Tag Archives: Kapital Radio

Market Madness!

Coming to Ghana has made it extremely evident how reliant I am on the technologies that one has constant access to back home.  When a simple question arises about the ins and outs of Ghanaian politics, it would be so easy to grab a wireless internet connection and have the answer immediately.  Here, however, things are a bit trickier.  There is an internet café near Kapital Radio (where I am at the moment) that we usually head to after leaving the station.  After arriving here one afternoon, I was quickly informed that the electricity had been off since the morning.  This was not too surprising.  Power shuts off sporadically even at the best of times due to inadequate infrastructure to deliver the amount of power demanded.  During our first week in Kumasi, Mufty told us about a recent case in which a Kumasi resident successfully sued the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) for damages of over 22,000 Ghanaian Cedis (about CND$16,000).  In this case, the company illegally disconnected the resident’s power, claiming that he had unpaid electricity bills.  His bills had, in fact, been settled seven days prior.  After the disconnection, his medication, which had to be kept in the refrigerator, spoiled.  The Kumasi High Court ruled that the actions of ECG were unjustifiable and they did not have the right to deny the resident his access to electricity.

The concept of access to electricity as a right may be an upcoming topic on Mufty’s radio show, “Know your Rights”.  This Saturday’s segment looked at the situation of abortion procedures here in Ghana.  Under the current law, abortion is illegal except under conditions of rape, or where the pregnancy poses serious physical or mental threats to the woman.  The guests, including a law student, a local senior nurse, and a radio journalist from another station in Kumasi, discussed whether abortion in Ghana should be legalized from a medical, ethical, and legal perspective.  In the Canadian context, there tends to be consensus that the women should have complete agency in deciding whether or not to have an abortion.  However, an interesting focus of this discussion looked at whether the father should have a legal right to determine in part whether an abortion should be performed.

This past week has been an interesting one.  On Wednesday, Ashley, Laura and I presented a workshop on the principles of news writing, and particularly, how to write a story about human rights issues.  It was really inspiring to see how interested the new Kapital interns really are about human rights issues.  One intern even wants to begin a jhr university chapter at the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology here in Kumasi.

The next day was a statutory holiday, Republic Day (and what a coincidence… it was also Canada Day)!  We decided to take a walk down to the market.  Kumasi has the second largest market in all of West Africa.   After visiting the markets of Accra, it was a nice surprise that Kumasi’s market, as large as it is, seemed a bit more organized.  We entered the labyrinth through one aisle (the length of a city-block) that was entirely filled with the bright colours of fabrics in every texture and design.  Then we turned the corner into a street full of spices and produce.  The streets between the rows of merchants are extremely narrow and we often had to find a place to duck into while a cart was pulled through.

The things being carried right past you are just as interesting as the wares being sold on either side of the narrow street–a large metal bucket on one woman’s head with the large naked body of a goat dangling out of it, multiple rats strung up by their necks into a bundle and big furry paws with three large claws from an animal that I couldn’t identify.  Even on the way home, there were plenty of things to catch our eyes.  An entire street glistened as sunlight reflected off the silver enamel of motorcycles lining the street from one end to the other.  Posters for sale depicted the face of Jesus and Bob Marley (almost in equal numbers) along a wooden wall.  It’s an adventure walking down any street in Kumasi, but to explore the marketplace is to take a straight shot of Ghanaian culture in its most condensed form possible.

Arriving at the “Gateway”

Locals gather on Oxford street to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup and to support their Ghana Black Stars

All three of us university chapter interns arrived in Ghana just over a week ago. As a bonus, we also came at the beginning of the World Cup. FIFA fever is in the air; waving flags, blowing horns (called “vuvuzelas” here) and proud national supporters fill the streets to cheer on their Black Stars, Ghana’s national soccer team. Add to this spirit of liveliness the bustling markets, traffic jams, blazing heat and fueled discussions between locals about everyday Ghanaian affairs, and we couldn’t avoid getting sucked into the energy and chaos of this place.

