate to a different institutional body. The Ghana Integrity Initiative has been calling for the creation of an autonomous body through which to prosecute crimes of corruption. This does not solve the inadequacies of the SFO, and its own prosecution board would still need to be considered, but it provides an outlet for Ghanaians to have their claims heard, investigated and tried without direct influence by an appointed official.

The main objective of these proposed reforms is to have a body that can investigate and try corruption crimes independently from government influence. Therefore, GACC is advocating for a separation of the Attorney General and the judiciary. “The main issue is to separate the main prosecution body from the Minister of Justice so that we have an Attorney General who does not run like a political appointee. He runs as a professional appointed in his own capacity and he does his work professionally,” said Dennis.

[pullquote]“We really have to link corruption, fighting corruption, to human rights and then to poverty reduction for people to see the effect”[/pullquote]
In a public survey by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) to gauge public opinion on suggested constitutional reforms on various topics including justice institutions, significant majorities supported granting the Committee for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHIRAG) the ability to investigate cases by its own initiative instead of requiring an official complaint. A group of ‘household’ and ‘elite’ respondents were polled respectively in 22 regions with 77% of household respondents and 79% of elite respondents supporting this amendment. Currently, CHIRAG only has the power to investigate cases that have been brought before it, as well as being bound in the same way as the SFO by the Attorney General who “may” choose to prosecute a case or not after the investigation has been completed. Although the idea has been considered by the Constitutional Review Committee, the suggestion of giving CHIRAG its own prosecution powers was supported by 63% of household respondents and only 46% of elite respondents.

In the same study, 74% of household respondents reported that approval by a two-thirds majority in Parliament as opposed to only presidential prerogative should be required to appoint an Attorney General who is currently the head of all governmental justice bodies.

Though civil society is attempting to fill the gaps in Ghana’s anti-corruption institutional infrastructure, it is certainly not without challenges. The lack of a Freedom to Information Act makes it difficult to access statistics and figures relating to corruption issues. Florence Dennis described the frustrations that GACC is facing in trying to monitor and review the general anti-corruption process in Ghana, “That is a flagship work of the GACC, but it has been quite challenging because getting statuses on anti-corruption is not as transparent in our system as it is in other places. We’ve never had the actual figures, so we always talk in a vacuum.”

Monitoring all of Ghana’s anti-corruption laws and institutions is no small task. Ghana’s various pieces of legislation dealing with corruption issues include the Procurement Law, the Asset Declaration Law, and the Whistleblower’s Act and upward of 15 other institutions. Making significant in-roads is the Whistleblower Act, enacted in 2003. It places everyday Ghanaians into the role of social watchdog to guard against corruption, not only in Ghana’s legal sense of the word, but also the broad definition of ‘corruption’ that includes seemingly minor examples of fraud, perhaps in the school of one’s child, or in the daily workings of a hospital. The UN refers to these instances as ‘quiet corruption’. Though only a few dollars may be bribed, extorted or reallocated at a time, the aggregate effect can be a large loss to the community’s financial resources.

The Act encourages society members to report suspected corruption by providing them with the benefits of formal institutions through which to blow the whistle and police protection if needed. GACC has been holding workshops to train civil society on recognizing potential corruption cases as well as the process of whistleblowing as defined by the Act. Funding for their work with the Whistleblower’s Act comes primarily from a pool fund, called the Ghana Research and Advocacy Program, of which the Canadian International Development Agency is a major funding partner.

As civil society organizations continue working to strengthen Ghana’s various anti-corruption institutions, they are reaching out to the general public to impart that corruption is not only limited to financial matters in the upper echelons of society, but rather, that the effects touch everyone. “When you involve yourself in corruption, it deprives you of certain benefits that make you poorer. That’s when people will relate to it, but if you talk about corruption, and only in isolation, without relating it to poverty, without relating it to a development agenda, people will not see the effect,” said Mrs. Dennis of the need to connect corruption to larger development issues. “We really have to link corruption, fighting corruption, to human rights and then to poverty reduction for people to see the effect,” she said.

Inching Towards Democracy

Voter Election monitors all over the world have praised Ghana’s latest elections in 2008 as remarkably fair and transparent. Ghanaians, however, are well aware of issues at the registration and voting phases. Many of these electoral issues can be attributed to inadequate oversight of political parties and challenges to holding them accountable for their actions during elections.

Professor Amakye Boateng, a Political Science lecturer at the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology (KNUST), is most concerned about the issues of minors registering to vote, and people who attempt to register multiple times.

Kwesi Kyei, a research officer in the Subin constituency of Ghana and a member of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), stated that even prior to the last election, the Electoral Commission (EC), the body responsible for conducting elections in Ghana, declared publicly that the voters register had been bloated by the addition of ineligible names. He cited three categories of people who tend to register more than once. There are those who have moved to a different region and try to register there, those who have lost their voter id cards and simply try to register again and then there are those who, as Kyei said, “will intentionally go in and register twice”.

