Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Westernisation of Accra:: The Trials & Tribulations of the Middle Classes

Last week, I ended my first piece wondering whether the so-called middle class that (is perceived to) exist(s) are the “foot soldiers” of a westernization process. This calls into question whether there is a middle class?

If we operate from the assumption that a middle class comprises professionals—either tertiary or secondary-schoool-educated—we can already conceive of a middle class in this country. There’s a good bunch that is regularly in the news for going on strikes! However seeing as their pay is nothing to write home about, it is often easy to consign them to the “working class” whose income is just a bit over a dollar-a-day.

If they are truly the footsoldiers, then it is because they have taken on board certain precepts that are, in my view, unique to the West. Self-discipline is one of them.

How far Accra residents are self-disciplined is a question for the sages; my experience has been, thus far, a rather ambivalent experience.

Take driving. If it is anything to go by, I can whole-heartedly state that Accra residents fall seriously short. Much blame for this indiscipline is usually attributable to a particular class of “Accrarians”—taxi and tro-tro drivers. Interestingly enough, these are often barely-educated people for whom, it can be argued, self-discipline on the roads is a luxury.

That said, there is a huge swathe of Accrarians who are considered middle class by where they live—Spintex Road / Baatsona / Teshie-Nungua / East Legon – and by the jobs they do – banking workers in financial institutions; ICT companies; journalists—yet probably drive just as badly as the former group.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the middle class generally is law-abiding: they renew their driving licenses regularly, drive cautiously; pay off their loans on time. I wouldn’t know how true this is, as I haven’t done research on this, but I can say there’s a general perception that they are mild-mannered and refined.

Contrast that with the commercial drivers whom the police often catch for not renewing driving licenses. Many a time, I have had a taxi-driver leave me rather rudely and crudely at a point away from my intended destination, because the police were checking identification somewhere further up the road. Additionally, these drivers drive badly, with little observation of road signs and regulations.

Take this black-and-white argument further, and you are likely to blow the westernization process to smithereens. This is because the human condition, in my view, is such that you are likely to find as many bad drivers who also delay in renewing their licenses among the middle class as you are to find in the so-called working class.

Generally, Accra residents are law-abiding. They are, however, lawless, because rules and regulations are not implemented in the manner they should be. These include lighting of roads for purposes of safety; drivers of all types using unapproved routes; coaches over-speeding—and over-taking—private cars on high-speed roads, thereby creating unnecessary traffic.

When you look at the latter—important elements for any developing society—you get to wonder why there is this degree of lacuna in the implementation of laws?

As regards the ubiquitous sachet water, the less said, the better!

Few middle class Accrarians use sachet water; the trend, and indeed the fashion, is for those with a bit more disposable income to buy bottled water.

The battle between sachet and bottled has become a perennial one because very often, the environmental ramifications are immense: sachet water is littered all over the metropolis of Accra; bottled water not.

In the first place, this is because it is a bit difficult to litter with bottles: they can be used and re-used; sachet water not.

If I believe there to be a battle, then we can theoretically assume it to be analogous to one between the working and middle classes. The former—ostensibly badly-educated on the importance of maintaining a healthy and clean environment—litter, whilst the better-educated, as expressed through the middle classes—ought to know better.

However, the often do not, for even with regular garbage collection practice in Estates perceived to be populated by a middle class, there are cases where, in an attempt to avoid paying monthly dues, these residents add their garbage to other resident’s or, simply, litter the Estate elsewhere.

With an issue as nettlesome as this, it begs the question whether it is truly a middle class that are the foot soldiers of a process of westernization, which, in my view, includes the implementation of laws.

Then again, what do we say about the crusade-like attempts by Accra mayor Stanley Adjiri-Blankson to clothe taxi-drivers in uniform and emboss their cars with visible security numbers.

Today, even if the uniforms are nowhere near the bodies of taxi-drivers in the metropolis, at least most of the taxis are embossed—and all this was done within three months of an announcement to do so!

Decongestion of the metropolis has revealed parts of Accra (Central Business District) rather free of hawkers, as well as regular monitoring by authorities of AMA.

In my view, this is clearly an indication that laws can be followed through and processed. But surely, this should be the norm in any society—and not the exception? To praise the exercise excessively is to give an impression that Accrarians cannot do rule of law, or regulation—without being considered an “obroni”, or westernized.