Walking by road side vendors near the Makola Market in Accra

Amidst our unknown surroundings and all the different languages, etiquette and customs used here, miscommunications  and embarrassing “obruni” (local saying meaning “white person” in the language of Twi) moments are bound to happen. We get lost on the regular or show up late and drenched from rain or sweat. We accidentally use the wrong words, (like the time I called a street vendor delicious when attempting to compliment her food instead) and we just generally stick out from the usual crowd. But the locals are very welcoming and forgiving. They constantly stop to chat, to help us out, to sell us merchandise or to make a new friend. Luckily, they also help us adjust to our new environment and understand the culture. With time, we’ll barter down prices, eat politely with our hands and use a tro tro (a full-sized van usually crammed to capacity, which is also the cheapest local mode of transportation) to get to our final destination on time.

While it has been exciting figuring how to get by in Ghana, the stark realities of life for many people here have been more difficult to process. After researching and speaking with a number of informed citizens and non-governmental organization (NGOs) workers, we are learning that a history of colonization (and the process of coming out of it), political revolutions, and unfit development schemes (and debt) have hindered the stability and growth of this West African nation. Like in many nations (both developed and developing), unaccountable government officials, slow economic progress, weak social services and a corrupt media environment are some of the systemic factors that have challenged Ghana.

Aminata Ibrahim, Director of the Empowerment Centre for Women and Children, shows us around the facility in the community of Aswasi in Kumasi

But advances are being made. Attitudes are changing and  progressive policies are being put into place. More democratic governance, fair and transparent elections, gender equality in parliament and the decentralization process are enforcing governmental responsibility and better representation for the people and their needs. More efficient administration in all levels of government is helping to manage and utilize resources carefully. A thriving and self-sustaining national economy and workforce is also developing with private sector support in agriculture, ICT (information, communications and technology) and human resources. School feeding programmes, health education and services, quality teaching and professional training, and youth employment programmes are just some examples of support available now to increase the attendance and performance of students in schools, and to equip young men and women with the skills needed for the rapid socio-economic development of the country.

Many strides are being made here in Ghana. Responsibility and accountability have taken precedence and awareness of human rights protection and equality in human kind is steadily increasing, allowing this country to merit its nickname “the Gateway to Africa.”

Working as jhr interns at Kapital Radio in Kumasi and researching CIDA development projects in Ghana (on our off-time) will make the next three months fly by. It’s time to utilize our opportunities, meet people, make contacts, ask questions, listen and connect the issues to the people. Without sensationalizing or victimizing, I hope the blog entries will give you some insight on our experiences but more importantly, into the complexity, realness and resilience of Ghana, its peoples and their situations.

Interactive, dynamic, raw and real; this is life in Ghana. Challenges and valuable lessons are headed our way.

Trials of Traditionalism

The Black Stars are in the World Cup quarterfinals!!!  That is absolutely the most high-profile news item in Ghana at the moment.  Even during Mufty’s show, “Know your Rights”, on Saturday evening, his guests – including an Islamic scholar, a Methodist bishop and university professor, and a former chairperson for the United Nations – all twisted their necks toward the television in the corner of the recording studio as soon as he mentioned that evening’s match between Ghana and the U.S.  The topic of discussion this week was the rights of homosexuals. It was examined from the perspective of the United Nations (a declaration extending universal human rights to homosexuals and opposing any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was read in 2008. Sixty-seven nations have currently signed and 60 countries have signed the opposing the statement), as well as the Christian and Islamic perspectives.  The two-hour discussion–looking at the issue from scientific, religious, and human rights perspectives–was even more exciting than the football game that evening ending 2 -1 for Ghana in an extra half-hour of playing time!  Simply discussing the topic of homosexuality is a massive step toward social equality on the continent.

Aside from working on the production side of Mufty and Mercy’s shows, we’re also working on a news story about the current rates of child abuse in Kumasi.  We’re still waiting for the most recent statistics, but in the meantime, we’ve discussed the issue with the Assistant Subtenant of Police, George Appiah-Sakay.  He gave us a history of Ghana’s commitments to human rights doctrines, including the Ghanaian Constitution, which enshrines universal rights for women and children.  What is still needed to end cases of domestic violence and abuse toward children, he believes, is a change in the attitude of Ghanaians. He explained that pre-colonial Ghana was a polygamous society. As marriage arrangements shifted to the European convention of one husband and one wife the shift away from traditional roles, in which the male acts as sole provider, changed at a much slower rate.  Even today, Mr. Appiah-Sakay explained, there continue to be marriages that seem more like an arrangement of ownership rather than a union of two equal parties.

