Category Archives: Trainer

You lucky dog

The goal of Journalists for Human Rights is to make everyone in the world fully aware of their rights. We do this through facilitating good human rights journalism, primarily in developing nations. It’s sometimes hard for visiting trainers like myself not to feel like we should be doing more than just this. When we leave, we leave so many problems behind. However, this is the story of how one JHR Trainer helped a youngster called Paddy, and about how Paddy is defying the odds to prepare for a new life in a far away land.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Paddy does not have any human rights. Paddy is a dog. Some call him the luckiest dog in Sierra Leone.

Paddy chews as his friend Frisco looks on.

Paddy chews as his friend Frisco looks on.

In August 2012, JHR Trainer Nina deVries was getting a shared taxi to the Freetown neighbourhood of Aberdeen. As often happens, the dilapidated Nissan broke down. Nina got out and walked. As she strolled along the road, she noticed something moving down on the ground. A rat? No, it was a tiny brown puppy, limping to a safe place by the side of the road.

Paddy, shortly after being rescued.

August 2012. Paddy, shortly after being rescued.

Nina describes what happened. “He must have just managed to cross. I was just going to put him in a safe place, but after chatting with a man who had seen him before and did not know where the mother was, I ended up taking him to Dr Jalloh, right before he closed that day.” Dr Jalloh is one of a handful of vets in the country. “I found a cardboard box and put him in that and took a taxi to the vet. He had mange, a limp, fleas, worms, diarrhoea, and for a while he was getting these weird bumps on his back. They were a kind of maggot growing inside him.”

Dr Jalloh, nursing Paddy back to health.

August 2012. Dr Jalloh, nursing Paddy back to health.

The outlook was not good. Dr Jalloh gave the puppy a small chance of survival. But during treatment, Nina decided to call him Paddy. The place where she found him was close to the legendary Paddy’s Bar in Aberdeen. Paddy’s only recently closed down, but had stayed open throughout the 1991-2002 civil conflict. The bar in the movie Blood Diamond is based on Paddy’s. Paddy/Padi also happens to be the Krio word for “friend.”

A young Paddy.

A young Paddy.

Paddy slowly grew into himself. Despite his tiny size, Dr Jalloh reckoned Paddy was about three-months-old when Nina rescued him. It goes without saying that Nina grew attached to Paddy and decided to keep him at her house on Old Railway Line. He made new friends, including the other canine resident, Frisco.

With a heavy heart, Nina returned to her life in Yellowknife in March. Paddy stayed here with Frisco, me and the other residents of the house.

A few weeks later I noticed a bump on Paddy’s belly. I brought him down to Dr Jalloh. The staff couldn’t control their delight at seeing Paddy, all grown up. They yelled “Oh Paddy Paddy!” I’m not sure if that’s supposed to mean “Paddy Friend,” or “Friend Paddy.” Maybe it means “Friend Friend.” In any case, Dr Jalloh removed what turned out to be a type of lymphoma growth, and after a few groggy days, the pride and joy of the clinic was back to his hyper best.

Paddy, post operation.

April, 2013. Paddy, with Dr Jalloh and a nurse after his operation.

Paddy is one-year-old this month. He will accompany me back to Canada in June, for his new life in Yellowknife. He will miss Frisco. He will miss sitting in the hot sun. But more importantly he will be back with Nina, who probably saved his life.

Paddy has many friends in the neighbourhood

Paddy has many friends in the neighbourhood

I have been thanked for taking care of Paddy and for helping him to emigrate. But it’s a fairly selfish act. I love dogs and I get to have one for a few months in Sierra Leone. And anyway, what else would I do? Paddy’s my middle name.

Digging up the future

In Hollywood “romcom” movies, you’ll sometimes see the male lead whisk away his lady in a blindfold for a surprise holiday. When they arrive, he removes her blindfold and she gushes in delight. Maybe that was an episode of The Bachelor, but I think you know what I’m talking about.

