Category Archives: Educational Internships

Fueling up without queuing up: Thoughts on the future of social media in Malawi

After three years of living with chronic petrol shortages, most Malawians have developed strategies for fueling up without queuing up. While befriending gas attendants for information on tanker arrivals will cost you a couple hundred kwacha, those buying on the black market continue to pay nearly triple the going rate. Across the country, the prospect of spending another evening or weekend “queuing in hope” at the pumps or paying exorbitant prices for fuel remains nothing short of a “way of life”.

For Malawi’s netizens, however, the petrol crisis has inspired an online awakening. Since the start of the fuel shortage, individuals have shared tips regarding the length of queues and the locations of stations with fuel, as well as petrol tanker sightings on Facebook and Twitter – mainly via mobile technology. Online communities devoted to the communal hunt for fuel have emerged, and continue to thrive as shortages persist.

Launched in June 2011, the Malawi Fuel Watch Facebook group remains one of the most popular sources of information on petrol availability within the country. Currently powered by almost 5,000 members, the group’s newsfeed affords onlookers a steady stream of fuel accessibility updates.

Frederick Bvalani, the creator of Malawi Fuel Watch, explains that the inspiration for the Facebook group came as he was on the hunt for petrol. “I wrote on my Facebook wall asking friends where I can find fuel. Kondwanie Chirembo, a Malawian friend who is working in Botswana, suggested that we create a group that people can use to inform one another where fuel is available – thereby reducing the need for people to keep going around town depleting the little fuel that remains looking for fuel.” For Chirembo, a co-administrator of the group, the need for such a group became clear “after noticing people’s perpetual questions about where fuel could be found, or the fact that they had wasted time and fuel to go to a place only to find no fuel.”

Malawi Fuel Watch began with Bvalani and Chirembo adding a few friends to a closed group. However, the pair determined “that the success of the group resided in having more members.” After the decision was made to make the group public, “each of the members recommended the group to another friend, then the group grew by word of mouth,” Chirembo explains. According to Chirembo, the group has managed to sustain itself over time due to its diligent membership uploading accurate information.

It is only natural for Malawi Fuel Watch’s home to be on Facebook “because that’s where the conversation started and also where we interact with most of our friends,” Bvalani says. According to Bvalani, “the group feature on Facebook also made it ideal because we don’t have to do all the posting and adding of friends – members can do that themselves. We can also moderate conversations to make sure only appropriate postings remain on the group wall.” In terms of expansion, Bvalani says not to expect to see Malawi Fuel Watch tweets anytime soon as Twitter does not offer the same flexibility as Facebook.

For years, underdeveloped communications networks and infrastructure have kept Internet costs high and penetration levels low across Malawi – currently, Internet World Stats reports that they sit at 4.5 per cent. While the Malawian presence on social media channels is on the rise, Internet and social media users remain concentrated in the country’s urban centres of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. Despite these statistics, Bennett Kankuzi, a Malawian computer scientist and software engineer, attests that “clear growth” is underway.

Today, Malawi’s mobile phone providers are the driving force behind the recent advancements in Internet accessibility. The rapid uptake in mobile technology use, Kankuzi explains, is propelling Internet access throughout Malawi. According to Kankuzi, the growth of mobile technology usage, coupled with the ongoing liberalization of Malawi’s telecom market, will continue to spur Internet access across the country. Furthermore, Kankuzi believes that improvements in Internet accessibility will naturally lead to greater social media use – particularly on Facebook, where, according to Socialbakers, 17 per cent of Malawi’s netizens are already active. For Kankuzi, the rapid growth in mobile technology use, and vibrancy of Malawi’s online community in the face of the petrol crisis, prove the future of social media “looks bright” in the ‘warm heart of Africa’.

Bvalani believes that “social media use in Malawi will continue to grow as more and more people find out how useful it is.” He also agrees that mobile Internet use will be one of the major reasons for its rapid growth. Another factor to consider, Bvalani offers, is that “airtime is expensive in Malawi and people are discovering that communicating on the Internet is much cheaper than SMS and phone calls.” Going forward, Chirembo adds that young Malawians will drive social media use. There are “a large group of the youth who are so eager to try out all the social media platforms,” he says.

Overall, Chirembo believes Malawi Fuel Watch is showing Malawians that despite some juvenile aspects of the Facebook platform, “one individual or a group of people can use it for something of social good.” He concludes, “I see a bright future for social media [in Malawi] as long as censorship does not creep in.”

