Category Archives: Educational Internships

Zen and Goats: Last impressions of the little things in Tamale

I checked my phone – 9:30am. Half an hour had passed since my last meeting in Tamale was due to start. No sign of the big boss. Having waited up to 2 hours for meetings to start in the past, this was business as usual. This was my last day in Tamale and after a quick meeting with the principal it was back to packing, writing reports and saying goodbyes. I had planned for every moment to count, but this being Ghana, you have to go with the flow of the unexpected.

Rather than roll my eyes and carry on counting the goats in the courtyard, I figured this moment of calm in the warm Tamale sun on the balcony at my school was a keepsake of the bureaucratic tango of meetings in Ghana. “Remember this,” I whispered to myself.

“I am SOOOO sorry!”

I turned as I heard feet pounding and giant palms slapping the metal railing up the dusty staircase to the balcony I was leaning over.

“I had a problem with some guests. You know how they are, always rushing you around.”

It was the big man on campus, Al-Hajji Razak Saani, the recently appointed principal at the IIJ. I like Al-Hajji – he joined the school as principal at the same time I was preparing to leave.  I was gutted to have met such a welcoming man only to leave a few weeks later.  A man of the world, he spent much of his time in the US studying Communications, and the way he so authentically said “Chicaaaago” always cracked me up.

I assured him it was no problem. It had rained heavily the night before and the breeze was cool on the skin. I could have stood on that balcony for much longer, contently playing the tapes from my last six months in Tamale. But it was time for business.

Dusting off the couches with a flick of the rag, we sat down and asked each other about our families, the last meals we took and if our houses had survived the rains. All the boxes were checked.  I made a move for my bag and told him I had a gift. I handed over the tactile culmination of my time at the school: a curriculum document and guide for the jhr chapter for the next semester.

“I’ve been working on this for a couple weeks and I think it could be really useful for the school and the chapter. You guys can reference it and keep up the amazing work you’ve started.”

He brushed the cover with his hands and turned to take mine. I was taken aback but held on to see where he was going.

“You have given us so much. This book is so important to us, I can’t thank you enough.”

Being someone who is almost allergic to one-on-one praise, it was all I could do to squirm in my seat and just return the sentiments. I made a move to open up the book and walk him through it but his giant palms pressed it firmly shut.

“This program you are working on, I can’t thank you enough for the vision you have given our students. The worst thing in the world I could imagine would be to have this momentum come to a close.”

“So would I,” I said.

A montage of our workshops, brief moments in the hall, laughter, taps of chalk on board all came flooding back to me. I would have burst into tears if I hadn’t  bitten my lip so hard. “You guys have given me more than anything I could have asked for,” I stammered. “If you can keep this program going, then we will have all done our jobs.”

“I will do just that. Now tell me about this curriculum thing,” he said.

Just like the breeze on the deck and the taking of someone else’s hand in an unscheduled moment of zen, it’s the little things that have taught me can bring the biggest impact. While there was many a moment I was unsure of my impact, of what I were here to do, I’ve learned from my time in Ghana that no act is too small. Just as much, it has been in the little things, the little gestures and comments that have lead me to believe that jhr is making an impact on the lives of those it works with. Not always as grand and not always in the manner you expect, but if you keep your eyes and ears open like every good journalist should, you’ll see it.

Witchcraft forum focuses on gendered solutions

On May 19, the International Institute of Journalism and JHR hosted a community dialogue on the issue of witch craft allegations in Northern Ghana. Twenty IIJ students, members of the Ministry of Women and Children, local media outlets and NGOs debated the role of the media concerning allegations of witchcraft in the North.

Ghana’s Upper East and Northern regions are home to seven witch camps – more than any other region. The largest camp, Gambaga, was established over a century ago and is now home to 83 women and over 45 dependent children and grandchildren.

As guests began their presentations, the bottom line became clear: accusations of witchcraft are based on gender.

“The debate is beyond whether there are witches or not. The issue is that witchcraft allegations have become a feminized issue,” said I.P.S. Zakaria, of the Department of Women and Children.

Women, often elderly and widowed, are accused for misfortunes in their villages, leading to lynching or banishment to camps far from their communities. The banishment of these women directly affects their access to hygienic facilities, education and economic independence. For many women, discrimination and the emotional stigma attached to being accused limit their ability to speak out against the issue.

