Tuesday, September 20, 2005

FCUBE, not Ice Cube

Yesterday morning, as I went for my habitual constitutional with my pet dog Fenix, I saw – as I often do – this young girl of around nine years. She was wearing clothes more reminiscent of cold weather than this usually warm climate.


It was not an illusion; the weather truly was cool that time of morning, and those not used to around fifteen-eighteen degrees at that time of day would happily misconstrue the weather as ice-cube “cold”, so that they could get to wear very warm cotton jackets.


Today, I thought, it was time to muster up the courage to ask her a question—so I did.


“How are you?” I asked in twi


“O ye”, or “it’s fine/I’m fine”, she responded with a smile.


Then I stopped. “Na, owo, inko school?” (aren’t you going to go to school?) I asked with an air of seriousness.


She almost curtsied, smiling a weak smile.


“Don’t you know that education is now free?”


She nodded in the affirmative; I couldn’t believe that she did. I don’t think she’s been reading a newspaper lately!


SO, standing my ground for the attention she had given me, I went in for the kill.


“Education is now free. SO, tell your relative, or your parents, or those who look after you. Ok?”


She nodded, and curtsied yet again.


Evidently, a sign of a person with potentially good manners.


But, I felt sad, at the fact that the so-called FCUBE, or Free Compulsory Basic Education had been launched a few weeks ago here in Accra by the Minister of Education Osaafo-Maafo, yet here was an example of those who knew NOTHING about this.


But if it is a crusade I have to embark on, as was the case with CITI-FM, then I will do so. To the degree that each time she sees me, she will JUST want to go home and tell her relatives about FCUBE so that I don’t bother her again!:-)



The Government of Ghana's Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) Program

In response to these and other concerns about educational quality, the government launched, in 1996, its Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) program, a package of reforms designed specifically to focus on basic education access and quality. FCUBE has three primary components:

  • Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning: Activities focus on enhancing specific teaching skills through pre-service and in-service teacher training; improving teacher motivation through incentive programs; promoting quality of student learning and performance through curriculum reviews and improved teacher-student interaction; provision of adequate and timely learning materials to all schools; improvement of teacher-community relationships.
  • Improving Efficiency in Management: Activities focus on the re-organization and re-orientation of management practices in the education delivery system. Specifically, this component strives to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of management performance in the education sector. Activities address management reforms; discipline and accountability in schools; increased enforcement of effective teaching and learning; elimination of teacher absenteeism, lateness and misuse of instructional time; and building the morale of pre-tertiary personnel.
  • Increasing Access and Participation: Activities are designed to ensure that there is total access and retention of all school-age children in the nine-year basic education program, and that all stakeholders participate fully in educational services/programs within their localities. Activities involve expanding infrastructural facilities and services to enhance access; addressing issues of enrolment and retention for all school-age children; enhancing quality in the provision of educational services and facilities; ensuring good quality teaching through the setting of performance targets; encouraging all stakeholders to participate fully in educational services/programs.

To achieve these objectives, the Government of Ghana enlisted the assistance of a broad range of stakeholders. Local partners include District Education Oversight Committees (DEOCs), School Management Committees and Parent Teacher Associations, parents, teachers and other interested citizens. International partners include DFID, USAID, ADB, IDA, JICA, UNICEF and GTZ.

From: http://www2.edc.org/CSA/ed.htm







Wednesday, September 14, 2005

FW: The Constant Gardener--a Must-Read!!! and Must-See!!

From: E.K.Bensah II (TWN-Africa) [mailto:webjournalist@twnafrica.org]
Sent: mercredi 14 septembre 2005 11:33

I have not seen the movie as yet, but the review provides a damning insight into the execrable and sordid world of TNCs, pharmaceuticals and the complicity of the UK diplomats in the whole panorama of African life and death. In this case, KENYA is the country.

 Two brilliant articles written by John Le Carre and Larry Elliott (especially very incisive as always) respectively for the Guardian newspaper in 2001 are a must-read:

1.      http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,436621,00.html (Evil triumphs in a Sick Society)

QUOTE: “The WTO is not a law unto itself. Governments should write the rules, not multinational corporations. And if they fail to back Brazil, India and Egypt they will have blood on their hands. It was once said that all that is needed for evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. And what is happening here is evil. I have tried to think of another word for it. But there isn't one. “

2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4134705-103635,00.html (A Lot of Very Greedy People)

QUOTE: “Big Pharma in the US had persuaded the state department to threaten poor countries with trade sanctions to prevent them making their own cheap forms of the patented lifesaving drugs that could ease the agony of 35m men, women and children in the third world who are HIV-positive, 80% of them in sub-Saharan Africa.”

