Tag Archives: Kumasi

Riding Towards Sustainable Development

In a country burgeoning with traffic congestion, increasing economic growth, and a stark urban-rural divide, Ghana’s Bamboo Bikes Initiative could promote sustainable development, boost trade, and address a number of U.N. Millennium Development Goals in the process.

Established in 2009, the Bamboo Bikes Initiative was created by a group of young people, including science, engineering, and marketing students, to empower other youth, by training them to build and market bamboo-framed bicycles.

“We know that most of the youth on the streets are without work,” said Bernice Dapaah, the initiative’s Executive Director.  “We spoke with them, and they’re saying there are no jobs… So we have to make sure that, day in and day out, we come up with skill-development activities that will be more sustainable for them,” she explained.

In partnership with Africa Items Co Ltd, the initiative pays apprentices $30 USD for their labour, and sells the bicycle frames abroad for $350 USD each. Their primary market is in Europe, where BambooRide, an Austrian company, imports the frames and assembles the bicycles for sale.

“Roughly one year ago, we went down to Ghana and we got to know [the team],” said Matthias Schmidt, BambooRide’s Sales Manager.  “We were developing the frame together… because the frames were good, but they had to fit a certain European standard. So it was like a partnership, a knowledge transfer in both directions,” he said.

The Austrian importers also provided the initiative with new equipment to improve precision and boost their product’s international marketability. Schmidt said he looks forward to the initiative’s continued expansion.

“[Their] capacity is limited… and in the case that we need more than 10 frames a month – that’s the maximum capacity – we’ll need other sources. So we’re supporting [Dapaah’s] efforts to improve the equipment and technology,” he said.

Eradicating Poverty and Unemployment

The Bamboo Bikes Initiative offers apprenticeships and permanent placements at the Africa Items Co Ltd workshop in Accra, where Ibrahim Djan Nyampong, the initative’s technical advisor and Master Trainer, teaches young people how to assemble, fix, and market the bicycles.

“So far I’ve trained about ten boys,” he said. “They can build the bikes, but it’s not up to the quality control level, so we are still training them,” he explained.

[pullquote]”Each artisan, after their training, will also be equipped to employ at least five or six people.”[/pullquote]

The UNDP’s Global Environment Facility sponsors the initiative through its Small Grants Program. George Orstin, the National Programme Coordinator, explained that graduated trainees will establish their own workshops, and begin to train more young people.

“Each artisan, after their training, will also be equipped to employ at least five or six people, and to set up their own small-scale production base [in] any part of the country,” he said.

By training and employing young people, the initiative is designed to reduce unemployment and, consequently, rural poverty. It is also intended to abate the rural-to-urban migration trend prominent in Ghana.

“It will reduce the youths rushing to come to the cities to engage in income generating activities,” said Dapaah. “A workshop at the rural communities, that will really help them, rather than them coming to the cities,” she explained.

The Bamboo Bikes Initiative also curbs rural-to-urban migration by supporting bamboo farmers. Dapaah said that, so far, the organization has trained ten farmers to harvest new crops for bicycle production. They employ young people in the town of Suhum, and pay them based on a contract signed with the local chief.

Ensuring Environmental Sustainability

By harvesting new bamboo crops, said Dapaah, the initiative is also making a commitment to ecological sustainability.

“If we cut one bamboo, we make sure to plant at least three or five more,” she explained.

Orstin said that bamboo conservation is a key element of the UNDP’s partnership with the initiative.

“By promoting the conservation of bamboo, you are introducing a carbon sink, and at the same time… promoting alternative uses of bamboo for other purposes,” he said.

The initiative also works to protect the environment by producing organic and recyclable products, rather than metal or carbon fibre frames, which require high levels of energy at every stage of production – from extraction to manufacturing.

[pullquote] “If we cut one bamboo, we make sure to plant at least three or five more.” [/pullquote]

Instead, bamboo bicycles are made from 80% local material, which, according to Nyampong, not only enables producers to avoid expensive import costs, but also eliminates the carbon emissions that would arise from the transport of imported materials into the country.

Dapaah said that, while not all Ghanaians may be conscious of the environmental benefits of the bicycles, most are aware of the surging motor vehicle traffic in the cities, and are eager to circumvent it.

“The traffic situation in the country in general is increasing, and when traffic increases it has its associated environmental issues,” explained Isaac Osei, the Ashanti Regional Director for Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency.