A recurring theme we keep running up against in our research is this link between traditionalism and contemporary issues.  Multiple news stories at Kapital last week focused on the issue of perennial flooding in the low-lying areas of Kumasi.  As Laura discussed in her last blog entry, people are seriously affected by the flooding of their homes every time there’s a heavy rainfall.  Often, residents in these areas will wake up after a night of rain to find their furniture floating.   When Ashley and I talked to a representative from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning about drainage plans for the area (Kumasi is currently undertaking phase two of a city-wide drainage project which should end the flooding concerns in the worst affected areas by the end of this year) we learned that the issue is rooted in the ongoing problem of stool kings selling land, developers building structures, and families moving in to them, all without addressing the proper channels to ensure that zoning laws are being followed.  Even if a developer becomes aware that a stool king has sold him or her land for a purpose other than what it was zoned for, rarely would one choose to challenge the traditional authority of the stool kings by taking them to court and addressing the problem.  Now, Kumasi citizens are left with no option, but to wait for a government-sponsored solution to a problem that is anything but the municipal government’s responsibility.  According to the Kumasi Metropolitan City Engineer, Mr. Boateng, many of these stool kings simply leave town after selling their property – leaving unaware citizens out in the rain, literally.

The conflicts between contemporary institutions and traditional attitudes continue to influence politics as well.  In speaking with Professor Amakye Boateng, a political science lecturer at the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology, it became evident that patron-client relations are still entrenched in many Ghanaian political institutions. Prof. Boateng ran as a parliamentary candidate in 2000, and was encouraged to run again in 2008.  A regular radio personality, he was popular at the ground-level, but party leadership (I won’t name which party as it seems both the NPP and NDC are considered relatively equal in their dealings of this nature) discouraged him from vying for a place on the ballot against another potential candidate who had “contributed regularly to the party” – referring to contributions of a financial nature, of course.  The interesting part is that the Ghanaian public recognizes that the party system operates on this basis.  When a popular citizen runs as an independent candidate, the public recognizes that a party has rejected him or her on the basis of patronage.  Many independents are then elected by way of voters punishing the parties.

Slicing the okra and garden eggs

On the weekend, we all went to the home where Mufty grew up. His sisters and Nana taught us how to make Banku with Okra stew – a traditional dish of dough-like balls in stew that you eat with your hands.  I was assigned to slicing up the okra and garden eggs.  Okra, a small green vegetable, is filled with a gooey, slippery substance that makes it very difficult to chop (difficult for me, that is, not our amazingly talented mentors).  I left with only one tiny slice in my finger – definitely better than expected.  The entire family, all of Mufty’s aunts, uncles, and cousins all live in adjoining homes with a common courtyard. It was great to meet so many people of different ages in one place.  Mufty’s little nieces and nephews never tired of playing hand games with us, and I never tired of dancing with his aunts (they sure know how to work those hips).  Apparently, making fufu is on the agenda for next Sunday.  It involves pounding cassava with what looks like a

Cooking the Banku

tall and skinny tree trunk of some sort. Check back next week to see how we do… I’m hoping for zero injuries this time.