Bureh Beach is about 90 minutes from Freetown

Bureh Beach is about 90 minutes from Freetown

If such a thing were ever to happen to you, and you were brought to Bureh Beach, you would almost certainly think you were in the Caribbean. Along Sierra Leone’s Western Peninsula, below Freetown, there are a dozen-or-so beaches like this. The beach known as River Number 2 was used in a classic Bounty chocolate bar ad.

Tokeh Beach, south of Freetown

Tokeh Beach, south of Freetown

Some of these beaches are just 30 minutes from the capital. For a country as poor as Sierra Leone, the potential benefits from tourism are huge. But before that can happen, the country needs to improve its infrastructure. Freetown’s international airport is currently in Lungi, at the opposite side of a wide estuary. It’s a $40, 40-minute ferry ride to Freetown (cheaper ferries take longer). Getting to a beach from the airport is a long and cumbersome affair.

The government recently announced plans to build a new airport south of Freetown, quite close to the beaches. A new road is also under construction to bypass central Freetown, giving even quicker access to the beaches. Sierra Leone is a six-hour flight from Europe, the same as the Caribbean. It would seem as though all the pieces will soon be in place for a tourism boom. One obstacle remains. Sand Mining.

Legal sand miners on their way back from John Obey Beach

Sand miners on their way back from John Obey Beach – where mining is allowed on a limited basis.

The recent economic growth in Sierra Leone has seen a jump in the number of public and private construction projects. Sand is an important ingredient in this building industry, and free sand is just sitting on the beaches near Freetown. For years, trucks would head to the beaches and teams of men with their shovels would spend the day filling them up. Back-breaking work, but work nonetheless. Recently, this practice has been mostly outlawed. The government now only allows mining during daylight hours at one beach at a time. But the sand mining still happens on most beaches at night time.

A guest house owner told us that these rocks were once covered in sand.

Guest house owner Marcus Roberts told us that these rocks were once covered in flat sand.

Radio Democracy Journalist Keziah Gbondo and I headed down to Lakka Beach to find out more about the effect of the mining, and the extent to which it still continues. Guest house owner Marcus Roberts took us on a tour of the beach and showed us how the landscape had changed over the past decade. He told us how visitors now complain of sprained ankles because of the unnaturally sharp slope on the beach.

Around the corner he took us on a tour of a swanky seaside house, abandoned by its Lebanese owner about a decade ago. Its pool now half-collapsed into the sea. Other residents nearby told us they now fear for the future of their own houses, large and small.

Keziah Gbondo interviews Marcus Roberts by an abandoned house in Lakka

Keziah Gbondo interviews Marcus Roberts by an abandoned house in Lakka

Later that night, we walked the beach, looking for miners. For hours, all we could see were flash lights in the distance, but when walked on we saw no one, just some tell-tale trenches feshly-dug in the beach. Eventually, at 1:30 a.m. we found one miner, filling a bag and lifting it off the beach

Guest house owner Marcus Roberts finds a freshly-dug sand pit

Guest house owner Marcus Roberts finds a freshly-dug sand pit

He looked petrified, but agreed to speak to us if we kept his identity secret. He was in his mid-twenties and had a weak-looking right leg – an injury picked up during his days as a child soldier in the civil war. He told us he had no education, so this is the only way he can earn a living. He gets two or three dollars a night. He says police sometimes catch miners like him. They ask for a bribe rather than issuing an official fine.

A sand miner with a bag of sand on Lakka Beach

A sand miner with a bag of sand on Lakka Beach

The local police unit commander blamed a lack of resources for not being able to stop the miners. The Executive Director of the EPA told us how she values the beaches as a vital part of the country’s environment. But for now, the mining continues, and locals dig up their future, to feed themselves today.

Inside an abandoned house near Lakka Beach

Inside an abandoned house near Lakka Beach

Keziah Gbondo’s story aired this month on Good Morning Salone on Radio Democracy 98.1fm in Freetown. The producer said it had a remarkably high response from listeners, in support of protecting Sierra Leone’s “Taste of Paradise”.

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

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with 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 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.