Everyone in Ghana is eligible to vote provided they have reached 18 years of age and are a citizen of Ghana residing in the country. Boateng largely attributes registration issues to the lack of a national identification system. Only last year, Ghana began its first national identification project to establish a database of all citizens. Prior to this effort, there was no system in place to verify whether people registering to vote were above the eligible age of eighteen.

The larger issue though, according to Boateng, is the ability of political parties to take advantage of institutional weaknesses that allow minors to register and allow multiple registrations to occur. Speaking on the role of political parties in voter malfeasances, Boateng said, “I think the problem is because of one: illiteracy, and two: the tendency on the part of political leadership to take advantage of such situations because they, in a way, stage manage it”. He cites illiteracy as a main factor in electoral issues as he believes voters who fully understand will not likely be influenced to act in discordance with it.

Vote buying and other unlawful means of gaining political leverage is seen within parties as well. Boateng, who ran as a parliamentary candidate in 2000, personally attested to the pay-offs that are a fundamental part of elections at the party primary level. Though inclined to enter the running for another candidateship spot in the proceeding elections, he was informed by party members and executives that another potential candidate had been contributing greatly and regularly to the party, so they would vote for him. They informed Boateng that he had no reason to run, unless he intended to “rock the boat”, as he put it. “You know, it’s indeed a structural problem because 1) the cost of doing politics in Ghana is outrageously high… at the end of the day, it’s money that, you know, counts. So before you become a parliamentarian, you will have incurred so much cost”, he explained.

Boateng highlights a fact that is even more disconcerting than financial misdealing: that “the campaign is unnecessarily accompanied by violence”. He spoke of incidences in the rural areas in which one person was allowed to vote several times by way of physical intimidation. “They intimidate the officers and the few police even who are there at the ballot boxes at the time of the election,” said Boateng.

Mercy Tuffour, a graduate of the Political Science department at KNUST acted as a polling assistant in the 2008 election. She was manning a polling station that was positioned only a few meters from the next one. She made it very clear that she was determined to keep order in place, so if “any political party comes there to maybe give someone money or something to rig the election for them, I’m not going to do it. And if I see anyone [doing that], I will make sure that that person is also punished by law.” In speaking about the polling station right next to hers, she said “A lot of things were going on there. Some loud breakups over there; there was some fighting and stuff, so I had to call the police to come in and resolve the issue over there”.

She places the blame for these pockets of violence, double-voting, and other Election Day malfeasances entirely on the backs of the political parties. She believes that they use their political power to entice voters, particularly youth, to engage in these activities by promising them job prospects or financial compensation.
When it comes to the security, and the fair operation of polling stations, Kofi Asomaning, Regional Director of the Ashante EC, urges political parties to send competent observers to the polling stations. All voting is done in open air as a measure of transparency, and it is up to the observers to guarantee that voting is carried out according to the regulations.
Political parties are able to select who they send to the polling stations and these people are then invited to training provided by the EC. A common situation is that once observers have been trained, parties will send another set of observers to the polling stations. According to Asomaning, “They say, ‘we’ve trained them, so [voters] know these people. And so if we send the same people there, somebody can influence them”. As a result, untrained observers with more brawn than electoral knowledge are often sent to the polling centres.

Many regulations are already in place, however, to ensure accountability on behalf of political parties. The problem, however, is with their enforcement. The Political Parties Act states that parties must submit a yearly statement to the EC including all of their assets and expenditures. However, both Boateng and Kyei agree that this is hardly ever done. Last year, the Commission stated publicly that not a single party had submitted their accounts. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to regulate spending limits.

Starting to show significant force in the drive for fair and transparent elections in Ghana is the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), a council composed of all political parties, the Electoral Commission and other political stakeholders. It was created to enhance cooperation between parties, as well as to inform them on the work of the Commission. Though the EC is in no way bound to implement the parties’ suggestions, the logic behind IPAC’s creation was such that if political parties had more say in the electoral system, they would be more inclined to commit themselves to its processes. “If you are aware; you are made to know that this is what is happening, you stand committed to it. You will commit yourself to ensure that the objective for which you are doing this is achieved,” said Asomaning of the need for political parties and other stakeholders to abide by electoral regulations.
“There are a lot of things that have been done through the formation of this IPAC and I think we will commend the parties, all the parties, for getting themselves involved in this sort of decision making. It’s been a very good thing. It is a prayer that they will all continue to do this,” expressed Kyei. Many successful reforms have indeed come out of discussions by IPAC. These range from replacing black ballot boxes with transparent ones to ensure voters that they have not been stuffed prior to arriving at the polling station, and establishing both parliamentary and presidential candidate debates.

Though electoral issues are apparent to many Ghanaians, there is still overwhelming support and confidence in Ghana’s democracy as demonstrated by increasing voter turnout. Asomaning credits this voter confidence to the actions and reforms implemented by the EC. He explained, “If people have very strong confidence in the processes or in our elections, it’s because of the way the Commission conducts itself, the way the Commission is transparent in all its activities. Whatever we do, we try to aim at building transparency into the system. [We are] trying to ensure that there’s a level playing field for everyone”.