“When a woman is 30, she will fight the allegations with all her power,” explained Fati Al-Hassan, president of the Anti-Witchcraft Allegations Campaign Coalition (AWACC). “But when she gets into her 50s and 60s, she begins to accept these powers and confess to these allegations.”

Zakaria finds many women are unable to act independently from their husbands, keeping them vulnerable to allegations. Many widows are accused of witchcraft so they are not entitled to their husband’s inheritance.

“If it looks like you killed someone with witchcraft, you are not entitled to the use of the property,” explained Al-Hassan.

She is no stranger to allegations, having been accused of being a witch herself.

“I love my powers,” she said. “I love the assumption that people have that I have these powers, because it gives me motivation to do the work that I do.”

Allegations follow similar trends, says Ken Addae of AWACC. Working with members of the witch camps since 2000, he has found allegations often occur in areas with high poverty levels and low education. The largest indicator is the structure of social and cultural systems that make women vulnerable, said Addae.

However, Al-Hassan finds this no reason for justify the accusations.

“Culture is dynamic,” she said. “We can’t cling to a culture and justify our actions when we abuse someone.”

Journalist Francis Npong echoed Al-Hassan’s concerns, targeting the media as those most responsible for influencing public opinion on the issues.

“The world is changing,” said Npong. “The role of the media or journalists now goes beyond just the traditional role of informing, educating and entertaining …This century needs more dedicated journalists than any other century.”

Panelists encouraged journalists to make their messages accessible to communities most likely to banish women for witchcraft. Addae suggested creatively engaging communities with traditional Dogon drum and drama troops to shift public opinion.

Addressing the crowded room of students, panelists encouraged the audience to be assertive and balanced with their reporting. They also emphasized the importance of minimizing harm.

A journalist herself, Al-Hassan envisions the media as the public face of the fight for human rights awareness.

“When people have rights, they must be made to see that they are working for them,” she explained.

The forum topic was chosen by the students themselves who have shown an interest in addressing and educating themselves on issues specific to their region.

Talking to the students, the impact of the forum is obvious.

“I have learned so much on how to report gender issues and women’s rights,” said Yakubu Gafaru, the JHR vice-president. “It was interesting to see the majority of the camps are within our region. Why not down south? It means there is something behind it, something we need to address.”

Others found the chance to work with prominent female journalists inspiring.

“We need more female role models like Madam Fati [Al-Hassan],” explained Yahaya Niamatu. “I admire the courage she has. I want to be just like her.”

Fighting for the front page: The challenges of environmental reporting in Malawi

In Malawi, parliamentary proceedings and political scandals dominate the headlines and radio waves.  Whether it is a mere press conference or cabinet reshuffling, journalists jump at the chance to report on governmental affairs. The prevalence of political coverage, however, means that other issues are sidelined.

The country’s state of underdevelopment, coupled with intermittent electricity and water shortages, serve as a constant reminder that there is a long way to go in the creation of even the most basic infrastructure.

Undoubtedly, sustainable energy and water management are worthy topics of discussion. Furthermore, clear-cutting in Malawi’s northern region has left large tracks of land barren, and poaching has devastated animal populations in the country’s national parks and game reserves. Nevertheless, such pressing environmental issues remain largely ignored by the mainstream media.

In recent years, a multilateral effort to encourage journalists to cover environmental issues has been underway. Various organizations under the United Nations (UN) banner, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), are behind this push driven by global objectives – namely the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

For the past two years, MIJ FM reporter Anthony Masamba has been a regular participant in environmental reporting workshops.

Masamba explained that at these workshops, journalists are trained to understand the linkages between climate change and a range of issues, from agriculture and health, to transport. Through these sessions “journalists have been imparted with skills that allow them to write good stories from an informed perspective, as most of these journalists have not been trained to report on environmental issues,” he said. While “most of them have knowledge in journalism – they know how to write,” Masamba explained that many journalists have yet to grasp the technical languages and jargon of environment and climate change.

For this reason, the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) offers an Environmental Reporting class for certificate and diploma-level students. The course aims to equip students with knowledge on major environmental issues facing the contemporary world, as well as stimulate interest in the topic. The curriculum encompasses environmental issues, ethics, policies and legislation, as well as the idea of sustainable development.

MIJ student Patrick Botha believes that workshops and coursework are a valuable means by which to encourage journalists and journalism students to work to ensure a sustainable environment. “[Journalists] have a role to play and it is their duty to inform the masses and expose issues. There is a need to engage these journalists to create an interest in them to report on such issues,” Botha said.

