Author Archives: Ryan Vandecasteyen

About Ryan Vandecasteyen

Ryan is a published freelance writer, photographer and documentary filmmaker. His most recent multimedia journalism initiative “The Pipe Dreams Project” focused on the legitimacy of Canada’s environmental review processes and had him kayaking up the coast of British Columbia to interview people living in the provinces coastal communities. Ryan believes strongly in the creation of socially and environmentally sustainable communities and the integration of global perspectives into local planning and policy. He also believes media can be used as a tool in order to obtain these things. Ryan will be stationed in Accra, Ghana as an Education Officer, working with journalism students from the African University College of Communications.

North-South Inequality Drives Migration to Slums

Regional Origins of Old Fadama Residents

My cab ride to Ghana’s biggest slum cost me an extra Cedi. “I don’t normally go that route, those people cause lots of problems,” my taxi driver told me. Once called “Soddom and Gomorrah”, the community of Old Fadama is situated on the banks of the Korle Lagoon in Accra, and is home to at least 79,000 people. Despite substantial efforts by local community organizations and NGOs, as well as increasing recognition of residents in the community as legitimate stakeholders in the city’s planning, negative perceptions about the community of Old Fadama persist.

In 2011, jhr partnered with the African University College of Communications (AUCC) to produce “Faces of Old Fadama”, a magazine that highlighted the plethora of human rights violations faced by the Old Fadama community. In addition to dangerously poor health, safety and sanitation conditions, as well as a lack of education services for children and youth, residents live under the constant threat of eviction as the local metropolitan authority considers Old Fadama an illegal settlement.

As we wander among the mix of one and two story wooden and cinderblock structures, Ahlassan Baba Fuseini from the Ghana Federation of Urban Poor tells me about the history of the community. With his neatly pressed dress shirt and polished dress shoes, he is a far cry from the stereotypical image of someone who has spent the last 16 years living in a slum.

“I came to this place after I finished my education to look for a job,” Fuseini tells me.

Settlement of the present-day community of Old Fadama was led by migrants fleeing from tribal conflicts in Ghana’s northern regions in the 1980s. In 2009, Old Fadama residents worked with People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements and Slum Dwellers International to conduct a community-led census to gather hard numbers to use as a negotiation tool with the local authorities. Their census found that a majority of the community’s residents continue to come from Ghana’s northern region, but like Fuseini, contemporary migrants are driven southwards by a lack of economic opportunity rather than tribal conflict.

“There are no jobs, no factories in the north,” my host tells me.

Poverty rates in Ghana’s rural areas are up to four times higher, in particular in the north where the decline of poverty rates experienced by the rest of the country has stagnated. Low rates of economic growth are at least partially due to the north’s dry climate. While the south enjoys two growing seasons, providing the opportunity for a more stable income throughout the year, the northern plains are drought prone and only experience one growing season.

“The people have maybe 4 or 5 months of work, then nothing,” says Fuseini.

Without a thriving economy, the people of the rural north flock to the city in hopes of finding more stable work. The right to work is guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

George Osei-Bimpeh, Director of Programs and Advocacy for Ghana’s Social Enterprise Development (SEND) Foundation, says that the development gap between Ghana’s north and south is long entrenched.

“[Regional inequality] reaches back to colonial times when the north acted as a source of cheap labour for the cash-crop southern regions,” he says.

Nonetheless, the Government of Ghana is trying to bridge the development gap between Ghana’s north and south. In 2008, the then-NPP government established a $25 million GHC Northern Development Fund (NDF) that aimed to alleviate poverty in Ghana’s three northern regions. The NDF project was rebranded as the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) under the NDC government that came into power in 2008. Under the new name, the authority broadened their scope to include all Savanah ecoregions within Ghana where economic conditions are meager. The broader scope of the project means areas like the Volta region, another major source of immigration to Old Fadama, are also included in SADAs objectives.

SEND Ghana has been heavily involved in the policy and planning of the SADA program, training locals to act as government watchdogs. “Our ability to stop [migration from the north] or stem it will be to what extent are we going to provide alternative livelihoods to those people, especially those who are not making up their mind to come,” says Osei-Bimpeh.

SEND Ghana is now moving out of monitoring the planning stages of SADA to monitoring the implementation of its projects on the ground. George cautions that results take time. “We should be realistic, SADA is not going to solve the problems of the north in a year. So, we are going to have people coming from the north all the time,” he says. “This problem was not created in a day. It is easier to create a problem then to clean up a mess.”

Back in Old Fadama, my host tells me that since their enumeration project in 2009 the community’s population has swelled well above 80,000 residents, and continues to grow everyday. “If you come at 3 am or 4 am, you can see them still arriving every morning.”

Political Experts Debate Need for “African Spring”

A panel of experts on African politics squared off with students, teachers, civil servants, activists and politicians in a debate hosted by the BBC in Accra on Friday. The panel consisted of Ghanaian economist and author Dr. George Ayittey, Ugandan activist Anne Mugashi, South African political activist Kuseni Dlamini, and fellow Dr. Michael Whyte Kpessa from the University of Ghana. A year following the beginning of North Africa’s “Arab Spring” revolutions, the debate focused on the possibility of similar uprisings in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ghana is one of only six sub-Saharan African countries where elections are considered to be free and fair. However, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East are the only regions in the world where democracy improved in 2011.

Dr. George Ayittey argued that Sub-Saharan Africa has already had its version of an Arab Spring in the 1990s. “If anything it is the Arab Spring that has to learn something from [Sub-Saharan] Africa,” he said.

Anne Mugashi, who coordinated Uganda’s “walk to work” protests, pointed out that a key difference between the Arab Spring and Sub-Saharan Africa’s revolutions of the 1990s is that the latter were led by a small group of self-proclaimed revolutionaries. “My understanding of the Arab Spring over a Spring for Africa is [that] the people themselves are responsible for the change rather than a set of people calling themselves revolutionaries,” she said.

Audience polls at both the beginning and end of the debate showed a majority believed an African Spring is unnecessary, a view that remained unchanged throughout the debate.  This sentiment was echoed by the comments of lawyer and lecturer from the African University College of Communications Mr. Ogochukwu C. Nweke, who questioned if the goal of higher levels of democracy sought by such revolutions is even right for sub-Saharan Africa.

“At what point are we going to discuss if democracy is the way for us to go? We need to figure out what works for us,” Nweke said. “What is the problem with people leading for 30 years or 40 years?”

Ayittey argued that the traditional monarchy system of tribal chiefs is a form of democracy itself. “We have our own type of participatory democracy based on consensus in traditional Africa. You don’t have to vote to have a system of democracy,” he said.

However, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, and that this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

The number of elections in Sub-Saharan Africa has been on the rise since the 1990’s, but many of them are rigged and defeated incumbents often refuse to accept defeat. Dr. Michael Whyte Kpessa from the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana cautioned that democracy and nation building are not an event but a process. “You cannot begin and end these processes in a matter of two or three decades,” he said.

BBC host Alex Jakarta called Ghana “a country hailed as a model of democracy in Africa, a democracy that demonstrators across North Africa saw are sorely lacking in their own countries.” While Ghana’s elections may be considered free and fair, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of their democracy, such as accountable governance and low levels of political participation. Because of these shortcomings Ghana is categorized as a “Flawed Democracy” by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and ranked 78th by their 2011 Democracy Index.

Earlier in the week, political demonstrations held by the Alliance for Accountable Government in Accra called for the resignation of President John Atta Mills. The current administration has been criticized for the recent increases in fuel prices, the falling value of the cedi, and the ongoing Woyome contract scandal.