Still, he does not deny that individuals sometimes abuse the system for personal gain amidst the work of the Commission. Asomaning said of the EC, “It’s a human institution, and political parties too, are human institutions, and some of them try to abuse the system. You see we are aiming at perfection, but we may not achieve perfection, what is important is we are seen to be doing what is right. You achieve the perfection if, and only if, other stakeholders play their role as expected.”

Ghana’s political parties themselves are starting to take steps toward making their operations corruption-proof. The NPP, for the first time in the history of Ghana’s political parties, and as Kyei claimed, for the first time in the history of Africa’s democracy, will involve more than 115 000 individuals in its election this August to choose their flag bearer for the 2012 election.
Previously, there were only 10 members from each constituency who would travel to a single location to cast their ballot. Now, there are 16 members from each constituency who will cast a ballot within that constituency and within the presence of five party executives. Of the expansion’s ability to curb vote-buying within the party, Kyei said, “Yes it will seriously help that because if you have 2 400 people to select the slot, I think anyone who makes that money can do that. But as we speak now, we have 115 000 to vote, so how much can you pay?” Kyei expects other parties to follow suit in adopting these measures to curb corruption.

Development Through Drama

Since jhr believes in the power of the media to change lives and aid development through awareness of human rights, while in Cape Coast, I decided to take a look at a particular medium that is often overlooked, theatre, to see how it has been contributing to Ghana’s development agenda.

Although performance has always been a part of African culture, especially here in Ghana, today’s theatre is focusing largely on contemporary issues even when performances retain traditional stylistic elements.  I sat down with Kelvin and Maxwell, two students of the Theatre Department at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), to talk about the potential for theatre to create positive change both on campus and throughout the nation.

Kelvin, a directing major as well as the president of the Association of Students of Performing Arts, described two distinct programs at UCC.  The first, Theatre for Development, focuses specifically on plays that educate audiences about social issues such as the transmission of HIV.  The department’s coordinator touted the program for tackling controversial topics such as female genital mutilation.  In this instance, students use theatre to explain the dangers and effects of the procedure and urge communities to stop the practice.  “They look at the situation and then they act on it, be it political, [about] social life or cultural,” the coordinator said of the program’s students.

The second program, Theatre in Education, teaches both how to involve young school children in theatre as well as using theatre as an educational tool in their classrooms.  As a final project, students go into junior high schools to involve the students in the creation of a play.  Using both traditional and contemporary plays, young students learn about their culture as well as contemporary issues.  These students are also empowered to speak out and have their voices heard, a useful skill for children growing up at a time when many traditional norms must be challenged in society.

UCC theatre students are also starting to reap the benefits of a theatrical education both on and off the stage.  Employers in Ghana are beginning to hire theatre students for their inherent public relations skills.  Many theatre students at UCC, where one can major in sound and lights, costuming and makeup, set design, production marketing and management, as well as acting, directing or playwriting, are finding jobs in Ghana’s quickly expanding television and film industries.  The coordinator also said that banks are now some of the leading employers of theatre graduates because of their ability to effortlessly address large crowds of financial executives as well as their excellent stress management skills.

Kelvin knows all about the importance of stress management.  As a final year directing student, he is about to be given only four weeks in which to produce a play.  Not only does that require rehearsing a cast of anywhere from 5-25 members, coordinating costumes, lights and sound, but also fundraising any costs over the allotted 200 cedis (about $150) provided by the department.  All of this is even more challenging when the play is an example of “total theatre”, the African productions that seamlessly blend theatre with music and dance.

A poster for a recent production of "Tartuffe" at UCC

Though Maxwell and Kelvin feel that the Ghanaian theatre scene is not as vibrant as it could be, a problem that  the coordinator links to the current take-home culture in which it is easier to pop a Ghanaian DVD into a player at home than to go to the theatre for the evening, they recognize that society has a lot learn from the medium.  The two recently acted in a radio play written by Efo Kwadjo Mawubge, the current director of the National Theatre and one of Maxwell’s favourite playwrights.  The play, Aluta Continua, is about the National Service which every graduate of a tertiary institution must complete.  For one year, graduates are placed in banks, local government offices and the like all over the country, but it is common practice for elite members of society to influence where their children are placed, often opting to keep them in Accra rather than sending them to the rural regions.  This comedy, depicting a meddling minister trying to influence the placement of his son, explores the possibility of a National Service scheme where placement distribution is fair and equal.

The play Maxwell is currently working, “The Family Affair”, is a family drama about two sisters in a broken home.  He wants to focus on issues of morality with play.  “Most of Africa’s plays are very traditional, but the times are changing and it’s time for Africa to change.  I want to write social plays for the new Africa, not the old,” he said.  However, no matter how eager the playwright is to send a message, there still needs to be an audience.  Passionate students like Kelvin and Maxwell are working hard to keep the spirit of theatre alive in Ghana.  “I think that people here don’t know what good theatre can do,” said Maxwell.  This is why they believe theatre for development is so important.  It brings theatre to the doorstep of the people and spreads an important message along the way.

