Tag Archives: Accra

Journalists doubt information will soon be free in Ghana

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

Godfred Boafo. Ashley Terry, Global News

Godfred Boafo. Ashley Terry, Global News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Freedom Index

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clash over gay rights in Accra

Gay rights have been pushed to the forefront in Accra after a group of young men, allegedly armed with canes, cutlasses, stones and broken bottles attacked party-goers in the neighbourhood of James Town on Sunday, March 11.

“They beat some of our lady friends who were not able to run,” says Hillary, a 27 year-old gay man who uses the alias to protect his identity. “They beat them, took their phones and money and striped them naked.”

Hillary and his friends took refuge with a local NGO called FIDA and Accra’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit.

The Ga-Mashie Youth for Change, the group that crashed the party, claims the gathering was really a wedding ceremony between two women. “We invaded the place with the intention of stopping them but did not to hurt anyone or beat them,” says Daniel Wettey, coordinator with the youth group. “We want to register our feelings against [homosexuality].”

But Hillary and other gay members of the community have left the neighbourhood fearing for their lives.

In Ghana religion, especially Christianity and Islam, dominate the social discourse. As in most African countries, homosexuality is a taboo frowned upon by most and strongly opposed by others.

In November 2011, Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, said he would never support any attempt to legalize homosexuality in the country. He was responding to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to cut foreign aid to countries that do no respect gay rights.

Under Ghana’s laws homosexual acts are illegal if they are performed “in public or with a minor.” The country’s criminal code uses vague language when it refers to sexual misdemeanors. It reads:  “Whoever is guilty of unnatural carnal knowledge— (a) of any person without his consent, is guilty of first degree felony; (b) of any person with his consent, or of any animal, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

While Ghana’s constitution protects a person’s human rights “whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed or gender,” it makes no mention of sexual orientation.

Nana Oye Lithur, executive director of Ghana’s Human Rights Advocacy Centre, says she was surprised when she first heard about the attack in James Town. “We have three generations of gays and lesbians in that community,” she says.

Hillary says the Human Rights Advocacy Centre was one of the few human rights groups in Accra that stood up for him and his friends after the attack.

Lithur filed a complaint with the police, but says they have been slow to respond. A police investigator told her he wanted to engage with the community before pressing any charges. She also approached the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice; an independent body set up by Ghana’s government to protect human rights, but was turned away. “They said they were in a meeting and that we should come back Monday,” she says.

“Why can’t the law protect us?” Hillary asks in frustration. “We are all Ghanaians and we all have rights that must be protected.”

Superstition has contributed to the prejudices against gay people in James Town. “[Homosexuality] isn’t something good,” says Comfort Quartey, a 32 year-old resident of the neighbourhood who says she was once a lesbian. “It draws people back and it gives bad luck. When something good is coming your way it hinders it.”

Hillary disagrees. “They can’t tell us that we are bringing bad luck,” he says. “What about those sleeping with other people’s wife? Are they bringing good luck to the community? Are we the ones who tell them to impregnate people? They should stop putting the blame on us and they should wake up from their slumbers and get themselves busy with something. We work for our money so they should also get up and go and find themselves something to do.”

The Ga-Mashie Youth for Change sent a petition to James Town’s police commander to go on a demonstration against “sodomy and lesbianism” in the community. The petition reads in part: “With the recent trends of sodomy and lesbianism eating into the moral fiber of the Ga Mashie community, we the youth for change in the community wishes [sic] to create awareness of immorality of such acts and demonstrate peacefully against such acts throughout the Principal Street of the Ga-Mashie community.”

The protest is planned for Friday March 30 at Mantse Agbonaa Park in Accra.

Lithur says Ghana’s institutions need to take a stand to protect the rights of homosexuals. “Government needs to reduce homophobia,” she says. “It is not about legalizing homosexuality. I believe it’s about understanding issues related to homosexuality. Whether we like it or not we have homosexuals living in Ghana.”

 

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.

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

(L to R) Hailma Bintu and "Michael"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who could have them, but may not want them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where the plot thickens.

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

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

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

So where is the government in all of this?

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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.

So, we have moved to Africa

Each time one moves they must adapt to a new culture of some sort – changing neighbourhoods, towns, cities, provinces, states – each signifies it’s own identity and culture. For us, we have left the continent in which was home and the differences in culture can seem extreme.

Since arriving in Accra things have been interesting and eventful. We have been looking for a home, identifying parts of the city, figuring out transportation, establishing frequently used routes and choosing the markets to buy our groceries. We have had to learn about garbage disposal (or removal as there is no proper waste removal system in Accra), where to buy water, what to do when the house water supply runs out, how to sufficiently bucket-shower, how to hand wash our laundry, where we can withdraw money, where to buy a mattress, a phone, internet stick, additional converters and anything else we realize we need.