Next, I’ll be looking at how far Accra has gone to becoming a rules-based society, and how far regulatory agencies, such as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drugs Board (FDB), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), National Communication Authority(NCA) have been working in creating and enforcing some type of discipline in the mentality of residents of Accra.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

African Union Summit 9 Opens in Accra...on 1 July

Well, almost. The Ninth Edition of the African Union Summit Head of States opens in Accra on July 1. In the meantime, in Accra, there will be many scenes like these, where you see a Ghana flag hanging in front of a hotel.

This is Alisa Hotel, in a rather exclusive part of Accra. I was there this afternoon in connection with a launch of papers around the debate of an African Union government by the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The AU Grand Debate Is On: My Interview on Radio Gold 90.5fm

This side of the equator, it's no longer news that the AU summit will be held in Ghana's capital in July.

To this end, a number of public events questioning the utility of a union government in Africa have been held in the country. To ensure that there is open and public discourse on the topic, an open forum was held last week at Ghana's teacher's hall, with the theme: "Achieving African Union Government by 2025".

The forum was packed to capacity as speakers from all sectors of society--from civil society to the private sector, and members of the government and its opposition--were present. The debate lasted a good two hours and a half, and saw many animated interventions and submissions that made the forum worth attending.

As the programme was about to end with interventions, I stepped in, and made one (which will be the subject of a later entry). This prompted a few headshakes in agreement as to my submission--as well as being approached by one Roland Aquah-Stevens. The man has been described in some quarters as "indefatigable", and I only got to know this when I realised much later that he was not just scouting for young people -- the youth -- to make interventions in the flaship Radio Gold programme "Platform Africa", but that he was also reading "Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man". He is, in fact, a very learned man.

So there I was being approached to appear on radio--for the first time ever. Despite my initial apprehension, I agreed.

Two days later, I defied the Andy Warhol conception of short-term fame to be interviewed on Radio Gold, one of Ghana's private radio stations broadcasting in English, for a good two hours.

I was there with two other panellists--one "Grandfather",a Pan-Africanist journalist, and James Kwabena, a youth activist. The interviewer/host was Matuli Muntara--also the brainchild behind the entertainment website
Below is a short transcript of what transpired between me and the host.

MATULI: That was the voice of Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah, and I think that the insert is germane to the discussion we are having this evening on Platform Africa. The Grand Debate of the Union Govt for Africa: Perspectives of the Youth. I'd like to say, gentlemen, welcome to the programme. Let me start with you Emmanuel. When mention is made of the Union govt for Africa, what comes to mind?

EKB: What I see when there is mention of the Union Govt of Africa is an Africa that comprises five main regional blocs, because I think it is important we don't forget that in conceiving of a United Nations of Africa, to include the regional economic communitites. They are so critical to that development. Already the African Economic Community--the main charter--the basis upon which AU govt is supposed to be established has set five main regional blocs--ECOWAS in West Africa; SADC in South Africa; ECCAS; IGAD; Arab Maghreb Union. However, because there is a plethora of regional economic communities--mostly now eight--there is some talk of rationalising--there is ongoing research in Nairobi on rationalising some of tehse RECS so that it is important to look at the overlap --or lack thereof -- of these RECs. When I talk of overlap, it's about some countries belonging to two or more RECS. When we begin to talk about union govt and we exclude this fact, I do not think we are going anywhere.

MATULI: So you think union govt is possible through these five or eight regional blocs?

EK: I really do think that is possible, but it is important also for there to be information strategies/information sharing on these regional economic communities, because a lot of africans--at least some of those who I have talked to... in this country and beyond -- have no idea. Even ECOWAS, I meet a number of Ghanaians who know there is ECOWAS, because you go to the border of Togo--it's French-speaking and you can pass with your passport. But beyond that, ECOWAS is something --an idea that is very difficult to comprehend in their mind, and I think the problem is because it has not been broken down by our policy-makers sufficiently for them to understand the value of, let's say, being West African.

MATULI:To you, what is the union government of Africa?

EK: The union govt of Africa would be decentralised:I would see an AU commission--we already know there is an AU Commission headed by Alpha Kounare--with these RECS linking/liaising with main AU commission in Addis Ababa, taking instructions from there, on how to manage their regional economic communities. Because I think West Africa and Southern Africa and Eastern Africa, there are differing levels of development.