Success story for Liberia, empowerment potential for Ghana

Before leaving Kumasi, myself, Laura and Ashley decided to get some expert opinions on film for our documentary projects.  We spoke to Dr. Charlotte Abeka, former United Nations (UN) chairperson and human rights expert who was scheduled to speak on Know Your Rights last week about the topic of women’s rights.  This is fitting, as she was the chairperson for the UN’s Committee on Women.  I expected to jump straight in to the questions I had for her about women’s participation in governance here in Ghana, but instead, we began to about an article she contributed to “The Circle of Empowerment”, a recent book published by a New York feminist publishing company, and her work with the UN in Liberia that inspired it.

What followed was the success story of one Ghanaian women who was able to spur on the fight for the human rights of an entire country.  It started in June 2002 during the last days of Castilla’s leadership in Liberia.  At this time, the human rights abuses were so severe that a human rights expert monitor had to be appointed under the confidential procedure due to dangers associated with the position.  Though Dr. Abeka was still the chairperson for the Committee on Women, and up to this point, no one had ever been appointed to two positions simultaneously, Dr. Abeka was offered the role.  She accepted after an allowed 48 hours to deliberate whether the task was worth the risk to her life.

She spent the next few years in Liberia, travelling around the country by armoured  car, reporting on the status of human rights.  Her confidential reports to the UN Human Rights Council (now the Human Rights Commission) detailed human rights atrocities, impelling the UN to send over an investigative team.

However, the investigative mission concluded after only five hours in Liberia where only Jack Cline, the UN special envoy to Liberia, and Castilla himself were interviewed.  The team left the country without the slightest effort to engage with everyday Liberians and even lodged for the night in Accra, Ghana.  After such a brief mission, the team delivered an exceptionally rosy report to the UN that strongly contradicted Dr. Abeka’s findings.

Thankfully, Mary Robinson, then the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, would not accept their report and called an urgent meeting of the Human Rights Council at which Dr. Abeka presented her confidential report.  According to Dr. Abeka, France, Russia, the United States, and China were outraged that the UN would carry-out such a defunct mission.  Subsequently, Dr. Abeka’s report was made public and used as the official account of the situation in Liberia.  The outcome of these events was the Accra negotiation, leading to Castilla’s arrest and placing Ghana at the forefront of the global fight for universal human rights.  The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was then signed on August 15th, 2005.  With her report and position no longer under confidentiality, Dr. Abeka continued to monitor the events in Liberia until 2008.

I am not sharing Dr. Abeka’s story with you because it is in any way miraculous or beyond belief.  On the contrary, I share her story as an example of one Ghanaian woman whose actions contributed to the protection of human rights for many.  It became clear throughout my talk with Dr. Abeka that the key to getting more women into decision-making bodies, improving women’s health and generally improving women’s livelihoods, a cornerstone of any county’s development, is empowering women through education.  This sounds simple enough, but many Ghanaians still believe that it is more important for their daughter to get married and have children than to complete their education.  It is time that Ghanaian girls and women look to those like Dr. Abeka and realize that they, too, have the potential to impact not only Ghana, but the world.

Art for Advocacy

The presence of Ghana’s traditional and contemporary art in everyday life is extremely vibrant, literally.  The bright colours composing Ghanaian dress, buildings, posters and advertisements are so vivid and captivating that they are almost blinding at times.  Traditional kente cloth, often worn for special events, but used for everyday purposes as well, displays colour combinations that are particular to the original tribes of Ghana.  Here in Kumasi, there is a lot of kente with a yellow, red and green pattern to represent the Ashanti people.

My favourite place to admire all of the artwork around Ghana is in the painted signs advertising everything from toothpaste to sardines.  Often, an entire wall stretching around a large building will be covered with the repeated, painted logo of a single product, turning the entire building a bright red, green, or blue.  Even the smallest of shops have some elaborately painted signs or detailing.  Be it a simple chicken thigh and a fish to draw buyers into a cold shop, or the intricate portrait of a women with an elaborate hairstyle on a placard outside of a salon, painted signs are always eye-catching.

A poster on the wall of the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition in Accra

What I find most interesting, though, is the way Ghana’s strong connection to visual art is utilized by NGO’s for advocacy.  While visiting one Ghanaian anti-corruption institution to the next, the large number of anti-corruption posters hanging in frames on the wall caught my eye in every office.  Messages in a bold font that tell you, “Say no to corruption”, or “Be a whistle blower” are accompanied by a strikingly drawn, Ghanaian man or woman pointing an accusatory finger at the poster’s viewer.  Throw in the bright colours that adorn everyday Ghanaian life and, needless to say, these images become difficult to ignore.