There are 30 motor vehicles for every 1000 people in Ghana, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority registers hundreds more each day. Data suggests that vehicle ownership will continue to rise, as the country hits record levels of GDP growth per capita.

Osei noted some of the harmful impacts of increased vehicle use, including carbon dioxide emissions and pollution from dust particles on dirt roads.

“To actually educate people to use bicycles [rather] than vehicles, I think it is good for the country and the world as a whole,” he said.

Dapaah said the prospect of avoiding traffic jams, as well as the low price of bamboo bikes relative to cars, should fuel the bicycles’ domestic market.

Improving Education, Health, and Gender Equality

But the bicycles are not only designed for Ghana’s city dwellers; some models are intended specifically for rural residents.

“We’ve done… studies, especially in rural communities where transportation is very bad, and we want to use this as an alternative source of transportation for students, because some students walk miles from home before they get to their schools,” Dapaah explained.

Nyampong also builds “bamboo cargo bikes,” to help farmers transport their products to markets, and is working with engineers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to design a “bamboo ambulance bike,” intended to assist expectant mothers in need of urgent medical attention.

“We’ve learned that there is a high rate of maternal mortality in Ghana,” explained Dapaah. “We have some remote areas [where] transportation is very bad… so we’re trying to come out with the bamboo ambulance,” she added.

She said the initiative is also intended to empower rural women by providing special training for them in the production, manufacturing, and riding of the bicycles.

Enhancing Global Partnerships

At present the organization is focusing on expanding production: creating new, diversified bamboo products, and developing new partnerships.

In 2009, the project won the Clinton Global Initiative Award, and in 2010, the UNEP Seed Initiative award. It also garnered international attention in June when it received a World Business and Development Award at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

“Ever since [then], a lot of donors are trying to engage in our project, to see how best they can collaborate or partner with us,” Dapaah said.

As for their trade relations, BambooRide’s Schmidt said the Austrian importers are happy with the partnership, and see it as their own brand of “fair trade.”

“Fair trade comes by itself, because we are in partnership with the Ghana bamboo company and we are on… the same level,” he said, adding, “Do business the proper way, and it’s fair trade anyway.”


The school chaplain, mathematics teacher, and some science students of Prempeh College.

No faith in science: a Homo sapien rights issue?

Evolution is accepted by 97 percent of scientists in the United States but by only 61 percent of the public, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2011 poll approximates that 14 percent of Canadians think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. In 2007, The Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the dangers of creationism: it “is worried about the possible ill-effect of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights.”

Africa is noticeably not playing a huge role in this discussion.

Ghana Education Services includes basic evolution in its biology syllabus for senior high schools. However, there is sparse data on public opinion.

Information from other countries indicates males with higher levels of education are the demographic most likely to accept evolution. With this in mind, I headed to Prempeh College, a prestigious all-boys school in Kumasi: they have produced the highest number of doctors in Ghana. Alumni include prominent professors, engineers, politicians and former President Kufuor.

The school chaplain, some science students and a mathematics teacher at Prempeh College.

“Everybody has the right to acquire whatever knowledge [they desire]… it makes the students more dynamic, having received from the religious point of view and then learned from the secular point of view, then the student can make an informed decision,” said Reverend Adomako, the school chaplain and government teacher.

Admittedly surprised by his liberal stance, I proposed a scenario to him: what if one of his students rejected Christian creationism?

“Me, as a minister who knows the right thing, I must use whatever knowledge which I have in order to convince student to change their mind… with reason. So it is up to me to prove that his or her view on that subject is wrong.”

Despite his firm belief in the Bible, he supports teaching both evolution and creationism. Eugene, 18, a hopeful surgeon, disagrees.

“We should be learning only creationism, because there’s only one truth. You can’t blend the two together.”

“I don’t think we’ll be able to answer the evolution question. Evolution is in contrast to what the Bible teaches: it says nothing was created out of love, but by chance,” added Richie, 18.

I raised the possibility that God created the mechanism of evolution, an idea that is increasingly popular in the West.

“The Christians who are embracing evolution… they’re getting it all wrong. They don’t know their Bible very well… if they want, we the Africans can teach the Bible to them,” offered John Danquah, a mathematics teacher.