Fuel hunting in Malawi

“There is fuel in Monkey Bay!” a text message reads. A game of telephone quickly transpires. “Get there quick! No queues! Will be out soon!”

Filling up in Malawi has become increasingly difficult and expensive.

This week’s five-day drought is said to be the worse since the fuel crisis in 2009, forcing drivers to queue sometimes for days.

Due to a shortage of foreign exchange in Malawi, the country can only afford to import half the needed fuel per month, according to a report by Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL), a company mandated to import petrol in Malawi.

After driving to Lake Malawi from Blantyre with a group of friends the fuel light is flashing. We hurry to Monkey Bay’s filling station. When we get there the attendant tells us the fuel has already run out.

“But the police officer just told us there was fuel still here,” insists my Malawian friend. An argument ensues and we are forced to leave­ the pump.

Down the street a man waves us down and he saunters up to the window. “You want fuel? I can get you fuel,” he whispers.

“We only buy fuel from the station,” my friend protests.

Fake fuel has been flooding the black market, which has now become a major industry in Malawi. Men carrying jerry cans full of fuel around town can sell gas for $6 per litre. More then three times the government recommended pump price of $2.30 per litre. In Canada fuel is selling for $1.20 a litre.

Fuel and forex shortages have caused prices in Malawi to skyrocket. Maize prices, the country’s staple food, rose by 22 per cent in September and a further 15 per cent in October, according to a cost-of-living survey by a local NGO called the Centre for Social Concern (CFSC). Price increases have caused desperate situations for the majority of the population, who live on less then a dollar a day.

The man trying to procure fuel for us continues on, “I can get it from the station. They aren’t out. They won’t sell to you because they are holding on to extra fuel to sell it for more later.”

We follow him.  Soon the Toyota SUV is quietly parked behind a tree with its headlights off.

The plan is that another car is going to fill up at the pump and then exchange the gas with our car. We watch from a distance in order to ensure it’s real fuel coming from the pump. I feel like I’m apart of a drug deal- no longer simply filling up at the fuel pump.

The man, who is a tour guide of the Lake, reports back. He tells us the attendant refuses to fill up the car worried it will cause a huge commotion and vehicles will line up demanding fuel. We ask to speak to the owners.

A few minutes later we are sitting behind the gas station at a local bar having a few beers with the owners.  Small talk is exchange before the real reason we are sitting in the bar is brought up.  “My friend I need fuel. Can you help us? We can pay extra,” asks my friend.

The brothers, who own the station, also happen to be fishermen.  The owners tell us they keep extra fuel for their fishing boats and will sell us some.

After three hours of searching for gas and tough negotiations the deal is secure. Tomorrow at 4 in the morning we can fill up for selling price.  The next morning, an employee fills up the car’s tank in complete darkness in order to avoid spreading rumors that there is gas in the village.

Finally, our fuel hunt has come to an end. With half a tank we can get back to Blantyre to start the hunt all over again.

Cars line up for fuel in Blantyre

Political Experts Debate Need for “African Spring”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto Star’s Chair of the Board Visits Ghana

Mr. John Honderich of the Toronto Star delivers a presentation to local media at the Ghana Journalists Association.

Newspapers are intended to deliver information, educate the public and beyond that – bring community together.

This is what former publisher, editor and current Chair of the Board of the Toronto Star Mr. John Honderich shared with local journalists on his visit to Ghana as part of a Journalists for Human Rights initiative. During Mr. Honderich’s ten day visit, he delivered a presentation to over 20 of Ghana’s leading publishers, editors and reporters at the Press Centre of the Ghana Journalists Association.

The presentation focused on the role of the media in community development. Honderich described much of the media scene within Canada and the role of the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest national newspapers, in communicating news and information within the most diverse city in North America and around the world. Toronto, with a population of 2.48 million people, is home to over 20 per cent of Canadian immigrants and has up to half of its population, 1,237,720 people, being born outside of Canada.

In Mr. Honderich’s presentation, he acknowledged The Toronto Star’s commitment to covering issues of public interest for such a large diversity of people. He recognized the challenges of cultural values and belief altering one’s perspectives on a particular subject or issue, but says it is essential to reflect these issues in mainstream media.

Mr. Honderich called this interaction, ‘the dialogue on diversity‘.

Topics have been featured in the Toronto Star that have created heated discussion, not only within Toronto’s multicultural environment but nation wide. Some of the issues discussed within the presentation included the debate on whether Muslim’s within the RCMP should be allowed to wear their traditional turbans while on the job to whether the singing of Christmas Carols in public schools should be banned.

