Category Archives: Ghana

Mamas know best: an organization in Ghana profits with fair trade

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

ACCRA & CAPE COAST, Ghana – The Bangladesh factory collapse has forced Canadians to look at their closets a little more closely.

The discovery of Joe Fresh garments in the rubble has also brought renewed calls from NGOs and labour groups to improve conditions for garment workers in the developing world.

Currently, there is no existing fair trade certification program in North America for apparel, only for commodities.

“It started with coffee, then chocolate, sugar… But it’s so expensive for businesses to go through certification so it falls on the producer’s shoulders,” said Carrie Hawthorne, former board member of the Fair Trade Federation, a non-profit based in Washington, DC.

Fair trade screening does exist for apparel, but is entirely voluntary. Expenses to remain “fair trade” increase production costs, putting companies at a competitive disadvantage to those not operating at the same standards.

The only incentive is to appeal to the small market of fair trade consumers. This incentive isn’t enough, for most.

“Can you really keep up with Walmart?” asks Hawthorne, who is now working for a fair trade organization in Ghana called Global Mamas.

This organization might be an exception to the rule. It is a Ghanaian-based clothing company with a formula to trade fairly and make a profit.

“The model that Global Mamas is setting up is to be large scale,” says Hawthorne.

The women involved essentially own their own businesses – each “Mama” is responsible for managing her own finances and hiring help if needed.

This approach means the company is dealing one-on-one with Ghanaian entrepreneurs rather than a company in Bangladesh, for example.

Women are employed in seven different locations in Ghana. The organization provides raw materials and orders for batiking, sewing, bead-making, assembling, weaving and soap-making.

Gloria Amanful, a seamstress in Cape Coast, has been working with Global Mamas for the past nine months. She is saving money to buy land, and is now thinking of buying a knitting machine to expand her business.

Amanful says she is gaining confidence in herself through her work. “Global Mamas has helped me by giving me something for my children and my family,” she said.

It’s something that Global Mamas co-founder Renae Adam said is an advantage of working with women.

“You can be assured they’re going to invest their money in their family,” she said. “Women are definitely the best investment for the betterment of an entire community.”

“They even start employing other women,” said Adam.

Mary Koomson is proof: since she started taking on contracts with the organization, she’s been able to purchase her own plot of land, pay for her niece and nephews to attend school, hired two workers and one apprentice, and is now thinking of expanding her business.

“I want to open a store to make my new things in,” she said.

 

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

 

Koomson lives in Cape Coast, and has been working with Global Mamas for five years. She does “batiking,” an ancient process of stamping and dyeing fabric that has been practiced in Ghana for generations.

She said she has benefited from training provided by Global Mamas on fair trade, how to manage your business and how to save money.

The organization was founded in 2003 with six apparel producers in Ghana. It now has over 600 producers and is building a fair trade campus in Ashaiman, just outside of Accra.

Global Mamas hit the $1-million sales mark for the first time in 2012. Adam said that the organization is getting requests from all over the world to establish organizations there, but that Global Mamas will stay in Ghana until, she said, “we’ve helped Ghana to its extent.”

But the Global Mamas model is proving to be a success, according to Adam, in more ways than numbers.

“I think [the fair trade] approach is so amazing to be able to empower people in the workplace. It’s the opposite of what you read about China and other parts of the world.”

Going out in style: Fantasy coffin-makers of Teshie

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Hello Design Coffin Works display room in Teshie, Ghana. Ashley Terry, Global News

Hello Design Coffin Works display room in Teshie, Ghana. Ashley Terry, Global News

TESHIE, Ghana – Style is a major part of life in Ghana, so much so that Ghanaians take it to the grave.

In Ga culture, coffins are customized to represent the character or the occupation of the person who has passed away.

Families spare no expense in sending their loved ones to the beyond in an airplane, a chicken, a boot, or some other object that held meaning in their life.

Coffins can cost upwards of 2500 Ghanaian cedis (CAN$1250), or more than six times the annual income of the average Ghanaian.

“Death is a very big celebration here because we think when… [the person is] gone, we need to celebrate him for what he was representing in his community,” says Eric Adjetey Anang, a coffin maker in the Accra suburb Teshie.

Like many of the other coffin designers in Teshie, Anang is in the family business. His grandfather Seth Kane Kwei began building custom coffins, or “fantasy coffins,” as they have come to be known, in the 1950s.

Now, Anang owns the Kane Kwei Carpentry Works on a coastal road east of Accra. From this small workshop comes coffins that have been featured worldwide in museums, festivals and commercials.

Anang has just returned from Milan design week, where he displayed some of his work, including a giant Campari bottle.

Carpenters at his workshop in Teshie are busily building 24 pieces to send to Denmark for the Images Festival in August.

