Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ghana's Constitution Review: Presidents to pay tax

So the Constitution Review Committee was established by President Mills in 2010 to look at the strength and weaknesses of the 1992 constitution.

They've decided that Presidents should pay tax and this makes me, and I'm sure many other people, very happy.

I don't actually know how much the President earns but I know that Presidents don't pay for anything at all so maybe they should contribute to the state coffers.

I would also like the Committee to remove the clause that makes certain people immune from prosecution for crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Obviously it's too late to suggest any more alterations but if you are Ghanaian what else would you like changed?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Time to patent Kente

The US Ambassdor to Ghana has reminded the government to quickly patent Kente cloth to protect against the devaluing of the textile art from piracy. I agree.

I thought about doing it myself a number of years ago after learning that a woman had managed to patent a certain tartan design, but alas my youthful laziness meant I never got round to it.

imagine this in black
My friend came back from Africa with a kente print Africa map on a black shirt once [like the image on the right but in black]. I asked him if he had been to Ghana and if he had liked it. He looked puzzled and didn't understand why on earth I would be asking him about Ghana, since he had been to Africa only once and it certainly wasn't Ghana. Of course I was equally confused as to his reaction to my question since he was the one wearing a kente design on his top. Turns out he had gone to South Africa and bought the t-shirt there. Southern African textiles don't resemble kente in any way but still South Africa can incorporate the kente into their already flourishing tourist industry, at the detriment of Ghana's own efforts.

That is to say, if the kente is one of Ghana's USPs and South Africa trade in it without paying royalties, then what need does a tourist have to go to Ghana to buy a kente inspired piece like the one on the side, if they can make South Africa their one-stop-shop for all things African.

So when ambassadors suggest the swift  patent of kente, I think, why has no one (in government) thought about this before and how long will it take them to do it?

Until then, get your kente inspired goods while they're still cheap.

Friday, 15 June 2012

In Manchester We Face Forward.

My post are always so political so here is some light-hearted arty stuff for you special people!

In Manchester until September there is an exhibition named We Face Forward (from Kwame Nkrumah speech about being non-aligned). It exhibits African art. Really cool. I don't wanna feed you with too much because I don't want to spoil it for ya if you get the chance to be around Manchester. Below are a few photos I took. Enjoy.

I haven't been able to get round to all the venues so I'll add to my collection of photos in July when I return for graduation.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

leading from a distance: the role of the High Commission

The second question of the MFGDebate was "the role of the Ghana High Commission in the UK?", which taking from the twitter feed was a heated debate. It seems not many people know what the GHHCUK does, or what it's here for.

I agree completely with this. I think the High Commission should do more to promote young achieving Ghanaians. For example when Edwin Broni-Mensah became the UK's best top graduate according to powerlist media, the Ghana High Commission had a chance there to parade him as a product of Ghanaian values for younger Ghanaians to emulate, but also they should have been first to help him with his GiveMeTap idea; using connections and reputation that the High Commission has to support Edwin. I think the GHHCUK should be a useful tool for young Ghanaians. Give them work experience so they can have a reputable employer on their CV. Help them if they decide they want to relocate back to Ghana so they know their rights, and can get advice before they leave rather than listening to gossip that might not be true.

This is also extremely important. If you see videos of events at the High Commission or that the High Commissioner attends, the same faces appear all the time. Not a bad thing as such because it means there are people who are highly engaged in the promotion of their heritage in this country but many people also say that they didn't know events were taking place. That's true for the vast majority of Ghanaians especially those outside of London. I hear the High Commissioner is not much liked or known outside of North London (but I'm not a gossip - I use this hear'say only to illustrate that the High Commissioner and his office have not built themselves a good reputation or presence in the UK). The word "accessibility" came up a lot and that is the problem. The High Commission is having a crisis of accessibility. @MeFiRi_GHANA tweeted that "We need to reach out to the Ghana high commission and let the know what we need [sic]". This is true. No point complaining if we don't tell people what is wrong, but I have found GHHCUK to behave how I witness the Gov't of Ghana interact with the people back home. They wait until a big event before showing us how they are relevant to our lives. The HC should be so welcoming and intertwined in our   lives that they should seek out to hear complaints and advice. Instead, people get hostile customer service, anger, inefficiency: the cold face of Ghana.