We have learned how to haggle taxi drivers for fair prices, how to flag down a tro-tro, how not to get stuck on a tro, how not to get entirely lost in general, where the ‘obruni’ (white/foreigners) spots for food are (when our tummies are telling us not to be too adventurous), where locals gather and of course deciding on our favourite places to celebrate the day with a beverage. We have begun new jobs, met new colleagues and made new friends – all the while adjusting to an entirely new culture.

The differences are great, although at times intimidating. We are surrounded by new sites, new people and new language (the official language is English, Ghana was previously conquered by the British and originally inhabited by tribes each with their own dialect). To us, everything is new.

It is interesting to live your life the way you would at home – have breakfast, brush your teeth, shower, get to work, get home, have dinner, go out, go to sleep – but do it in a new continent.

Everything is new, exciting and comes with difficulties.

It took me time to establish why this round was different and then it hit me – like my semi-daily cold water showers – I had moved to Africa!

Something you’d think was apparent and obvious yet somehow easily forgotten. Each of my other long-term travel experiences had some aspect of support – when I moved to Spain as an Au Pair I went through an organization and lived with a family, when I backpacked through Europe we were going day-by-day, when we stayed in Mexico we traveled as a group through an NGO and had logistical details arranged – when all of those things are taken care of it is much easier to focus on the tasks ahead and even then can be exhausting. It is an incredible experience to re-teach yourself how to live out your day.

In respect to all mentioned, I have noticed instances of personal growth since my arrival. I have over come fears, questioned my purpose, identified my needs and integrated to the best of my ability while still staying true to myself.

Now that we have established the functions of our daily routine, I am looking forward to what the next leg of our journey will hold. We have made trustworthy friends, established an understanding of the logistics of the city, entered our work places and have confirmed final living accommodations to begin August 17th. We have gained insight into Ghanaian culture but have yet to begin grasping a full understanding of the true complexities.

We have touched the surface and I am eager to learn more, dig deeper and go upstream.

Akwaaba…

…Welcome to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. I arrived several days ago.  I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly – a country more modern in some ways and less modern in others.

My mission here in Africa over the next few months is primarily to learn.  In doing so, I hope to find similarities between Ghana and Canada, enough so that I can carve out a middle ground  (my job as a journalist) and convey to Canadians what life is really like on the Gold Coast.

Let me start by saying that not all Africans live in grass huts (just like not all Saskatchewanians live in igloos).  Over the course of the next three months, other stereotypes about the continent will also be addressed in this blog and will showcase the voices of Ghanaian citizens.

Like Canada, Ghana is a mosaic of different cultures.  With a population of over 21 million people, there are 15 major ethnic groups with their own language, culture and religion.  While I can’t possibly break the surface of delving into the diversity in this country in the short time I am here, I hope to learn as much as I can about the many different cultures that live peacefully in this small region.

Ghana is the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence in 1957.  Today, it is a republic with the next presidential election scheduled to take place in the summer of 2012.  A budding democracy and a growing economy, Ghana boasts a large middle class.

Although there is a very free press, there is still a need for fair and balanced journalism with an emphasis on human rights and social issues….and is ripe with personal stories not yet told.  The storyteller in me could not resist the adventure.

From ‘Sodom’ to Old Fadama

Victor Nartey stands in front of the burnt down remains of the OFADA office in Accra's largest slum, Old Fadama

A pungent stench invades the nostrils when we step over the unusually wide, overfilled gutter.

“This place is stinky” my colleague remarks. “I’m going to use a whole bar of soap when I wash tonight.”

We enter Old Fadama, one of Accra’s largest slums, popularly referred to as Sodom and Gomorrah for the way in which its 79,000 inhabitants apparently behave—rough, sinister and uncontrollable.

It has been mythologized among Accra’s middle and upper classes. When I told a co-worker I would be there to work on a story, she remarked that it’s “full of violent people, armed robbers, crooks, prostitutes and the unemployed.”

There is a crime element in Old Fadama, but that is only a marginal aspect of the community.  In reality, a majority of the people are industrious and well-organized, building their own homes and running their own businesses.

I’m told multiple times to keep my laptop and camera close to me.  It’s midday.

My colleague and I are whisked around the neighbourhood by Victor Nartey, a task force commander of the Old Fadama Development Association (OFADA), an organization founded by the community to monitor itself.

“There’s no chief or assemblyman here, so we take the risk to control the whole place in case of any problem” says Nartey, standing in front of a dilapidated OFADA office that burned down last month.  “We have big men and chiefs among us, and we are working together with the regional police command for peace, because we are all one here.”

They run trash collection, home rebuilding and sanitation programs. They also work with police to help reprimand the “robbers, crooks and prostitutes” I had been cautioned about—taking initiative to improve their conditions themselves.

Old Fadama is a maze of wooden structures built around narrow, unpaved rough roads. Fires are commonplace here, sparked by faulty electrical lines and cooking fires.