He even has a piece on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto – a fish – brought in by curator Sylvia Forni.

“We create it out of the mind,” says Anang when explaining how he plans his designs. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

“We create it out of the mind,” says Anang when explaining how he plans his designs. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Just down the road, coffin competitor Daniel Mensah is building a lion.

A local leader who was courageous and brave has passed away, and his family has asked Mensah to build a coffin to match.

Mensah and his apprentice are shaping the head of the lion-shaped coffin out of wood, and carefully attaching the pieces to the rounded body on another table.

This is one of thousands of coffins that Mensah has created in his 13 years in the profession. He is a mixture of artist and craftsman, shaving pieces off the lion’s head with ease.

“Sometimes you can draw if before,” says Mensah, explaining how he plans his designs. Other times he just starts building, he says.

Linus Mensah, sitting nearby, boasts about the recent works of art his brother has created.

He shows pictures of his former creations: a soccer boot, a hammer, a gun, a ship, a chicken, a camcorder, a stereo, a mobile phone.

“Last was a policeman,” Linus says.

 

Daniel Mensah shows the policeman coffin he made for 2500 cedis (CAN$1250). (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Daniel Mensah shows the policeman coffin he made for 2500 cedis (CAN$1250). (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Daniel says the policeman coffin cost 2500 Ghanaian cedis. Some of the other coffins in the workshop cost between 1000 and 1800 cedis.

“People spend the money because of paying their last respects to their family,” says Samuel Afotey, one of Mensah’s competitors a few minutes down the road.

Coffin-making is Atofey’s family business as well. “I started when I was very young,” he says, explaining that his father, Paa Willie, taught him the tools of the trade.

Afotey has been building coffins for 20 years. He even has designs for what he wants his own coffin to look like, but is keeping them a secret.

For more pictures, go to the original article on Global’s site and scroll to the bottom.

Housing project brings water, sanitation to Amui Dzor slum

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

The Amui Dzor slum, in Ashaiman, near Tema, Greater Accra. Ashley Terry, Global News

The Amui Dzor slum, in Ashaiman, near Tema, Greater Accra. Ashley Terry, Global News

ACCRA, Ghana – The Amui Dzor housing project towers over the rest of the Ashaiman slum.

The three-storey building houses 31 families, who each pay 75 Ghana cedis (CDN$38) a month for a room.

They have access to bathrooms, showers and kitchens. It is a vastly different lifestyle than those living in the surrounding neighbourhood.

The other slum dwellers of Amui Dzor, near Tema in Greater Accra, live in makeshift wooden homes with no bathrooms or water.

“Looking at the situation, people live in wooden structures, and we thought it has a lot of challenges, drainage issues, fire…” said Halid Alhassan, who manages the commercial toilet attached to the housing project.

In light of these issues, the community agreed to the creation of the housing project in 2009, in collaboration with the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor and the People’s Dialogue on Human Settlement.

The Amui Dzor housing project. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

The Amui Dzor housing project. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

“The house has been given as a loan and they’re supposed to pay in [a] period of ten years,” said Alhassan, referring to the fact that after paying the 75 cedis a month for the room, the occupants will own their small space outright after a decade.

The housing project is a bright spot surrounded by a bleak slum: children play in piles of garbage on the edge of the neighbourhood. Malaria and cholera are rampant. Residents burn their garbage because they can’t pay to have it collected.

Yakubu Akarim moved out of the slum, but still has a business there as a repairman. “A lot of things are happening [that are] really bad, we don’t like it,” he said of his former home, through a translator from his native Twi.

Akarim cites sanitation as one of the major issues. He said people can’t afford to have their trash collected, and that people end up burning it.

Yakubu Akarim. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Yakubu Akarim. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

When asked whether others would want to move out of the slum as he did, Akarim said, “People don’t want to leave, they need the government to give them their 50×50.”

The “50×50” is a reference to land demarcation, or property ownership by people in the slum. “Then they can develop however they want,” he said.

Calls to the Accra Municipal Assembly (AMA) for comment on this story went unanswered at the time of publication, but demarcation of land is being considered by the AMA.

One roadblock is that the land is still owned by the Tema traditional council and the Tema Development Corporation (TDC).

The street outside Akarim’s shop in Amui Dzor. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

The street outside Akarim’s shop in Amui Dzor. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

The AMA has formed a development committee to consider a plan for land demarcation, but wresting control from the current owners has proven difficult.

Tensions between the people of Ashaiman and the TDC go back to 2005, when government and the TDC threatened residents to vacate unauthorized homes or they would be destroyed.

In December 2012, Ashaiman residents threatened to boycott the election if land was not released.

Land ownership remains elusive for the people of the slum, making housing projects like the one in Amui Dzor a viable alternative.

But the housing project is not without its own issues.