The GHHCUK is lucky that there is a young generation of people in this country who are currently really excited about their heritage. It might just be the fashionable thing, or it might be a permanent shift of responsibility to the homeland, which ever the case, GHHCUK should take advantage of the talent available right now. Engage with young people, team them about their heritage help them progress their careers and the result is a closer, stronger, safer community here, working for a stronger, safer and more prosperous Ghana.

Taking Pride in Our History

My apologies to those who follow both myself and Emeka Okafor's Africa Unchained blog but I saw this post that he published and felt the excerpt he displayed was so correct it deserved a re-sharing.

I have felt like this for a long time, and I think it is the source of our inadequate leaders. They hold an internalised inferior image of Africa in comparison to the rest of the world which dictates how they build national pride, how they strengthen the African Union and how they protect the African image at home and abroad.

Thank you Juliet Torome for this post.

Friday, 8 June 2012

leading from a distance: are we obliged

There's been a bit of talk among people as to the role of the Ghanaian diaspora ("expatriate community" as I prefer). I have suggested in a few twitter conversations that Ghana establishes a seat in parliament to represent Ghanaians outside of Ghana. After all, remittances account for a significant share of GDP and I'm a strong believer in no taxation without representation. Also take into consideration the amount of fundraising in arguably stronger currencies and larger quantities that the major parties do outside of Ghana.

Given that this conversation is already taking place, I was highly interested to hear that the Me Firi Ghana enterprise were to host a debate as to the Future of Ghana and what Ghanaians in the UK can do to help Ghana. If you want to follow what was said, the twitter hashtag was #MefiriGhanaDebate

I wasn't there in person so I only know what was tweeted, but there will be a video coming up I believe which I will obviously share the moment I see it. I'm going to address the different questions in a series of posts. This is numero uno.

The debate begun by asking if we have an obligation to Ghana even though we are here. Short answer: Yes. Long answer: We need to ask how we intend to help? Are we also looking at our country as backward, the way western governments and NGOs do? Are there provisions in place to allow us to help, with full liberty? Are we in the diaspora recognised by the government in a way that supports our efforts?

Firstly, we need to think about how we want to help. Trying to develop Ghana's bus transportation system, because we have experience of TfL is not really going to encroach on Ghana's values and ways of life. This type of change would have evolved in the country - we are simply helping by speeding up the process. But, telling a man who has been a farmer his whole life, whose heart beats with the earth, whose ancestors have done the same for millenniums that he must now farm in these given months and use land identified by Greenpeace or WFP and use fertilisers so that his produce will be big enough (in size not volume) for the European market makes things a little. more. hazy. We need to ensure that fulfilling our obligation to Ghana doesn't mean turning up with that "I can say it cos I'm black" attitude where we don't think about what we are saying, the ontology of what we are saying or the implications. Too often I've see black people return with Western eyes with little patience for the evolution of a culture because they feel that they have been "enlightened" to Obroni status but should be welcomed simply because their skin is still dark. We must ensure that we consider what is good for the Ghanaian people first and we must understand the people, the values, the cultures and customs and work within that framework not disregard it as backward or old-fashioned.

