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.