Highs and Lows

Muftaw Mohammad

Another eventful week in Ghana has flown by. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done, but that is to be expected with all we hope to accomplish in Ghana. Our to-do lists are overflowing and forever growing. Nevertheless, we are managing to juggle our responsibilities interning at Kapital Radio, designing workshops, arranging a plethora of interviews for our CIDA projects (while attempting to successfully navigate around the city- I get lost often), and researching for and producing two radio shows every Saturday evening. A 6-day work week is typical for me, however, I find myself exhausted at the end of the day and going to bed no later than 10pm every night, a highly unusual personal practice. I’ll blame it on the heat. As usual, my week included a mixture of highs and lows. Ghanaian food and water forced my stomach through some very rigorous and aggressive initiation rights that had me rather debilitated and laid out for a few days. Luckily, the highs of the week eclipsed my unfortunate low. On Saturday, we assisted our colleague, manager, and comrade at Kapital Radio Muftaw Mohammad (or “Mufty” for short) on a very exciting segment of his weekly 2-hour show “Know Your Rights.” The topic for discussion was homosexuality and theocracy from a Ghanaian perspective- a very controversial topic in most African countries. Each of the three panel guests offered a professional, important and contrasting opinion. Dr. Charlotte Abeka, chairperson on the UN Committee for Human Rights, evidently provided the human rights perspective regarding homosexuality; Sheikh Issah Ahmed, a respected local Muslim scholar, provided his view of Islam and how it views homosexuality; and Methodist Reverend/Professor Osei Sarfo Kantanka provided both his Christian and scientific opinion concerning homosexuality. The discourse was well-rounded, lively, balanced, and thought-provoking, while Muftaw guided the debate with interesting and challenging questions, drawing from the research we did. He had so many listeners calling and texting in to share their thoughts, that he had to close the phone lines down. Although the general public’s acceptance of homosexual rights in Ghana (as well as in many other countries) will be a gradual process, the need to generate discussion about the topic is vital. As Dr. Abeka contends, “Homosexuality must be talked about openly as a public issue [in order to] find ways to deal with the issue.”

Mufty and his sister

On more of a personal note, we spent Sunday with Muftaw and his extended family at their compound, where his sister taught us to prepare a traditional Ghanaian dish: banku (balls of dough made from maize flour), okra stew and fish. We ate as a group, each dipping small pieces of banku into the communal bowl of stew, using our right hands as the only utensil. Muftaw’s wofa (uncle) showed us how to break off pieces of banku properly, which involves cutting it between your fore and middle finger in a scissor-like motion so the dough appears smooth and presentable for sharing purposes. The whole experience was very enjoyable and Muftaw’s family was friendly and welcoming which helped compensate my homesick feelings and knowing I was missing my own family’s traditional Sunday dinner.

This week includes booking many more interviews, planning a brief trip to northern Ghana, a lot of research, figuring out how to use a video camera (I’m technologically inept), Canada Day/ Ghana’s Republic Day celebrations on Thursday, and a Black Stars match on Friday. Until next time.

Getting a Grasp on Time and Media in Ghana

Muftaw "the Last Man Standing" Mohammed (a.k.a. Mufty) discusses human rights issues with guests on "Know Your Rights"

Without much delay, we were thrown right into our new work environment at Kapital Radio 97.1. Our managers, Mufty and Mark, and our news editor Erastus have ensured that our time, skills and training (in human rights awareness) are fully utilized throughout the summer to further this cross-cultural exchange between jhr and Kapital and to help us attain our goals (both professional and personal). We have been immersed in the exciting realm of news reporting for the 6 p.m. daily broadcast at the station and have been recruited as co-producers  (with our co-workers George and Peter) on Mufty’s Saturday talk-show called “Know Your Rights”.

The typical work day begins with a editorial meeting around 9 a.m. with our news editor Erastus and our colleagues to narrow down and delegate the local stories and their angles.  Shortly after, we set off to interview our relevant sources, never really knowing who we will be able to get a hold of, where exactly we are going or when we will return. As we run around Kumasi and its districts to gather our needed information, we familiarize ourselves with the metropolitan itself, the important offices and ministries and the schedule by which Ghanaian affairs are conducted. The daily workings and interactions in Kumasi are laid-back and happen at a slow-moving pace. One thing you quickly learn as a journalist (either as a foreign or local one) is that you should never expect to have and follow an exact plan. Be flexible with your time, the people you meet and with the arrangements that you have previously made with them. Scheduled appointments may be postponed or go much longer than anticipated, and interruptions during interviews occur regularly. Short work days are few and far between, especially when spontaneous mid-day traffic jams, afternoon naps (that re-energize people from the heat) and many casual conversations and introductions are factored in. If you organize and expect the same efficiency, organization and time frame as in Western society, you may easily feel impatient, confused, irritated and even defeated.

Kallee takes the opportunity to interview an Aswasi community member who is registering to vote.