“According to the Big Bang theory, the universe started at a mathematical point. That is nonsense… The Bible makes it clear it was God who created heaven and earth – science will never have any explanation for that,” he continued.

The conversation kept returning to the limits of science. Even if the origin of the earth is not known in full detail, is it possible for science to uncover it?

“It’s impossible. If it becomes possible for them to find out, they are getting to spirits, and science does not deal with spirit matters,” said Emmanuel, 17, aspiring engineer. “I believe religion more than science.”

As I interviewed the students, the Reverend and Danquah both made it clear that my efforts were futile because all the students agree with them.

They had a point, to some degree: approximately 63 percent of Ghanaians are Christian, and most Muslims believe in creationism as well. It is taught in Sunday schools, primary schools, and junior high schools. Most people I spoke with at Prempeh College gave me identical responses. Who would disagree with something so widely accepted as truth?

Manu, 18, an aspiring astrophysicist.

“I’ve learned that the world came into being through particles coming together and human beings evolving from unicellular organisms and progressing further to become who we are now… I do believe it. With evolution, we are able to learn more about living organisms.”

Like most devout Christians in the world, most Ghanaians believe in creationism. However, such a belief is an anomaly within the international scientific community, and it could be an indictment on the future of the nation’s scientific progress – it doesn’t have to be, Manu insists.

“Science and religion are not enemies. There are just some things that science is slow to understand, so religion [helps us] wait. Be patient, get knowledge, understand things.”

A woman collects dumping fees at Bantama. Her child stays with her at the site.

Day Cares and Dump Sites: Sanitation Problems in Kumasi

This week, my colleagues and I decided to examine urban sanitation and the associated health issues for Ultimate Radio’s Morning Show. We knew of several waste sites around town that were particularly concerning, so we went out to find them – recorders and cameras in hand.

First, we visited a garbage dump in the residential neighbourhood of Bantama, where no one has come to collect the rubbish for over a month. The woman who takes dumping fees at the site told us that nobody knew who exactly was responsible for removing the rubbish, or why they had stopped.  We also spoke to local residents and food vendors, who expressed concern over the smell, sight, and the possibility of food contamination there.

Next we went to the “Wewe” stream, which feeds the city’s main waterworks. The stream has been turned into one of Kumasi’s major drains, and its banks are covered in garbage. We noticed some Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) workers cleaning the roads nearby. They were employed to sweep away dust on the side of the road while, meters away, no action was being taken to clean up the stream.

We followed the water up to the neighbourhood of Ahinsan, where we found a refuse site, measuring 50 by 40 meters and about 10 meters high. It is used by nearby market workers and local inhabitants, as well as fishmongers who smoke their fish there. It is enormous, and sits right on the banks of one of the city’s major drains.

Perhaps most worrisome, however, was the daycare centre we found just meters away from this dump. Comfort and Alexon Kidd-Darko opened the Comkid Daycare Centre years before the site became a refuse dump, but now they must spend a great deal of their time–and money–on fighting the authorities over it.

“Because of the children, I’m not happy with this. When we came, there was nothing like this. If the place had been like this, I wouldn’t have put money here,” said Mrs. Kidd-Darko.

She also noted the damage that the site has been inflicting on their business.

“Now the children are not coming because of this, and my work is down. So now we are helpless,” she told me.

She said, however, that the centre takes every precaution to keep the children safe and healthy. They have fenced the place in and installed netting around the building to keep flies and mosquitoes away. They also never let the children play outside of the compound.

This is important because, according to Doctor Franklin Asiedu-Dekoe, children are especially at risk of illness resulting from sites like these.

“Children like to play on these refuse dumps,” he said. And they are more likely to fall ill, he explained, “because children are less likely to wash their hands with soap and water before anything enters their mouths.”

He also noted that malaria could spread in the area, if garbage prevents the stream from flowing properly and creates a build-up of still water.

We spoke to an official of the Ahinsan Market Committee – the ones in charge of managing the dump, according to the Kidd-Darkos. But he blamed the KMA members for the site’s mismanagement.

“We would be grateful if the Assembly officials could get this dumping site well managed or even get it relocated for us,” he said.

But he later admitted that his committee is in fact responsible for managing the site, and that all proceeds made from the dump go to them–not the KMA.

According to Doctor Asiedu-Dekoe, everyone is responsible for the maintenance of such urban waste sites – even the individuals who choose to dispose of their waste there.

