Author Archives: Raquel Fletcher

About Raquel Fletcher

Raquel Fletcher is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Regina School of Journalism. She is currently the co-president of the Journalists for Human Rights Regina chapter. Fletcher, 21, contributed to the local newspaper, the Regina Leader Post "Minus 20" column during high school and to the Carillon, the U of R student paper for the past four years. She currently sits on the Carillon board of directors. Fletcher interned as a videojournalist at CTV Regina for three months and now works there as the weekend reporter. She aspires to be a news anchor.

Bodies Buried in Nature Reserve

The caretaker is telling us he’s seen bodies buried on Monkey Hill. This is a different story than I thought I was covering. Several days ago, my media house received a tip that someone was interested in turning Monkey Hill, Ghana’s largest eco-tourism site and nature reserve in the middle of a city, into a graveyard. The Takoradi cemetery is full and land is a hot commodity. Now I find out, a grave has already been dug, only several hundred metres from a school. We walked through a school playground to get there.

Alex Tetteh, the park’s only warden and security guard says he discovered it three days ago. When he dug at it to see what it was, he saw body parts and stopped. I am staring at a grave. I am staring at a crime scene. I am walking all over a crime scene. Why were the police not notified? This is not the first time I have asked this question since being here and I can tell he doesn’t like the question. For the third time he answers the same way: “I told my supervisor and he told me to call Skyy, so I’ve just been waiting for Skyy.”

Monkey Hill, as the name implies, is supposed to be a safe haven for monkeys, but without a fence poachers have killed most of the monkeys that called the reserve home. A former popular tourist site, the park has attracted visitors from around the world. Now it is quite literally a dump. Next to New Takoradi, the forest is used as a waste yard and a toilet by people who don’t have bathrooms in their homes. Lately it’s attracted some unwanted activity. Partiers use it as a place to smoke and hang out. Now Tetteh is worried it’s become a place for serious crimes to occur.

Overlooking the scene at Monkey Hill

When we step into the office of Donkris Mavuta, executive director of Friends of the Nation, a local NGO that manages the park, Mavuta is on the phone. When he has finished his conversation, he tells us he also knows about the grave and has for several days now. “It was just reported to me by the warden who looks after the place. It is quite an unfortunate situation,” he says.

When I ask him why he didn’t report the finding to the police, he says he decided to inform the media instead. The police will find out from our report, he says.

I ask if he’s concerned it could be a crime scene. “Will you inform the police now?” I ask.

He chuckles, “I don’t have time.” He means he doesn’t have time to be an eyewitness.

“This is not the first time I heard it. I think this is the second. We need to be careful of this and ensure that people who are doing this illegal [activity] are brought to book.”

I ask him if he is certain that another body was found on Monkey Hill. He is unspecific about how long ago it was, but insists someone is turning the reserve into a cemetery. That’s why he is now bringing this information into the public domain. Hopefully now, police investigations can get under way to find those responsible.

Oil exploration causes problems for local fisherman

“I’m not aware there is a rig around Shama waters,” says one fisherman at the Sekondi harbor.

[pullquote]It isn’t appropriate. It’s something that’s come to stay with the development of Africa where some of these developments take place without proper consultation with the people.[/pullquote]

He is not alone. Most fishermen we’ve talked to at the seaport this afternoon are surprised to hear a new restricted zone has been put in place around Olympia rig, the fourth rig to go up in the waters of Ghana’s Western Region and the first off the coast of Shama, a strong traditional fishing area.
Earlier this month, the Ghana National Petroleum Company, or GNPC, announced they were launching a campaign to let fishermen know to keep a three mile radius distance away from the newest rig, but in a press conference last week officials with the Fisheries Commission, a government agency, said they didn’t know anything about this restriction. Normally, boats are asked to keep a five hundred metre distance away from the drilling and exploration activities. The Regional Director of the Fisheries Commission, Alex Sabah, says if more areas are restricted to fishermen then proper compensation needs to be given.

“Naturally, a lot more rigs means a lot more people are going to get out of business and there’s a need …for those who will be kept out of business to get involved in some other income-generating adventures to sustain their livelihood,” he says.

A Fisherman tending his net at Sekondi harbor

Some are concerned GNPC and Vanco oil, operators of the rig, are not following the proper procedures. “It isn’t appropriate. It’s something that’s come to stay with the development of Africa where some of these developments take place without proper consultation with the people. I think in the extractive industry, not only in the oil exploration, but also forestry and mining especially, investors normally override the participation of the people,” says Donkris Mavuto, Executive Director of Friends of the Nation, an NGO concerned with issues along the coastal area.

At the Sekondi harbor, fishermen say restricting fishing areas is a matter of safety and more should be done to inform those out at sea.

“We should let the chief fishermen announce to their colleagues around the coastline so that everybody will be aware this is going on,” says one fisherman in the local Akan.

Isaac Taylor, a marine engineer, says markers need to be set up, so fishermen know exactly where the boundaries are. He’s also concerned that an awareness campaign might not reach many illiterate fishers.

“Fishermen are not people who are learned and with that some of them may be hurt. So I think it would be better if authorities have pictures of these things and place them around, that will help to make people aware of it,” he says.

After all, being made aware shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Akwaaba…

…Welcome to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. I arrived several days ago.  I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly – a country more modern in some ways and less modern in others.

My mission here in Africa over the next few months is primarily to learn.  In doing so, I hope to find similarities between Ghana and Canada, enough so that I can carve out a middle ground  (my job as a journalist) and convey to Canadians what life is really like on the Gold Coast.

Let me start by saying that not all Africans live in grass huts (just like not all Saskatchewanians live in igloos).  Over the course of the next three months, other stereotypes about the continent will also be addressed in this blog and will showcase the voices of Ghanaian citizens.

Like Canada, Ghana is a mosaic of different cultures.  With a population of over 21 million people, there are 15 major ethnic groups with their own language, culture and religion.  While I can’t possibly break the surface of delving into the diversity in this country in the short time I am here, I hope to learn as much as I can about the many different cultures that live peacefully in this small region.

Ghana is the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence in 1957.  Today, it is a republic with the next presidential election scheduled to take place in the summer of 2012.  A budding democracy and a growing economy, Ghana boasts a large middle class.

Although there is a very free press, there is still a need for fair and balanced journalism with an emphasis on human rights and social issues….and is ripe with personal stories not yet told.  The storyteller in me could not resist the adventure.