r a l l y

[ 13:06 monday 16 october – rains office , tamale , northern ghana ]

i can connect my powerbook here using rains’ phone line and dial-up account . the signal is not very consistent but it will be sufficient .

some background . tamale is not really a town in the modern sense . it still has the sense of a cluster of villages with a market at their centre , the same model indeed as the earliest civilisations which emerged in southern mesopotania five or six millennia ago . a large proportion of the habitation consists of mud huts , though these are slowly being displaced by bungalows of concrete block construction . private phone lines are almost unheard-of . only the largest businesses or (omnipresent) aid organisations can afford them . there is an analogue mobile network , which is rumoured to work on some days . the electricity supply is actually quite reliable . during the time i have been here there has only been one brown-out , lasting perhaps an hour .

in december there is a general election here in ghana and the campaigns are in full swing . yesterday the ruling ndc party held its rally in tamale’s “police park” , a large open area in which a stage had been constructed and a crowd of several thousand had gathered . i arrived with my friend sebastian just as the current vice-president and ndc presidential candidate , john atta mills , was being introduced . his speech consisted largely of attacks on the front-running opposition party (npp) and a party which has split from ncd (reform) .

after mills’ speech came the high point of the rally – an address from jerry rawlings , the president of nearly 20 years , who is standing down at this election . i was eager to see him , as he has been remarkable amongst modern african leaders . he has led two successful coups but each time has returned the country to multi-party democracy . i do not imagine his hands are spotless but he has secured stability , peace and economic development , an achievement which cannot be understated . though the ndc is not universally popular it is clear that people continue to feel affection for rawlings .

shortly after he started speaking there was a commotion beside me , standing in the middle of the crowd with the video camera held above my head (the only white face) . it was the chief of police , inviting me to join the tv crews and photographers on their enclosure in front of the stage . sebastian and i barged through the crowd and were propelled up onto the wooden platform . so i was able to film the rest of the president’s speech from just forty or fifty feet away a, an unexpected boon . one of the news cameramen got bit pissed off when i jogged his tripod and a junior police officer came to enquire what the hell i was doing up there , but the former was touchingly embarassed afterwards and the latter quickly withdrew when he realised that my invitation had come directly from his superior .

rawlings spoke stirringly , the crowd loved it , and there was generally a festive atmosphere . afterwards there was chaos as people who had come from villages all over the region climbed back onto the ndc-sponsored lorries and began the journey home . the air was thick with drumming , shouting , horn-hooting and the fog of tamale’s omnipresent red-brown dust .

in the meantime my work here is taking shape . the centre where i shall be setting up facilities is a splendid construction , hopefully to be completed before the opening festivites on the 25th . i have started training a few people in working with documenting tools and planning with them how we will capture the story of the final preparations and the opening . beyond this i have started structuring ideas for courses and support . the two shipments of computers remain in accra , tied up with customs , but i hope they will be here soon . informally i have been offering introductions to computers for people who have never before encountered one . there is great eagerness to learn .

as i write a discussion is in progress behind me , debating which people in the community can design and print t-shirts for the mandela centre’s opening celebrations .

: cH

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