Another thing that I think needs to be addressed is that we mustn't confuse duties with rights. Deciding that you have a duty to someone, does not equate to having the right to execute your duty or them having the duty to allow you to execute that right. (Are you still with me?) We may have an obligation to Ghana - in that we should care about the country and make ourselves available to help develop it if needed - but that isn't to say that we will be welcomed with open arms. We should prepare ourselves for rejection. I often hear people talk about their obligation to Ghana as if once they have decided they do have an obligation, they can just get up and start making things happen in the country and we should recognise that that isn't the case. Socially and legally there are restrictions to us leading from a distance, or even leading within the country. Ghana's laws do not reflect its history of migration and the circumstances of departure which means people might want to return because they never wanted to leave in the first place but returning and helping is not easy. You might see a gap in the market for something that Ghana needs, you might be the smartest person in your field of work that will greatly help Ghana, but its laws will restrict you in some ways unless you rescind you British status. This is an unfair condition, that surprisingly gets sidelined when football is concerned. That aside, the question is two fold: do we have an obligation to Ghana/does Ghana have an obligation to us? We might want to help, but does the country want our help, more importantly, does the government want our help?

I've thrown a few things around there. Correct me if I'm wrong, question me if I'm confusing. It's a great conversation that is spreading. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Everyone deserves a home

A lot has been said on the topic of housing in Ghana. Ghana has a 1 million house deficit. Greater Accra is the most densely populated region as it is the smallest region accommodating just over 4 million people.

The rest of the country outside of Accra bar the regional capitals of the Central, Western, Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions remain pretty underdeveloped. So migration pushes more people into Accra where housing (whether bought or rented) is very costly. The most recent census (2010) found that people will leave houses in the Northern regions to sleep rough in Kumasi or Accra because they must hustle for more money - the money they do make still not enough to find accommodation. So Ghana needs housing fast! This has given rise to slums like that found in Old Fadama, nicknamed Sodom and Gommorah. Not surprising that S&G is a hub for the hustler's life, most slum-like areas in cities around the world often are. But Ghana is now trying to project an image of safety, a morally guided nation and a beacon for its African peers. So these slums, that threaten this image need to go. Clearly in this context housing is an urgent issue.

Housing has also come into discussion via the collapse of the (South Korean) STX contract and revelation of the new (South African) GUMA contract despite the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA)'s petition against the former contract on grounds that local contractors should be given a chance. I supported GREDA in their petition on patriotic grounds, although 500 houses out of a million is a drop in the ocean. GREDA should have also asked themselves whether the houses that they create are really solving a market need, or whether they intend to build more "low cost" which are actually-quite-pricey houses in the belief that government contracts mean guaranteed money in the bank?

Another thing I have found from visiting many a developer's website, is that Ghanaian developers are building bungalows. Wasting land. Land that is not cut very generously at all in comparison to Ghana's neighbours. I do like bungalows, my Grandmother lives in one, but there comes a time, when a bungalow is not appropriate for the task at hand. So how to we build cheap, ecologically responsible, land maximising, housing to accommodate many people but avoid the creation of Ghettoised housing (and just more permanent slums) in a speedy manner? The answer for me is clear, prefabricated housing. Prefabricated apartments of 10-16 dwellings in each block. "Prefab" as it is known is quick, some really big houses have been erected in a week, and a recent office block in China took 9 days to be ready for occupation. I think we could be erecting 20 a week, which equals to 1040 each year. Within one term of the next government, assuming just one company is involved 4160 houses could be built. When the numbers look that beautiful, it's a wonder we haven't embarked on it already. If by the time I complete my Master's no one's started, I think I'll do it myself, thanks!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Post 100

I wanted to post 100 to be special, had to resist the urge to rant about the events of the past weekend, or coo over the Queen. I didn't think I would find something until I read this stanford entry on African Ethics.

If I encourage you to do anything, it is to read it. All of it. But particularly sections 2, 3, 7 and 8. Think about what the author is saying about the foundations of our society's ethics, then think also to George Ayittey's comments at the BBC Africa Debate about democracy vs consensus, and then think about the system that Africa is trying to develop itself in. Many have argued that Africa's failures are due to the fact that our political systems and social constructs are foreign to our cultural ideals. The more I read, the more I'm inclined to agree.

Happy reading.