Category Archives: Ghana

t u t e

[ 18:42 monday 6 november – rains office , tamale , northern ghana ]

it’s almost four weeks since i arrived in ghana , though within a few days of getting here such measurements ceased to have much meaning . my return flights were originally booked for tomorrow but i have decided to remain here a further five weeks . i hope to complete my activity in the digital workshop within three weeks and spend two weeks travelling . the general election is on 7 december so it should be an interesting time to be around .

for the remaining weeks most of my focus will be on tutor recruitment , tutor training and course architecture . since the best tutors will not necessarily be those few people who already possess computer skills i’m using a cascade approach which assumes zero competence to start with . we started putting this into practice last thursday .

the first priority was to get a module up and running providing an introduction to using a computer . this will be one of the most important courses the workshop offers , but by focusing on that at the beginning we can also use it as an induction tool for prospective tutors who have no computer experience .

i designed the module on the principles of action learning and collaborative learning . everything is structured around performing practical tasks and learners work in groups of three to each computer system . this last aspect might seem perverse , surely people will learn better if they have a system to themselves ? but my experience is otherwise . beginners learn more quickly if they are working in groups . three brains are available to grapple with each problem and the process of discussing why something hasn’t worked and suggesting remedies brings thought processes into the open . working this way also helps strengthen collaboration and sharing skills . one tutor is provided for each group of three learners , though it may prove possible to reduce this to one tutor for every two groups .

the module has three sections . for the first of these the whole group of learners is addressed by a single tutor , who welcomes them , explains what they will learn before they leave , gets everyone’s ideas about what a computer can be used for , introduces the hardware and gives everyone the opportunity to ask questions .

the second section begins with the learners moving to the computers in groups of three , with tutors , and starting them up . the rest of it consists of a series of cumulative tasks , each of which is performed by the three learners in turn . along the way they master use of the mouse (pointing , clicking , double-clicking and dragging) and about the basic metaphors (desktop , icon , cursor , folder , window) .

in the third section learners start to use menus . they launch a program , create a new document and learn basic text editing skills . they then have some time to type whatever they want (this is the part people enjoy most , the pay-off for all their hard work) which they save before exiting the program and shutting down the system .

we currently have eleven functioning systems in the workshop . in a period of ninety minutes or so it is therefore possible to introduce a group of 33 learners to all the basic skills and concepts required to use a computer . every one of those learners will leave with the confidence that they are perfectly capable of using a computer , and there is somewhere they can go if they want to learn more .

last thursday i got together with three prospective tutors and took them through the first draft of the module . they took the role of learners and i of the tutor . this is a good approach , as it means every tutor learns to use the computer the same way they teach others . having made some revisions to the module based on their comments , those tutors and i worked with a group of ten more prospective tutors on friday . this is the cascade approach i described .

it was arranged that we would take our first group of “real” learners , 18 girls from tamale girls secondary school , tomorrow afternoon at three . so four of the tutors came into the centre this afternoon to practice on the systems .

however , demonstrating typical ghanaian planning , 25 girls from the school turned up at four this afternoon having been told they were expected . i was a bit horrified but they had walked all the way from the school , a distance of several miles , and i did not have the heart to turn them away . so my fellow tutors and i gritted out teeth and got stuck in , with me shouting guidance to the others as we went along . i was leaping back and forth across the room , responding to the girls’ insistent cries of “mr charles , mr charles” as they mangled their desktop or got locked into some backwater of the atrocious windows operating system .

i finish the day exhausted but confident that the module is going to work .

: cH

a q u a

[ 21:13 sunday 29 october – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

the water supply ceased around two o’clock yesterday afternoon . the electricity failed shortly afterwards , but returned within a couple of hours . not so the water .

this puts a different perspective on the experience of living here . without a shower to wash the omnipresent dust and sweat from one’s body , without a flushing loo , one’s lifestyle moves a step closer to that of the majority . but even the stand-pipes on which most people rely for their water are now dry .

afu hamidu has been kind to share his stock of water , sending over bowls of it with his daughters , but if the situation persists i shall presumably have to turn to the nearby river , to which i see already convoys of people walking with containers upon their heads . having observed the river at close quarters this is not a prospect i particularly relish .

i asked iso what was the longest period such interruptions had lasted in the past . the discouraging reply came : a month .

there is a rumour that the water will flow once more tomorrow evening . i pray it proves correct .

meanwhile there has been a conspicuous increase in the insect activity . the house has mesh screens on all its windows but one night last week it was breached by a veritable plague of little black beetles . the next morning their corpses lay on every inch of floor and table . the ants were busy carrying them away for food as i had my breakfast . the next invaders were big black roachy things , an inch or two long , which spring a couple of feet into the air aided by peculiarly ineffective wings . i have no idea how they are getting in but they are succeeding in considerable numbers . as i write i occasionally hear the tap of another landing on the lino .

it is explained to me that as the weeks pass since the rainy season’s end and the bush dries out , insects are drawn towards the houses where moisture can still be found . so perhaps our unexpected drought will have one positive consequence at least .