In a country like Ghana where, according to UNICEF data, 35 per cent of adults are illiterate, organizations are realizing the importance of making information accessible by other means if they want their advocacy to make an impact.  The Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), for instance, is working to inform civil society of the corruption that occurs in all levels of social life including one’s day to day interactions in both public and private institutions.  On top of their more structured training sessions to teach civil society members how to identify corrupt practices, one of their largest initiatives during Anti-Corruption Week, coinciding with the UN’s Anti-Corruption Day, is to widely distribute anti-corruption bumper stickers throughout the streets of Accra.  GACC is trying to make a visual impact that will constantly remind Ghanaians to be on the watch for corruption around them.

An artist’s rendition of “Democracy & Governance” outside the Centre for Democratic Development

Even something as seemingly complex as the Whisleblower Act, a bill passed in 2006 to protect those who report suspected corruption, has been condensed into an image-based message to make the Act more accessible.  The pocket-sized, 30-page “Guide to Whistleblowing in Ghana” includes a series of cartoons right in the centerfold that highlights the main points of the guide.  The larger training manual for civil society organizations also includes the same cartoons, but in a full-colour version.  The cartoons artistically portray the whistleblowers, the allegedly corrupt persons, the police, and the media all in the same illustrated style that is so characteristic of Ghana’s street scenes.  A cartoon woman drawn in one box asks a friend, “Can I still blow the whistle if I can’t read or write?”  In the same box, the cartoon explains that whistle blowers can make a claim verbally as well as written.  Hopefully, these splashes of colour and an artist’s touch will go a long way to educate other members of civil society just like her.

Putting the people back in politics

As Canadians, we could probably go for weeks without using the word ‘constitution’.  For most, it is linked more closely to the history of Canada’s founding rather than our contemporary understanding of what it means to be Canadian.  For Ghanaians, however, the 1992 Constitution holds the promise of keeping government accountable to its people, entrenching Ghana’s commitment to human rights, and bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary African society.  Interning at Kapital, it is rarely that a workday goes by without someone addressing the Constitution.

Because it plays such a large role in Ghana, it is important that it is constantly scrutinized to ensure its relevancy today.  That is exactly what is happening now during the Constitutional Review Process.  While I was in a Accra a week ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a press conference about the findings of a survey conducted by the Centre for Democratic Development.  The survey measured the public’s opinion about suggested constitutional amendments.  The public’s responses were separated into either the ‘household’ or ‘elite’ category with those in the elite category supposedly having a more specialized knowledge of the Constitution.

The panel of hosts at the Centre for Democratic Development's press conference

The findings presented at the press conference were only highlights of the survey results.  They presented significant discrepancies either between elite and public opinion, opinions divided along regional lines, or where there was almost full support for the constitution to be changed in regard to a particular issue.  An interesting split is found in the question about whether there should be a minimum education level set for MP’s.  Eighty-five per cent of household respondents declared a minimum level should be set, while only 65 per cent of elites felt the same way.

Many suggestions would also have large ramifications for protecting human rights if they were to be adopted into the Constitution.  For example, a large majority of respondents in both groups decided that it should be specified in the Constitution how long suspects can remain in police custody.  This would go a long way to prevent the abuse of prisoners’ human rights, a large concern in Ghana currently.

What I found most interesting was the measure of respondents’ attitudes toward the Constitution, highlighting just how important it is to the average Ghanaian.  Although 89 per cent of Ghanaians in the household category reported that they did not have access to a copy of the Constitution, a majority of Ghanaians (58 per cent in the household survey, and 96 per cent in the elite survey) reported that they were ‘familiar’ or ‘somewhat familiar’ with the contents of the constitution.  Moreover, over 90 per cent of respondents in both categories deemed the constitutional review exercise to be ‘necessary’.  It is my hope that those who are ‘somewhat familiar’, are familiar with Chapter Five at the very least.  This is where Ghana has committed itself to the majority of human rights listed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The highlight of the conference for me was the time reserved at the end of the presentation for public remarks.  Members of NGO’s and various media-houses present were free to critique and make suggestions regarding areas of the Constitution addressed in the survey.  This was the best example of direct democracy that I have seen in a while, perhaps ever, and the consideration of public opinion is only set to increase until the end of the constitutional review exercise.

Starting now and lasting until December, the Constitutional Review Commission is entering into a series of public forums on particular themes.  Proposed topics include “Gender and the Constitution”, “Media Accountability”, “Human Rights (DPSP)”, “Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ)” and “Traditional Authorities and Government”.  I find it very exciting to see such a focus on human rights and particular groups such as women and the media whose relationship to the Constitution and society, for that matter, are constantly shifting.

The High Stakes of Speech

The Ghanaian media, though always a roller-coaster of events, have faced considerable challenges in the past few weeks.  The effects a story can have has been most heavily felt by Ato Dadzie, an editor at Joy FM, a private radio station based in Accra.  He is facing criminal charges for “publishing false news with the intent to cause public fear and panic,” an outdated law from the Ghanaian Criminal Code of 1960, but one that could still garner him up to two years in prison.