Mrs. Kidd-Darko expressed a hope that the relevant authorities would soon be held accountable for the dumping site. She said its removal would not only be in the best interests of her daycare, but also of all the residents and market vendors in the area.

“It’s not healthy for even the residents here, and the market itself, let alone the children,” she said.

When Household Chores become Human Rights Abuses

A young girl carries a load on her head in Kejetia Market

At eleven years old, Thema, a native of Kumasi, hopes to be a nurse when she grows up. Currently, however, she is employed wandering between taxis and tro-tros at rush hour, carrying packs of ice water on her head and selling them for 10 pesewas apiece. Though in the mornings she attends school, her afternoons are spent maneuvering through traffic with practiced ease; she has been doing this for four years.

Child labour is on the rise in Ghana, and particularly in urban areas.  According to UNICEF’s 2012 State of the World’s Children Report, 34% of Ghanaian children aged 5–14 years are engaged in child labour. That figure is up from 23% in 2003, as recorded in a Ghana Statistical Survey. In Kumasi, 8% of children engage in regular work, though its harmful impacts are widely acknowledged.

“It infringes on the rights of children, it affects their health, and it may result in injury,” explained Emilia Allan, a Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Ghana. “It prevents and interferes with their education, and it leads to other protection concerns such as sexual exploitation, violence, [and] child trafficking,” she said in an interview with me for Ultimate Radio.

But many families in Ghana must depend on their young ones for financial support, and the government does not take a zero-tolerance stance on it. Instead, the recently launched National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, based on the ILO Convention No. 182, recognizes that immediately eliminating the phenomenon is not feasible, and aims to protect those children who do work from physical, moral, and mental harm. And though the minimum age of employment is 15 years, the 1998 Ghana Children’s Act in fact states that children aged 13 and older may engage in some forms of light work.

[pullquote]“In Ghana, children help their families. Where that help is hazardous to the child’s health, or is harmful to the education of the child, then it is termed child labour.”[/pullquote]

The legislation is therefore realistic and rational, but does it go far enough to protect working children from harm? Should it apply to those engaged in household work – cooking, cleaning, running errands, or caring for younger siblings? What about children like Thema, who work part-time and attend school on a shift system? Are they considered child labourers, and protected under the law?

“In Ghana, children help their families. Where that help is hazardous to the child’s health, or is harmful to the education of the child, then it is termed child labour,” Allan explained.

“The Ghanaian Children’s Act ensures that every child has the right to be protected from engaging in work that constitutes a threat to his health, education, or development,” she said. “So if a child is . . . going to sell and then going on the shift system, the child goes to school tired and sleepy. That is affecting the child’s education, because it is not performing,” she explained, adding, “They don’t have time to do their homework.”

She also noted that, when a child is given a load to carry on her head, though considered light labour, it can affect her physical growth and pose a threat to her development.

Legally, then, children are protected from doing any kind of work – whether “light” or “hazardous” – that might cause harm.  And as part-time and light labour can inhibit a child’s development, these should be regulated as well.  So why is child labour still rampant?

According to Mr. Jacob Achulu, the Ashanti Regional Director for the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, the root of the problem is poverty.

“The legal framework is there,” he said.  “The problem is the enforcement, and I think it’s because poverty is widespread in most parts of our country. So the ILO interventions and NGO interventions are welcome, but there is the need to have sustainable activities that will make sure the families are able to keep their children in school.”

He pointed to some district-level programs in the Ashanti region, designed to work with the parents of child labourers and help them earn additional income, rather than sending their children to work.

So while the government acknowledges that, for many families, children are important breadwinners, and continues to pursue a pragmatic approach to reducing child labour, it might be prudent to develop new ways of addressing household poverty and stymying the problem at its source.

Matilda sitting outside the Hare Krishna temple in Emina, Kumasi.

Searching for the man with biscuits

“This man continued giving us biscuits and bananas every day for close to two weeks. So it’s like he used that way to drag so many people. And we loved the man, so every day he [saw] us there singing and dancing, chanting “Hare Krishna” until he left my village and he told us he was going back to India.”

ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness): they base their teachings on ancient texts of Hinduism (traditional scriptures such as the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita). I’ve seen them on the streets of Montreal and New York chanting “Hare Krishna!” George Harrison was a member, and the mantras are heard in some of his music. This was, until recently, the extent of my knowledge about the movement.