Nartey continues, “When we were here, and our kiosks were burning, we didn’t even have money to buy plywood so we used cardboard to [make] our rooms.  [Within] a small time fires burned. People would say ‘you are behaving like the people in Sodom and Gomorrah.’”

The poverty is obvious. What’s not as apparent is the general perception that these people are sub-human—wretched and expendable.

The stereotypes marginalize the community beyond socio-economic gaps, public data and NGO reports. The average person is unable to empathize with residents of the slum, who have had their identity imposed on them by the larger society.

The poor of Old Fadama are more intelligent and self-aware than one might presume. They are forcibly humbled by their environment yet maintain dignity and self-possession.

“People used to talk against us here, that we are thieves and so and so.  We have the police who live here, navy who live here. We are trying as much as possible to control [the area],” Nartey says, offering us plastic chairs in the temporary OFADA office, a room in the house of a popular lady in the neighbourhood.

It’s the customary scenario with poverty worldwide: the poor are blamed for their circumstances, instead of examining the systems that perpetuate their conditions. And the antidotes to urban slums—housing policy, vocational training centers, mainstream education and income-generating programs—can quickly get as complex as the schemes that produce them. Beneath the cycle of proposals are a people trying conduct their lives and meet their basic needs.

There is another gap—between Old Fadama, which exists in Accra, and Sodom and Gomorrah, in many people’s collective unconsciousness.

Buses and Bushes: a Journey from Kumasi to Accra

It was just after 6 p.m. when I arrived at the station.

The sun was sinking in the sky as I lugged my bag across the dusty lot in Kumasi, in Ghana’s Ashanti region, where buses leave for the capital, Accra.

“Craw, craw, craw, ten cedi,” I heard over the din, which means “Accra” in bus travel-speak. That bus wasn’t a terribly healthy looking creature but I handed over my money. A man who smelled rather pungently of alcohol whisked my bag from my dubious hands and tossed it in the underbelly of the bus beside sacks of bananas, chickens tied in bundles by their feet, and other regular bags.

I had figured out a schedule for my return to Accra. I’d go to the station around 5 p.m. The bus would leave by 6 p.m. Given the length of the trip and probable levels of traffic, I would arrive in Accra no later than 11 p.m., at which time I could go home, sleep, and be back at work early the next morning.

No sweat.

Buses do not leave on a set schedule. Rather, they will trundle out of hodgepodge stations when full. How long does that take? There is no telling.

The bus was – if you engaged a little wishful thinking – one-third full when I climbed aboard.

“Hello, I would like to be friends, what is your phone number please?” said the first man who slid into the seat beside me. He would be the first of four who wanted so badly to go to my country that, apparently, they’d even put up with me as a wife to get there. All were politely rebuffed.

The fifth man who sat down offered me a church pamphlet, and wordlessly began to read his own.

“Craw, craw, craw, ten cedi,” the driver called, and the sky faded to black and the chickens wriggled and clucked in the belly of the bus.

“Wanna bet when we’ll get to Accra?” I asked my silent seatmate.

The digital clock at the front of the bus read 7:02. He looked forward and back at the people filling (with a little wishful thinking) half the bus.

“Maybe by 12 at night,” he said.

“Craw, craw, craw, ten cedi,” the driver called, while the chickens wriggled and clucked in the belly of the bus.

“Now what time do you think?” I asked my seatmate.

The digital clock read 7:57. He looked forward and back at the people filling (with a little wishful thinking) 60 per cent of the bus. “Maybe by 1 in the morning,” he said.

“Now what time do you think?” I asked my seatmate.

The digital clock read 8:53. He looked forward and back. There were only three seats still empty.

“Maybe still by 1 in the morning,” he said.

The driver’s mate brought some bags out from the belly of the bus. There was my bag and a bundle of chickens there in the aisle. One, perhaps two, were dead.

We left after 9 p.m.

The bus trundled through the night for four hours. There are no bathroom breaks and the chickens clucked and smelled a little foul. A few people felt quite uncomfortable as we thumped and bumped over the last stretch of potholes before Accra.

Then a gunshot went off.

Or rather, what sounded like a gun shot. It was actually a tire blowing up.

It was 1:35 a.m.

We found a suitable place to pull over, sheltered behind a tractor trailer that was stuck in the ditch. Everyone piled out of the bus (except the chickens) and milled around. It was very dark in the middle of the forest. Grass higher than my head lined the roadway, dark and impenetrable against the paltry flashlight on my cell phone as I searched for a place to pee in the woods.

The place I found was not very good. Within seconds, a flashlight illuminated my rear and I heard peels of laughter from the direction of the tractor trailer.

In my haste to cover up, there was a mix-up between my trousers and my underwear regarding which goes on the outside. At last we boarded the bus again.

My silent seatmate pointed out the confusion between my garments and politely looked away, using his church pamphlet as a shield while I rectified the situation.

No chickens moved as we drove back to Accra.

It was 3:17 a.m. when I arrived home.