[ 23:18 ]

i’ve swept the insect corpses out of my bedroom and bathed myself standing in a bucket with three saucepans of water .

news from distant worlds reaches me . from mum i learn that mr good’s partridges have been stolen (which she is very happy about !) . from my friend james fink in melbourne i learn that his mother has won an opal mine in a competition .

[ 13:25 monday 30 october , rains office , tamale , northern ghana ]

the water spluttered back into life at ten this morning , albeit rank and brownish . we rejoice .

: cH

o p e n i n g

[ 19:59 saturday 28 october – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

a moment to write , my keyboard illuminated by a chinese kerosene lamp i bought in the market this afternoon . kerosene is in short supply at the moment but my friend iso led me to a pump which had secured some , apparantly the only one in tamale . as we arrived there were about a dozen men clustered about it with large oil drums . then some kind of argument broke out and service was terminated . everyone moved away from the pump as the fracas continued .

we asked whether we might have a gallon and were told that the mechanism had broken and no more could be dispensed . but one of the attendents called to a trader the other side of the street , sporting particularly snappy shades , who agreed to sell us a gallon at an acceptable price . he decanted from his drum into a jug and from there into my plastic can .

of course there was nothing wrong with the pump . what had happened was that one of the traders had bribed the attendants to sell him the entire remaining supply , establishing a monopoly which would enable him to charge inflated prices . hence the anger of the other would-be retailers . apparantly this is typical .

ann cotton (www.sse.org.uk/people/ann.cotton) and tony flower arrived from britain nine days ago and departed at lunchtime today . it’s been marvellous seeing ann at work here . she treats everyone as an equal , in contrast to many development professionals from the west who , i regret to observe , are often appallingly patronising towards africans . ann works with passion , vigour and generosity . the results speak for themselves . there are already hundreds of girls here and in zimbabwe who have had an education they would never have had without the support of camfed and its local partners . some of those girls have now set up successful businesses with help from micro-credit schemes . a climate in which families resist sending their girls to school is slowly changing .

dr flower is a writer and researcher , a former apprentice of michael young . he’s worked on all kinds of things over the last couple of decades and is now the london representative for the joseph rowntree reform trust and the chairman of the mutual aid centre amongst other things . he works from 18 victoria square , the queen anne house in bethnal green where the institute of community studies and its progeny , including sse , have lived for the last fifty years (photo at http://www.sse.org.uk/london) . i’ve bumped into him from time to time over the last couple of years but this is the first opportunity we’ve had to get to know one another . i look forward to seeing more him during my six months working in bethnal green .

ann and tony were here for the opening of the mandela development centre , which took place on wednesday . i was flat-out in the lead-up to this trying to track down various consignments of equipment from britain , training people , familiarising myself with the situation in northern ghana , setting up systems in the centre and so on . we managed to get eleven pcs set up and networked in time for the opening , by which time the building was just about complete . the high-power system for media production was frustratingly absent , a situation which persists . but at least we have now established its whereabouts : the customs service at accra airport , who have demanded an extortionate fee for its release .

on the day there were three hours of speeches in a kind of impromptu parade-ground outside , interspersed with dances , music and recitals . i was whizzing about like a dervish , documenting it all and sweating like a pig . the previous weekend i’d helped train four girls from one of the camfed-supported schools to use a digital camera and minidisc recorder , and given them some practice conducting interviews . they spent the day swooping on unsuspecting government officials and local chiefs , taking their photograph and questioning them on the region’s problems , the need for effective vocational education and the opportunities offered by the centre . i felt ever so proud of them , knowing what appalling barriers they’d surmounted to get into education , watching them interrogate the bigwigs with complete assurance , armed with these high-tech tools they’d mastered in a trice . they did a fabulous job . once the big system arrives i plan to work with the girls and their classmates to build a website telling the story of the day .

after the preliminary shenanigans the ribbon was cut and people surged into the building . the computers aroused great interest from a crowd who with few exceptions had never encountered one . i gave about twenty introductory training sessions then and there before i was exhausted . such impromptu sessions over the past weeks have been precious in helping me discover what approaches are helpful to effective .

now the building’s finished we must all turn our attention to structuring courses , recruiting and training tutors and installing management . there’s still a long way to go before my work here is complete .

