Author Archives: sferrari

Vigilantism and the right to security

If all goes well, the justice system within a democracy goes like so:

A crime is committed. The criminal is reprimanded. The authorities pass fair judgment in a court of law. Punishment is allocated to the accused, if guilty. Justice and security of the victim is upheld. Communities feel protected.

When the right to security isn’t adequately enforced, however, there are implications.

It can make a society seem lawless. It can create resentment towards a government. It can make a lynch mob out of good men.

As my time in Ghana comes to an end, two situations have bookmarked my experience here, reminding me of what a flawed justice system has to do with the right to security, vigilantism, and what these very grey terms look like in real-time.

***

I spent my first month in Accra at a guesthouse while I was looking for a home.

I settled into my temporary accommodations nicely and befriended the locals in the area. We would chat and eat and drink together. I felt like I was part of a community. I had made some new friends and – most importantly – I felt safe.

Then a series of robberies began to happen in the area.

Each victim that I had heard of was attacked in the early evening while walking alone.

They all reported hearing the rumble of a motorcycle engine in the distance, at first. Each explained that before they knew it, one of two men on the motorcycle swiftly pulled out a large machete, cut the strap of the purse or laptop bag this person was carrying, and off the robbers would ride back to the area of the city they had come from.

These criminals were certainly not from this “our area” explained each of the victims.

***

As I approached the guesthouse a group of local boys – my new friends – were sitting on chairs by the curb as they always did, heatedly discussing something-or-other as I approached.

I was told that their community watch group was being reinstated. It was time.

This close nit community had been problem-free for years until these series of robberies began, but now, the robbers were getting too confident.

“Why not call the police?” I wondered.

They laughed.

“Do I have to tell the police to come do that job for me? They’ll tell me ‘it’s not my job’,” remarked one of them.

“So we do it our own way. We want to protect our neighbourhood. We want you to come home – now this is your home – and we want you to feel comfortable coming here, any time.”

It’s difficult too quantify affective justice in a country whose wheels are known to be greased by corruption, but the word on the street is that the police are not trusted. They will extort, pull rank and intimidate, but rarely are they concerned with protecting their citizens.

For a city that has a population that is close to 2 million people, “Police cannot easily handle it themselves,” admits Chief Inspector Asikah Samson of the community’s police station.

And whether the problem is in fact corruption or a lack of resources, community justice groups are embedded in just about every community in the city. That’s the reality. Some are sanctioned by police and some are not.

One of the boys on the curb explains to me that just a few days earlier, Accra’s Police Chief was publically discussing the capture of an armed robber, who had been caught by police for his crimes for the 5th time in 4 years.

“So, imagine it was members of the [community watch group] who caught this man,” he said. “Criminals in these jails go in, pay money and go back out. No. We are not taking him to the police station. That is a waste of time. Some people take the law into their own hands. Sometimes you need to do that.”

Unsure of how much of this was hype and male bravado, I went to sleep with their words weighing heavily on my mind.

They feared nothing – not death, not prison. They simply wanted justice, they wanted protection for their families, and because their constitutional right to security was not being upheld – according to them – they were willing to take the law into their own hands.

A few days later, a robber was caught stealing from a hotel down the street from the guesthouse.

The commotion in the streets called me onto the balcony by my room and I watched as these same boys who hold my hand and walk me to the corner store in the evenings, beat this thief close to unconsciousness.  There must have been twenty of them. Each took a turn implementing their personal brand of justice.

This is the result of a ‘Right’ ignored.

***

Last week on the job, a phone call came across the news desk.

A man was murdered in a district of Accra called Spintex. He was beat to death with the wood that he was stealing from a neighbours yard. Later that day a witness dropped the picture off at the station.

Despite curiosity sometimes being one of the more foolish of my instincts, I examined the photo of the thief anyway. He was young – perhaps in his late 20s, early 30s. His entire body was swollen and lifeless.

These good citizens, turned vigilantes, turned lynch mob decided that the price of this lumber – under their law – was this man’s life.

As I write this blog days later, I wonder:

How often do we connect the dots between the right to justice and the implications of not giving people access to this right?

It takes a village to raise a child… plus foreign aid and government support, of course

(L to R) Hailma Bintu and "Michael"

The tattoo on sixteen-year-old Halima Bintu’s forearm is faded, but you can still see the scars. The thin crooked letters engraved across her dark skin read: “Halima Bintu”, “Takordi”.