To some, these issues seemed unimportant but were seen as essential in the eyes of Mr. Honderich in regards to the dialogue on diversity.

Although these topics were not specific to Ghana, the discussion of dialogue on diversity is taking place within Africa and here, local media has its own cultural conversations to report.

A recent example is Ghanaian President John Atta Mills’ refusal to legalize homosexuality in exchange for the continued support of foreign aid from British Prime Minister David Cameron – a leading news story which has been causing heated reaction and debate nationally and internationally.

Although many Africans strongly oppose homosexuality and believe it is a foreign concept brought in by Westerners, a minority of the population support gay rights or claim to be gay themselves.

This includes gay rights activist who goes under the alias of Prince.

Prince met with Mr. Honderich during his visit to Ghana and described the circumstances under which homosexuals live in the country as a ‘difficult thing’. In a column written by Mr. Honderich inspired by his visit with Prince, he writes “[Prince] no longer feels safe, adding police harassment has spiked dramatically.”

In regards to Ghana’s dialogue on diversity, Chair of the Ghana Journalists Association Ado Yeboah-Afari referred to the press reaction to the homosexuality debate as ‘hysterical’.

When asked by participants to share his own opinion, Mr. Honderich explained that homosexuality is legal in Canada and described the process it took to get there – highlighting that many people in Canada were also opposed to the notion. Nonetheless, it is the media’s job and responsibility to cover the issue unbiasedly from both sides.

In addition to the presentation held at the GJA Press Centre, Mr. Honderich was kept busy with multiple media engagements. He paid visit to two of Ghana’s leading radio stations, Joy FM and Citi FM and spent time speaking with young professionals of the Journalists for Human Rights Student Chapter at the African University College of Communication.

He also facilitated a panel discussion at the residents of the Canadian High Commissioners and met with over 70 students from Communication Studies of the Islamic University College, Ghana and worked alongside management at Ghana’s leading independent newspaper, The Daily Guide.

The Road to Wli

The view was absolutely worth the climb.

In early November, a group of 6 of us set out to take on Wli Waterfall- perhaps the most sought out tourist site in Ghana.

The Upper Falls at Wli

We rolled into town around 4 o’clock. Much to our disappointment, it was pouring rain, so we decided to postpone our visit to the waterfall.

It’s good we did because the storm that ensued was the most constantly ferocious downpour I have ever witnessed. At one point we sought refuge in a church after we attempted to “make a break for it” and get some food. The rain came down so hard I thought it would take the roof off the building.

We all slept early that night and woke up with the sun to have tea and bread and set out up the mountain, determined to take in this waterfall that all the guidebooks have been raving about.

Now, according to the Bradt Guide to Ghana, the upper falls are closed at this time of year due to the amount of rain. So we strolled up to the information booth, expecting to enjoy what the Bradt Guide calls a “flat, easy path through a semi-deciduous forest for 45 minutes to an hour”. Upon hearing that we could in fact venture to the top, we jumped at the chance to prove our ruggedness and tick the trek off our bucket lists.

The hike to the upper falls was definitely not a “flat, easy path” like the road to the lower falls. We spend 2 hours crossing rivers and finding footholds in near vertical portions of the path. The rain had left the throughway soppy, and slippery. As our group of 6, plus our guide- coincidentally called Godsway- made our way up the mountain, we laughed at each other’s expense as nearly every one of us ended up sitting on the path instead of standing on it.

The trail overflowed with native foliage including pineapple and berries. We stopped again and again to marvel at bushes, trees and insects. Giant ants chewed their way through the footpath. Thousands of them moved together. From a few steps away the colony looked like a giant snake.
Huge spiny spiders hung in webs between trees and birds hopped from branch to branch.
As we climbed further towards our destination the humidity was nearly unbearable We were all sweating through our clothes as we leaned on makeshift hiking poles, and pulled our bodies upwards.

Near the top of hike, we paused to look out over the hills, and down at the town of Vli. The view is breathtaking. Nestled in the valley of these giant green monster mountains is this cozy town. You can see for miles.

As we neared the upper falls, Godsway warned us to put our cameras away. We began to feel what we thought were raindrops, and as we got closer to the waterfall we realized it was spray that was whipping us in the face.

As the trees cleared, we could see the falls in all it’s glory. The water cascading down some 70 or so meters over the hills that mark the Togolese border. As the stream hit the pool at the bottom, the water seemed to explode, and the massive spray made it nearly impossible for us to see anything. We had to shield our faces as the water whipped towards us.

