Thursday, 22 April 2010

Foreign Policy TV Leaders Debate - Ghana Speaks Out

Sitting huddled around the internet is how I find myself listening to the UK election candidate leaders TV debate. Myself with a dozen plus Ghanaians listening attentively to the issues being discussed in the second round of debates that focus on foreign policy. The burrowed eyebrows and serious expressions, the rolling eyes and deafening silence illustrates how serious these Ghanaians take the issues being discussed. They know more than anyone that the policies being outlined will if implemented have a profound impact on their lives, after all developing countries will be at the forefront of what is being discussed tonight.

Gordon Brown remarks that Europe should work together with America and the G20 to tackle climate change, but know mention of working with Africa or other developing countries like Bangladesh whom are at the forefront of climate change. This lack of regard for developing countries characterizes the mood of the debate. It becomes even more obvious how big the democratic deficiency is on the global level.

"David Cameron is the same person who wants to cut immigration and tighten borders yet UK citizens have literally a free reign to settle or 'emigrate' to developing countries. Which African can enter into Europe and walk freely before collecting a visa, yet UK citizens can pick up their visa's at most airports when they've arrived in the country but I do not hear them complain about that" Kojo Prah Annan remarks. Francis, another Ghanaian spectator adds in response to the expenses and corruption discussions that 'they should be able to fight the corruption in their country before coming to help us because corruption in the UK directly impacts us here in Africa. For example, Vodafone and Mabey and Johnson are cases that highlight how UK corruption is spilling over onto our doorsteps'.

For these Ghanaians the debate fell short on giving tangible solutions to the problems that they are directly experiencing as a result of UK foreign policy. Issues surrounding trade, climate change, environmental justice and British companies exploiting Africa are still issues they feel were neglected in the leaders TV debate. The debate may prove a PR success for the polls, but the real people at the forefront of British foreign policy still need answers.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

GHANA: Journey into the mountainous Volta

If one has not become accustomed to the idea of waiting then they will find it very difficult to conduct life in Ghana. Exercising patience is as vital a survival skill here as the constant urge to quench thirst in the burning tropical heat.

As I am writing this post I am sitting on a coach waiting to embark on the journey to Ho, Volta Region of Ghana. I have been sitting here patiently for the past hour waiting for the coach to leave – waiting, anticipating and desperately hoping it will leave soon. But the truth of the matter is that I have no idea when the journey will begin, the coach will leave simply when it is full, and until then all we passengers can do is wait.

The heat is not something that can described by the mere use of words, it is something that can only be experienced. It is as if I am trapped in a frying pan and slowly being cooked alive. With no air conditioning sweat drops like torrential rain from my face. After nearly two hours of waiting the female conductor in her yellow t-shirt and matching baseball cap alerts everyone that we will finally be leaving. The coach erupts into hustle and bustle as the passengers try and buy last minute refreshments from the traders outside the window who carry the goods on their heads. Finally the engine starts and the journey to the Volta region begins.

From afar the mountainous Volta Region can be seen. The picturesque mountaintops are clouded with what looks like smoke and from the distance it's hard to imagine that people actually live all the way up there. The journey into the actual Volta region is surreal. One minute the scorching sun is burning down with no remorse, the skies are clear blue and the landscape is a fair mixture of green and yellow hues. The next it is as if being transported into another world in the split of a second. The whole terrain changes into a thick lush green spread over to as far as the eye can be seen. The blue sky that was just there a second ago is instantly changed into a big grey sponge like cloud resembling an English country side. The only give away that we are still in fact in Ghana is the occasional palm trees that blow in unison against the forceful wind. The Volta Region resembles a world of its own, and in comparison to Accra could be another country altogether. We drive for what seems like miles without seeing a single house, just thick vegetation, mountain tops and fertile lands.

The rain begins to increase in its ferocity and the bullet sized raindrops have now been replaced with bucket sized ones. In an instance the water begins pouring through the roof to the dismay of the passengers who are seated directly under the leakage. Commotion breaks out as people begin shouting for the driver to stop and sort out the problem. The driver ignores the pleas. Unfortunately there are not enough towels to deal with the leakage and in the frustration a few begin to make their way to the driver to attack him for not listening. As to what anyone expects the driver to do is beyond me, but we stop again to the chorus of angry cries. I secretly wonder if we will ever arrive at all.