“The toilet facilities are not enough,” said project resident Abiba Abdullah, through a translator.

She said that in the mornings, the lineup for the toilets is so long that people end up defecating on themselves or are forced to go outside.

Abiba Abdullah outside the commercial toilets in the Amui Dzor housing project. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Abiba Abdullah outside the commercial toilets in the Amui Dzor housing project. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

The open toilets attract mosquitos, leading to the spread of malaria. Abduallah herself is just getting over her latest bout of the illness.

Another issue, according to Salifu Abdul-Mujeeb of the People’s Dialogue, is mistrust. “People always think you want to take their money,” he said.

Mujeeb said the people of Ashaiman and other slums in Accra are reluctant to move in to project housing that they must pay for, when they live in makeshift slum housing for free.

“People prefer to live in a small room, without water, but at peace,” said his colleague Farouk Braimah.

The original plan for the housing project was much larger, but land negotiation with the Tema chief and the TDC has stalled.

Mujeeb is still optimistic. “There will be a right time for the project to go on,” he said.

Journalists doubt information will soon be free in Ghana

 Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Godfred Boafo. Ashley Terry, Global News

Godfred Boafo. Ashley Terry, Global News

ACCRA – Ghana may soon join a dozen other African countries with access to information legislation.

It has been a long time in the making – the legislation has languished for a decade. But even if it is passed, some Ghanaian journalists don’t believe the law will change a thing.

Philip Kofi Ashon, manager at CitiFM online in Accra (where I am spending three weeks as a trainer for Journalists for Human Rights), thinks the legislation might pass but won’t be enforced.

In his opinion, the government works too slowly to provide the information journalists need to meet reasonable deadlines.

It is a similar refrain heard by journalists in Canada. Global News requests access to information from the government frequently, but rarely gets a prompt reply.

Often our requests are rejected or the agency asks for an exorbitant amount of money. When we do get information, at times it comes in thousands of sheets of paper.

Press Freedom Index

The annual Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index ranks freedom journalists have in various countries, and the effort made by governments to ensure press freedom.

In the 2013 edition released in early April, Canada is 20th and Ghana places 30th, but Canada dropped 10 spots from the year before, while Ghana rose 11.

Canada now ranks below countries like Niger, Namibia, the Czech Republic and Jamaica (now the Western Hemisphere leader).

The explanation for Canada’s drop was obstruction of journalists during the “Maple Spring” and Bill C-30.

The rising Ghana is generally seen as a model of African press freedom. President John Mahama has expressed support for the freedom of information bill, saying in late March that he has “no fear of the right to information bill… I think parliament should pass it.”

But Hector Boham, president of the Corruption and Fraud Audit Consortium Ghana, is not optimistic, saying, “The bill will not pass because of the lack of political will. The African politician is corrupt to the core and corruption thrives in secrecy.”

But, Boham continues, if “by god’s grace,” the law passes, it will be effective because it will be supported by the courts.

“Investigative journalists will no longer face any impediments as they investigate cases of high level corruption.”

Having the court’s support in obtaining information would be welcome news to Godfred Boafo, sports reporter at CitiFM.

He went to Ghana’s National Sports Authority (NSA) to investigate rumours that funds were misappropriated by the agency during the 2011 All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique.

Boafo asked to see receipts of expenditure on the Games, but was denied. The NSA said it needed to know why he wanted to see the receipts, and he declined to give details on his potential story.

What ensued after that, he said, was “hell.”

Boafo went to various sports associations in Ghana to get the information, but after they all rejected his request, he took to the radio to press for the creation of an investigative committee.

And that, at least, was successful – a parliamentary committee released a report in March that the speaker of parliament called “damning.”

The National Sports Authority is now being audited by the sports minister, but Boafo still hasn’t received any information.

He says even after the audit, “I still won’t be able to see the documents, I can bet you that.”

Pushing for rights literacy in rural Ghana

 Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Patricia Awuah

Patricia Awuah

Patricia Awuah came to the centre of her village on Wednesday and learned about her rights.

The 11-year-old Ghanaian student from Ngleshie-Amanfrom, a village in Kasoa west of Accra, heard music blaring nearby from five giant speakers. She came with her classmates to see what was happening.

It turned out to be a program by the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC), a non-profit organization that educates Ghanaians about rights issues and advocates when there are potential violations. Wednesday’s theme was gender-based violence.

Men, women and children also followed the music, leading them to the tents set up in the centre. The crowd watched as the HRAC group performed skits and answered questions.

Women in rural Ghana face barriers in accessing justice – a gap in education means they might not know they are being victimized, and if they do, what to do about it.

HRAC’s Samuel Azumah Nelson finished up a dramatic skit and took the microphone to speak directly to the audience.