We were told this is due to the fact that we visited in rainy season, and if we were to come back after December, the falls are much calmer.

We stuck it out at the base of the falls long enough to say we had been there. We couldn’t take any pictures due to the water and upon a group consensus that we had seen enough; we retreated to a dryer area to eat cookies before starting our descent.

We sang and chanted on the way down. Our bodies shook with fatigue as we retraced our steps, finding the footholds we had dug on our way up.

When we reached the bottom. We took a quick dip in the equally as windy and misty lower falls, had a beer and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.

The 6 of us went back to our hotel, packed our bags and collapsed into a taxi waiting to take us home.

Journalism students in Ghana use their skills to make change for refugees

Students responding to questions from the audience following their exhibition

On July 15th, 2011 a group of 10 journalism students from Ghana presented a body of work, including a radio feature, print articles and a video documentary, at the Silverbird Cinema in Accra, Ghana.

The premiere of their work brought over 200 Ghanaians together to read about, listen to and watch the stories the students produced about refugee rights in Ghana.

Ghana’s biggest media outlets were present to cover the event and following the launch of their work, the documentary was screened on television, their print articles made it into several newspapers and the radio feature was broadcast on two of Ghana’s biggest radio stations.

The UNHCR-Ghana also used their work to promote the ‘The Hope Campaign’, aimed at raising funds for the education of refugee youth.

Robin Pierro, a jhr educational officer, guided them throughout the process of producing their work through of series of workshops focused on human rights reporting and lead them on a four day reporting field trip to the Krisan Refugee Camp in Western Ghana.
Angela Johnston, jhr Rights Media Trainer, also played a pivotal role in assisting the students who were producing the radio feature.

Following the completion of the project, the launch of the work and the media buzz that followed the students were determined to continue creating awareness about refugee rights in Ghana. They are now organizing a series of events at Universities throughout the country to showcase their work and spread their knowledge on refugees rights and human rights reporting.

Thanksgiving in Ghana

The feast - please notice the mashed potatoes and the banku

Our Thanksgiving adventure began with a three hour trip to the one place we figured we could get a turkey – Shoprite. This meant hoping on a tro-tro, switching over twice, and patiently waiting as the process took it’s sweet time. Most often we shop at local markets or roadside stands, but for this occasion we wanted to go all out.

On our way, we stopped along the roadside to buy hardboiled eggs and salsa then flagged down the bicycle carrying fanmilk – the closest comparison to an ice cream truck in Ghana. As we waited for the next tro-tro to come, we couldn’t help but laugh at how different – and to us random – the daily events of our lives had become since leaving Canada three short months ago.

We wandering the aisles of Shoprite, a typical Westernized grocery store located in the largest mall in Accra, and chose items for our dinner celebration, eliminating those that could still be purchased at the market closer to home. The cost of a turkey was an arm and a leg – and since we each only had two – we decided to scratch that and improvise with chicken.

Originally, we wondered how Thanksgiving could really be Thanksgiving without the traditional turkey. Then we realized how silly a thought this was an laughed – we’re in Africa, baby!

Turkey or not, Thanksgiving would be great!

Shannon, Rahinna, Me and Cheryl - U.S.A., Ghana and Canada - meet for Thanksgiving

We spent the day preparing for dinner. Stuffing the chickens with lemon, apple slices, herbs, salt, petter, tea grass, garlic and chives. We peeled, cooked and mashed the potatoes. Prepped the salad and bought the beverages. Opened the beans, made the gravy, and for an African touch, added the stew and banku.

Nine of us gathered, bringing representation from three countries together, and filled our plates.

We sat outside under the summer hut, made a toast with the Ghanaian drink of Madingo and each took a turn sharing aloud that which we gave thanks for.

My mashed potatoes shared a plate with my banku and my stew blended with the gravy. And then, for the first time in my life, I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my hands, in a true African fashion.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey on the table. It is about joining with family, friends and sometimes even strangers to enjoy good food, good company and give thanks for all which you are blessed with.

We didn’t have a turkey but we celebrated a Canadian holiday in a Ghanaian way and had an incredible night – one definitely to remember.

Kenny and Serge's first Thanksgiving

JHR-AUCC Chapter Holds Official Executive Handing Over Ceremony

JHR-AUCC newly-elected President Ernest Lartey delivers a speech at the official executive handing over.

As the start of classes drew closer at the African University College of Communications, members of the Journalists for Human Rights School Chapter held their official Handing Over Ceremony.