It is common for children migrating from around the country to be given tattoos indicating where they came from, but who those details matter to is unclear.

Catholic Action for Street Youth (CAS) is a leader in attempting to keep track of the approximately 60, 000 children living on the streets of Accra though.

According to CAS’s founder, Brother Jos Van Dinther, the problem isn’t necessarily this literal head count, it’s that resources for projects like his are drying up and the problem requires much more than foreign aid for support.

In her local language of Twi, Hamila recounts the past few years of her life.

Halima tells me how her sister was murdered in a knife fight brought on by a gang of territorial girls. She describes her work as a hawker on the streets of Accra, where she has peddled sachets of pure water for 10 GH₵ (.06 CAD) per pack. She goes on to describe the brutal rape and violence she has endured – and continues to endure – while living on the streets.

Some might say it’s a wonder she ever left home.

Dutch-born and founder of CAS, Brother Jos Van Dinther, sat beside Halima and excused her from the interview.

“Many people believe that all street children are criminals, he says”. We [at CAS] know that many of these kids are good children. The just need love and support. That’s all. They have a family. They have somebody behind them who could have them if they wanted them,” explains Bro Jos.

Who could have them, but may not want them.

According to Bro Jos, these children come to Accra from all over Ghana and surrounding countries. If you want to send the child back you have to investigate why they left for a variety of reasons – abandonment, broken families, abuse, or perhaps, defilement.

“That’s why we don’t send any child back home. All this ‘reintegration’ is very nice, but it won’t work,” he says. The children return, but the problems in their family homes remain.

During the course of my hour-long conversation with Bro Jos, Halima’s story began to blend with other accounts of children seeking solace at what CAS’ calls their “House of Refuge”.

Established in 1992, Bro Jos and his staff support an average of 40 to 50 children each day at the CAS drop-in centre in the heart of Accra.

“[Often] the children don’t know how to take a bath, keep their clothing clean, speak to an adult,” says Bro Jos, and so CAS teaches them how.

That’s step one in CAS’s approach – teaching basics such as hygiene and health care on the streets, where Bro Jos and his street team seek these children out to let them know – first of all – that CAS exists.

Step two is to invite the children to CAS’s drop in centre where they are given rudimentary education and art classes. For those who show interest, CAS sends willing children to a training centre in Ashaiman – a district in the Greater Accra area – where they are taught vocational skills and begin the prep work for a formal education.

“To send a child to school and to a workshop, that costs €1,160 Euros, and we have to ensure that we have the money to make sure that the child can stay there,” Bro Jos says.

And this is where the plot thickens.

CAS is completely dependent on donations that they acquire through writing to donor organizations, embassies, and associations. They always seem to find support, “but it’s getting less and less”.

According to Bro Jos, the decline of the global economy effects CAS’ work with the Accra’s street children.

“People are very skeptical to see where the money they give is actually going and if it’s really used for the right thing. So, it’s very difficult to convince people that it’s worth while to give money.”

So where is the government in all of this?

Director of Ghana’s Department of Social Welfare (DSW), Steven Adongo, says: “There are several interventions that Ghana’s Department of Social Welfare takes, though there are many things that the general public won’t see that we are doing. That is because the problems are so large. Because even when you deal with a few children, it doesn’t seem like you are doing anything.”

Bro Jos works closely with the DSW and is encouraged by the fact that two years ago they decided to open a subset of their department that deals with street children, but more needs to be done.

CAS conducts it’s own surveys of street children by partnering with other NGOs and the Ghana government to release these statistics.

The service they provide the Ghanaian government is integral to combating the issue, though there are no provisions made by government to hand over that responsibility.

“We as NGO’s can never solve this problem. We as NGOs should not solve this problem. It’s a government problem. A social problem. So, we should find the root causes. Why are these kids on the street? Once we find what these roots causes are, we can solve the problem.”

***

Further Listening: Former street child “Michael” shares his story of hardship on the streets of Accra and how Catholic Action for Street Children helped him.

Grade ‘A’ Empowerment

In June 2009, Accra High School partnered with Amnesty International (AI) for an initiative called the ‘Human Rights Friendly School Project’ (HRFSP) – a program that attempts to integrate human rights values and principles into key areas of school life.

Amnesty International has programs in 14 secondary schools worldwide, in countries like Benin, Israel, Morocco, Denmark and Italy.