A deafening silence

Bonthe is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. It has no cars, no real roads, and just a few motorbikes. It is like stepping back in time. Crumbling colonial buildings line the town’s shore, looking across to the mainland. Behind them, are a mixture of mud houses, simple modern bungalows and metal shacks. For the most part, the only noises to break the silence are those of kids’ laughter, calls to prayer from the mosque and the ‘put-put’ of the odd boat, weighed-down with goods like rice, cement and petrol. It could be 1913 or 2013.

Bonthe is home to around 10,000 people.

Bonthe is home to around 10,000 people.

Bonthe is the main town of Sierra Leone’s biggest island Sherbro Island. It juts-out from the coast of Sierra Leone, a five-hour drive south of Freetown. It’s home to the island’s hospital, council offices, police station and prison. That small prison was one of the first stops on our JHR reporting trip to Bonthe.

There is no electricity on Bonthe, unless you have a generator.

There is no electricity on Bonthe, unless you have a generator.

The biggest prison in the country is Freetown Central Prison (a.k.a. Pademba Road Prison). It currently holds three or four-times the number of inmates for which it was designed. Many JHR-trained journalists have reported on these conditions over the past few years. This month the government said it plans to replace the facility. Because of Pademba Road’s reputation, I was prepared for even worse when visiting a small prison on an under-developed island in the Atlantic.

When we arrived outside Bonthe Prison, the staff knew nothing of our visit. It took a few phone calls back to Freetown to confirm that a white man did indeed submit a visitor request the week before. We were in.

The main entrance to Bonthe Prison.

The main entrance to Bonthe Prison.

The cramped reception office had two prison-bar gates on either side – the only barrier between prisoners and freedom. A blackboard inside the office categorized the prisoners. Long-Term: 7, Short-Term: 8, Remand: 2, Trial: 0. Total: 17.

The courtyard in Bonthe Prison.

The courtyard in Bonthe Prison.

The dusty courtyard inside was a little smaller than a tennis court. A toilet block beside the offices, and cells on the three other sides. Two or three male prisoners sat about in the shade. They seemed almost uninterested by our visit.

This prisoner is facing a charge of Wounding with Intent.

This prisoner is facing a charge of Wounding with Intent.

We spoke to the Discipline Officer. He told us there were 23 inmates. He was quickly corrected by the Reception Officer who said there were indeed 17 inmates:  Long-Term: 8, Short-Term: 8, Remand: 0, Trial: 1. Ultimately there was no practical way to find out which numbers were real.

A prison cell in Bonthe Prison.

A cell in Bonthe Prison.

Of the seven cells, four were in use. Four or five men to a cell. The ones we saw measured around four-by-three metres, and had two or three single beds each. The officers told us that men are allowed out of their cells from 6:30 a.m. until around 5 p.m. They are all required to preform “hard labour” in local paddy fields. Not an easy life, but nothing compared to conditions in Pademba Road. And I’ll be honest, while I was inside, I sized-up how easy it appeared be to escape over the low roof.

Bonthe Prison toilet facilities

Bonthe Prison toilet facilities

We made the five second walk back outside. Our story wasn’t what we had planned it to be (a better one later developed). As we walked away, JHR’s Bonthe-based trainer Samba Koroma pointed out a yellow building beside the prison. He told me that it was the original site of the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL). (The permanent SCSL compound is now in Freetown.) The SCSL was set up to prosecute for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the latter half of the 1991-2002 Civil War.

The former Special Court building in Bonthe.

The former Special Court building in Bonthe.

The courtroom section of the SCSL in Bonthe is open on two sides. Unusually for government buildings in Sierra Leone, the walls seem barely scuffed, but the SCSL logo behind the bench is beginning to peel away from the wall. The wooden dock stands to the right of the bench. In March, 2003, rebel leaders like Foday Sankoh were indicted on this stand and kept in the prison next door. That month, the court also issued an indictment for then Liberian President Charles Taylor.

Inside the SCSL courtroom in Bonthe.

Inside the SCSL courtroom in Bonthe.

Sankoh died from a stroke later that year. Taylor is currently being held in The Hague, appealing his 50-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The silence inside the SCSL courtroom seemed to ring inside my ears. I didn’t feel like hanging around, so I took a picture and quickly walked outside.