“For me, this was significant in the history of the chaper,” says Danny Bannah, two-term president of the school chapter. “This is the first time JHR AUCC is handing over – officially handing over.”

The event was to officialize the transfer of administrative responsibilities from previous executives to the newly elected team. The event was also in recognition of the accomplishments of the previous year’s executive team and as an induction for the administration of the chapters new leaders.

The event began, as all events in Ghana do, with a prayer of blessing, followed by a welcome address. As the theme chosen was African Wear, the room was filled with bright colours and beautiful patterns. All which matched the uplifting energy of a room filled with empowered students passionate about human rights education.

Journalism major at the AUCC, President Lartey has already been hard at work planning and preparing with his newly elected fellow executives for the coming semester. Upcomming initiatives include human rights awareness campaigns, Train the Trainer workshops and a multi-media project focusing on impacts of mining on rural communities in Ghana’s Western Region.

Lartey comes from the small village of Torompan, a suburb of Samreboi in Ghana’s Western Region and has always been passionate about media.  He has chosen to pursue a career in journalism – and act as the president of jhr-AUCC chapter – because he strongly supports the work of jhr and believes media has the power to change lives – which is exactly what he hopes to do.

“I want to impact society,” he says. “I come from a place where many people don’t have a voice – I want to help be that voice.”

Past President Bannah also delivered a speech acknowledging the dedicated hard work of his fellow executives and chapter member. He also highlighted the successes from the previous term, including the launch of rights media magazine Faces of Old Fadama – which told the stories of those living in Ghana’s largest slum.

He admitted that when he entered office, the chapter was unorganized, and said without giving himself too much credit, it took work to put back together. Proudly, he stated the chapter membership had doubled within his term, something incoming President Ernest Lartey hopes to continue.

The celebration included presentation from AUCC Dean of Students Mr. Osei Piesie-Anto, who also acted as Chair of the ceremony. He echoed recognition for the dedication and success of the previous year successed and joked, stating at times he would grow tired of the daily visits from chapter members knocking at his door with new ideas and initiatives.

Piesie gave due recognition to previous jhr Vice President Rahinna Iddrisu, stating every time President Bannah would come knocking, she would be right behind him.

Lawyer and lecturer at the AUCC, Mr. Ogochukwa Nwek was the special guest of the ceremony. He discussed the important role of journalists in the development of human rights. He gave word to the responsibilities of journalists to uphold their credibility by reporting factual, non-bias stories which serve public interest.

The ceremony was open to all students at the university and was followed by a group social, including beverages and chops provided by jhr chapter members. To see photo’s from the event check out jhr’s Facebook group called “jhr:Journalists for Human Rights”

Rotary Launches Road Safety Campaign in Accra

Asiedu Aboagye has been driving taxi in Ghana's capital city of Accra for the past 22 years

The Rotary Club of Accra-Labone in partnership with the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit and the Driver and Vehicle Licencing bureaux have launched a Road Safety Campaign aimed at educating Ghana’s motoring public.

This initiative is a result of increased numbers in traffic related deaths, as according to the MTTU’s nation wide accident statistics. These are numbers Officer Simon Tenkuu of the MTTU says the country can not be proud of.

“The traffic situation in Accra is becoming quite disturbing,” he says. “When it comes to the accident rate at the metro police, it is high – due mostly to indiscipline of drivers.”

According to the MTTU nation wide accident statistics, traffic related deaths were up to 1,679 in only nine months, between January to September 2011 and traffic related deaths remain the number one cause of fatality between those aged ten to 24 in Ghana.

Although accidents in large cities are common, the report shows a majority of traffic related deaths take place on main roadways between key cities such as Accra, Kumasi and Takaradi. These are findings Tenkuu says take place because roadways are in better condition, and therefore, drivers tend to speed and lose control.

“Unfortunately,” he says, “In this part of the world it is the good roads that kill.”

Youth and commercial drivers are main offenders in roadway accidents according to the report, and Officer Tenkuu believes the increased number of drivers is a direct result of the high volume of imported cars.

Although the main mandate of police is law enforcement – a collaboration between drivers, pedestrians and government officials is needed to reduce traffic related deaths and accidents. Tenkuu says the MTTU strongly believes in the need to educate the public on issues related to road safety and says their unit has made it a pro-active policy to do so – being the drive behind the partnership with Rotary in the Make Roads Safe Campaign.