According to AI: schools that work towards becoming human rights friendly institutions will act as examples – microcosms, if you will – that such a culture is achievable.

Recently I met with program coordinator Isaac Kwame Nyanteh about the program while the kids prepped for a competition they call the “Constitutional Games”.

Human Rights from an African Perspective

The first time someone told me that I need to start understanding “human rights from an African perspective”, I’ll admit, I was taken aback.

Human rights are human rights, right?

There are different schools of thought when it comes to “human rights” – one of which I only really began to understand once arriving in Ghana.

Here’s the thing:

This business of “universality” and “accepted definitions” of human rights gets a bit tricky when the laws governing a country are reflective of the cultural values of that country.

Ghana, for instance, is a UN member state and is thereby obliged to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The caveat is that Ghana is a non-secular country, where religion is very much infused in the daily lives of Ghanaians.

Let’s take gay rights, for instance. They do not exist in Ghana – hence the very aggressive campaign against homosexuals. Being gay is very much illegal in this country.

The next thing to consider here is that cultural attitudes towards homosexuality are, generally speaking, explicitly intolerant. It’s usually in this context that the notion of human rights from an African perspective comes up.

Last week, Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) organized a conference of stakeholders for their “National Conference on Integrity.”

It was there that I met the Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, Mr. Richard Quayson.

During a brief meeting with the Deputy Commissioner, I raised this notion of having an “African Perspective on Human Rights” and wondered why Ghana’s human rights commission does not support – and are moving no move to support – the rights of homosexuals in the country.

For Quayson, this rational makes complete sense. “We insist that people who subscribe to gay practice, should not be molested or discriminated against or – as it were – condemned,” he said. “But the commission will not openly support gay rights – yet.”

Change towards accepting homosexuality in Ghana will only come from the leadership of the nation. If the President – John Atta Mills – has not take a position on gay rights, neither will Ghana’s Human Rights Commission.

Qayson provided me with an explanation on CHRAJ’s opinion on why they cannot only support gay rights.

Have a listen:

While his answer is far from satisfactory from the perspective of someone who favours the UDHR, from the perspective of someone advocating for equality, and from the perspective of someone who fears for their life because of their sexual orientation, it reflects the reality of how human rights are defined in an African context.

Whether this reality is acceptable or impalpable for you, this is the framework informing the work of rights advocates in a country where – depending how you interpret CHRAJ’s position – human rights are inappropriately prioritized or carefully strategized.

International Mental Health Day: Rewind. Repeat. Play. Stop.

Last week, Ghana commemorated International Mental Health day on October 10th.

By the close of the day, parade floats that had been driven through the main streets of Accra were quietly parked; podiums were taken down; advocates were appeased for the moment; and few good stories were filed.

That’s pretty much how it goes in most countries, and ever since the Ghanaian government completed a promising Mental Health Bill in 2006, similar events have taken place each year.

Very similar, in fact.

Here’s an article from this year.
Here’s another from 2010.

Aside from the allotted news coverage for this special day and appeals to the Government to move faster, gentle reminders in the local news make up mental health coverage the rest of the year.

Here’s a recent reminder. (Warning: disturbing image)
Here’s another one. (Warning: graphic descriptions)

So, here’s a little follow from last week.

Mental Health day is recognized internationally and reminds participating Governments, advocates and citizens about an issue that can get lost in the vacuum of rights violations and ineffective policies of equal importance in developed and developing nations.

That isn’t the most galvanizing statement, mind you, but those are the facts.

Then there are the figures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 2 million Ghanaians are suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders.

Further to that: 650,000 people in Ghana are suffering from severe mental disorders.

Advocates at Basic Needs Ghana – an international NGO that advocates for the rights of the mentally ill in the country – are encourage by what’s happening in Ghana.

According to Peter Yaro, the Executive Director: “Ghana has come a long way from having lunatic asylums that just arrested people who exhibited mental illness and kept them in hospitals with minimal management, to [now having] a level where it is taught that mental health should be integrated into the general health system.”

But the issues remain. Here they are:

  • The Mental Health bill completed in 2006 has not been passed.
  • There are still stigmas around mental health.
  • There are not enough facilities in the country. (There are only three in the entire country, in fact).

On October 10th, local media reported that Ghana’s minister of health, Mr. Joseph Yieleh Chireh said that Government has made mental health one of its priorities. He explained that the Bill had already gone through the second reading in Parliament and there was every indication that it would be passed by the end of the year.