So, supposing in West Africa, ECOWAS remained the main regional organisation -- instead of UEMOA or smaller regional RECS-- we would take instructions from the AU Commission in Addis, and we would look at our political, economic, and social institutions that are there--including our health, through the West African Health Organisation-. All the institutions that are important need to be strengthened so that it would make more sense, rather than trying to devolve all the power to the AU, because it's big. Already, the AU is under-staffed; it has some 500 members of staff-- as compared to the EU, which has about 20,000 members of staff at its commission in Brussels. So already, we are seeing a problem with finances.

I am working on the transcipt, but in the meantime, let me just say that my major contribution for that got me on the programme involved three simple points.

First, there needs to be identification of imperatives of each region. Simply put, what is unique about a particular region that that region can capitalise on to bring to bear in the conception of an AU government? So, we can say, for example, that ECOWAS's sub-regional imperative is that of conflict prevention/resolution /management, given its experience with Liberia/Sierra Leone/and the instrumentality of ECOMOG. SADC's might be a different one; the EAC's might be on, say, regional infrastructure. For example, § A paper from UNU-CRIS cites that: “the AU has been the first regional organization to establish a clear relationship with the UN as it is consciously aspiring to closely coordinate, if not integrate, its mission planning and execution of peace and security action with the prevailing structures/plans of the UN”.

Secondly, there needs to be comparative approaches. By this I mean what best practices are there from each of these regional communities that can best be put to good use in any conception of an AU government? This means that ECOWAS's peacekeeping/peace enforcement wing ECOMOG could be analysed for use in a regional organisation like SAARC that has experienced problems over Kashmir/India and Pakistan. What is it that ECOMOG has been able to do in enforcing peace that SAARC can learn from?

Thirdly, there needs to be collaboration, as exemplified by the donation of $1m by the Arab League to the African Union's peacekeeping forces.

I have further arguments that can be elaborated on in later entries, but for now, these three points remain the crux of my personal vision of an AU government. Even then, ramifications of these elements remain, and can be very much expounded upon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

As the Week Opens in Accra: Stanbic's Imperialist Stretch Reaches to Ghana's Shores in its Total Acquisition of ADB

The news of Stanbic Bank's complete takeover of Ghana's Agricultural Development Bank has made me a very sad man. And it's filled me with rage.

I have written about South Africa before, and as long as this blog is alive, I will continue to write about the country's imperialist aspirations.

This is a country that has huge potential to be a positive force on the African continent, given its financial clout, yet choses to use this power and clout to perpetuate its viscerally-exploitative tendencies.

Let's face it: 100% takeovers by a firm of another African country's key sector bank has hardly ever been, and never will be altruistic.

The saddest thing is that South Africa--a country whose pretensions to Pan-African unity are as spurious as the Black Economic Empowerment programme the country seeks to use to give one the impression that it is no longer under the purview of the West. It's attitude is a farce--and wrong.

I have one South African friend, and so if I am accused of being racist, I duly apologise, but I trust she will understand my visceral disgust with the geopolitics of her country that I am against--and not her.

That said, if this blog is my oxygen, I will not just breathe, but shout to the hills: I do not want any more South African elements in this country of Ghana.

The question, then, is: would I have felt this way of Nigerians had come to take over ADB? First of all, I do not believe that Nigerians--for all the "fears" they generate, would have contemplated such a heinous move, and, no, I probably wouldn't have felt so enraged, given that they are of West African stock, but not the South Africans.

I do not believe they are people-centred, because the country has a superficial veneer of prosperity generated by Blacks, when, in reality, it is the white minority that is pulling the strings--yet again.

As South Africa is in the news for the nation-wide strikes, you get to wonder where its priorities remain.

In my view, the country has become a malevolent exemplification of a modern and amoral (financial) Realpolitik that seeks to exploit Black Africa, and perpetuate the very financial apartheid Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah fought ferociously against to free that country from the shackles of imperialism.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Westernisation of Ghana: Modernisation vs Westernisation

Last week, I caught a taxi at the Tetteh-Quarshie interchange, which was going towards the Spintex Road. In it were two other men, and one woman who looked like a market lady. It was clear from the woman's attire that she was working class--it was a very paled dress--and she was crudely chewing gum. The other two men were a bit different. The one who sat next to me was wearing a tie, and carrying...a blackberry phone!.

