Originally published in Public Agenda on August 31, 2012
By Schuyler Durham
After many laughs, dozens of adventures and countless new friends, my six-week stay in Ghana is winding down to a close. With a heavy heart, I look back on my time spent in this beautiful country and attempt to derive an overall assessment of my time here.
When I travel, be it down the road from my home city, or across an ocean and thousands of miles away, I always ask the same two questions as means of cultural evaluation; what would I like to bring back to my community? And what would I like to bring here from my community?
During these six weeks, I have filled my arms, luggage, and heart with a seemingly unending collection of trinkets, clothes and realisations I hope to share with my loved ones back home.
I realise that it is repeated time after time by every visitor who spends even half a day in Ghana, but failing to mention the warmth and friendliness of Ghanaians would leave a gaping hole right in the centre of my recollection. It seems as if brief introductions and a two-minute conversation are all you need to make a real friend here. Back home in the States, people are always somewhat wary of strangers. Business interactions are preferred to personal ones. Ghana has taught me that every interaction is better when it is a personal one; taxi drivers, fruit stand ladies, and the random passerby quickly become friends, transcending the cold necessities of business interaction and producing a warm feeling that lasts long after the ride ends or the banana is eaten.
Branching off of this friendliness, the second thing I would love to bring back to the United States is the sense of extended family in Ghana. Though we use similar terms in common speech “calling friends “bro” or “brother” – Ghanaians use the language with a much more literal connotation.
I sat with a Ghanaian in a food stand at one point, while waiting for our rice to be prepared, and several villagers stopped by the stand to say hello. The person I sat with introduced each new face saying, “this is my brother.” After the first few people passed by, I finally recognised that each of these people were not literally his brothers – in the sense that they had different mothers – but, at the same time, they were literally his brothers. Communities are more than neighbours, they are extended family. There does not seem to be as much of an emphasis on each individual family unit, and as such people regard a much larger collection of people as loved ones, as family. Anyone who could be an aunt, in terms of age and gender, is treated as an aunt. The United States, and any nation for that matter, could benefit from this understanding of community as an extended family.
In my opinion, Ghanaians have a better understanding of larger social concepts in general. This is exemplified, as I pointed out in my write up on first impressions, through the prevalence of the Almighty in daily life. People recognise that they are a part of something larger than themselves, and feel an individual obligation to give thanks and focus to this realisation.
Another way that this understanding manifests itself in public life, in an immensely positive way, is the political engagement by all members of society. The government, as a larger extension of the Ghanaian community, is highly valued. This is evident through the debates and criticisms I hear from all corners of Accra every day. Governments work best when more citizens are involved, and Ghanaian citizens definitely have the drive to participate.
Each Ghanaian seems to feel an individual obligation to have an opinion about political happenings, to participate in some way. Back home, I am considered to be more political than most of my peers, though here in Ghana I am as passionate about politics as the average taxi driver. Every citizen voices his or her opinion, and in the end a leader wins and the country follows; a true democracy in every way. When Prof John Atta Mills’ untimely death was set upon the country, Ghana took it in stride, maintaining absolute peace and minimising political play. Despite often claiming to be a leader of democracy, I think the U.S. could use a lesson on the importance of personal politics from Ghana.
The only warning I have for Ghanaian politics, after seeing the damage it has wrought in the United States, is that people should be loyal to people, not political parties. Undying devotion to a single political party prevents one from clearly hearing valid input from those outside social circles of the chosen party, creating an environment rich for political corruption and confusion.
While my Ghanaian experience has been filled with inexplicable positivity, I do have a slight criticism with the trash (refuse) management of the nation. Ghana is such a beautiful country, with large cities like Accra juxtaposed against nearby stretches of sandy beaches or lush green hillsides, it makes me sad to see the way trash is disregarded by many citizens.
I recognise the long list of social services waiting to be implemented or perfected, but a trash collection service would provide many benefits for Ghanaian society. Despite an initial investment, trash management could provide jobs for the jobless while cleaning up the streets. Burning trash should not be an option, as it releases many toxic fumes that dirty the air.
Reporting on the salt mines in the Songhor Lagoon, I witnessed many speakers voice their concern over pollution ruining water sources of the lagoon. Angry statements about blocked waterways were met with cheers of agreement from the crowd. However, in the same breath, the local sitting next to me drained his water sachet and tossed it over his shoulder. This inability to connect consequences, like poor air quality and ruined water sources, with small actions such as this endangers the beauty of Ghana in the long run.
If I know anything about Ghana though, I know that the people are continually driven to unite and make a better Ghana. No problem poses a threat too big for the hearts and brains of Ghanaians.