He asks anyone who may be a victim of what they saw in the demonstrations (sexual harassment, abuse, unwanted pregnancy), “Report it, and make sure it will be dealt with.”

Having it “dealt with” can be an even bigger hurdle – especially in marital conflicts, where women don’t have the resources to use legal means.

“In Ghanaian culture, so many women are scared to report their husbands. Most of these women don’t work and are dependent on their husbands,” says Jemilla Ariori, the organization’s legal and projects officer.

Ariori was one of three legal advisors on hand Wednesday to speak individually with anyone who needed advice.

Her colleague, lawyer Adwoa Yeboah Boateng, says that not only are they dependent, but they may not know their options. “They might not even know they can go to the court,” she says.

“That’s why we are here, to say ‘you can do something about it.’”

Ellen intends to do something about her situation (Ellen is not her real name, she asked for a pseudonym to be used).

The 54-year-old woman says her husband of 25 years left her to marry another woman and is harassing her to leave her marital home. What is worse, he took her three children away.

According to her, he didn’t want to pay to take care of them. Instead, he left one with his mother and two with his sister. The two children with his sister, aged 14 and 10, were sent to an orphanage school in another town.

The other, 18 years old, has finished school but is now being sent on errands for his grandmother. Ellen says she sees him occasionally, but that he looks thin and sick.

“[My husband] wants to make me suffer,” she says in her native Ga, through a translator.

Ellen also wants what she feels is hers – the property she owned herself when she entered the marriage. According to the law, spouses split property obtained during the marriage 50/50.

Anything obtained before or after should belong to the person who acquired it. But in practice, the woman is often powerless to enforce it.

With help from the HRAC, Ellen will now be able to fight for her children and property in court if the matter is not solved through mediation.

Calls to the Awutu Senya district overseeing Kasoa, and calls to Ghana’s Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, went unanswered at the time of this posting.

This post was originally written April 18, 2013. To see a gallery of photos of the HRAC’s performance, visit Global News.

Boston attack: an international perspective

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

ghana-boston

Deep in conversation with a group of Ghanaians and Canadians at a restaurant in Accra on Monday night, I was interrupted by a question from one of my Canadian colleagues: “There was a bombing in Boston?”

I looked over at the television on the wall of the smoothie joint in the expat neighbourhood of Osu, and saw the image of the smoke and pandemonium through the soot-covered lens on CNN.

The other Canadians at the table started to discuss the story – we speculated on what may have happened and whether anyone had died.

The Ghanaians at the table mostly ignored the television, preferring to continue with the previous conversation.

I asked a Ghanaian friend sitting next to me whether she knew of the Newtown shootings in Connecticut, and she said no, looking confused.

It wasn’t out of ignorance – I would learn that major American stories in this country are only brief items in news coverage, and don’t attract a large audience here.

The radio station where I am working for the next three weeks, CitiFM, ran brief mentions of the story during news bulletins.

But it was a big news day in Ghana for other reasons – a petition to annul votes from the 2012 election was being submitted to the Supreme Court and the newsroom was ensconced in national news

But I still decided to ask some colleagues their thoughts on the bombings.

“If a bomb went off here, would Americans know about it?” says Gary Al-Smith who works on the sports desk at CitiFM radio in Accra.

He had a point.

The Ghanaian president John Atta Mills died last year while another Global News/JHR trainer, Sean O’Shea, was in the country.

Sean submitted a report to Global National – which would become a rare mention of Ghana in North American news.

Al-Smith points to the department store collapse in the middle of Accra last year that killed 18 people, which ran mostly as a tiny news item in Canada and the U.S., or not at all.

He says there is some curiosity on the part of Ghanaians about North American stories, which is why most news outlets briefly mention the Boston bombings, but that it “doesn’t capture the imagination” of people here.

“Imagine people waking up in Syria every day with bombs flying over their heads,” says Philip Kofi Ashon of CitiFM online.

While he acknowledges it is a terrible story, he says that unfortunately, there are other world news stories every day with much higher death tolls.

This post was originally written on April 16th, 2013. You can also view it via Global News.

Election and Politics in Ghana

Sean O’Shea is a reporter with Global TV in Toronto. In the summer of 2012, he reported from Ghana and served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project. He was assigned to work with the English-language station Viasat1. 

Ghananians at a newsstand displaying announcements of then-President John Evans Atta-Mills' death.

Ghanaians at a newsstand displaying announcements of then-President John Evans Atta-Mills' death.

When I got to Ghana in early July, the country’s election campaign was in full swing. Billboards bore the faces of the flag-bearers for the various political parties. Radio and television talk shows were filled with debate about which leaders could best serve the country. The country’s 100-plus newspapers were chock full of news and commentary on the race. From an editorial point of view, newspapers typically support one party and do their best to lambaste the rest.

