I always jump at the opportunity of going to Ghana because to me it is a source of inspiration and bubbling African pride to watch development taking place – though it ends up with a bad taste in my mouth because my Sierra Leone is not doing as well.
International Institute for Journalism (IIJ)
I was genuinely taken aback when I was contacted by the renowned German based International Institute of Journalism (IIJ) to come to Ghana to consult with me and other journalists on what sort of journalism training they can do in West Africa that would be helpful to practitioners.
I wondered who had recommended me because even though I did not completely fill the registration form yet they sent me a Kenya Airways return ticket. I nearly did not go because this was when news started coming out of a missing Kenya airways jet which had taken off from Abidjan.
In Ghana we were lodged in the five star Golden Tulip Hotel. This hotel is second only to the multi million-dollar La Palm Hotel, which was built with funds from the Ghana Social Security and Insurance Trust, the counterpart to our own NASSIT.
The Golden Tulip I was told is a Libyan foreign investment venture. The Libyans put up the money, built the hotel but the entire staff are Ghanaians. Moreover I was told that the Golden Tulip is a worldwide franchise – which means that Libya is using its oil money to invest in other countries so that it gets more foreign exchange. This might be forward thinking so that in the event of their oil drying up they still have external investments, which would bring in foreign exchange for their domestic programs.
I felt this fascinating because it occurred to me that Sierra Leone could do the same. As I said to the other Sierra Leonean with me on the trip – journalist Mike Butscher – if we had a serious business minded government we would establish diamond and gold ornament shops in all the main commercial cities in the world like London, New York, Paris, Belgium, Delhi etc etc. We would get the diamonds and gold locally, cut and polish them, and make beautiful rings, chains and bracelets with them and then send them to these places to be sold in our own established shops, and so get the real value for our natural resources. This is what South Africa has done. But alas is anybody thinking along those lines? This is what Ghana does to me – keeps me thinking broadly.
The IIJ consultations were very productive with suggestions on conflict sensitive reporting, gender sensitive reporting, and generally capacity building for younger inexperienced journalists with the emphasis there on ethics – journalists should accept no gifts, if they are given gifts they should turn it over to charity or declare it in their story. That would be a tall order to achieve in Sierra Leone but it can be done.
It was fascinating to learn about the red and blue alignment of newspapers in Ivory Coast, the fact that it is a taboo for married men to go to the fireplace and cook in some countries, though it is not a taboo for men to cook as Chefs in hotels. It was very interesting.
The course was held in the Ghana International Press Center, which is a two-storied building donated by the Kuffour government to Ghanaian journalists. The old government building has been renovated to include a small lecture room, an internet café, a library and offices. In the very spacious compound is a well-run restaurant where I met the former Ghanaian ambassador to Sierra Leone Kabral Blay Amihere – himself a former journalist. This showed how committed the Kuffour government is to develop the press in Ghana despite the fact that they do get the stick almost on a daily basis on radio and in the newspapers.
Rally round the flag
Cruising through the wide and smoothly tarred streets of Accra, one is struck by the sight of the red yellow and green with the black star all over the town. Obviously we were seeing the remnants of the 50 years independence celebrations.
But again it struck me.
Almost 8 out of every 10 cars or vans or trucks – maybe the right word to use is vehicle – had the Ghanaian flag flying. Some had two – one flying on the outside of the window and another one stuck with suction pad on the inside of the windscreen, and others still had head rests made out of the flag colours, pillow cushions placed inside the back windscreen and so on.
The houses had flags hanging from their balconies, tress were dressed up, half finished buildings had the falg dangling from them and even the zinc fencing were painted with the flag colours – infact it was just a blaze of the Ghanaian flag colours everywhere.
And to think that our President was here (in Ghana) and saw all of this and yet went back to town to tell us on Independence day that we have to show love for our Sierra Leone without him (President Kabbah) causing a single flag to fly in the streets is unbelievable.