Undoubtedly, journalists play a crucial role in information dissemination, knowledge acquisition and overall awareness. While media houses are a useful outlet for the promotion of sustainable development and campaigning for social change, clear challenges remain.

“Here in Malawi, if a newspaper is to sell, it must have a political story on the front page,” Masamba explained. “No one will buy a paper with a headline that reads climate change impacts development – Malawians want to read about politics. If a paper has politics on the front page, it will sell like hot cakes,” he added.

At the same time, further challenges arise as a result of the hierarchical newsroom structure. Masamba outlined a typical scenario: “I can have an idea for a story. I write my letter seeking financial support but if my request is not approved, what do I do? I just sit because I cannot support myself to go that far to do just a story.”

Botha explained that for journalists concerned with nabbing a front-page byline, there is even less motivation to report on environmental issues. With such an article, “they will probably make the third, fourth, or twentieth-something page.” According to Botha, another deterrent “is the belief that the majority of people will not bother to read [an environmental story] unless they have nothing better to do.”

Despite the workshops and other efforts, Masamba attests that the impact has not been realized due to a lack of political will. “At the moment in Malawi we do not have a climate change policy. This is a policy that would provide guidelines through which climate change issues can best be addressed or integrated into various programs,” he explained.

Masamba believes that the Malawian government’s failure to implement such a policy is unacceptable. “How do they handle climate change issues without having a climate change policy? This is a policy that would provide guidelines, but they don’t have it,” he explained. “We as journalists have our own challenges, but the government, on their part, must show political will,” Masamba said.

As for the future of environmental reporting in Malawi, Masamba has high hopes. His optimism stems from the country’s new leadership, which has already outlined a way forward. For instance, in place of the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources and Environment the Joyce Banda administration has established the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. “In coming up with this ministry, I think this government has shown political will towards addressing issues to do with climate change,” Masamba said.

Why we do what we do: rights media in Northern Ghana.

“Always leave your office door open, because you never know who will walk in,” a kernel of wisdom from my father that has always stuck with me. So when I arrived at the International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) in Tamale, the first thing I did was prop my door open with a blue plastic chair and wait to see who would walk through.

The power of an open door.

The power of an open door.

2012 marks the first year that jhr has partnered with the IIJ on a rights media program. The IIJ is the first journalism college of its kind in the Northern Region of Ghana. A campus of two rooms, 12 staff and 40 students, their aim is to educate students on professional journalism with a focus on issues specific and often underrepresented in Northern Ghana. While still the younger brother to schools such as the African University College of Communication in Accra, the number of students enrolling is growing steadily at the fledgling school in Tamale.

Mohammed is a first year student at the IIJ and was also the first student to walk through my door. He had come by to pay his fees and check his class schedule and was eager to have a chat when he knocked on my door. A former secondary school teacher and development worker, Mohammed enrolled in the IIJ to add a practical component to his passion for spreading awareness in his community.

“My goal is to give a voice to the voiceless and journalism with a purpose is my best effort to do that,” he informed me.

Only a few months earlier, a small group of IIJ students established a jhr chapter looking to bolster its presence on campus and the role of rights media in the Tamale community. I explained the concept of rights media and that there was a place for him in the jhr chapter if he wanted to join.

Mohammed grinned and placed his glasses on the table. “I knew there was a reason I came into your office today.”

He expressed a great interest in coming to our meetings and the skill set he could contribute to getting the chapter off the ground. Having only met one student so far, I was thrilled to meet such an enthusiastic student eager to get involved with rights media. We shook hands, parted ways and I went back to my desk, buzzing with anticipation for the next five months.

Later that afternoon, there was another knock on the door. Mohammed was back and he had a group of other students in tow. Their professor hadn’t shown up for lecture. Not wanting to waste time, Mohammed rallied the group and brought them to my office, asking me to lead workshop on human rights to give them a head start.

After spending my first few weeks in Tamale while the students were on holidays, I was taken aback by his initiative on his first day. Despite only just arriving on campus, he explained that he was very interested in what jhr was in Ghana to do and was just as keen to get other first year students involved in rights media on campus. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to jhr’s rights media pillar PANEL and discuss how we could make the most of this semester. After wrapping up our workshop, they all expressed that they would attend our jhr introductory meeting next week. Mohammed turned and thanked me for taking the time to come and talk to him and I insisted that the pleasure was all mine.