In contrast, one day I went to a press conference announcing how private broadcasters would respect a voluntary Code of Conduct for covering the presidential and parliamentary campaigns. This genteel event was punctuated by opening and closing prayers, entertainment by an African dance troupe, the agenda filled with a succession of speakers (including the Roman Catholic Archbishop) calling on the broadcast media to tread fairly in the run-up to the country’s vote, still five months away.

Sipping a soft drink in the lobby of the conference centre after the event (Guinness Malta was a favourite choice of many of the journalists) it struck me that covering an election in Ghana is the stuff of those with plenty of stamina. Here we were, in the midst of the election on a hot July day, and the country’s electorate would not go to the polls until an equally warm or even hotter day on December 7.

Ghanaians love to talk politics. Or listen to those talking politics. Everyone has an opinion. Correction: several opinions. Unlike in Canada, where many voters are loathe to express their viewpoint to strangers about how they’ll vote, people in Ghana don’t share those reservations.

Ghana is a poor country, but much better off than many nations in west Africa. There are mineral resources like oil, gold and iron. The country is also one of the world’s largest producers of cocoa. Unlike its neighbours – Ivory Coast and Mali, Ghana hasn’t been recently battered by civil war. Considering its riches, Ghana’s citizens should enjoy a better standard of living than they do. But instead, tens of thousands who live in Accra, the capital, live in poor conditions. In a crowded urban environment, a lot have no indoor toilets even though landlords charge steep rents.

One of the stories we covered at Viasat1, the Swedish-owned television station where I was based, was about how the government had run out of money to distribute national identity cards. These photo ID cards would be useful to voters in the election. But tens of thousands of printed cards were locked up in a government office and could only be claimed by those who would show up directly to claim them. Not practical for most Ghanaians who don’t own cars or live outside the capital city. Citizens could still vote without the cards, but could face more scrutiny at polling stations.

An election summer was an interesting time to visit and work in Ghana. Especially because of the events that happened on July 24. In mid-afternoon, as I was sitting enjoying a meal with a friend at the Melting Moments coffee shop, people in the restaurant began gathering around the flat-screen television on the wall. One of the television stations had broken into programming with bad news: the country’s president, John Evans Atta-Mills, was dead.

The president had been seeking his second term as Ghana’s leader. He had won the election four years earlier in a squeaker, with a margin of less than one per cent over Nana Akufo-Addo, who since served as head of the opposition party. But for months, people knew their president was ill. Atta-Mills had travelled to the U.S. for treatment for throat cancer. He looked pale and frail as he recently boarded a flight. Now, three days after his 68th birthday, the president lay dead in a military hospital, having suffered a heart attack.

For a few hours, many in the capital wondered whether power would transfer peacefully, or if the military would intervene. This is the first time a sitting president had died. True to the constitution, a few hours later the country’s vice-president, John Dramani Mahama, was sworn into office on live television.

Over the next week, Ghana mourned its lost leader. Television anchors wore black and political discussion switched from bitter criticism to praise for the former president. A state funeral was organized. As I left Ghana, the political rhetoric was starting to heat up again.

Many of the people I met in Ghana kept a close eye on the political process. But few I talked to would wager that the outcome of the election would have a dramatic impact on working people living in the country. It’s not that people were jaded by the process; most I talked to were simply practical about it. They hope for better, but don’t count on political leaders to make it so, regardless of which party wins power.

 

This post was originally published on Friday, December 7, 2012 via Global News.

 

Riding Towards Sustainable Development


In a country burgeoning with traffic congestion, increasing economic growth, and a stark urban-rural divide, Ghana’s Bamboo Bikes Initiative could promote sustainable development, boost trade, and address a number of U.N. Millennium Development Goals in the process.

Established in 2009, the Bamboo Bikes Initiative was created by a group of young people, including science, engineering, and marketing students, to empower other youth, by training them to build and market bamboo-framed bicycles.

“We know that most of the youth on the streets are without work,” said Bernice Dapaah, the initiative’s Executive Director.  “We spoke with them, and they’re saying there are no jobs… So we have to make sure that, day in and day out, we come up with skill-development activities that will be more sustainable for them,” she explained.

In partnership with Africa Items Co Ltd, the initiative pays apprentices $30 USD for their labour, and sells the bicycle frames abroad for $350 USD each. Their primary market is in Europe, where BambooRide, an Austrian company, imports the frames and assembles the bicycles for sale.

“Roughly one year ago, we went down to Ghana and we got to know [the team],” said Matthias Schmidt, BambooRide’s Sales Manager.  “We were developing the frame together… because the frames were good, but they had to fit a certain European standard. So it was like a partnership, a knowledge transfer in both directions,” he said.

The Austrian importers also provided the initiative with new equipment to improve precision and boost their product’s international marketability. Schmidt said he looks forward to the initiative’s continued expansion.

