Tag Archives: Kumasi

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.

Farewell Kapital Radio

Last week marked our final days working at Kapital Radio and the end of our stay in Kumasi. It is hard to believe we will be on a plane heading back home by the end of next week- the time has really flown by. We are fortunate to have gained valuable experience in radio broadcasting and radio journalism: listening to and participating in compelling debates, meeting inspiring, intelligent and provoking people, learning about various social and human rights issues in Ghana, engaging and educating the public and spreading awareness on injustices. We have also succeeded in adjusting (not without occasional frustration) to a less structured and laissez-faire working environment. The best advice I could offer to anyone aspiring to work in Ghanaian media is to go with the flow. There have been many instances where things haven’t gone the way we planned or turned out the way we expected them to- sometimes scheduled guests would show up late (at times up to 30 minutes), while others would not show up at all (forcing me to sit in as a far less impressive panel guest than we had originally booked for one of Mufty’s shows), power failures were commonplace, phone lines were unreliable, and scheduled shows were bumped or cancelled with little to no notice because of high profile events like FIFA soccer matches, or the NPP primary elections coverage. It is important to be flexible, quick on your feet and very proactive in order to overcome these minor obstacles and make the best of your experience. We left Kumasi satisfied and we are pleased with what we have achieved. We ran three hour-long workshops for the newsroom interns on basic components of a news story, grammar and sentence structure and how  to write a human rights story, we helped edit and pitch human rights-focused stories and ideas, we helped revive Mercy’s show “Up Front” that hadn’t aired for over a month before our arrival in June, and we helped research, produce, and write questions for Mufty’s show “Know Your Rights” on some critical issues in Ghana, such as homosexual rights, journalism ethics, domestic violence, disabled peoples’ rights, and legalizing abortion to name a few. Our voices will also be forever immortalized on Ghanaian airwaves as our colleagues asked us to record a number of voice clips or “vox pops” promoting Kapital Radio DJs and their shows.

We have had the great privilege of meeting some very influential and inspiring local figures who champion the cause of human rights issues on a daily basis; Dr. Charlotte Abeka, former chairperson for the United Nations; Joe K. Koramteng, Regional Guidance and Counselling Coordinator for Ghana Education Service (GES); Kwesi Kyei, New Patriotic Party (NPP) Research Officer for the Subin constituency; and Asayaw Atakora, Vice President of the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled. We have also made some truly great friends and networking contacts at Kapital who we will continue to keep in touch with even after going back to Canada.

For our last Saturday at the station, we wanted to go out with a bang- we planned two promising shows both with an impressive panel of guests. We intended on doing a full two hour special on women’s rights for “Know Your Rights,” highlighting issues of maternal health, economic empowerment and equality and girl education. For “Up Front” we intended on discussing the stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS. We were all pumped up and ready to go after two weeks of diligent planning; however, upon arriving at Kapital, we discovered that the transmitter was down and that all the day’s shows had been cancelled. Despite our disappointment and our anti-climactic final day, we went with the flow an did the next best thing- started our farewell party a few hours early and enjoyed a fantastic evening of dinner, dancing and good company.

“Dumping” in Ghana

Kumasi Central Market

The structure of Ghana’s economy has made minimal changes since the nation’s independence in 1957. It is still heavily reliant on traditional agricultural and mineral goods, mainly gold, cocoa and timber, in a highly competitive and aggressive international market. According to Ghana’s Private Sector Development Strategy, some of the country’s economic challenges include: “limited diversification into manufactured goods and traded services, or movement to adding value to primary products,” as well as limited productivity, investment, innovation and use of technology. The strategy was designed in accordance with the Government of Ghana’s vision of attaining “The Golden Age of Business”: to create and maintain an appealing business climate directed at both local and foreign investment. The  concept is a Presidential Special Priority; however, as it stands Ghana’s market is in a slump. There are many systematic issues to which one could point the blame–corruption, undeveloped infrastructure and weak taxation practices, for example.

According to Professor Appiah-Nkrumah, head of the economics department at Kumasi’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), one of Ghana’s biggest economic challenges is unfair subsidized competition from other countries. During our discussion last week, he asked me if I had been to the central market (the biggest in West Africa). When I revealed that yes, I had been just the day before, he asked me point blank: “What did you observe?” This was a loaded question. I had spent hours exploring the endless stalls, overflowing with merchandise such as cooking utensils, electronics, clothing, car tires, colourful kente cloth, pig hooves and entire goat carcasses. Put simply, it was a sensory overload and I couldn’t narrow it down to only a few observations.  I muttered something about the vendors all selling the same merchandise and his face lit up. “And they’re selling a lot of imported products?” I asked. “Yes!” he exclaimed, as he opened up a local newspaper and read me a headline. Ghanaian manufacturing company Aluworks had recently closed down citing unfair subsidized competition from Chinese aluminum imports and unfair international trade practices as the main reasons. (Ironically, Ghana is the second highest exporter of aluminum in Africa.) Professor Appiah-Nkrumah elaborated: “Look at the textile industry. They take designs from here, then take it to China. That is a major issue. How do we compete?” He explained what economists call “dumping”- the process of selling goods in a second country at a cheaper price than they are sold in the primary country.

I think about some of the things I’ve purchased since arriving in Ghana a few weeks back: a plastic coffee mug made in China, a box of tea imported from Sri Lanka, chocolate treats from Turkey (although Ghana is the highest cocoa producer in Africa) and toasted rice cereal from Egypt. All items that Ghana has the capacity to manufacture. Ghana has the ability to be a big player in the international agricultural market, but its reliance on imports is still overwhelmingly dominant. The root of the problem stems back to the 1990s when Ghana was forced to agree to the demanding terms of International Monetary Fund and World Bank structural adjustment programs in order to save their economy and in spite of a gold and cocoa market crash. This involved eliminating tariff and exchange controls, cutting civil service, education and health expenditures and emphasizing free market policies. Ghana’s most recent Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy states accelerating the growth of the economy in order to achieve middle-income status (an average income of $1750 per capita) as its central goal, in accordance with the Millennium Development Goal of halving the population living in poverty by 2015. Ghanaians believe the path to financial prosperity lies in adding industrialization, high productivity and modern technologies to their economy, but their national development continues to be blocked by unfair international trading systems. Until the structure of Ghana’s internal trade and internal production regulations are radically altered, its economy cannot be self-reliant and will remain, as professor Appiah-Nkrumah puts it, “at the mercy of the buyers.”

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.