“Same time tomorrow, ok?” he said.

I nodded, trying to hide the ridiculous grin on my face. The work we are doing is meaningless without people like Mohammed  who believe in the cause of rights media. Building rapport and strengthening rights media education is a process, one that is made much more meaningful and enjoyable with students like those at the IIJ.

The success was not leaving the door open, but being inspired by who walked through it.  To see students taking initiative and seeking out knowledge, eager to see what jhr can do for them, that is where we are building success together.

Linking farmers to markets one SMS at a time

For smallholder farmers across Malawi, crop production is merely half of the battle. The real challenge comes postharvest, when the race begins to access markets and secure a profit before a yield spoils. With no information, determining potential points of sale, buyers and the going rate is a game of chance.

In the past, such uncertainty left smallholders in a vulnerable position. Isolated, and often desperate to make a sale, rural farmers would unknowingly agree to sell goods at rates far below the market price. Furthermore, large portions of harvests would go to waste as smallholders struggled to locate viable markets for their goods.

Malawi’s agricultural productivity has been hampered by this clear lack of transparency. The inability of farmers and traders to access information has led to inefficient supply chains and overall market inaccessibility. Beyond the obvious issue of food security, a vibrant agriculture industry is essential to furthering economic growth, expanding trade partnerships and creating income-generating opportunities in developing countries like Malawi.

Aiming to improve the productivity of Malawi’s agribusiness sector, the Market Linkages Initiative (MLI) was launched in 2009. Sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Famine Prevention Fund, MLI sought to revolutionize Malawi’s agriculture sector by establishing a broad communications network to integrate isolated, rural farmers into Malawi’s regional and national markets – thereby, strengthening food security. In light of the rapid uptake in mobile phone usage across Malawi, communication via SMS text messaging was determined to be the most efficient and cost-effective way to enable access to information.

Today, MLI’s electronic market information system platform informs approximately 4,000 Malawian smallholders of price variances and trends on a weekly basis via SMS text messaging. The platform, Esoko, sends farmers and traders price updates for particular goods – maize, groundnuts, grain, etc. – in their respective marketplace directly to their mobile device. Currently, MLI offers updates from 13 key markets spanning Malawi’s northern, central and southern regions.

When Malawian farmers travel to the marketplace today, they have “a clear location and clear price because of SMS technology,” explained MLI Bridging Activity Chief of Party Rob Turner. “The important thing is that for the first time they have information to base their decision on,” he added.

Knowledge is power and according to Turner, access to information is empowering farmers to make informed decisions on when, where, and how to sell their goods. With real-time information at their fingertips, Malawian smallholders have succeeded in bargaining with traders for better deals, increasing their profits and identifying opportunities for expansion into new markets.

While “the Ministry of Agriculture also provides price information,” USAID Senior Agricultural Technical Analyst Vincent Langdon-Morris noted, “it is often criticized for being obsolete and out of date.” Furthermore, this official government data is not distributed via SMS, or used for commercial purposes. Instead, this information is released to the media who report prices for select commodities via radio broadcast.

However, USAID Communications Specialist Oris Chimenya said that if a smallholder happened to miss a particular market price announcement, there is not a secondary avenue where that information can be retrieved. “There is no website, there is no written material, and there is no other linkage between the farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture,” Chimenya explained.

“There has been discussion, because of literacy issues, that it would be more effective to use radio or send voicemail to farmers,” Turner said. Upon further investigation, however, it was discovered that smallholders generally prefer to receive information via SMS. Essentially, the ability to save and refer back to information, as well as note trends over time, add to the inherent value of SMS technology. Overall, SMS remains the best method for cost effectively reinforcing a message in a timely manner.

According to Turner, “SMS is tailor made for a place like Malawi.” As “the value of SMS goes up the poorer the country,” Malawi’s underdeveloped infrastructure and communications networks create a better climate for SMS projects than countries like Kenya – where 3G networks rule. Interestingly, Turner also noted that rural Malawians have proven to be “willing to spend a very significant amount of their income in order to have a phone because it is so valuable to them.” As for the future of SMS technology in Malawi, Turner believes that this mentality is proof that “there is a lot of room for growth.”

The road to abolishing Malawi’s death row

Malawi's constituion reads that every person has the right to life and no person shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. Photo by Nina Lex.