“[Their] capacity is limited… and in the case that we need more than 10 frames a month – that’s the maximum capacity – we’ll need other sources. So we’re supporting [Dapaah’s] efforts to improve the equipment and technology,” he said.

Eradicating Poverty and Unemployment

The Bamboo Bikes Initiative offers apprenticeships and permanent placements at the Africa Items Co Ltd workshop in Accra, where Ibrahim Djan Nyampong, the initative’s technical advisor and Master Trainer, teaches young people how to assemble, fix, and market the bicycles.

“So far I’ve trained about ten boys,” he said. “They can build the bikes, but it’s not up to the quality control level, so we are still training them,” he explained.

[pullquote]”Each artisan, after their training, will also be equipped to employ at least five or six people.”[/pullquote]

The UNDP’s Global Environment Facility sponsors the initiative through its Small Grants Program. George Orstin, the National Programme Coordinator, explained that graduated trainees will establish their own workshops, and begin to train more young people.

“Each artisan, after their training, will also be equipped to employ at least five or six people, and to set up their own small-scale production base [in] any part of the country,” he said.

By training and employing young people, the initiative is designed to reduce unemployment and, consequently, rural poverty. It is also intended to abate the rural-to-urban migration trend prominent in Ghana.

“It will reduce the youths rushing to come to the cities to engage in income generating activities,” said Dapaah. “A workshop at the rural communities, that will really help them, rather than them coming to the cities,” she explained.

The Bamboo Bikes Initiative also curbs rural-to-urban migration by supporting bamboo farmers. Dapaah said that, so far, the organization has trained ten farmers to harvest new crops for bicycle production. They employ young people in the town of Suhum, and pay them based on a contract signed with the local chief.

Ensuring Environmental Sustainability

By harvesting new bamboo crops, said Dapaah, the initiative is also making a commitment to ecological sustainability.

“If we cut one bamboo, we make sure to plant at least three or five more,” she explained.

Orstin said that bamboo conservation is a key element of the UNDP’s partnership with the initiative.

“By promoting the conservation of bamboo, you are introducing a carbon sink, and at the same time… promoting alternative uses of bamboo for other purposes,” he said.

The initiative also works to protect the environment by producing organic and recyclable products, rather than metal or carbon fibre frames, which require high levels of energy at every stage of production – from extraction to manufacturing.

[pullquote] “If we cut one bamboo, we make sure to plant at least three or five more.” [/pullquote]

Instead, bamboo bicycles are made from 80% local material, which, according to Nyampong, not only enables producers to avoid expensive import costs, but also eliminates the carbon emissions that would arise from the transport of imported materials into the country.

Dapaah said that, while not all Ghanaians may be conscious of the environmental benefits of the bicycles, most are aware of the surging motor vehicle traffic in the cities, and are eager to circumvent it.

“The traffic situation in the country in general is increasing, and when traffic increases it has its associated environmental issues,” explained Isaac Osei, the Ashanti Regional Director for Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency.

There are 30 motor vehicles for every 1000 people in Ghana, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority registers hundreds more each day. Data suggests that vehicle ownership will continue to rise, as the country hits record levels of GDP growth per capita.

Osei noted some of the harmful impacts of increased vehicle use, including carbon dioxide emissions and pollution from dust particles on dirt roads.

“To actually educate people to use bicycles [rather] than vehicles, I think it is good for the country and the world as a whole,” he said.

Dapaah said the prospect of avoiding traffic jams, as well as the low price of bamboo bikes relative to cars, should fuel the bicycles’ domestic market.

Improving Education, Health, and Gender Equality

But the bicycles are not only designed for Ghana’s city dwellers; some models are intended specifically for rural residents.

“We’ve done… studies, especially in rural communities where transportation is very bad, and we want to use this as an alternative source of transportation for students, because some students walk miles from home before they get to their schools,” Dapaah explained.

Nyampong also builds “bamboo cargo bikes,” to help farmers transport their products to markets, and is working with engineers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to design a “bamboo ambulance bike,” intended to assist expectant mothers in need of urgent medical attention.

“We’ve learned that there is a high rate of maternal mortality in Ghana,” explained Dapaah. “We have some remote areas [where] transportation is very bad… so we’re trying to come out with the bamboo ambulance,” she added.

She said the initiative is also intended to empower rural women by providing special training for them in the production, manufacturing, and riding of the bicycles.

Enhancing Global Partnerships

At present the organization is focusing on expanding production: creating new, diversified bamboo products, and developing new partnerships.

In 2009, the project won the Clinton Global Initiative Award, and in 2010, the UNEP Seed Initiative award. It also garnered international attention in June when it received a World Business and Development Award at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

“Ever since [then], a lot of donors are trying to engage in our project, to see how best they can collaborate or partner with us,” Dapaah said.