-enjoy! And prepare to be sobered…


The Constant Gardener, directed by Fernando Meirelles, screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carré

“Quayles always make reliable servicemen.” Thus Sir Bernard Pellegrin of the British Foreign Office describes the lineage of Justin Quayle, the “constant gardener” of the title. In fact, events will oblige Justin to break the long-term pattern of constancy and reliability—qualities demanded of a diplomat/bureaucrat serving the interests of British imperialism.

John le Carré’s novel of political intrigue, The Constant Gardener, has been adapted for the screen by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God). The movie opens with the murder of Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz), the wife of Justin (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat in Kenya. As the latter begins looking into Tessa’s death, as well as the disappearance of her traveling companion and fellow activist, Dr. Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé), he discovers that the two were on the verge of exposing a drug-testing program that killed some of the Africans it used as unwitting guinea pigs.

An “axis of evil” is in operation: Dypraxa, a drug for tuberculosis manufactured by KDH and distributed in Africa by the House of 3 B’s. The slogan of the “big pharma” company is “The World is Our Clinic.” Indeed, as the company races to have its treatment for the disease approved, it doctors the negative test results with the complicity of the British High Commission in Nairobi. Many of the drug’s recipients are already dying of the African scourge, AIDS, which means that any of Dypraxa’s injurious or fatal side effects can be concealed. “We’re not killing people who are not already dead,” callously declaims Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston), the Head of Chancery.

Predicted to be the future global pandemic, tuberculosis represents megabucks with Dypraxa positioned to shoot into the realm of blockbuster drugs. In the interests of this potential jackpot, no obstacles, such as Tessa (“that rarest thing: a lawyer who believes in justice”) can be tolerated.

The drug’s inventor, Dr. Marcus Lorbeer (Pete Postlethwaite)—in self-imposed exile in a remote Sudanese desert—was one of the last persons to meet with Tessa before her death. He is in possession of a document that points a finger at the complicity of the British state in her death. When Justin succeeds by way of a pharma-watchdog group in Germany in locating Lorbeer, he obtains the goods, allowing him to blow the whistle, as much for Tessa as for the drug-trial’s numerous victims.

Lorbeer sums up one of the film’s central themes: “Pharmaceuticals are right up there with arms dealers.”

Meirelles has legitimately interpreted le Carré’s intricately plotted thriller. Kenya’s slums and villages and Sudan’s terrifying desert with its long-abandoned population are wrenching. Reportedly, actors Fiennes and Weisz were so shocked by Kenya’s poverty that they set up a trust fund to provide aid to the slum that features prominently in the film. Weisz told an interviewer, “In the slum of Kabira we saw a level of poverty that I don’t think anyone had seen before. There’s a million people living in a very small space with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, with a very high level of disease and HIV.”

Cast and crew contributed to The Constant Gardener Trust financing a bridge, schooling costs, road building and community groups in east Kenya. Producer Channing-Williams stated, “These are places where people are seriously, seriously poor and deprived, and water is at a dreadful premium. A lot of people were astounded by what they saw and wanted to do something about it.”

The actors bring this empathy to their performances. Fiennes and Weisz are affecting. Weisz’s brief interactions with Kenyan children (some of which were apparently not scripted) make an impression. British Foreign Office representatives are sufficiently cold-blooded and calculating, without losing all traces of humanity. The actors don’t hold back in their depiction of colonialist condescension, tipped towards revulsion, when dealing with the African poor.

When veteran British spy Donohue (Donald Sumpter) tells Justin that there is a contract out on him in Africa and coolly says, “Getting people out of countries is one of the few things we still do well,” one feels a blast from the old Empire. Maneuvers between Her Majesty’s cunning servants, the corrupt Kenyan officials and the cutthroat minions of big Pharma are convincingly enacted.

In the character of Sir Kenneth Curtiss, actor Gerard McSorley (last seen in Omagh, in a strikingly different role) embodies the nasty, sordid head of the drug distributor, 3 B’s. Pete Postlethwaite as Lorbeer, who opportunistically headed up the Dypraxa tests and then runs off to hide out in the depths of Sudan, delivers a strikingly complex performance. Existing as a walking encyclopedia of the pharmaceutical corporation’s dirty work, his days are numbered.

The relationship between the former colonial master and the corrupt representatives of the Kenyan state is brought out nicely in a scene where Justin is arrested by local police. “For a diplomat, you are not a very good liar,” says one of the latter; Justin responds, “I haven’t risen very high.”

In general, the performances of an outstanding group of British actors tend to rise above the limitations of the script, including an unnecessary number of clichés, and its direction.

In The Constant Gardener, the first meeting between Justin and Rachel stands out. Justin, having delivered a drab, abstract lecture on the “art” of British diplomacy, is verbally attacked by audience member Rachel: Why, she asks angrily, is Britain embroiled in IraqVietnam the sequel? How does the lecturer justify the British government’s killing of thousands of people for oil and a photo-op on the White House lawn? Rachel then goes on to advocate a policy that lamely involves the United Nations. Nonetheless, her point about the war in Iraq hits home.