Malawi’s Legal Aid volunteers sift through a pile of files of those on death row. They are doing everything they can to abolish the death penalty in the country and lessen existing prisoners’ sentences.

At least 29 men currently sit on death row in Malawi; however, no one has been executed in the country since 1994. Those sentenced to death are entitled to a mandatory appeal in the Supreme Court.

“Countries like Malawi that have made the transition to democracy increasingly see abolition of the death penalty as a necessary step to signal their commitment to human rights,” said Emile Carreau, an Australian volunteer with Legal Aid.

Judges in Malawi can still sentence offenders to death; they handed down four or five death penalties in 2010 and with only a few murder trials taking place in 2011 no death penalties were given. However, this year more murder trials are expected in the High Court.

Francis Kafantayeni was convicted of murdering his two-year-old stepson in 2002. His lawyers claimed he had been acting in a state of temporary insanity because he smoked marijuana. The judge had no choice but to convict Kafantaneni of the murder and sentenced him to hanging, a mandatory sentence for murder.

After a two year long trial, the High Court ruled that a judge could pass down individual sentences to offenders by taking into account the offender’s background, circumstances of the crime and mental health.

“Before lawyers didn’t bother looking into the person’s background and offense. So I’m going through to see what happen at the time of the offense, what happen in their life and since they have been in prison. Trying to get a sentence of life in prison or less,” said Carreau.

However, a judiciary strike in the country has paralyzed the court system making accessing files impossible for the time being.

A shortage of legal aid lawyers also makes it difficult to go through all the files in a timely manner. The State Department reported in 2009 that there were only 15 lawyers and seven paralegals working as public defenders throughout Malawi.

“Legal Aid is ridiculously over burdened at the moment with only a handful of lawyers in Blantyre. Not enough, considering the number of people entitled to Legal Aid,” said Carreau.

Another challenge Legal Aid lawyers are facing in Malawi is the public perception of capital punishment.

“Legal Aid is working to get more lenient sentences for those on death row but the public wants higher sentences. When there (has) been a gruesome murder the general public wants capital punishment to be available for the crime,” said Amanda Walker, a volunteer for Legal Aid.

In 2009 the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law developed a report and interviewed death row prisoners about conditions at the prison. The report stated that currently all death row prisoners are kept in a separate section of Zomba’s Maximum Security Prison. Men share small cells and sleep on the floor, generally they receive one meal per day. When the prison suffers from a food shortage the men don’t receive meals and power outages are frequent.

The report also states, “most lawyers do not visit their clients in prison until shortly before trial, if at all. It is commonplace for lawyers to meet their clients for the first time at trial.”

Although lawyers in Malawi must overcome some major difficulties, they are confident that country is on its way to abolishing the death penalty.

“The abolition of the mandatory death penalty in Kafantayeni and the fact that Malawi has not actually carried out an execution since 1994 has put the country in good stead to abolish the death penalty,” said Carreau.

In recent years some of Malawi’s neighbouring countries have abolished the death penalty, like in South Africa and Mozambique.

Tamale’s rights media crusader: The story of Joseph Ziem

Choosing a pen and paper over a bow and arrow, Joseph Ziem is the Robin Hood of Ghanaian rights media.

Joseph Ziem - advocate, journalist, environmentalist.

“When I see something wrong, I start to ask questions,” says Ziem. “Who is supposed to deal with this situation? Why is it like this?”

A blogger, a radio host, a freelance writer – Ziem chooses not to limit himself to one title. However, the focus of his pieces are clear: giving a voice to the voiceless and holding those in power accountable.

“I am a human rights journalist, I’m a development journalist, and I’m an environmental journalist; human rights journalism is in all of them,” the 28-year-old explains.

What makes Ziem unique among other journalists in Ghana is not the quantity of his stories but rather their calibre. While prominent Ghanaian newspapers are headlining “Fisherman Kills Rival” and “Robbers Rape Student Nurse”, Ziem challenges the sensational with titles such as “Disbandment of Witches’ Camps Should Not Endanger Lives of Victims” and “Costly Disasters Created By Mining Companies in Ghana”.

Ziem has made his mark on a wide array of media outlets: as a radio host for Tamale’s FIILA FM, northern correspondent for the Daily Dispatch newspaper, staff writer for The Advocate and Free Press newspapers, and most recently co-founder of the development issues-oriented blog, Savannah News.