I squinted in the sunlight and saw my colleagues chatting to each other in the distance. It was so quiet I could hear what they were talking about. That very different, timeless silence again. In Bonthe, it can be any year you want it to be, but it’s a safe bet that no one’s wishing for 2003.

Bushmeat Trade Thrives on Endangered Species, but Creates Livelihoods

Bushmeat smoked and fresh for sale along the Liberian roadside -

Bushmeat smoked and fresh for sale along the Liberian roadside –

Liberia is not known for its wildlife. While in other African countries, monkeys and other mammals small and large are frequently observed, such sightings are relatively rare here – except in markets and roadside stands selling bushmeat.

Bushmeat is consumed on a vast scale in Liberia. In rural areas it often serves as a protein source for villagers, but once it’s transported for sale at roadsides and in city markets, the price rises and it becomes something of a delicacy. Residents of the capital Monrovia who travel to the countryside often bring back portions of antelope, monkey or crocodile, fresh or smoked, along with live pangolins, which resemble armoured anteaters.

A whole fresh monkey usually sells for just under CDN$10, while a haunch of duiker, a small forest antelope, goes for between $4 and $15, depending on size. Pangolins fall into the $15-20 range, and are stuffed live into a sack, to be killed just before cooking.

And endangered pangolin is readied for sale to a man travelling from rural Liberia to the capital Monrovia -

And endangered pangolin is readied for sale to a man travelling from rural Liberia to the capital Monrovia –

“A review of the Monrovia markets indicates that most of the bushmeat sold on the Monrovia markets are the carcasses of Liberia wildlife endangered species,” said a 2004 Conservation International (CI) report.

The West African bushmeat trade is causing “widespread local extinctions” of wild animal species, according to a recent bulletin by the U.S.-based Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF), which noted that expansion of commercial logging, with “an infrastructure of roads and trucks that links forests and hunters to cities and consumers,” is deepening the problem.

A freshly killed monkey lies in the dirt at a roadside bushmeat stand -

A freshly killed monkey lies in the dirt at a roadside bushmeat stand –

“The bushmeat crisis in West and Central Africa will continue as long as there are individuals who rely on wildlife for protein or income,” said a 2009 BCTF report. No amount of enforcement or awareness will curb this trade in the absence of realistic alternatives.”

Efforts to stem Liberia’s bushmeat trade run up against a data gap: the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), responsible for monitoring and enforcing Liberia’s endangered-species regulations, does not provide necessary information on species populations, the CI report said.

A driver stops to ask about the price of fresh forest antelope haunches -

A driver stops to ask about the price of fresh forest antelope haunches –

“It becomes difficult at this point to raise an argument with a hunter regarding the hunting of endangered wildlife species because FDA, since prewar time, is yet to conduct a population survey for determining new endangered species and re-qualifying the status of old ones,” said the report, which estimated the value of the bushmeat trade serving Monrovia alone at US$8 million for 10 months of 2003-04.

Among the endangered species found as bushmeat in Monrovia markets were five types of duiker, bushbuck, red river hog, red colobus and black colobus monkeys, pangolins and forest elephant, the last of which was found only once during the 10-month survey period.

People in about 80 per cent of households and small restaurants or “chop shops” surveyed in Monrovia told researchers they served bushmeat. A 2002 survey by the Philadelphia Zoo found that bushmeat ranked second behind fish among Monrovians as a preferred protein source. Of households where bushmeat was served, 80 per cent of residents said they cooked it “once in a while,” while 13 per cent cooked it once a week and seven per cent cooked it daily. Those who didn’t cook bushmeat cited cost and religion – Muslims of the Mandingo tribe said they don’t eat bushmeat – as reasons for avoiding it.

The IC survey was undertaken while Liberia’s civil war was ongoing; researchers concluded that war-related difficulties in access to rural areas and transport of goods limited the bushmeat trade, and hypothesized that in the absence of war, the amount of animals killed for bushmeat could rise tenfold.