Without disclosing too much, mention should be made of the film’s final sequence, a deviation from the novel. Although the scene perhaps tips the scale toward an overly satisfying emotional catharsis, there is something to be said for the blunt exposure of the Foreign Office’s Pellegrin (Bill Nighy), a high-level official preparing for a new career with pharmaceutical giant KDH.

Having floated the lie that Justin committed suicide, Pellegrin goes on to describe the murdered diplomat as the quintessential representative of his profession—someone who is courteous, self-effacing and would not have inconvenienced Her Majesty’s Government; in fact, says Pellegrin, nothing gave credit to his life so much as the way he ended it. The truth about Justin’s fate at the hand of the British state, together with a condemnation of the deaths “from lives that are bought so cheaply” to benefit the “civilized world,” dramatically closes the film.

The decision to film this novel is not insignificant. After four decades of writing fiction, le Carré is an insightful and talented novelist with intimate knowledge of the workings of the British state and the ruling elite as a whole. The publication of The Constant Gardener in 2001 was preceded by an article in the Daily Telegraph, entitled, “The Criminals of Capitalism,” in which le Carré condemned “the conviction that, whatever profit-driven corporations do in the short term, they are ultimately motivated by ethical concerns, and their influence on the world is therefore beneficial, and so God help us all.” Le Carré continued, “It seemed to me, as I began to cast around for a story to illustrate the example, that the pharmaceutical industry offered the most eloquent example.”

Le Carré’s book is based on documented cases, such as trials that the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer carried out in Nigeria during an epidemic of bacterial meningitis. The drug company administered to sick children an antibiotic that was banned for treatment of meningitis in the West. Despite its having been shown to cause damage to the joints and potentially to produce arthritis, Pfizer’s tests were directed towards obtaining licensing for a wider use of the drug. Records indicate that the deaths of patients were kept anonymous and recorded only as numbers. Without follow-up treatment for the trials’ survivors, there exists no official record of the long-term impact of the drug.

The filmmakers have made a conscious connection with the objective situation. They are not simply stumbling around in the dark like so many of their colleagues. There are certain objective landmarks in the film; definite social and material interests are represented.

Certain social types—corporate director, spy, diplomat, radical activist, political hit man— are delineated. Various issues arise, most essentially the role of transnational corporations, in the form of the pharmaceuticals, backed by the great powers. The ravaging of Africa by these forces and the desperate condition of its population are deeply felt. What type of society allows this to take place? What is the remedy?—are some of the questions that arise both logically and emotionally.

The film’s remarkable cast labor with considerable diligence and conscientiousness, obviously affected by the extreme distress of the Kenyan population. It is within the core of the performances that one senses the growing global opposition to the Iraq war. A growing unease over the state of the world is to be welcomed.

As in the book, Justin Quayle is not a fully formed character and never really comes to life, but rather functions as something of a congealed plot device. His transition from formless, invisible civil servant (and “gardener”) to an unstoppable—almost reckless—force raging against the machine at times stretches credulity. The depiction of his relationship with Tessa—the vital raison d’être for his personality about-face—contains some of the film’s weakest and least dramatic arrangements.

Why did Meirelles opt for such jittery camera-work and a fragmented approach? The director might consider it artistically fashionable, given that City of God, his previous film about Brazil’s slums, was essentially made in this manner. Perhaps he is fascinated with new methods of narrative. He might argue that he is not interested in the social realism of the past and that only this oblique, indirect manner of telling a story is appropriate to our “new global reality” and new media, and so forth. Be that as it may, does this fragmentation help or hinder in relating the drama?

In the most obvious sense, it obstructs the viewer from experiencing, except fleetingly, the characters’ inner world, as well as the film’s more suggestive images.

One feels dissatisfied as well by the level of interaction with the Kenyans, who function more or less as background material. This reveals something about the director’s political outlook—his sympathy for but essential distance from what he terms the “underdogs” of society. The same problems were present in his depiction of the slum dwellers in City of God.

While the director is not obliged to come up with a solution to the problems he chooses to focus on, one feels that Meirelles is made somewhat nervous by the seriousness of the concerns raised in the film—what is to de done with giant conglomerates that dominate the globe and wreak havoc on the world’s population? How to proceed against their plundering? Unfortunately, the fragmentation and relentless chop-editing function primarily to deflect attention from these weighty matters.

The film raises issues for which there is no simple solution, but distracting the audience with cinematic pyrotechnics doesn’t help. It would be better, for example, to explain that this reality is difficult, that there are no quick fixes, or that a handful of outraged activists with slogans is not enough to make things right.

The Constant Gardener disturbs, lingers in the mind, for its images of Africa, images of corporate thuggery, images of well-meaning people drowning in their own self-deception (Woodrow), for its inner look at the machinations of imperialism with its mendacious servants, and so forth. Society is in deep crisis, and cinema is called on to continuously address this fact.