As for their trade relations, BambooRide’s Schmidt said the Austrian importers are happy with the partnership, and see it as their own brand of “fair trade.”

“Fair trade comes by itself, because we are in partnership with the Ghana bamboo company and we are on… the same level,” he said, adding, “Do business the proper way, and it’s fair trade anyway.”

 

5

Breaking News, Breaking Hearts: How Ghanaian Media Handles Tragedy

My colleagues at Ultimate Radio watch the television as news breaks of President Mills' death Tuesday afternoon

Journalists make the news. They find the issues, gather the reports, and tell the stories. But how they do this can have a lasting impact on audiences – sometimes as resonant as the stories themselves.  At jhr, we care a lot about how the news is told, so I was naturally interested in the media’s reaction yesterday when Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, passed away unexpectedly – just months before the December 2012 national election.

“This is the first time it’s happened to us. We had heard about other presidents in other African countries who had died on the job, but it was quite distant from us. So when this happened, it was a blow to me as a Ghanaian,” explained Kofi Owusu, the head of Ultimate Radio.

“I actually shed a tear when I heard the news,” he added. “I was shocked into a state of helplessness, of not really knowing what to do.”

But Owusu is not only a Ghanaian – he is also an award-winning journalist and a prominent member of the media – and he knew he had a responsibility to carry the story as quickly and professionally as possible. He promptly called some contacts in Accra to confirm the news.

“When as I was confirming with friends there, I was typing my [radio script] intro already,” he said, “because news has to go on.”

Ghanaians have been long been speculating about the state of President Mills’ health. Last month, he travelled to the United States for what his party deemed a “routine check-up,” and upon returning to Ghana was seen jogging on the tarmac in front of the press. But many remained skeptical, as he noticeably stopped speaking on the campaign trail, opting only to wave to the public instead.

[pullquote]”Don’t overdo it. Don’t get carried away by the sensationalism.”[/pullquote]

The media have been on the frontline of the mania, analyzing Mills’ every action and attributing each one to his deteriorating health. There have been several reports of his death in recent months, but each time he resurfaced to dispel the rumours. In a country where horror always sells, this kind of sensationalism thrives.

Despite speculations, however, the confirmation of Mills’ death still came as a shock to the majority of Ghanaians.

“I was speechless. You hear people talking, he’s sick, he’s not sick … but we were all thinking that we could see him run for the NDC in December,” said Ultimate Radio journalist Nana Oye.

Production staff rush to plan the station's coverage of Mills' death. Within minutes of receiving confirmation, we were able to broadcast the news.

I was with her when the news first broke. She was immediately overcome with emotion, but within minutes, was able to join a handful of others in the studio to calmly and composedly discuss the event on air. I was impressed by their tact in doing so.

“It’s not enough to just break the story,” noted Owusu. “It’s what you do from then on – because once you break the story, people would like to know more about what’s going to happen,” he explained.

He said the station aimed to take a levelheaded approach to the story. As for dramatics, he said, “Don’t overdo it. Don’t get carried away by the sensationalism.”

Unfortunately not all editors in Ghana think this way, and it is difficult to avoid sensationalism after such an event; other stations played the frantic cries or incomprehensible babble of callers throughout the day.

But none of the Ghanaians I spoke to expect to see an extreme national reaction to the President’s death. They hardly expect it to impact the December elections, let alone instigate riots or instability.

“Traditionally, and by customs, Ghanaians respect the dead a lot,” explained Owusu. “And Ghanaians being who they are, they’re going to observe that [mourning period] out of respect. If there’s going to be a state burial, you’ll see Ghanaians from all sides coming up to file past the body or to pay homage to the President,” he said.

[pullquote]“It’s not enough to just break the story; it’s what you do from then on.”[/pullquote]

The death does appear to have quelled the inter-party aggression characteristic of Ghanaian politics. Nana Akufo-Addo, the leader of the opposition New Patriotic Party, has suspended his campaign to mourn with Ghanaians.  Owusu expects that, if anything, the Presidential death will have a pacifying effect on the upcoming elections.

“[Previously,] there was so much divisiveness and the debate was just vicious,” he said. “Now the man who was at the receiving end is gone. Your enemy is down – you don’t keep flogging him. So it’s believed that it will tone down the hot exchanges. The acerbic tone will be considerably reduced, towards elections, which will have a common effect on the political landscape for all of us,” he predicted.

“There are even calls from leaders that Ghanaians should use this occasion to unite,” he added.

That could be a blessing in disguise in a country where most news sources are visibly split along partisan lines, and fail to push beyond the bickering of party rhetoric to the real political issues.

But if Ghanaians are to use the death as an opportunity to unite, and to look beyond political divisions to their common goals and challenges, the media must play a role as well.