A smoked monkey awaits a buyer in the bushmeat section of a market in Zwedru, southern Liberia -

A smoked monkey awaits a buyer in the bushmeat section of a market in Zwedru, southern Liberia –

Because the survey showed far more bushmeat was being transported to Monrovia than consumed there, researchers believed there was a significant export trade. Government officials told researchers there was no export of bushmeat during the 10-month study period. A couple of courier companies admitted to transporting small, non-commercial amounts of bushmeat overseas. The report concluded that the survey’s scope was insufficient to determine the level of bushmeat exports from Liberia.

While the report described Liberia’s bushmeat trade as a “crisis” for endangered wildlife, it noted economic benefits.

“The revenue accrued from the trade is substantial and provides a livelihood for many persons, particularly women. Based on consumption estimates, the huge revenue was generated, not only by [the] Monrovia populace, but also, by transit traders,” the report said.

Those benefits are evident in rural areas. In most villages and towns, several hunters support their families by shooting and trapping wildlife. These men, usually carrying old, single-shell shotguns and machetes in distinctive wooden scabbards, are often seen coming out of the jungle with sacks of dead animals. The carcasses are sold to traders for sale in Monrovia and other cities, and to women who set up bushmeat stands along roadsides to cater to travellers. Sometimes hunters will simply hang butchered animals from bamboo racks along the road, selling directly to those driving by. Hunters also trap animals, and in the case of pangolins, which resemble armoured anteaters, refrain from killing them, as purchasers buy them alive and slit their throats and skin them just before cooking.

The head of a duiker sits on a table in the bushmeat section in a market in Zwedru, southern Liberia -

The head of a duiker sits on a table in the bushmeat section in a market in Zwedru, southern Liberia –

The BCTF proposed in its 2009 report that solutions to the bushmeat problem lie in creating economic alternatives within communities where bushmeat plays a strong role in sustaining livelihoods. The report suggested approaches including community-based management of natural resources to promote tourism; payments to communities for preserving wildlife habitat and ceasing hunting of wild animals; setting up livelihood projects as alternatives to hunting and trading wild animals; promoting production of vegetable protein sources such as beans and nuts; and farming animal species traditionally used for bushmeat – although only cane rats and giant African snails had proven to be viable for farming.


Journalists doubt information will soon be free in Ghana

 Ashley Terry is a senior producer with 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 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.

The trauma of war

Shirlee Engel is a reporter with Global TV in Ottawa. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in Liberia as part of the Shaw Africa Project.


An October 2011 file photo of Monrovia locals, casualties of the long civil war, awaiting the results of the presidential election in Liberia. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

As my time here in Liberia comes to a close, some of my most profound experiences have been chance encounters with strangers who tell of the unhealed wounds in this post-conflict society.

That’s what happened during my ride across Monrovia with Sam Brown.

Though I have been working with the Liberian Broadcasting Service (LBS) since last week, Sam and I had not crossed paths. He’s an Operations Officer–a behind-the-scenes logistics guy.

Sam gave me a ride back from LBS to my apartment on the other side of town when my regular driver “forgot” to pick me up.

(And no, that’s not the first time that happened to me).

I’d like to thank that driver for being a no-show. Sam taught me something about Liberia I would not have otherwise learned in my short time here.

Amid choking city traffic I struck up a conversation, asking him how long he had worked at LBS.

“Two years,” he said, holding up two fingers.

“And what did you do before?” I asked.

Sam told me he worked at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Created in 2005, it was tasked with investigating the horrific human rights violations during more than 20 years of civil war.

Like his current role, he was the logistics guy. He coordinated trips for investigators to Liberia’s rural areas – where the TRC found the most ruthless crimes against humanity were inflicted on villagers by rebel groups.

Sam got deeply involved – travelling to the communities to sit in on hearings where the most unimaginable terror was recounted.

Over the course of several years, Sam told me the commission heard from some 17,000 victims, witnesses and others. It named notorious warlords who should be brought to justice.

Though the TRC report was released in 2009, it gathers dust on political shelves. It is controversial, as it includes Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, among some 50 politicians recommended to be barred from public office for their support of perpetrators of the brutal conflicts from the 1980s until 2003.