Meanwhile, the taxi-driver was listening to a radio station--blasting contemporary music--from what looked like a rather swanky radio, with lights all over the place. I can definitively say that three of us in that taxi were carrying a mobile phone, and we were all heading towards a rather affluent part of Accra, which is what the Spintex Road is fast and furiously becoming.

As I plodded on home, I thought to myself, shaking my head in disbelief at the perceptions of affluence that one is bombarded with in this country. A blackberry phone?? and being used in a taxi at that?;-)

I wondered to what extent that suggested Ghana was being westernised--to the extent that some classes could use a phone like that to check their mail, by way of the mobile internet services available in the country, when there were plenty of internet cafes around. Even if it was the company's phone he was using--which I doubt--he must have been working in an impressive establishment, which some might consider rather modern.

But to speak of the modernity associated with this encounter--mobile internet; blackberry phone; affluent Spintex Road; swank car radio playing contemporary music; three out of four taxi users owning a mobile phone -- is not to say that Ghana has become westernised.

When I started thinking about this topic, I asked around, and some inter-changed modernity with westernisation. I do believe there is a distinct difference.

In my view, modernisation can mean good, tarred roads; access to latest mobile phones (with mobile internet access that is inexpensive); high-rise buildings; provision of social services; ample streetlights--to name but a few--but is that westernisation?

The reason why I would throw away the westernisation tag here is that even if Ghana possesses good roads, which we do and there are well-structured houses--both within and outside the Estate structures, as found in Manetville and Regimanuel, what proves Ghanaians have been westernised? Is it the life-styles and the attitudes taht are ever-changing?

You can pick an illiterate from the village, clothe him with either cheap (Chinese-made) clothes, or those from Woolworths; and put him in a fast-food joint like papaye. Would that make him Western or an illiterate in a modernised Accra?

Again, I belive that in any fashioning of a Westernisation argument, we arrive at a point when the critical and defining characteristic...starts with education--even a modicum of it--that compels the individual to make informed and discerning choices. As such, a greater acquisition of this education--or knowledge--would compel the Ghanaian to appreciate certain precepts and norms that the West has gotten used to. These include: self-discipline; implementation of laws by authorities; and regulation.

This raises another question: even if there is all of these in Accra at a rate that is acceptable to all, how far would it go in making Ghanaians westernised?

The quick-and-short answer to that, I would say, is that the three elements I have listed above would begin to mean something to Ghanaians once they started to become increasingly middle class.

Next week, I shall be looking at whether there is any self-discipline in Accra; whether there are implementation of laws by authorities; and the extent to which regulation works. I shall also look at whether there actually is a middle class. If so, are these the footsoldiers of what I'm calling a "westernisation" process?

Monday, June 04, 2007

EXCLUSIVE!-->Interview with the Host of the BBC-Award-Winning Citi FM Breakfast Show

Bernard Avle(left) He cuts a contemplative and tall figure. Be-spectacled with some degree of seriousness etched on his face, you could be forgiven for thinking that the dynamic Bernard Avle, host of the CITI Breakfast Show is only recently a busy man. But he's not. He's been busy ever since he became the host of the young and private Accra-based radio station in late 2004.

Recently from Nairobi, Kenya, where he accompanied the station's managing-director Samuel Attah-Mensah to receive an award for the "Best Interactive TalkShow of the Year", I took the opportunity to ask him over to my workplace, whilst he was in the East Legon neighborhood for another interactive Friday show.

I ended up agreeing on a time to set up an "online" interview with him. These are the results.

Congratulations on your station winning the first-ever BBC Radio Award for "Best Interactive Show in Africa". How does it feel?

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be on Global Voices Online. It does feel good to have been acknowledged by the BBC as having the Talk/Interactive Show of the year

Tell me about the BBC Radio Awards

The Africa Radio Awards were instituted by the BBC to celebrate excellence in African Radio, according to the organisers, Radio is a powerful medium for reaching Africans with over 700 million listeners across the continent.
The awards were held in two phases-the 1st being the regional finals for East, South & West Africa. There were 7 categories in all; Radio Station of the Year, New Radio Station of the Year, News Journalist of the Year, Sports Journalist of the Year, Local On-Air campaign of the year, Talk/Interactive Show of the year and Young Journalist of the year.Citi FM got into the finals after being selected as regional winners in the categories of New Radio Station of the Year, and Talk/Interactive show of the year.