Dadzie aired a story on July 6th, about a $10 billion deal between the government of Ghana and a South Korean housing firm.  The terms of the deal had been facing fierce debate in Parliament when he claimed that the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) had withdrawn their petition against the bill after some members allegedly received text messages with either death threats or threats to negate government contracts. After refusing to reveal to the police the names of those who were threatened, Dadzie was charged with publishing false news with the intent to cause fear and alarm.

The Ghanaian media community and beyond is outraged that such a law, a statute left over from Ghana’s colonial history, could be used in response to free speech. Bright Blewu, the General Secretary for the Ghana Journalists’ Association (GJA) shared with me his view on the issue. He thinks the situation shows that “speech is being criminalized.” This larger issue of criminalizing speech goes against the media freedom that Ghana has committed to in its 1992 constitution.

Blewu also highlighted the failure by the government to address more appropriate channels such as the Ghana Media Commission before resorting to a police investigation.  The Commission is a regulatory body that has existed in Ghana for decades to address these sorts of concerns with the media. However, the case was never presented to them for resolution.

A similar clash of interests occurred between the Ghanaian Times, one of the larger print media houses in Ghana, and the police administration last week. There was a misunderstanding when the Times published an article on Wednesday July 21with the headline “Robbers occupy 5 Police Buildings.” The five buildings mentioned were meant to serve as offices and residential accommodations for the police in the Swedru area. They had been abandoned uncompleted and are now occupied by squatters, as was later confirmed, rather than armed robbers like the Times initially reported.

The police administration expressed deep concern that their image had been threatened by allegations of robbers on their premises. In response, the GJA hosted a meeting between the Police Administration, the Ghanaian Times and their own representatives.

It just so happened that my interview with Bright Blewu that morning was squeezed into his schedule right before he acted as a representative for the GJA at this meeting. As soon as I walked out of the International Press Centre, cameras were being set up all over the grounds with media folk scurrying in every direction.

Cameras being set up at the entry of the International Press Centre

All parties came to the decision that the alleged robbers were, indeed, merely squatters, however, the police should have first contacted the editors to seek redress for the misunderstanding. Future dialogues between the Times and the Police Administration were also proposed to ensure a good relationship between the institutions is maintained.

Underscoring these incidents is the lack of guaranteed freedom to information in Ghana. Although media houses in Ghana are overwhelmingly free, the lack of access to information often makes it difficult for journalists to make use of credible sources.

A number of NGO’s and other groups, the GJA included, have formed the Ghana Freedom of Information Coalition to ensure that a freedom of information act, for which a bill is currently in Parliament, will be passed. The benefits that come from greater access to information will not only benefit media, but other institutions and the general public as well. Blewu confirms that freer access to information is a powerful tool “not only for us as journalists to be more credible, but for society too to be able to monitor us.”

A lack of access to credible information is a huge proponent in sensationalization within African media. Rather than allowing journalists to wander as they wish through piles of documents, the act, according to Blewu, “should rather enhance the quality of journalism.”  Hopefully, when all of society has equal access to information, relations between institutions such as media houses and the police will be strengthened rather than allowing rifts to surface.

Mobilizing citizens against corruption

It has been yet another exciting week here in Ghana.  I have learned a lot recently about the laws relating to both service delivery and anti-corruption legislation.  The two are often intertwined in Ghana as many of the reported corruption cases involve large companies (usually a service provider), or the awarding of contracts.

The topic of Know your Rights this week was the issue of electricity deliverance

Mufty on-air during "Know your Rights".

in Ghana.  In my last blog post, I discussed a recent case in which a man successfully sued the Ghana Electrical Company (GEC) for illegally disconnecting his power.  The lawyer who won this case, Mr. James Marshall Belieb, was actually a guest on the show.  He discussed under what conditions Ghanaians could take legal action in response to their situation of poor electricity deliverance.  He explained that if anything is to be done, it would have to be a collective case, so the amount of money lost between all of the claimants would be significant.  The argument generally given by the GEC is that their inconsistent delivery of power is due to backlogs of unpaid bills.  Therefore, Ghana is currently shifting to the pay-as-you-go system.  The guest panel decided this move should be completed as quickly as possible, suggesting that Ghana should even bring the manufacturing of pre-paid electrical meters within its own borders.  When the shift is completed, the GEC can no longer peg their insufficient services on late payers ; everyone will have paid before getting any power at all.

On Sunday, we all headed back to Accra to find some interviews there for our second and third feature articles.  We all succeeded in speaking to some very useful people, but it was quite the rigmarole to find them.  Most people here in Ghana use their cell phones for business calls, so you’ll sometimes have about six different numbers for one organization.  When you finally get a hold of someone, they will likely give you another three numbers for people who might be available to talk to you.  But, as in Canada, persistence usually pays off.  Before leaving Accra, I spoke to Linda Ofori-Kwafo, the Programs Director of the Integrity Initiative, an anti-corruption body attached to Transparency International (TI).  She told me all about their past and current programs, and the methods by which they go about their research and advocacy.