Mr. Yieleh Chireh assures Ghanaians that the passage of the bill was imminent. After that new policy based on the new Act would need to be drawn and a strategic plan to execute the policy put in place.

Of all this however, no timeline was made available about when the bill would be passed.

Full stop.

There is an air of change here in Ghana, but it doesn’t begin and end on Mental Health Day. Not-so-sexy follows to the issue certainly have a role to play as well.

According to Yaro, though there are a few well-managed community psychiatric units dotted around the country in various regional hospitals and district hospitals, these services are largely concentrated in the mental health hospitals

And what’s happening as you read this post?

“Right now, many people cannot access mental health services.”

Right now – and until this bill is passed – millions of Ghanians cannot access mental health services, because of stigma, because of a lack of awareness about what mental illness is and, in many cases, because the nearest specialist is on the other side of the country.

On their mark: Ramp up to the 2012 Ghanaian Elections

With over a year left before Ghanaians take to the polls and ink their thumbs for the election ballot, major political parties in Ghana are leaving bigger and bigger bread crumbs behind them on their political trails.

In the past few months the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and the Convention People’s Party (CPP) have been galvanizing media and supporters as they attempt to posture themselves for the coming election.

A lagging CPP made history and appealed to Pan-Africanists across the country by appointing Samia Nkrumah the first female chairperson in Ghana’s history. Her father -Kwame Nkruham, Ghana’s first president – would be proud.

NDC – currently in power – is taking the proverbial high road by ignoring accusations of corruption, pooh-poohing defaming remarks from opposing parties, and generally trying to avoid adding fuel to the fire. Key word: trying.

Then there’s the NPP. Oh… they’re good.

They want John Atta Mills out, Nana Ado Ada in, and and they’re not being shy about saying so.
To be fair, the NPP party members can’t get all of the credit for making all the noise.

While they’re calling on God for support, one of their affiliates – the NPP youth group known as the ‘Young Patriots’ – are quite adamant about making their message known as well.

As I got off my tro-tro on my way to work recently, I walked through the Obra Sport yard at Kwame Nkruma Circle, and I heard a rumble in the streets.

I found myself surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of YP protestors, as they ramped up for a demonstration that would take them through the streets of Accra towards Osu Castle.

Their mission: to present Government with a petition and strong reminder that NDC does not have their vote.

A crowd of protestors descended on my recorder and aired their grievances:

The Story of Tomefa

photo by Ekow Anderson, CITI-FM

Let me start by telling you a story about two children in a canoe.

One evening in 2008, a storm set in over the district of Weija, which is a coastal area in the Greater Accra region.

Somewhere along the shores of the dam – past the brightly painted shops, market tables and shacks – two young children jumped into their rickety, wooden canoe, so that they could paddle back home after a long day at school.

If you have ever ridden a canoe in tumultuous waters, you might know the feeling.

The canoe rocks back and forth, water spilling in, dampening your feet. You have to use the strength of your upper body to dig into the waters and propel your vessel forward with the paddle. It’s no easy feat.

It’s a task that is much more difficult to navigate when the night is dark, harder still, when the rain is beating down on you.

Without life jackets, without adult accompaniment, without anyone patrolling the waters in case of emergency – somewhere on their hour-long journey home – the canoe holding these two young children capsized, and they drowned in the deep, gray waters of the dam.

It was a devastating tragedy for those who heard about it. And then came a discovery. They were headed to Tomefa.

The island of Tomefa

The name “Tomefa” means “piece of mind”.

With a population of 1,500 men, women and children, Tomefa is something of an island. It’s surrounded by water for the most part, but still accessible by road.

If you know where Tomefa is and if you have an hour to spare, you could potentially drive through the Weija district, follow a thin dirt road indented by enormous pot-holes and eventually end up in this small, isolated farming village.

If you live in Tomefa, however, and you need to – let’s say – give birth in a hospital, treat your sick child, sell your tomatoes at the market, go to school or access the city of Accra, travel by canoe is the only feasible option.

Arriving in Tomefa

Like many villages in Ghana, when you arrive in an area you have never visited, you must introduce yourself to the Chief.

Juliet Degadzor and Vann Hokey are students from The University College of Management Studies (UCOMS) – a business school located in the Ga region of Accra. They accompanied my colleague and me on our expedition to Tomefa.

We passed curious onlookers, an empty schoolhouse, excited children running along side our vehicle and, eventually, arrived at the small hut belonging to Chief Oposika Tetteh.