“We appreciate what Rotary is doing and we hope that other organizations and civil society will emulate the campaign,” he says. “Road safety is a collective responsibility and the police alone can not ensure road safety [stability], we need everybody to get onboard.”

As a result of these findings, the Make Roads Safe Campaign focuses on educating pedestrians and drivers – specifically young drivers and commercial drivers – on proper road safety. The campaign will be an ongoing initiative and is something driver Asiedu Aboagye says is essential for road safety improvement.

Aboagye has been driving taxi in Ghana’s capital city of Accra for the past 22 years. He was a participant in the Make Roads Safe Campaign launch, where trained physicians spent the afternoon offering free eye-exams to the public, offering prescriptions, medication for minor problems and education on road safety.

Based on his experience, Aboagye says he has noticed an increase in careless driving within recent years. As many in Ghana do not attend driving school – or have the means to do so – before obtaining a drivers license, many drivers remain unaware of roads signs, consequences of unsafe vehicle conditions and responsible driving.

Aboagye, who is a member of the Ghana Private Road Transport Union, says there is currently limited opportunity to receive road safety education and society as a whole should work together to create road safety awareness.

“We shouldn’t just think about driving to get money,” Aboagye says. “But should make time to educate ourselves as well.”

Rotary Club of Accra-Labone President Charles Amamoo Tawiah Boakye, recognizes severities of road related accidents. He says that as Rotarians, members have a moral, civic and professional responsibility to work tirelessly towards reducing road traffic crashes and casualties.

As President Elect of the Club Adwoa Oforiwah Kye says, this is a cause of extreme importance as drivers are people who literally hold our lives in their hands every day.

Biking as a Tool of Female Empowerment

Woman on Bike participant Alba Kunadu Sumprim before the ride.

In Ghana’s northern regions bicycles are used as a necessary means of transportation, but in the capital city of Accra, this is not the case. Cycling in the city can not only be dangerous, but attached to social stigmas – especially for women cyclists.

This is what Alba Kunadu Sumprim, along with ten others, discovered as participants in the Woman on Bike workshop, which is also part of the Prêt-à-partager art exhibition.The purpose is to explore the limits and possibilities of bikes in an urban West African atmosphere with particular significance to biking as a tool of female empowerment.

Sumprim is a British born Ghanaian and a participant in the workshop. Sumprim says back in England, cycling was a key method of transport for her and part of her daily routine. She has spent the past decade living in Ghana and says this workshop gave her the courage and confidence to get on a bike for the first time since her arrival ten years ago.

“When I first started I was a little scared,” she says. “It’s a matter of confidence… as I became more confident I realized it was my right to be on the road with everybody else.”

Sumprim says, based on her experience riding in the city, she has felt social discrimination as a female cyclist, stating one man she met while riding told her that as far as he was concerned, the only women who should be on bicycles are villagers, women from the north or foreigners, and Ghanaian women in Accra, should not be on bicycles.

“It is all about status – and riding a bike says that you are poor. That is the perception. I think there is also a gender thing, we have very typical ideas of what women can do and what women can’t do,” Sumprim says.

This is the type of discrimination the workshop aims to eliminate. Sandrine Micosse-Aikins, co-creator of Prêt-à-partager art exhibition in collaboration with the German Institute of Foreign Cultural Relations, says the initiative is related to ideas of freedom and Pan African Empowerment. As a German-Ghanaian, she says female empowerment is an important issue for her and feels biking is something people in the city aren’t practicing and aren’t claiming as their right.

“[It’s] about promoting biking as a practice available for women, especially Ghanaian women,” Micosse-Aikins says.

The women involved in the workshop agree the perception of female cyclists in Accra and the discrimination towards them is not something that is going to vanish overnight. It is, however, something they believe they can work towards and plan to continue.

Zohra Opoku is a German-Ghanaian, avid cyclist, artist and coordinator of the Woman on Bike workshop. Opoku says this workshop is just the beginning and they have started to think of actions to strengthen their goal. It begins with public interaction, she says.

“In terms of empowerment it is something that has to grow,” Opuku says. “I think this is good. People will see more bikes on the streets because of our workshop.”

In addition to the empowerment associated with female riders, Sumprim states that although the workshop is focused on women and female empowerment, it has potential to extend into the greater community.

According to her, less traffic congestion, decreased pollution, lower economic demand for oil and overall health and fitness are benefits of the cycling initiative.

“It is Woman on Bike because it is a novelty, but society in general can be empowered… it is actually a huge thing for society as a whole,” Sumprim says.