Transparency International's logo.

Though the Integrity Initiative works to coordinate efforts with a surprising number of other anti-corruption focused organizations in Ghana – the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), the Committee for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CIRAG), and the department of the Attorney General, to name a few – the Integrity Initiative is extremely focused on engaging the general public in the fight against corruption.  Multiple times throughout the year, the Integrity Initiative holds regional Sensitization Workshops.  Party officials, youth, religious bodies and other organizations all attend these workshops to learn the skills of social monitoring, or anti-corruption monitoring, to be on the lookout for corruption within their districts. Many focus on a particular area, such as the awarding of contracts.  Then, they are free to call-in to the organizations anti-corruption hotline, or drop-in to the office’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre to report what they’ve witnessed.

The Integrity Initiative also lobbies to improve legislation.  Currently, it is calling for reforms to the Asset Declaration Law, a law that calls for public officials to declare their assets as soon as they assume office, again every four years, and once more when they leave.  Though this type of legislation is a successful anti-corruption tool in other countries, here in Ghana, the law is lacking any regulations to make it effective.  Mrs. Ofori-Kwafo says of the Ghanaian law, “It’s just a white elephant”.  The Integrity Initiative is calling for greater public access to the declarations, and a way to verify that the information in the declaration is correct.

In terms of research and advocacy, the organization has just concluded a research project, called Transparency and Integrity in Service Delivery in Africa (TISDA).  It looks at the delivery of services in the sectors of health care, water and education.  Similar studies have been carried out at other TI chapters too with each study taking an average of three years to complete.  Perhaps if studies such as this one continue, people in Ghana will be empowered to take collective action in their fight for adequate service delivery.

Market Madness!

Coming to Ghana has made it extremely evident how reliant I am on the technologies that one has constant access to back home.  When a simple question arises about the ins and outs of Ghanaian politics, it would be so easy to grab a wireless internet connection and have the answer immediately.  Here, however, things are a bit trickier.  There is an internet café near Kapital Radio (where I am at the moment) that we usually head to after leaving the station.  After arriving here one afternoon, I was quickly informed that the electricity had been off since the morning.  This was not too surprising.  Power shuts off sporadically even at the best of times due to inadequate infrastructure to deliver the amount of power demanded.  During our first week in Kumasi, Mufty told us about a recent case in which a Kumasi resident successfully sued the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) for damages of over 22,000 Ghanaian Cedis (about CND$16,000).  In this case, the company illegally disconnected the resident’s power, claiming that he had unpaid electricity bills.  His bills had, in fact, been settled seven days prior.  After the disconnection, his medication, which had to be kept in the refrigerator, spoiled.  The Kumasi High Court ruled that the actions of ECG were unjustifiable and they did not have the right to deny the resident his access to electricity.

The concept of access to electricity as a right may be an upcoming topic on Mufty’s radio show, “Know your Rights”.  This Saturday’s segment looked at the situation of abortion procedures here in Ghana.  Under the current law, abortion is illegal except under conditions of rape, or where the pregnancy poses serious physical or mental threats to the woman.  The guests, including a law student, a local senior nurse, and a radio journalist from another station in Kumasi, discussed whether abortion in Ghana should be legalized from a medical, ethical, and legal perspective.  In the Canadian context, there tends to be consensus that the women should have complete agency in deciding whether or not to have an abortion.  However, an interesting focus of this discussion looked at whether the father should have a legal right to determine in part whether an abortion should be performed.

This past week has been an interesting one.  On Wednesday, Ashley, Laura and I presented a workshop on the principles of news writing, and particularly, how to write a story about human rights issues.  It was really inspiring to see how interested the new Kapital interns really are about human rights issues.  One intern even wants to begin a jhr university chapter at the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology here in Kumasi.

The next day was a statutory holiday, Republic Day (and what a coincidence… it was also Canada Day)!  We decided to take a walk down to the market.  Kumasi has the second largest market in all of West Africa.   After visiting the markets of Accra, it was a nice surprise that Kumasi’s market, as large as it is, seemed a bit more organized.  We entered the labyrinth through one aisle (the length of a city-block) that was entirely filled with the bright colours of fabrics in every texture and design.  Then we turned the corner into a street full of spices and produce.  The streets between the rows of merchants are extremely narrow and we often had to find a place to duck into while a cart was pulled through.

The things being carried right past you are just as interesting as the wares being sold on either side of the narrow street–a large metal bucket on one woman’s head with the large naked body of a goat dangling out of it, multiple rats strung up by their necks into a bundle and big furry paws with three large claws from an animal that I couldn’t identify.  Even on the way home, there were plenty of things to catch our eyes.  An entire street glistened as sunlight reflected off the silver enamel of motorcycles lining the street from one end to the other.  Posters for sale depicted the face of Jesus and Bob Marley (almost in equal numbers) along a wooden wall.  It’s an adventure walking down any street in Kumasi, but to explore the marketplace is to take a straight shot of Ghanaian culture in its most condensed form possible.