On July 7, ISKCON celebrated Lord Jagannath’s Ratha Yatra. Hundreds of believers from all around West Africa met in Kumasi to honor deities, pray, feed the hungry and show the public their interpretation of ancient traditions as defined by their leader, the late Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Matilda is one of these believers. She hails from Nigeria, which has a similar religious demography to Ghana (Christian and Muslim majorities). Hare Krishna missionaries visited her village when she was ten years old.

Matilda sitting outside the Hare Krishna temple in Emina, Kumasi.

As she cheerfully told me about her search for the man with biscuits, my ears perked: is that a human rights abuse? Children are a vulnerable class, and this man lured her in with baked goods. However, dancing and sharing food can be a means of expressing Hare Krishna values.

After that man left, she found another member of the movement who welcomed her to the temple. When Matilda told her Christian family that she wanted to join the Hare Krishna, she faced resistance.

“I told my mother, she got mad. ‘If you go to that place again, I will stop taking you to school. In fact, you will no longer stay with me in this house, I will chase you away,’” she recollected. My ears perked again: is that a human rights abuse? Everyone should be able to practice religion with freedom and mobility.

Eventually, her mother accepted her beliefs. Matilda finished school, became a journalist and is now dedicated devotee.

“I’m more free in the Hare Krishna movement,” she said. “Even right now, if I go to Church, I won’t be free there… I don’t want to criticize or condemn, but I won’t be free there.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

I initially set out to understand religious minority experiences (which I will do in a longer documentary form) with the expectation that they are subjugated by some members of the Christian and Muslim majorities. In my four days with the Hare Krishna devotees, I spoke to members, gurus and other spiritual leaders. I saw firsthand that religious rights aren’t black and white; even calling it a gray area is an oversimplification.

It is the same conundrum posed by religious schools and missionaries: what begins as an expression of human rights can sometimes violate the very principles that protect it, and it is difficult – but important – to define the boundary, particularly in secular states.

So where do we draw the line? I don’t know. I don’t expect to answer this question. If anything, I will likely have more questions, but an open discourse is critical to preventing human rights abuses.

I do have one answer: she never did find the man with biscuits. She is, however, continuing his work. As they chanted and danced through the streets, Matilda told me it brought back happy memories of the mystery man.

Matilda reminiscing at the Ratha Yatra Festival on July 7.


Finding Accountability for Vehicle Safety


Passengers board tro-tro vans at Amakom traffic lights

Last weekend, on a mission to buy a pineapple, some friends and I walked to the “Amakom traffic lights” – a major intersection in my Kumasi neighbourhood, where street vendors line the sidewalks, children beg with vigor, and traffic moves at a dangerously quick pace. We bought the fruit from some young girls on the corner and watched the smaller ones play on the sidewalk while the eldest girl sliced it for us. We then crossed the street to a gas station, where I glanced out the window just in time to see a “tro-tro” minibus turn a corner at full speed and drive up onto the sidewalk through a crowd of people – right where we had been standing at the fruit stall. It fell back onto the road, still speeding, and stopped only when it hit a taxicab head-on.

Clearly, the vehicle’s brakes had failed. Less obvious was whether anyone had been injured – or killed.

According to Ghana’s National Road Safety Commission, or NRSC, the Ashanti Region experiences approximately 2000 traffic accidents every year, leading to nearly 500 deaths and thousands of injuries.  Many of these can be attributed to unsafe driving and human error. But many others, like the one I witnessed, are caused by unsafe vehicle conditions.

The United Nations has declared 2011–2020 the decade for Road Safety. Ghana was one of the resolution’s sponsors, but the country’s international commitment has not visibly translated into domestic practice. The government is developing a “National Road Safety Strategy,” expected to be finalized within the decade, but when I began looking into vehicle safety laws for an Ultimate Radio piece, the NRSC could not tell me of any solid action plan to improve vehicle safety on the ground.

[pullquote]”We have middlemen . . . if you go and approach them then they will do everything for you.”[/pullquote]

I learned that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, or DVLA, is responsible for inspecting vehicles and providing Road Worthiness certificates to safe ones. Commercial vehicle owners are expected to report to the DVLA with their cars every six months, where a license officer examines everything from headlights and electrical wiring to brake systems and tires. But according to Noah Martey, the DVLA Regional Assistant Officer for the Ashanti Region, problems can arise during the period between check-ups.