Tell me about the entry you sent

For the category which my program won, we were expected to send excerpts of our program totalling not more than 30 minutes, to the BBC. As you would know, my program airs 3& 1/2 hours every weekday, thus it was quite a challenge putting the best of my work into 30 minutes.I sent a mix of programs, including the outdoor broadcasts we held at Gbawe and Oblogo, as well as the heated social discussions we held on "Sex for Jobs"; “Irresponsible Fatherhood”, and “Condoms for Students”. I also sent in excerpts of the program I did on the Legacy of Dr Kwame Nkrumah , on the 97th Anniversary of his birth, plus a few others.

What do you think was the defining element for BBC's choice of CITI?

To answer that i'll just paste verbatim, what the judges said about my entry."Interactive/ Talk Show of the Year: The Citi Breakfast Show hosted by Bernard Avle, Citi FM, Ghana

This show successfully mixes studio guests, outside broadcasts, phone-ins and text messages to ensure it is tapping into the stories the local community want to hear. Bernard Avle has a questioning, out-going personality which gets to the heart of issues in a fun and informative way. He often takes his listeners' complaints direct to those responsible and nothing is taboo with everything from free condoms and sexual harassment to Kwame Nkrumah's legacy coming under scrutiny.

I've heard you on radio many times. You sound rather combative in your interviewing techniques. Or so your critiques say. What's with that style?

Combative might be a strong word, assertive is probably more accurate. I ask simple questions when I have to elicit information for listeners, but I sometime ask pointed questions in a bid to clarify a point or even play the devil’s advocate when necessary to ensure that all sides of an issue are articulated.

Ghanaians appear to be turned off by aggressive and combative interviewing, whilst at the same time being very vocal about criticizing their policy-makers. In your view, why is there such a disparity?

Ghanaians value respect for authority but also appreciate probing questions from an assertive interviewer who does so in a courteous way. A few listeners complain sometimes about my style, but generally, there is no disparity there; one does not have to be rudely aggressive or "combative"- a word I still disagree with - to be robust and thorough in an interview. The essential point is to ask well-grounded, relevant questions.

Interactivity is fine; topics are another. The CITI Breakfast Show has covered international topics, such as Zimbabwe, but doesn't cover that many ECOWAS or other-Africa related issues. Is this because there is no appetite for this? If not, why not?

The BBC was pleased by the broad mix of subjects discussed on the Citi Breakfast Show. Although our audience is of an international nature, pre-eminence is sometimes given to local issues because local listeners predominate.I do not agree that we do not cover Ecowas issues. My show did a live outdoor broadcast from the Budumburam camp of Liberian Refugees, during their 2005 elections. We also did many shows on the Nigerian elections. Anyhow, as we grow our audiences we would definitely put in more hours for the sub-region.

As Ghana becomes the hub, or gateway, for West Africa, what challenges do you foresee will emerge for broadcast journalists?

If your question is in reference to the Ghanaian Journalist, I think the challenge of objectivity will always be there. Ghanaian journalists will need to move away from what has become partisan and parochial agenda setting to objective coverage of the country, to give the international community a more accurate picture of the situation in Ghana.

What do you think is the future for radio broadcasting in Ghana?

Huge potential, Radio is the most powerful means of reaching both urban and rural Ghanaians. Over 70% of All Ghanaian own a radio set* as compared with less than 50% for TV. The Ghanaian is hungry for information and presently radio provides that in good, credible measure, largely because people see radio as the first port of call to channel grievances.

In the West, citizen journalism and blogging is big vis-à-vis the media, with many debates raging on the threat-- or lack thereof-of how Media is changing the face of journalism. Last August, the BBC reported that 61% of Nigerians had accessed the BBC website via their mobile phones ( **). Where do you see Ghanaian journalists going with New Media?

Its obviously a big opportunity which I do not think Ghanaian electronic media owners have fully opened up to. It has more to do with where media owners want to invest in. Having said that, the Ghanaian journalist has a big opportunity to take advantage of these technologies to learn from across the globe.

* Ghana Statistical Service; Pattern & Trends in Poverty(Ghana Living Standards Survey v;2007)


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