At the end of the day, people do accomplish their tasks and complete their errands on time. This is exactly how the news is compiled by the six o’clock deadline. In the late afternoon, the journalists trickle back to the station from their go-with-the-flow day with all the necessary information, more often than not. Whether It is bouncing ideas off one another, helping add a human rights angle to a story, learning how to use the audio software to add voice pops to our pieces or editing our final drafts, our skills and resources come together collectively and in a timely manner. The news room at Kapital Radio is a dynamic environment where teamwork leads to the production and broadcast of the daily local evening news.

Our weekly commitments to “Know Your Rights” require the same finessing of time, planning and researching. As a team, we decide on the topics and choose guests a week in advance. Confirming the guests, researching the opposing sides of the issues and formulating the panel questions are just some of the groundwork duties we take on for the weekend’s show. Once in studio on Saturdays, the week’s preparations are realized in a two-hour well-organized, balanced and fair debate between panelists, Mufty (the host and a jhr trained journalist) and his listeners. “Know Your Rights” aims to educate listeners on human rights by presenting taboo or controversial issues, such as homosexuality and abortion.

Under the guidance and expertise of our managers and with the collective effort of our co-workers, it is rewarding to be a part of the Kapital Radio team. With the little experience that I have in journalism, being introduced to the technicalities and operations of talk radio and news broadcasting in only one week has already been a valuable learning lesson. We will constantly face obstacles as we attempt to understand this media climate, find balance in normal everyday affairs and figure out how our skills can be useful and how human rights awareness can be promoted even more. There is much more room to exchange, learn and grow.

Goals for Ghana and other exciting moments.

As I write this, I am sitting outside of my room at the Presby guesthouse in Kumasi, Ghana. July falls during the rainy season here, so after leaving the extremely humid weather of Accra (stepping off the plane felt like stepping out of an icebox into a state-sized sauna) the Kumasi weather has been cooler at times than I expected. The West African weather has been tolerable at the worst of times, but mostly it’s been delightfully warm.  Everyone here gets up very early, often before 6 a.m., to start their day in the cool of the morning. It’s not that anyone really has a choice – the roosters will wake you up by brute audio force if you fail to do so on your own accord.

This is our first Saturday in Kumasi.  After our first week of chasing NGO representatives to get some leads for our CIDA reporting, meeting with a radio host about how to improve her weekly segment on youth issues and assisting the Kapital Radio news journalists both in the field and in the newsroom, we’ve decided to call it an early night.  In lieu of an evening out, I’ve been reading some new Canadian fiction in an issue of The Walrus that I stuffed into my suitcase before I left Toronto.  This has put our Canadian culture and the rich Ghanaian culture into sharp relief.  Up to this point, we’ve been so saturated by the vibrant colours, sounds and smells of the Ghanaian cityscapes that I’ve barely paused to consider the two in comparison.  Ironically, all the mentioning of Queen Street, Montreal cafés and snow within these short stories makes me think of the drumming circles, kente cloth, and banku (a maize food staple) that surround us here in Ghana – realizing just how distant the everyday experiences of Canada really are makes it easier to recognize and appreciate the cultural riches here that have taken their place.  I’m super excited about a festival that’s happening later in the summer.  The name, roughly translated to “The Big Sunday,” refers to one day when drummers, dancers and merchants representing many traditional Ghanaian tribes gather on the grounds of the Ashanti king’s palace.  

This woman danced across my camera after the Black Stars won their first match.

Everywhere we go, there seems to be a rhythmic pulse in Ghana.  Every morning, there are children singing outside of our windows at the school beside the guesthouse.  The harmonies multiply on Sunday when traditional praise songs can be heard pouring into the streets of Kumasi until well into the afternoon.  And of course, with the World Cup going on, the energy in the streets is heightened.  We were lucky enough to watch the first match of the Black Stars before leaving Accra.  Seemingly, the entire city was outside on Oxford Street (a main drag in the bustling neighbourhood of Osu) watching the game on large television screens. During commercial breaks and after Ghana’s brilliant win against Serbia, everyone was dancing, turning Accra into one giant street party.  I used to think the spirit of Montrealers was impressive when the Habs were in the playoffs, but we’ve got nothing on Ghanaian Black Star fans.