“Between the period of one month and six months,” he explained, “if the vehicle should have the sticker [certificate] on its windshield, and the car has gone rickety, or the vehicle has gone bad, we will not be able to get them until the road worthiness certificate expires and they are in again to have it renewed.”

Technically, the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit of the police is responsible for monitoring the road between check-ups and identifying unworthy vehicles, whether liscensed or not. But according to May Yeboah, the NRSC’s Director of Planning and Programs, there are not enough police officers on the roads to effectively complete this task.

Mr. Martey also noted the possibility that some vehicles retain illegitimate certificates. I spoke to some drivers in Kejetia market, and one of them, who also owned his tro-tro, shed some light on this issue:

“Sometimes, if the car’s condition is not good, I am not taking it to the DVLA, I will go there by foot,” he explained. “They ask me where is the car, but if you pay extra money there, they won’t ask for the car. We have middlemen over there . . . if you go and approach them then they will do everything for you,” he added.

Mr. Martey said that ultimately, the duty of maintaining road safe vehicles lies with the car owners, and encourages them to do the right thing when their cars break down.  Mrs. Yeboah, for her part, said “the DVLA, the police, all of us, we all have actions to take. . . but as we go through the decade, I’m sure we are all trying to address those challenges.”

I wonder what those next actions will be – and who will step up and take them. I think of the young girls playing on the corner last weekend and hope for their sake that Mrs. Yeboah’s words are true, that somebody will begin to address these challenges and take real responsibility for vehicle safety in Kumasi.


Victoria, 23, was trafficked to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region and has never gone to school.

Poverty prevents some Ghanaians from seeking education

Very little light illuminates the abandoned railway line that cuts down the center of the squatter community of Kejetia. The large field where the rusting tracks lay unconnected and the train station simply wasn’t built sits in the centre of Kumasi’s business district.

Overhead view of a section of Kejetia, a sprawling squatter community and market in the city of Kumasi.

Kejetia is a sprawling squatter community and market in the downtown core of Kumasi.

It is very dark at night despite the constant hustle and bustle of shop owners packing up their goods and chatting with customers. The stalls serve as both businesses and homes for many of the people who live in the area are unique, each selling items ranging from belts and bags, to banku and kenkey.

Among the shops a group of young women pack up quietly on a raised wooden platform. Victoria, 23, originally from the Brong Ahafo Region, says that when she was young, a woman brought her to Kumasi under the guise of being able to care for her. Instead, Victoria was forced to sell sachets of pure water, and as a result, she did not attend school.

Now, she says she no longer sees education as an option, as she has to sell banku to support her two-year-old daughter Francisca.

“I would love it if education in Ghana is free. As a result of the kind of struggles people have to go through, there’s no money in the system, there’s poverty in the system,” she said in Twi, the main language of the Ashanti Region.

“If the politicians should go on ahead and make education free, I would be more than excited if they would only implement it and move away from the talks. I would love it,” she added.

Victoria, 23, was trafficked to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region and has never gone to school.

The Ghanaian constitution states that, “all persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities […],” and as such, “basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all.”

Ghana’s Ministry of Education eliminated basic education fees in 2005, and 75 per cent of girls were attending school as of 2010, according to statistics released by UNICEF.

Yet the group of women in Kejetia say poverty has been the main obstacle that stopped them from getting an education.

Rukaya, 19, moved from her town of Bokoe in the Northern Region to Kumasi because she had heard from travellers that it was possible to make a lot of money in the city.

Rukaya has never been to school and says she feels that education is still a privilege for people who can afford to send their children to school, instead of requiring that they work instead.

Rukaya, 19, doing her washing in the Kejetia open air market where she lives and works.

Both Victoria and Rukaya say they feel it is too late for them to get an education and want to return to their hometowns when they save up enough money, which will be difficult since they work for “masters” or “mistresses” who control their wages.

The young women say they hope to be traders – Victoria says she hopes to sell cosmetics and Rukaya says she wants to learn how to become a dressmaker.

Despite their disenchantment with the educational system, Victoria says she still hopes Francisca can go to school to become a lawyer or nurse.

“If I had the means, I would allow Francisca to get the education that I couldn’t have.”

Photo by Ohemeng Tawiah of Luv FM.