From: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/sep2005/gard-s06.shtml


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging--Part I


I think the title speaks volumes.


There is so much I am planning to write, yet so little time. This is a week of meetings and meetings and…more meetings at work.


I love my work and am not about to compromise it by blogging excessively.


Till then, I beseech all you good readers (whether it is an audience of one or not) to please bear with me.


For your information, I attended on 3 September the anti-poverty concert at Ghana’s Independence Square. Got some pictures, which I have yet to load—and a very juicy perspective to bring you.


But, like I intoned, work beckons…


You might want to catch up with the latest on my more international blog: http://ekbensah.blogspot.com





Monday, September 12, 2005

Water and Africa

This article has reminded me of Accra, and those young girls (and boys) who like to shout "ye--s, pure water!", as you pass by. I just could never understand why in Ghana, they precede the pure water with "ye--s", whilst in Nigeria, they just shout the darn thing!
some serious food for thought about a commodity -- often referred to as "blue gold" -- that many many take so ever for granted!

Lagos: Water, water everywhere
As the United Nations gathers to discuss anti-poverty measures, the BBC News website assesses how Africa could meet the Millennium Goals in 10 years' time. Here, Sola Odunfa looks at the water supply in Nigeria's main city of Lagos.

"Cold pure water! Fine pure water!" shouts a girl hawking drinking water on the streets of Lagos, a bustling metropolis almost completely surrounded by water.

This shout echoes out in all towns and many villages across Africa's most populous country and the continent's largest oil producer.

These small cellophane water bags - unlike tap water - are readily available, and come chilled.

Water experts say that they are anything but pure, but that means nothing to the millions of Nigerians who have no access to good, clean water.

Capacity problems

Lagos is the unofficial headquarters of the "pure" water industry and has many fans.

What we inherited a sector that was virtually comatose
Olumuyiwa Coker
Lagos Water Corporation

"It is neatly presented and easily available. In Lagos it is much more dangerous to take tap water than pure water," an enthusiastic customer explains.

Detractors complain, however, that pure water producers - who are meant to drill boreholes and purify the water privately - pilfer the water from state water pipes.

Until five years ago, these pipes reached woefully few areas of the city.

But the chief executive officer of the Lagos Water Corporation, Olumuyiwa Coker, says things are slowly improving since he's come to the helm of the state authority.

"Right now we have 50% coverage. We expect that in the next 10 years that should increase to between 70%-80%," he says.

"What we inherited four of five years ago was really a sector that was virtually comatose."

Epileptic electricity

Lagos's first potable water supply plant was established at Iju, more than 80 years ago. Today the city's population - an estimated 12m - has far outstripped the production capacity of the Iju Waterworks.

So with only half the population having potable water - and that's when the pumps are working - have state authorities simply being ignoring the problem?

It appears not: a much bigger second plant to boost supply has been built at Adiyan, reputed to be the biggest in Africa.

"This plant was commissioned in 1991 to produce 70m gallons per day," Production Manager Mustapha Olajide Agiri says.

"Technically there is no problem. Our major constraint is with the power supply, as on average we only get about 16 hours a day."

Indeed, at both Iju and Adiyan waterworks, it is the epileptic electricity supply from the national energy company that is hampering production and bumping up costs.

They have to resort to diesel generators which, officials say, makes the production very expensive.

Money matters

As far as the public is concerned, however, the main water problem, apart from insufficiency, is its quality.

But the production engineer at Iju Waterworks is adamant that his plant meets international standards.

It has good stability and a pH of 7.0, which is one of the best in the world
Engr Ehunmi
Iju Waterworks

"The quality of the water we pump is comparable even with Europe," Engr Ehunmi says.

"It has good stability and a pH of 7.0, which is one of the best in the world."

He explains that the colouring found in tap water in many areas is a result of contamination in the pipes laid by consumers to take the water into their premises.

The UN's target to halve the number of people without safe drinking water by 2015 is something the Lagos Water Corporation is committed to, Mr Coker says.

"Essentially what it entails is increasing our infrastructure to probably twice the size it is now by 2015," he says.

But to do this, the corporation needs resources, which is unlikely to be forthcoming from the state government, he says.

As in so many other sectors, it is the availability of funds that will eventually decide whether or not the people of Lagos beat poverty and get good, safe drinking water or 10 years' time.

VOTE Which of the UN goals is most important to you? Extreme poverty Primary education Gender equality Child mortality Maternal health Combating disease Environmental issues Economic development Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Blog Widget by LinkWithin

Footer Fancies

eXTReMe Tracker Who Links Here
Brochure Design - Small Business Bible
Brochure Design


BlogCatalog / StumbleUpon

My Photo Gallery

BlogCatalog Stuff!