“I think that, as the media, we have to stay focused,” said Owusu. “Because, as I’ve said, matters of state must go on, things must be done. We’ve sworn in the new President; [now] there should be some kind of assurance from the presidency that everything is under control, because that is what we expect of our leaders,” he said.

Will the ruling party, the National Democratic Congress, hold a congress to elect a new candidate, or will John Dramani Mahama, the newly acclaimed President, remain as the party flag bearer?

Owusu said the news stations should not dwell on the shock factor, but rather begin to ask the important questions at hand.

“After the death has been announced, what’s going to happen in parliament? What’s going to happen with the next person? We went to the Constitution, which clearly had steps to be taken to swear in the Vice-President, so we knew that was the procedure, and decided to stay with it and make sure that our listeners were informed,” he explained.

“There are questions to be asked in the days ahead – and they should be asked,” he added.

Ghanaians could use the untimely event as a source of unification. They could take the opportunity to step back from the frenzy of political campaigning and remember what they are really fighting for. They might just be able to do so – provided the media upholds its responsibility, and begins to ask the right questions.

Kofi Owusu and his fellow journalists crowd into the studio to break the news to the nation. Owusu (second from right) said the media has a public duty to address the story as tactfully as possible.

The school chaplain, mathematics teacher, and some science students of Prempeh College.

No faith in science: a Homo sapien rights issue?

Evolution is accepted by 97 percent of scientists in the United States but by only 61 percent of the public, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2011 poll approximates that 14 percent of Canadians think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. In 2007, The Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the dangers of creationism: it “is worried about the possible ill-effect of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights.”

Africa is noticeably not playing a huge role in this discussion.

Ghana Education Services includes basic evolution in its biology syllabus for senior high schools. However, there is sparse data on public opinion.

Information from other countries indicates males with higher levels of education are the demographic most likely to accept evolution. With this in mind, I headed to Prempeh College, a prestigious all-boys school in Kumasi: they have produced the highest number of doctors in Ghana. Alumni include prominent professors, engineers, politicians and former President Kufuor.

The school chaplain, some science students and a mathematics teacher at Prempeh College.

“Everybody has the right to acquire whatever knowledge [they desire]… it makes the students more dynamic, having received from the religious point of view and then learned from the secular point of view, then the student can make an informed decision,” said Reverend Adomako, the school chaplain and government teacher.

Admittedly surprised by his liberal stance, I proposed a scenario to him: what if one of his students rejected Christian creationism?

“Me, as a minister who knows the right thing, I must use whatever knowledge which I have in order to convince student to change their mind… with reason. So it is up to me to prove that his or her view on that subject is wrong.”

Despite his firm belief in the Bible, he supports teaching both evolution and creationism. Eugene, 18, a hopeful surgeon, disagrees.

“We should be learning only creationism, because there’s only one truth. You can’t blend the two together.”

“I don’t think we’ll be able to answer the evolution question. Evolution is in contrast to what the Bible teaches: it says nothing was created out of love, but by chance,” added Richie, 18.

I raised the possibility that God created the mechanism of evolution, an idea that is increasingly popular in the West.

“The Christians who are embracing evolution… they’re getting it all wrong. They don’t know their Bible very well… if they want, we the Africans can teach the Bible to them,” offered John Danquah, a mathematics teacher.

“According to the Big Bang theory, the universe started at a mathematical point. That is nonsense… The Bible makes it clear it was God who created heaven and earth – science will never have any explanation for that,” he continued.

The conversation kept returning to the limits of science. Even if the origin of the earth is not known in full detail, is it possible for science to uncover it?

“It’s impossible. If it becomes possible for them to find out, they are getting to spirits, and science does not deal with spirit matters,” said Emmanuel, 17, aspiring engineer. “I believe religion more than science.”

As I interviewed the students, the Reverend and Danquah both made it clear that my efforts were futile because all the students agree with them.

They had a point, to some degree: approximately 63 percent of Ghanaians are Christian, and most Muslims believe in creationism as well. It is taught in Sunday schools, primary schools, and junior high schools. Most people I spoke with at Prempeh College gave me identical responses. Who would disagree with something so widely accepted as truth?

Manu, 18, an aspiring astrophysicist.

“I’ve learned that the world came into being through particles coming together and human beings evolving from unicellular organisms and progressing further to become who we are now… I do believe it. With evolution, we are able to learn more about living organisms.”

Like most devout Christians in the world, most Ghanaians believe in creationism. However, such a belief is an anomaly within the international scientific community, and it could be an indictment on the future of the nation’s scientific progress – it doesn’t have to be, Manu insists.

“Science and religion are not enemies. There are just some things that science is slow to understand, so religion [helps us] wait. Be patient, get knowledge, understand things.”