This land is your land, this land is my land

Some men wore fitted suits. Others were dressed in traditional kente clothing. The event started an hour and a half after its scheduled time.

The press conference I attended embodied the relationship between traditional customs and modern, democratic values – as well as the potential conflict between these structures. Many Ghanaians defend chief authorities, though their power has diminished over time. What happens when they meet with formal government structures? Ideally, they merge to incorporate tribal leadership and a mandate of democratic justice.

Or sometimes, they form an impetuous decision-making process that leaves a nomadic group with nowhere to go.

The Fulani are an ethnic group – a small minority in Ghana – dispersed throughout Western Africa. They are mainly nomadic pastoralists, though some lead sedentary lives and have integral roles in cattle management.

The Paramount Chief, Nana Akuoko Sarpong, had granted a fifty year lease to some Fulani herdsmen in 2006. The government can override these leases. The current system of land titling combines chiefdom authority and the British colonial practice of registering deeds.

Cattle population grew unmanageable for herdsmen and animals began escaping the allotted property. Local farmers sprayed their crops with pesticides, angering the Fulani.

“Land has traditionally been controlled according to the unique conditions pertaining to pastoral communities, which have given rise to their concept of communal property rights,” explains a report on pastoralist rights by the UNHCR. “In contrast, the Western concept of personal rights over property, which has been adopted by all states in the region, is an individual right.”

Tensions grew between these two forces, resulting in violence. There were burnt farmlands, destroyed crops, 15 cases of murder last year and one report of rape. Some crimes were committed by Agogo community members, but the Fulani are considered to be the instigators.

Demonstrations within the community effectively called for government action, a promising display of civilian power.

The regional court issued an order to “flush out all the cattle” and effectively, the Fulani people. To execute this, a committee – REGSEC – was established. They were supposed to complete an evacuation plan by February 7.

Photo by Ohemeng Tawiah of Luv FM.

“…The Committee accomplished its task; except that it took thirteen, instead of the two weeks originally assigned to submit its Report,” Alex Dary, a member of the committee read aloud.

In February, the herdsmen were given an ultimatum: they had until April 30th to vacate the area. They didn’t.

“The failure to voluntarily vacate within the stipulated timeframe will invite forceful eviction by the security,” he continued. The press conference was wrapping up. Chiefs and regional government officials were getting prepared to sign paperwork when a question from the press was taken: when will this forceful eviction take place?

They hadn’t thought about it.

They took a five minute break to decide the time frame of an evacuation plan. Ashanti Regional Minister Dr Kwaku Agyeman Mensah returned; security personnel will be on standby to flush out the cattle and herdsmen if they do not evacuate by July 21.

Perhaps Ghana can successfully maintain its cultural roots and still operate by fair, democratic principles. However, the fact that justice has been administered by holding an entire group accountable for crimes – rather than individuals – indicates there may be room for progress.

The report mentions ‘the inability of the cattle owners and herdsmen to indicate where else they will relocate since no community is prepared to tolerate them.”

Where do they go from here? The committee hasn’t decided.

Road from Jacobu to Abuakwa - Photo by Luv FM.

“The Road Not Taken”: maternal mortality in rural Ghana

My colleague and I took a two hour journey to a village outside of Kumasi to conduct interviews for his documentary on maternal mortality in the Ashanti region; we stopped at a hospital in Jacobu where the matron pointed us in the right direction.

“It’s only thirty minutes from here,” she kindly informed us.

An otherwise smooth journey began to change: potholes, ridges, unintentional speed bumps. The final thirty minute stretch felt like hours, and not just for me. My colleague, Kwabena Ampratwum, had traveled to many rural areas on similar roads but few were as rough as this.

At last, we pulled into the village of Abuakwa. Until two years ago, most pregnancies there were managed by traditional birth attendants – TBAs – who were usually untrained; then the Abuakwa Health Center opened.

Maternal mortality is seemingly low in the village: since 2010, we were told that one resident died of pregnancy complications. While this statistic sounds promising, it unfortunately does not reflect the grim reality of maternal health in the area.

The Ashanti region had 253 maternal deaths in 2011, the highest recorded in Ghana. 154 of these deaths occurred at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi. Last month alone, KATH had 17 maternal deaths – including the one from Abuakwa.