He greeted us and invited us into his village: “You are Welcome.”

Tetteh’s English is poor, but his face is warm and smiling as we perched ourselves on wooden logs and plastic chairs, beneath a set of large, overarching trees.

Phillip Lomotey, Mr. Tetteh’s linguist, sat by his side and we heared the story of Tomefa.

The ironies of development

Generations ago, ancestors of those in the Tomefa community migrated south from Ada and other areas in the Volta region of Ghana.

In 1979, the Weija dam was constructed.

The dam began harnessing tons of water from the Densu River, which continues to be treated by the Weija Water Works plant 15 kms west of Accra. The plant itself serves millions of Ghanaians who would otherwise have little or no access to clean water in the city.

What this construction also did was leave the farming village of Tomefa almost completely submerged under water, isolating it from the Greater Accra region.

Four decades later, the people of Tomefa continue to live, farm and fish in this hidden community not far from a bustling metropolis. They survive off the land with minimal support from the government and have no access to the clean water being pumped out just near by.

Year after year, they have lived and laboured – birthing their own children, drinking polluted water from the dam and trying their best to ward off disease without medication.

Around election time, local candidates will visit the area, making promises and urging their constituents to vote.

“If they can give us a net to fish, a school, a road, then doctor, maybe life jackets…” says Chief Tetteh. “We are happy.”

The people of Tomefa have grown frustrated and claim that their government officials have not delivered on any of their promises.

Current MP for Weija, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, says she continues to advocate for the people of Tomefa, but ultimately it is not up to her to approve and implement developmental projects in the area.

“I can promise the people of Tomefa that I have not shirked my responsibilities,” she says.

According to Botchway, the projects can only be approved at the level of the Municipal Assembly.

Ga South Municipal Assembly person, Mr. Sheriff Dodoo believes,“Tomefa has a peculiar problem. They are on government land. The whole place has been acquired for the Ghana Water Company and the place is not supposed to be inhabited. They are squatting on Government property.”

The real issue, according to Dodoo, is not about extending services such as health care and education to Tomefa. The problem is that they are “illegal squatters” and this problem needs to be acknowledged.

“Finding resources to extend services to them. That is not a big deal. We can always do that.”

No time line was made available for any plans to extend resources to the people of Tomefa.

What a difference some ingenuity makes

Juliet Degadzor and Vann Hokey of UCOMS have a plan.

Their plan was inspired after hearing the story of two children who drowned in the Weija dam. Started in 2008 their development work will extend until 2015.

At UCOMS, “We identify social, economic and environmental problems in our communities and apply economic and social concepts through the theoretical knowledge we have from class to solve those complex problems we have seen in our society,” says Hokey.

Their ultimate goal: to turn the Island of Tomefa into the first agro-tourism site in Ghana.

According to SIFE – an international, not-for-profit, business organization that brings together young entrepreneurs from countries all over the world – the plan is a good one.

It’s so good, in fact that it won them a spot at the SIFE World Cup being hosted in Malaysia.

What this means for the people of Tomefa is that 900 of them have been registered for National Health Insurance, they have business students working with them and teaching them how to garner money and support themselves, and they also have piece of mind.

Personal contributions and funds garnered through the private sector to the tune of GHC 9,050 (approx. 6,000 CAD) and some ingenuity. Some of this money comes from fundraising, while a fair portion of it came out of the students themselves.

To date, no government support has been contributed.

For the students and for the people of Tomefa, the next step is awareness.

They will present their project, along with its initial successes, to business leaders present at the SIFE World cup – an international competition for young entrepreneurs implementing development projects and initiatives in underdeveloped communities in their own country.

According to Hokey: “Tomefa has now been identified as one of the villages with the highest poverty rates in Ghana. Now the Government of Ghana is aware of the plight of the people.

Files from Isaac Kaledzi, CITI-FM reporter

The Secret to Ghana

Historically, Ghana has been pillaged, colonized, and liberated.

It has fought, surrendered, freed itself – and today – it stretches and moves with the ebb and flow of a country that is very much burdened with a history of colonialism and empowered by a desire for change and development.

It has been explored, defined and redefined by the Western world and – in the face of scrutiny – naturally, some Ghanaians are going to be protective of its secrets.

A few weeks ago I climbed a rounding hill not far from James Town in Accra.