Ziem’s interest in journalism began as if torn from the script of a Hollywood childhood fantasy: nose pressed to the glass, fogging up the window with wide-eyed curiosity. It started in 2002, when a community radio station opened up in his hometown of Nandom.

“I peeked through the window of the station and saw gadgets,” he recalls. “I asked myself, ‘How can people sit inside this room and when they talk, people just tuning their radio sets can hear what they are saying?’ I was inquisitive. When I went to senior high, I nurtured this ambition to become a broadcaster.”

However, a crusader’s path is rarely without challenges. Ziem explains that he was unable to complete high school, only half a percent shy from making the minimum grade of 50 per cent to move up a grade.

“I was sacked. I think somebody was in there to get me out of school,” he confides.

Unable to make the grade, he was denied entry into his final years of senior high and moved south to Kumasi to recalibrate his future with broadcast journalism.  Not letting his academic standing stop him, Ziem was determined to carve a new path to his dream. Six months later and six cedi lighter for the application, Ziem enrolled himself in broadcasting school.

After four years in the industry, Ziem was awarded the 2010 Kasa Media Award for Natural Resources and Environmental Journalism.

He still remembers the call from Kasa Media.

“I just knew I had won. When they said congratulations, I said Hallelujah,” he says.

Ziem wrote the award-winning article in response to foreign gold mining activities in Northern Ghana. Mining is one of Ghana’s largest industries and yet the government only sees a fraction of the royalties.  His article highlighted the effects of desertification wrought by mining activities in the North and the impact on many surrounding communities’ ability to access to clean drinking water. Ziem advocated that the environmental and health risks to the nation were not worth the profits evidently escaping the country.

Word came back to Ziem about other stories as well. A community in the East Gonja region of Ghana faced constant power outages by the Volta River Authority (VRA). The community advocated several times to the VRA regarding their right to electricity, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Ziem wrote a story for the Daily Dispatch advocating that the VRA address their concerns. It was passed on to the Accra head office and the resolution caught the attention of the wider community.

He admits that there is not much money to be made in journalism in Tamale. Journalists in town earn between 50 to 70 cedi a month (around 30-40 CAD). However, Ziem’s affirms that his passion is rooted in the positive effect journalism can have on improving the standards of living in communities and the environment.

In journalism, he says, “if you want to be rich, do not come. But if you want to save humanity, you are welcome.”

Despite choosing silver-framed sunglasses and a well pressed shirt over a green cape and tights, the fervour for justice remains the same.

“Until I see nothing wrong around me,” he says, “I won’t stop writing.”

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.”

A Silent Shout: Marital Abuse in Ghana

Breaking the silence is the greatest hurdle to ending marital abuse.

Flashy, kitsch and heinously dubbed – soap operas are the window of entertaining escape from the day to day in Ghana. In an episode I witnessed last week, our heroine was trapped by fate in a loveless marriage, unable to bear any children of her own. Raped by her husband and ostracized by her family, she is too afraid to admit to misdeeds in her past that made her barren. Would she go to jail? Would she ever escape the clutches of her husband? Before any questions could be answered, the power went out.

I had my quota of full body gasps and furrowed brows for the day and got up to leave. Halting my exit, my friend Wasila quickly explained that while the details might be far-fetched, the theme is a reality for many women in Ghana. She believes that a woman’s ability to negotiate safe sex in a marriage can be hard to come by. People may be willing to talk about it as it happens on TV, but few bring it up personally.

“When I was growing up, there were many instances where a woman, often below 16, was given to a man,” says Saratu Mahama, programme director for the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Tamale. “At night, when a man was holding her, the woman would cry out loud and no one would come closer because they already knew what was happening. Nobody will talk about it. There are still girls being betrothed against their will today.”

For many victims of marital rape, Mahama says, “the moment you are married, your body becomes the property of the man. He can use it, as and when he likes.”

In 2007, Ghana introduced the Domestic Violence Act, a bill meant to protect the rights of those most marginalized by abuse in the household. However, Mahama explained that public opposition and a desire to speed up the passing of the bill left a controversial clause from the Ghanaian Criminal Code of 1960 unchanged. The clause states that the act of marriage is grounds for consent. If a spouse refuses to consent to sex and a rape occurs, in the eyes of this particular clause, consent was already given, voiding the case against the accuser.

Inspector Lawrence Adombiri, Metro Coordinator for Tamale’s Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit, says that in a year he has never seen a case of marital rape brought to their office. “It is a silent issue,” he says.