But that is Sierra Leone for us, where patriotism is shown by hanging the President and Vice Presidents photo in all our offices leaving the national flag to fly only on the Presidents car. Maybe you see now the bad taste I wrote about further up.
That five star Hotel
Ghana is not without its problems too. Over the past five years I have been coming to Ghana, I am constantly bombarded with new things. Infact for the first three years anytime I pass through the airport it is a different route, more developed than the last. This time too it was not too different. Despite the widened roads, well manicured lawns, wonderful architecture displayed on new office complexes, clean and serene residential areas, a new shopping mall with the world renowned Shoprite franchise already in attendance, – holding my breath I would say as a journalist a new thing that caught my eye especially this time round is a brand new nine million dollar ($9 million) five star hotel built next door to the Presidents personal house. I was told it is in the name of President Kuffour’s son who is a young accountant in his thirties. I know many would question – is this not why African Presidents are never allowed to rest after they leave office? Others though would dismiss it that the man did take Ghana up the development ladder significantly and therefore he deserves a fitting retirement package. But …
A blot on the report card is however the electricity situation. I never new the lights to wink in Ghana but they did last December when I was there and this time round they actually go out. And not only that, some areas now do not see light for four whole days.
I was told that the Nkrumah built Akosombo dam which was producing some one thousand megawatts had to be closed down. The last two of the six installed turbines had to be shut because there was no more water flowing into the dam. Some blame the late rains, but other reports say that Burkina Faso had built a dam on the upper stretches of the Volta river thereby reducing the flow of water into Ghana, making up for the drying up of the Akosombo dam which is fed with water from the Volta river.
Back in 2004 when as part of the Presidents entourage we visited the Akosombo dam the signs were there already that the water level was going dangerously low and in the years to come it would affect the running of the dam. The impression then was that the Ghana government was trying to do something before that happens. I remember the Energy Minister explaining the unreliability of hydro-power to the delegation disclosing that they (Ghana) were now turning their attention to thermal plants fueled by gas hence the cooperation with Nigeria to build a gas pipeline. This was bad news to us because Bumbuna was and is seen as ‘THE’ solution to our own energy problems.
However, sadly though for the Ghanaian people their government has not acted fast enough and now their very development is threatened, because major factories are now closing and going away. The Valco aluminum smelting plant – which produces all those shiny aluminum pots and pans which sell like crazy during the Ghana/Sierra Leone trade fairs is closed with a loss of some hundreds of jobs. This is because they and other smaller factories which are packing out could not afford the cost of generators and having to run them on diesel, given that they (Valco) alone would be needing some 300megawatts to run their smelting plant.
I watched Kuffour on television addressing Ghanaians in South Africa about the problem saying that the gas pipeline with Nigeria is all about completed but a ship in Benin decided to drop its anchor where it was not supposed to and so succeeded in breaking the pipe – true or false I asked myself. The gas pipeline would help increase their capacity to around five thousand megawatts and this is expected to be completed by July next year.
Again I asked myself, when others are talking about thousands of megawatts we are talking about Bumbuna supplying 50 megawatts are we really serious? Again this is what Ghana does to me oh!
On a visit to the High Commission I met comedian Mr Moshope mouth whose wry jokes I missed dearly at the paramount helipad. The last time, whilst on a trip to Europe he sarcastically wished me a lot cold. It turned out to be one of my coldest trips abroad. This time it was a joy to watch him dressed as the Ashanti King on his way to Freetown. I could just imagine the sight he would cut out on arrival at Lungi.
Somehow refreshing for me on this trip was the beautiful Miss Independence runner up who was enjoying her second prize – a week in Accra. You know somebody once wrote in one of our local newspapers that Ghanaian women are not beautiful, and this angered some Ghanaian friends. I would say though that the young ones – especially when you go close to the famous Legon University – are really something to watch (just watch oh!) but then the Sierra Leonean girls are always something else.
Long live Sierra Leone