Centuries ago James Town was a hub of activity supporting James Fort, which was a docking point for British and European colonialists sailing to the Gold Coast for fortune and slave trade.

These days it remains one of Accra’s oldest districts in the city’s east end – a fishing community worn down by poverty, weathered by neglect and lacking the dignity of grandur akin to many historical sites in Europe.

The ancestors of these men and women were slaves, not kings.

I was promised that this hill that I was climbing would plateau at the top and offer me a view that would take my breath away. It was going to be majestic and magical – a panoramic picture of the sea.

A veil of grey mist hid the early morning sun. My poor choice of open-toe style footwear dug into the damp ground, which absorbed my feet with each step. To my left, I could see a poorly manicured soccer field a few yards away. The cool weather and weighty, ominous clouds didn’t deter a group of young men from playfully kicking a soccer ball about.

I chatted with my friend and guide, Adam.

He’s a Ghanaian-born, Russian raised man, back home in his country of birth and proud to show me the lay of the land.

“When we reach the top you’ll see the Gulf of Guinea,” he told my colleague and I.

When we got there I saw a heard of pigs traipsing about a few yards in front of us. To my right was a common sight – a multi-coloured mountain of waste – cans, bottles, black plastic bags.

The prevalence of such a sight – while shocked my system upon first arrival to the city– has become somewhat normalized for me at this point. Not forgotten or ignored, but acknowledged and given it’s own time and place for discussion.

Ghana is a beautiful country, and that’s what I wanted to see on this particular morning.

In the distance in front of me, the strong waves of the Gulf heaved themselves towards the shore.

Pictures. Sound. I pulled out my gear so that I could capture the moment.

The clumsy snap of Adam’s cigarette lighter clicked beside me, while the sound of cracking twigs indicated the approach of people quickly coming up the hill behind us.

“What are you doing, my brother?!”

It wasn’t the friendliest welcome, albeit, but I like to pick my battles.

“Yes. What do you want?” replied my guide – a little too confidently for my liking.

“What are you doing here? Why did you bring THEM here?” yelled one of the three men encroaching on us. My white skin felt exposed. It was a red flag, if you will.

“Is there a law that says that we can’t walk here? Don’t disturb us,” snapped Adam.

“Please don’t say that, ” I whispered.

“What? This is a free country. He has no right to tell us where we can or cannot walk.”

“Don’t be worried,” replied our unwanted company. “We’re just talking.” His quick shift to a gentle tone was off putting, but comforting.

The man eyed my camera and I tucked it back into my bag. No pictures taken. Recorder off. No sound captured.

I nodded my head, acknowledging his discomfort with my gear.

“My brother. Why did you bring these foreigners here? So they can see this? Don’t you see that guy shitting over there? They do their business here, my brother! What do you think these foreigners are going to say about us when they go home? After they see this?” boomed the man.

People urinating and defecating in the gutters lining the streets of Accra is no secret. It’s a reflection of a city not mandated to have public toilets in homes and businesses. It’s telling of greater infrastructure and sanitation issues, but it’s not breaking news.

At this point, knowing there was a man reliving himself just a few yards away in this open-field of a toilet didn’t shock me. For the men obstructing my view, however, this was a sight for their eyes only.

“These are our secrets, my brother! You should not have taken them here. You should know better.”

He was a community leader in this area and An unofficial protector of its secrets.

I sympathized with his concerns.

When people come over to your house and you don’t have time to clean, sometimes you put your mess in the closet.

Same is true in Ghana, as it is in Canada, as it is anywhere in the world.

Tourists and media parachute in to Africa on short stints. The bulk of their exported content is framed in the context of decay and poverty. We paint pictures of how the face of this continent is wrinkled, bruised and tired after years of domestic abuse, yet we often – not always, but often – neglect to include stories of triumph and success.

The Gulf of Guinea continued to crash onto the beach and I left the hill feeling a little like a trespasser.

Since my arrival seven weeks ago this was not the first time that I’ve been questioned about what I thought about this country. It was not the first time I was approached with a tone of mild contempt and asked what I knew of Africa before I came.

There is a continent of people – maybe not all, but many – who are offended by Western reports of their homeland.

Of course, Westerners are also guilty of the same. We consume sexy stories that scandalize and damn our own nations.

But here I am, being handed a mirror on top of a hill in the middle of Ghana and realizing that this very moment is one that I should hold on to. It’s one that I will need carry with me for the next few months of my journey.