We visited the Asawasi region Community Centre earlier today where voter registration was taking place.  The place was bustling with people in both Western and traditional dress, and the amount of women present was astounding. According to Amanita Ibrahim, regional coordinator for Amnesty International and a director for the Empowerment Centre for Women and Children) women vote in overwhelmingly higher numbers than men, but very rarely do they run for political office.  Even so, it’s a very exciting election coming up, particularly regarding the participation of women.  In speaking with Alhajid Mohammed, a regional party coordinator, he told me that more women than ever are running in the district assembly elections in August.  He credits this to the fact that a woman, Nana Konadu, is currently running to lead the NDC (the New Democratic Congress) into the national presidential elections of 2012.

Women attending a meeting at the Empowerment Centre for Women and Children.

I managed to talk with one female voter about why she feels the need to vote.  For her, it is an opportunity to make a difference in issues she cares about, particularly youth issues.  I’d love to speak to more women to find out what their impetus is to participate in politics, but few at the voter registration spoke English.

Though English is the official language, the dominant language on the streets of Ghana is Twi.  Almost 40 other languages and dialects circulate in the country. For now, we’re sticking to picking up some Twi phrases like ete sen (how are you?) and meda ase (thank you).  Stay tuned next week for an update on our time at Kapital Radio and the progression of our feature articles, but for now… da yie (goodnight).

Akwaaba- Welcome to Ghana.

Black Stars game in Accra

We have officially been in Ghana for a week now. I am beginning to adapt both physically and mentally to my new environment, the culture, the people, the weather (it’s hot), the food, the similarities and the differences. It has been a whirlwind since my fellow interns and I arrived in Accra last Saturday. I’ve already seen and experienced so much and I am finding it difficult to put it all into words. It has been inspiring, challenging, exciting, exhausting, wonderful and difficult.

We have been in Kumasi since last Tuesday, where we will live and work for the next two and a half months. Many Ghanaians are friendly, welcoming, curious and helpful. The pace of life is more laid back and slow moving here than back home, although you wouldn’t suspect it amidst the bustling city centers, active nightlife, congested traffic and lively markets. I am slowly orienting myself and have picked up some useful Twi phrases, one of the most  widely used local languages. I’ve learned phrases like good morning/afternoon/evening, how are you?/ what is your name?/ I’m from Canada/numbers and a few food terms. It is considered rude to not formally greet someone before beginning a conversation or a business transaction. The locals find it very entertaining to hear an oburoni (white person) speak Twi. I am also getting a better sense of how to get around Kumasi which is very challenging since street maps are near impossible to come by and formal street addresses rarely exist. Most directions are given as “far” or “not far.”

We are lucky to have arrived in Kumasi during the FIFA World Cup as soccer fever is definitely in the air, it adds an extra energy to the already vibrant city. Most locals are glued to their televisions and watch every match. The city basically shuts down when the Ghana Black Stars play. The streets are draped in red, yellow and green and the citizens are decorated in the team’s apparel.

Local children in Kumasi.

Although my impressions have been generally positive thus far, I have also encountered some challenges. There are very few tourists in Kumasi, so the three Canadians attract a great deal of attention. We stand out as outsiders like a sore thumb. It is odd to be  called oburoni, as my referent and it is frustrating to be thought of as representing money because of my skin color. There are a lot of shocking realities here. Although Ghana is one of the most developed African countries, there are still many impoverished areas and people living in inadequate conditions.

I had the opportunity to shadow a story with a local colleague about a neighborhood that floods every time it rains, which is often in Ghana’s June-July rainy season. I spoke with some of the residents who showed me around and invited me into their homes. Their houses and yards are badly damaged and left in dilapidated conditions; the constant flooding destroys their possessions, soaks their mattresses and leaves their walls crumbling and covered in black mold. A local man, Courage Kwame, showed me areas where water levels have reached up to five feet high. He called it “living in the ocean,” but due to financial difficulties he and his family have no other option but to stay and put up with the situation. 

I am happy to be working at Kapital Radio where there is an interest in human rights reporting and human rights stories. Many Ghanians believe the media can be used to bring awareness to a variety of vital issues and change the conditions of people like the ones I previously described.

I have only gotten my toes wet in Ghana’s culture and complexities so far, but I look forward to learning more and sharing my experiences with you.

Akyire yi (See you later).