When the TRC’s recommendation about politicians was challenged at the Supreme Court in 2011, it was declared unconstitutional due to lack of due process.

As we drove across town, Sam recounted some of the horrific things he heard during those hearings. He watched victims sob on the stand. It made him sick. He says he carries psychological scars from that period.

When I sat down for dinner later, I couldn’t get the images out of my own head.

Sam believes the lack of justice since the war ended is the cause of a lot of anxiety and anger among Liberians. He says this country is on the cusp of another crisis if faith in the system is not restored.

You see examples in the street of how people don’t trust the authorities to deliver justice. A friend of mine encountered an intruder last week, and after chasing him out of the apartment with her roommate, he was confronted by a mob outside the compound. Angry members of the community were ready to beat him up for trying to steal.

He escaped unscathed.

People have so little confidence in a corrupt police force, they would rather take matters into their own hands.

It really illustrates that this country is still on edge.

The child soldiers and warlords may be gone from the streets. Fear has subsided. Everyday life carries on.

But deep down inside, most everyone I meet still carries the trauma of war.

A look inside Radio Democracy

For much of the past month I have been working with journalists at The Society for Radio Democracy 98.1fm in Freetown. Most people here refer to the station as 98.1, but its name is a nod to its origin. The station was set up 16 years ago, in the middle of the civil war. It first broadcast in secret, from a location near the airport. The aim was to promote democratic values and human rights. A mission that remains important today.

Arnold Elba hosts music request shows, including "TGIF" on Friday. He gave me a shout-out on air last week.

Arnold Elba hosts “TGIF” on Fridays. He gave me a shout-out on air last week.

Many of the employees are so young they can’t remember much of the war that ended in 2002. Some are paid $50 to $100 a month. Others are volunteers.

Keziah Gbondo, Arnold Elba and Mabel Kabba share a laugh on a conference call.

Keziah Gbondo, Arnold Elba and Mabel Kabba share a laugh on a conference call.

Stories are focused on human rights issues. Most programming is in the country’s de facto national language of Krio (Sierra Leonean Creole), with the aim of reaching as many people as possible.

News scripts are written in Krio. A language I am learning, slowly.

News scripts are written in Krio; a language I am learning, slowly.

The main local news content is aired at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.. Bulletins contain three or four stories, gathered by the station’s team of a dozen-or-so reporters and producers.

The Society for Radio Democracy began broadcasting in response to a coup during the civil war.

The Society for Radio Democracy began broadcasting in response to a coup during the civil war.

Radio Democracy takes BBC World Service news bulletins at the top of most hours, and airs the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme at 1700 GMT. Freetown is on GMT all year ’round, because Daylight Saving is not observed in Sierra Leone.

Reverend Matthew Quattay is the court reporter and a Methodist Minister. He is a mentor for many of the younger staff members. Some of the women call him their “boyfriend.” He prefers the term “father.” One day he told me about a court case involving a man who allegedly tried to cut off the testicles of another man. The case had to be adjourned because the victim was in court and was in too much pain. After work that evening, Reverend Quattay went to deliver a sermon at his church.

Reverend Matthew Quattay and Keziah Gbondo

Reverend Matthew Quattay and Keziah Gbondo

The headquarters are on Upper Waterloo Street in Freetown’s chaotic city centre, but all the action happens up the hill at the studios in New England Ville. The equipment is basic, when compared to a station in a developed country. USB keys replace the Internet and network drives. Employees often have to improvise to get a story/programme to air.

Equipment is old, and employees often have to improvise to get a programme/story to air.

The hot seat at Radio Democracy.

There is a real team spirit at the station. When Keziah Gbondo couldn’t go on a JHR reporting trip to Bombali District she gave her story to Mabel Kabba. The following week, Mabel gave one of her story ideas to Keziah.

The station's studios are located above the city centre in the New England Ville complex.

The station’s studios are located above the city centre in the New England Ville complex.

To listen to podcasts and to read about what was on this morning’s episode of Good Morning Salone, click here.