To be continued...

Monday, 19 April 2010

BBC Africa interview with David Amanor

With BBC Africa Journalist David Amanor

Standing outside the Use a UK Vote campaign mural situated at La Wireless, Labadi, Accra, GHANA

I will be uploading the BBC Africa audio interview shortly.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

My Near Death Experience in Ghana

Have you ever been on a fair ride and wondered why you ever tried to have a go in the first place? You know one of those rollercoaster rides that make your stomach literally fall out of your mouth but there is nothing you can do to make the ride stop. Hmmm well welcome to Accra, Ghana. Today I got in a taxi (well I thought it was a taxi - but it was really a wanna be Lewis Hamilton on something very strong) to get home. The sun had just set the air humid and the sweet smell of an assortment of West African food permeating through the air and straight into my nostrils... it had been overall a good day and I fancied nothing more than to get home and unwind. After negotiating the price and discussing where I was going with the driver I jumped in.

You see the thing about Ghana and Taxis is you never know what your going to get until the car starts moving. Unfortunately I had to learn this the hard way!!!!!!!!! My driver seemed to think he was on an addition of Super Mario Cart as he swerved over pot holes, in and out of lanes and cut through cars with razor blade precision. Obviously I was at the back begging him to calm down which fell on deaf ears. By the time I reached home I had experienced 3 flashbacks of my life as I prepared to enter into my afterlife only to be brought back down to earth at the last second. So hear I am, alive, just about! So warning to you all, step into the taxis at your own peril or in the words of Forest Gump 'life (Ghana Taxis) is like a box of chocolate, you never know what your gonna get'.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Water Privatisation and Human Rights

Water privatization before I came to Ghana to work on the Use a UK Vote campaign was just a term we used in lesson to describe policies from the IMF and World Bank. We would debate endlessly about whether they should or shouldnt happen and on and on and on. Today I witnessed first hand the effects of these policies and learnt that the reality for those at the receiving end is much different than what is discussed in theory. Kojo, my colleague and the founder of Pan Afrika Nyemei took me on a tour around Labadi. Everywhere I turned I could see big Black barrels. I had seen them before but had not paid attention to what they actually do. I was told that since the privatization of water these barrels have replaced the water system that used to flow freely through the taps and into the homes of the community. Now people have to buy yellow canisters, fill them up with water and then walk the distance back to their houses. For some due to poverty, buying the canisters needed to access the water represents a problem and for these people water is now inaccessible to them. For others the inconvenience of the whole system has meant that many are not getting the amount of water they need. In a hot country like Ghana where temperatures of 34 degrees in winter is normal any restrictions on water present immediate problems.

The profits of the water privatization do not go back to the Ghanaian people but to multinational companies based in far off countries. When shareholder profits are placed on water then we're stepping into a territory that disregards the most basic and fundamental human rights of the individual - which is water as a human right.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Elect The Leaders Who Rule Us From Britain!

To mark the launch of the Use a UK Vote campaign we constructed a mural on La Wireless in La to raise awareness about the current unequal division of democracy on the international level. Getting the mural ready was exciting and adrenalin inducing as we had to get it completed within 48 hours. Jheeze… we hadn't even purchased the tools yet! But true to form and with the commitment of a great team the mural was completed within 24 hours and with time to spare!

The mural has been receiving so much attention and not just by people within the community but passers by as well as the media and politicians. Children stop and stare with wide eyes pointing fingers and wondering who are these guys and why are they here in Accra, Ghana? The mural really has been a great catalyst for starting discussion on the real subject matter of global democracy and the UKs role in shaping the international system.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Direct from London to Labadi

I arrived in the humid heat of darkness at approximately 11pm where I was picked up by Kojo and Richardson, two local activists from La, Accra. The humidity of the nights air soon brought the glow back into my face after a long day of flying and stop overs. After dropping my luggage off at my accommodation I was taken on a nights stroll around the La area to get a sense and feel of the community. With La you don't have to look far to see the disparities between the 'big men' as they are referred to here in their 4 by 4 SUVs and the majority who are barely making a livg to survive, the tin shack houses facing the luxury mansions opposite speak enough for that.