Trials of Traditionalism

The Black Stars are in the World Cup quarterfinals!!!  That is absolutely the most high-profile news item in Ghana at the moment.  Even during Mufty’s show, “Know your Rights”, on Saturday evening, his guests – including an Islamic scholar, a Methodist bishop and university professor, and a former chairperson for the United Nations – all twisted their necks toward the television in the corner of the recording studio as soon as he mentioned that evening’s match between Ghana and the U.S.  The topic of discussion this week was the rights of homosexuals. It was examined from the perspective of the United Nations (a declaration extending universal human rights to homosexuals and opposing any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was read in 2008. Sixty-seven nations have currently signed and 60 countries have signed the opposing the statement), as well as the Christian and Islamic perspectives.  The two-hour discussion–looking at the issue from scientific, religious, and human rights perspectives–was even more exciting than the football game that evening ending 2 -1 for Ghana in an extra half-hour of playing time!  Simply discussing the topic of homosexuality is a massive step toward social equality on the continent.

Aside from working on the production side of Mufty and Mercy’s shows, we’re also working on a news story about the current rates of child abuse in Kumasi.  We’re still waiting for the most recent statistics, but in the meantime, we’ve discussed the issue with the Assistant Subtenant of Police, George Appiah-Sakay.  He gave us a history of Ghana’s commitments to human rights doctrines, including the Ghanaian Constitution, which enshrines universal rights for women and children.  What is still needed to end cases of domestic violence and abuse toward children, he believes, is a change in the attitude of Ghanaians. He explained that pre-colonial Ghana was a polygamous society. As marriage arrangements shifted to the European convention of one husband and one wife the shift away from traditional roles, in which the male acts as sole provider, changed at a much slower rate.  Even today, Mr. Appiah-Sakay explained, there continue to be marriages that seem more like an arrangement of ownership rather than a union of two equal parties.

A recurring theme we keep running up against in our research is this link between traditionalism and contemporary issues.  Multiple news stories at Kapital last week focused on the issue of perennial flooding in the low-lying areas of Kumasi.  As Laura discussed in her last blog entry, people are seriously affected by the flooding of their homes every time there’s a heavy rainfall.  Often, residents in these areas will wake up after a night of rain to find their furniture floating.   When Ashley and I talked to a representative from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning about drainage plans for the area (Kumasi is currently undertaking phase two of a city-wide drainage project which should end the flooding concerns in the worst affected areas by the end of this year) we learned that the issue is rooted in the ongoing problem of stool kings selling land, developers building structures, and families moving in to them, all without addressing the proper channels to ensure that zoning laws are being followed.  Even if a developer becomes aware that a stool king has sold him or her land for a purpose other than what it was zoned for, rarely would one choose to challenge the traditional authority of the stool kings by taking them to court and addressing the problem.  Now, Kumasi citizens are left with no option, but to wait for a government-sponsored solution to a problem that is anything but the municipal government’s responsibility.  According to the Kumasi Metropolitan City Engineer, Mr. Boateng, many of these stool kings simply leave town after selling their property – leaving unaware citizens out in the rain, literally.

The conflicts between contemporary institutions and traditional attitudes continue to influence politics as well.  In speaking with Professor Amakye Boateng, a political science lecturer at the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology, it became evident that patron-client relations are still entrenched in many Ghanaian political institutions. Prof. Boateng ran as a parliamentary candidate in 2000, and was encouraged to run again in 2008.  A regular radio personality, he was popular at the ground-level, but party leadership (I won’t name which party as it seems both the NPP and NDC are considered relatively equal in their dealings of this nature) discouraged him from vying for a place on the ballot against another potential candidate who had “contributed regularly to the party” – referring to contributions of a financial nature, of course.  The interesting part is that the Ghanaian public recognizes that the party system operates on this basis.  When a popular citizen runs as an independent candidate, the public recognizes that a party has rejected him or her on the basis of patronage.  Many independents are then elected by way of voters punishing the parties.

Slicing the okra and garden eggs

On the weekend, we all went to the home where Mufty grew up. His sisters and Nana taught us how to make Banku with Okra stew – a traditional dish of dough-like balls in stew that you eat with your hands.  I was assigned to slicing up the okra and garden eggs.  Okra, a small green vegetable, is filled with a gooey, slippery substance that makes it very difficult to chop (difficult for me, that is, not our amazingly talented mentors).  I left with only one tiny slice in my finger – definitely better than expected.  The entire family, all of Mufty’s aunts, uncles, and cousins all live in adjoining homes with a common courtyard. It was great to meet so many people of different ages in one place.  Mufty’s little nieces and nephews never tired of playing hand games with us, and I never tired of dancing with his aunts (they sure know how to work those hips).  Apparently, making fufu is on the agenda for next Sunday.  It involves pounding cassava with what looks like a

Cooking the Banku

tall and skinny tree trunk of some sort. Check back next week to see how we do… I’m hoping for zero injuries this time.