: cH

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

c o r o n a t i o n

[ 23:45 friday 13 october – jisonayili , tamale , northern ghana ]

the night air is hot , moist , sweet . i sit at my table typing by candlelight , accompanied by mingled sounds from nearby muslim and christian celebrations and the strident crickets .

today has been pretty overwhelming .

after a morning of meetings i was priviliged to join some new friends for the journey north to saveluga , a village some twenty miles to the north of tamale . the village’s chief died recently and since his heir is not yet of age a regent must be appointed in his stead . today was the ceremony in which this regent , previously a career diplomat , was formally installed by the tribe .

rains , the organisation with whom i am working here in tamale , was established by a remarkable man called dr sulemana abudulai , a son of seveluga’s royal family . it was one of his brothers , confusingly known as “doctor” , who was waiting for me in the indescribable chaos of accra airport (bearing , incidentally , a placard emblazoned with the name “louis armstrong”) . over supper i asked if he came from a large family , to which he replied that he did . i asked how many brothers and sisters he had . he paused then said “many” . i asked if this meant there were so many that he’d lost count . he smiled politely . the next day , for the day-long bus journey from accra to tamale , i was looked after by one of his sisters . on my arrival i was greeted by another brother (“mr ndo”) , one of rains’ directors .

i now know that the total number of siblings is somewhere in the region of 80 . yes , my friends , this is a different society .

but returning to seveluga … my friends and i made the journey in the rains 4×4 , passing a continuous stream of vibrantly-robed cyclists heading the same way . we arrived at the village , clusters of circular mud-brick huts with grass roofs , typical of northern ghana , spread over a fairly wide area . it is hard to estimate the size of its population , at a guess somewhere between 500 and 2000 .

we stopped and learned that the robing ceremony had already taken place but the peak of the ritual was yet to come . as usual i was armed with a full battery of documenting equipment : digital video camera , digital stills camera , film camera , minidisc recorder . i had no idea what to expect but i suspected from everyone’s excitement that it was going to be pretty spectacular .

mussah and abu kari stayed back whilst i made for the centre of the village with aziza , who played minder for me and handled one of the digital cameras . as we got nearer the noise was tremendous . before we reached the palace we found ourselves faced by two big trucks , with shotgun-brandishing men hanging off every inch of their tops and sides . seeing me they began to shout and wave their guns excitedly . my dogbani remains somewhat limited , so i confined myself to looking ever-so-friendly-and-relaxed whilst aziza handled communications . it turned out they were keen for me to film them , which i was very pleased to do . however their response to having a camera pointed at them was to point their guns straight back at the camera , which i found a trifle distracting . the combination of strong alcohol and guns is not one i find calming .

but eventually they seemed satisfied and with big smiles and waves we proceeded . or at least we would have done had we not in the meantime been surrounded by the first of a succession of bands of drummers and musicians . the quality of musicianship was such that i did not grudge the (non-optional) payment invited by each group . aziza dealt with these disbursements expertly on my behalf .

finally we proceeded into the heaving crowd surrounding the palace . this building was a cirular hut many times the size of the others with a shining tin roof topped by an ornamental cupola . there must have been a thousand excited people crowding around it , with armed warriors doing their best to maintain a clear space in the centre . i had been warned by my friends to make sure my equipment was securely strapped about me and at this point i appreciated their advice . independently-willed motion became difficult . due , perhaps , to a combination of my novel pigmentation and our serious-looking documenting equipment there was some kind of spontaneous decision that aziza and i should be admitted to the centre of the drama . without any particular choice in the matter we were propelled through the crowd until we popped out the front .

it is hard to pick out a specific sequence of events over the next half hour or so . various chiefs processed through the throng with their retinues , household drummers and obligatory spinning parasols . an old man appeared on an ornately-decorated horse which reared up again and again , shaking its hooves in the air before slamming them down to the ground , scattering surrounding people . the shouting and drumming intensified and aziza alerted me that the regent was about to come out from the palace . various courtiers emerged from the door in fantastic costumes . warriors raised their guns skyward and started firing freely , stripping leaves from the overhanging mango tree . then the regent appeared , hard to pick out in the chaos , with a tall square hat and a huge spinning umbrella held above him . he and his retinue proceeded through the centre of the crowd to the building opposite the palace . other groups whom i took to be wives and assorted auxilliaries followed at intervals . the gunshots grew more intense . circles of drummers and warrior dancers coelesced in the crowd . things generally got pretty wild .

i will confess that there were moments when my excitement verged on fear . generally i felt safe , but there were times when i was not quite certain .

events reached a peak as the regent processed back across to his palace and disappeared inside once more . revelries continued but aziza and i decided it was time to withdraw .

we located mussah and abu kari and sat with them and some other villagers . an old man shared a bowl of yam with me and some water was fetched . my shirt was entirely saturated and my eyes were stinging with salt from the sweat pouring down my face . my heart was still racing . i knew that i had truly arrived in africa . this was one of the most exciting events i have ever experienced .

over the following days i played the film i shot in saveluga to many people around tamale , a good introduction to these digital tools i am hoping to put at the community’s service .

: cH