Even without the specific mention of marital rape in the Domestic Violence Act, many cases fail to even reach the courts. Societal pressure and threats directed at the victim deter many of these cases from seeing redress.  Adombiri believes that the community must support the process of the victim before the laws can react accordingly.

Mahama echoes his concern, attributing the lack of reported cases to stigma attached to women in the domestic setting.

“[Society] feels that a woman should bear it, especially when it has to do with sex,” she says. “All other things can be mentioned, but not sex.”

An absence of women’s shelters, the cost of obtaining a doctor’s report confirming instances of rape and the bureaucratic nature of police follow ups to cases were other issues Mahama described that deter women from vocalizing cases of marital rape.

“Most women do not have money to feed themselves, let alone pay for such medical bills. Because of the fee, they are deterred and the cases go unreported or are not followed up,” argues Mahama.

While soap operas may see a happy resolve before the credits roll, many women fear to bring their cases to light. Talking to Mahama and Adombiri, it becomes clear that the issues of marital rape extend beyond the courts to underlying issues of patriarchy and discrimination reflected in Ghana’s traditional domestic structure.

In a report by ActionAid, one woman details her experiences being given to her sister’s brother-in-law at an early age. “I reluctantly went into the room because I was tired of sleeping outside. I was then about fourteen. He forced me to have sex with him.”

Overpowered by her husband and ignored by her family, the recurrent rapes gave way to three children, and left her HIV positive. “I should have fought harder,” she says. Her struggle fell on deaf ears, being told that abuses such as these “are what all women go through”.

Abdallah Abubakari, programme manager of ActionAid, in Northern Ghana, acknowledges that women’s abilities to negotiate terms within the household are affected by structures of patriarchy. He advocates that women must be given more opportunities to express leadership in the household.

“Where women are empowered, the men get awareness,” says Mahama. “They should appreciate the situation of the woman, and there can be change. But when you keep silent but keep the law in place, it still won’t work.”

Health & Fuel: A follow up on Malawi’s shortage impact on health services.

The inaccessibility of oil in Malawi causes a considerable slowdown in regard to the overall productivity of the country. While hospitals have developed strategies to ensure continuous access to resources, their employees and patients are still queuing up nearby the pump.

According to Dr. Themba Mhango, the director at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), some patients are unable to attend appointments due to fuel shortages.

“At the moment about 50% of the patients with diabetes who are booked to come for sight-saving laser treatment are defaulting and when we call them to trace them, they almost always say it is due to no fuel or the cost of transport that has increased.” Said Dr. Mhango.

Malawi’s shortage has been going on for three years now. With people sometimes waiting six to eight hours without any guarantee of accessing the fuel, life has just taken another pace has lining up for gas is now part of everyone’s weekly reality.

QECH is a 1 300 bed public hospital receiving about 500,000 patients per year and spending nearly 2 million kwacha (approximately 12 500 Canadian dollars) a month on fuel. They managed to work around the shortage by creating contacts at gas stations so owners can inform them in advance whenever a delivery is about to happen. However, their work is still indirectly affected by this situation.
“Some staff may report for duties in the morning and then later disappear because they have gone queuing for fuel at the gas station.” Explains Dr. Mhango.

At Mwaiwanthu hospital, recent agreements with the Minister of Health have highly enhanced the life of the management team who no longer fear fuel shortages during the frequent power outages.

“It takes about 20 liters to run the hospital’s generator for six hours. Before this January, we had to find the fuel ourselves. Now we prepay for the fuel who is delivered to us.” explains Dr. Edgar Kutchindale, admitting that although this is a privilege it does not cover any of their staff members. Individuals must still queue up to buy gasoline or are forced to buy it off illegal vendors which requires them to pay up to three times more than the original price.

In the past few weeks, police attempted to implement better security on black market and began arresting the dealers who are keeping the oil in their houses. According to Christian Sidande from the Malawi Human Rights Commission; 1000 liters were confiscated last week.

These new interventions by the authorities appear to be favorable for the buyers. “With the outlawing of consumers buying fuel in containers has strangled the black market, hence we are seeing an improvement in the availability of fuel supply, we can ably fill up our vehicles at the gas  station,”  said Dr. Mhango.

However, for Mr. Sidande, the recent availability of fuel is only a temporary balm on a wound.

“In the last two weeks 90 million liters were bought by government. Their problem as eased a little for a short period of time but the president admits still not having a solution yet.” Said Sidande.