Many of KATH’s cases are referrals from villages outside of Kumasi. By the time patients reach the facility, it is often too late. Part of the solution is having smoother, more efficient roads and access to vehicles. The Abuakwa Health Center does not have a car or ambulance so they depend on surrounding villages.

“The bias towards large-scale transport still exists in national governments and donor agencies, and is reflected in terms of budgets, personnel and professional training,” found a recent study from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology.

We spoke to Vida, a midwife at the center. “It becomes so difficult. Sometimes we have to send a motorbike from this town to the next village, which is almost an hour, before we can get a car to transport our clients.”

“Two weeks ago, we had a lady who was delayed in the second stage of labour,” the head nurse of the Health Center told us. “We referred her at 1 pm… we were waiting for a car, making calls… the car got here at around 5.”

They put her in a stretcher headed toward St. Peter’s Catholic Hospital in Jacobu, the first referral point. In addition to the pain of being in labour for four hours, she was taken on a turbulent route that can induce other complications for her and the child. Approximately forty minutes later, she reached Jacobu.

“The uterus could no longer contract. The lady started bleeding, so Jacobu had to refer her to Komfo Anokye,” the nurse continued.

She was then taken for an hour-long journey to Kumasi. The roads are paved but the traffic is often congested. Even when the roads are wide open, the trip is long enough to worsen critical conditions. She arrived at the hospital over six hours after her complications began.

Sadly, her story ended there.

There were multiple moments throughout the story where her life could have been saved. Inadequate resources, poor communication, and lack of personnel all likely played a role. Transportation is a particularly troubling factor, and addressing it will require a heavy reallocation of funding towards rural development.

Road from Jacobu to Abuakwa - Photo by Luv FM.

Open skies and open sewers: the two-sided beauty that is Ghana

So there are three things that have become abundantly clear to me since my fellow compatriots and I touched down in Ghana a little over a week ago:

1. Life, unlike the traffic, moves at a much slower pace here.  A much slower pace.  I believe my partner in crime Leah has filled you in on the concept of GMT, or Ghanaian Man Time.  It is that intricate proverbial lock for which patience is the key.
2. Ghanaians like their food spicy, their water cold, and their obrunis (foreigners) susceptible to being hustled.*
3. I’m not in Kansas anymore.

*as in, a cabbie will try to put you in one cab and your bags in another so that you will pay both him AND his buddy.

Take everything I say, as usual, with a pillar of salt.  I’m sure not all Ghanaian cab drivers are con artists, and jollof rice is really not all that spicy once your taste buds regain consciousness.  If anything, it’s a clever way to regulate your body’s internal temperature so you’re less aware of how extremely hot it is on the outside.  SO extremely hot.  Listen, Mother Nature, I’m a born and bred Canadian boy who grew up in mild-mannered British Columbia where the winters are warmly wet and the summers are cooly comfortable (alliteration, you are a most underappreciated literary device,) so when my sensitive obruni skin gets a taste of that relentless Ghanaian sun and Equator-inspired humidity, it knows no better than to cry tears of frustration.  In other words, I sweat.

I sweat like a vegan in a deli, I sweat like a prepubescent kid at the grade 9 dance, and I sweat like the onions Mary puts on our breakfast salad every morning at the station.  And because I’m sweating so much, I also drink a lot of water.  Lots and lots and lots of water, which despite not being drinkable from the tap, is easily obtained through bottles of Voltic, a popular brand of filtered water, or the little sachets of “peer wada” that women carry in baskets on their heads, hawking them on literally every street corner and roadside imaginable.  Make no mistake, water is life when you’re sweating up a storm, and here in Kumasi, life can be purchased in quantities of 500mLs for 10 peswas (seven cents CAD.)

All that being said… Ghana is beautiful.  It’s a gorgeous country with lush greenery, peculiar little lizards (as plentiful as squirrels over here!) and a coastal beach scene that leaves this west coast kid aching at the heart.  And when the sun goes down at night, you can see stars.  For miles.  You can lie on your back and count them, if that’s the sort of activity that helps you sleep at night.  It’s like being in Saskatchewan, except minus the greenery, the lizards, and the coastal beach scene.  But the people are great.  And loud.  And lively as all get out, and while it gets a little overwhelming sometimes, the reality is that this is Ghana.  The noise and the heat and the sweat and the dust and the lizards and the peer wada — this is Ghana.