The night is peaceful and quiet with the occasional taxi and car speeding past. In the near distance a man can be heard shouting out loud passionately, it reverberates quickly in the still night as I look around curiously trying to figure out what the noise is all about. Kojo and Richardson do not even look up and keep on walking as normal as for them such outbursts are normal. It turns out he was praying.

Labadi, or La as it is more commonly known is a peaceful place at night. Around each corner a little secret awaits. On one street corner youngsters hang around laughing and dancing together. Music blares out of cars and tin shacked shops whilst others swag around with drinks in hand. On another street abandoned children sleep outside on the concrete floors. I am told that most of these children would not have had any food to eat today. They lay there innocent and oblivious to any other type of life. A life where they will have equal opportunities to all other children around the world. Its moments like this when the whole campaign is brought into perspective, when the enormity of the challenge ahead is put into clarity. What opportunity do these children have to live a life equal to that of any other child in the world in a system that favors a few at the expense of many? Global democracy is not just a fight for the issues of today … but for the lives and the issues that will be around tomorrow.

And so the journey begins... part 2

Wow, today is here! I’m excited, i’m anxious, i’m curious as to how the next 5 weeks will pan out. And that’s anxious and curious in a good way. I would like to say that I awoke at the crack of dawn where my belongings were neatly packed ready for me to embark on this journey. But that would be a lie. The fact is I haven’t slept a wink for the past 24 hours.

When we pull away from home en route to the airport the grey skies and drizzle beat away at the car windows. I at the back going over a million and one things in my mind, trying to imagine how this campaign will look like 5 weeks from now and all the lives that we have hopefully touched. To be part of the project that kicks starts the action to the debate on the inequality of the current international undemocratic system is a privilege that is hard to describe in words. Not just because if we get just one person to use a UK vote it will be the first time in history that someone from another country has voted in the UK general election, but because the symbolism it evokes of those who have been declined a seat at the decision making table standing up to say by any means necessary we will have a say in the destiny of our own lives.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Power of a Thought

Everything we do starts with a simple thought. This thought then turns into an act and this act has consequences far beyond our imaginations. When we seize to stop thinking then our possibilities stop too. And it is with this ideology that I am now embarking on a trip to Ghana to coordinate the Use a UK Vote campaign, the sister campaign of Give Your Vote which is currently going on in the UK.

The Use a UK Vote campaign challenges the very fabric of what we see as democracy today. Whilst democracy is the predominant ideology being promoted within states, on the International arena democracy holds a deafening silence. A few countries undemocratically decide what is best for the whole world often at the expense of millions of people whose views, concerns and needs are neglected with dire consequences. If we are to promote democracy on a national level then shouldn’t we promote it on an international level too?

Give Your Vote - Ghana, Afghanistan, Bangladesh

As of this Friday I'll be heading to Ghana to manage the Ghanaian leg of the Give Your Vote campaign for the next 5 weeks. Give Your Vote will give people in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana the chance to vote in the UK elections. In our global village, decisions made in the UK parliament can have a big impact far from our own shores. When we complain that our political parties are all the same, that voting changes nothing, we're missing the vital perspective of vulnerable people in developing nations. People whose livelihoods can be destroyed by the stroke of a pen in an anonymous office in Whitehall. If we really believe in democracy, shouldn't those people have a say over who is in charge of their future? Archbishop Desmond Tutu who is our patron said: “I support Give Your Vote because it is exciting, brave and emphasises our common humanity. It is a radical call for a world where all human beings have an equal say in the politics that affect them."

How? From 15th March, you - the UK voter - can give your vote at and someone in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Ghana can use it to get answers from UK parliamentary candidates on the issues that affect them, and ultimately decide who to vote for.

On the eve of the election, Give Your Vote UK participants will receive a text message asking them to cast these votes. The decision isnt made by a charity or an NGO who think they know what's best for the developing world, but by the individuals who have to live with the consequences.

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