As I pack my bags to get on that plane headed west, you can be sure there will be a tear in my eye as I frantically recall each beautiful landscape, tasty meal, and friendly face that made my time in Ghana amazing and truly unforgettable.
Thank you Ghana, from the bottom of my obroni heart.
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Originally published in Public Agenda on August 31, 2012
By Schuyler Durham
After nearly five weeks of assimilating myself to the hustle and bustle of cities like Accra and Kumasi, brimming with commotion and activity, my weekend trip to the Volta Region was a welcome break from my Ghanaian routine. As I watched the urban beauty of Accra gradually give way to the lush greenery of eastern Ghana, I felt as if I was falling into a hammock and taking a deep restful breath of ocean air.
The bus generously loaned to my fellow students and I by the School of Communication Studies Department, University of Ghana, Legon, rolled into the Tafi-Alome Monkey Sanctuary sometime in the early afternoon. As Mona monkeys climbed on my shoulders to grab bits of banana out of my hand, our tour guide explained the history of the forest. The monkeys there are considered sacred and local people believe that they are little manifestations of God. Unfortunately, during the people’s earliest introductions to Christianity, some leaders misinterpreted verses of the Bible in a way that provoked them to start killing off the monkeys. The Mona monkeys were slaughtered in this way for decades, until the community turned back to their traditional ways. Since then, the population of the nearly vanished Mona monkey has bounced back to life. I was glad the people have learned to respect the monkeys because it was one of my favourite experiences thus far in my Ghanaian travels.
Our next stop was the Wli waterfall, the tallest waterfall in West Africa. Butterflies lined the pathway with their vibrant colour variations as we wound our way up the hillside. The waterfall run off snaked through the path and we crossed it on seven different footbridges, each one as picturesque as a postcard.
Once we reached the base of the waterfall, all of us Oregonians jumped right into the water. There was a group of Ghanaian teachers-in-training who took great delight in seeing some crazy obronis strip down to their bathing suits and leap into the choppy pool. They cheered and shouted and sang as we tried to wade as close to the fall as we could. The overwhelming power of the waterfall made it so that, even at 20 yards away, the spray from the fall was blinding. Still, we turned our backs to the mist and sightlessly crept our way toward the wall of water.
After tiring of battling the power of the water, we sloshed up onto the banks and experienced the power of Ghanaian community. The teachers had formed a dance circle with a row of drummers along the outside. The musical festivities were too much to ignore, so we dove into the circle, equalling the enthusiasm that got us into the pool. We danced and danced until our clothes were almost dry, then moseyed on down the path, considering the beauty in both nature and community, feeling like our heads were still up in the euphoria of the Wli waterfall and our new friends.
The next day produced a similar contrast between nature and community’s beauty. We spent the afternoon on a boat zooming up and down the Volta River. The green hills looming over our small boat reminded me of my home in Oregon, United States, though the vegetation was uniquely African. We watched fisherman float by on canoes. Some were avidly working their nets, others stretched out in a patch of shade for an afternoon nap. Our group was quietly contemplative, and we let the hum of the small engine set the tone while we took in the pretty scenery rolling past our vision.
Sometime after we disembarked and allowed our eyelids to be lulled into a short nap like the fisherman, we decided it was about time for another dance circle. Unfortunately, there were no dance circles we could join, so we took it upon ourselves to get one started. The hotel where we stayed had large speakers blasting music, so it did not take long to recreate the energy of the previous day’s dance circle. People from all within earshot came to join us; Americans, Ghanaians, Indians, Germans and others all dancing together. A Ghanaian tried to teach me how to “azonto,” but I don’t think I picked it up as quickly as she hoped I would. Regardless, it was a great way to wrap up our Volta adventure.
The Volta trip was not as factually packed as my Kumasi trip, nor was it as emotionally intense as my trips to slave castles at Elmina and Cape Coast. The Volta trip was beautiful though, and I think the beauty I experienced that weekend was representative of the beauty of Ghana: the beauty of nature and people. Every time I thought I had experienced a perfected beauty in a fluttering butterfly or massive hillside, the next moment would have me lost in the beauty of friendship as I was dragged into a dance circle or friendly chat.
From the Mona monkeys jumping onto my shoulders, to the Ghanaian dancers with their arms around my shoulders, it is clear that the only thing that can match the beauty of Ghana’s nature is the beauty of Ghana’s people.
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The black and white image ran front cover on the Daily Guide August 30th, 2012. The rest of the photographs are from the rally but have not been published yet. The NPP, New Patriotic Party, released its manifesto ‘Transforming Lives, Transforming Ghana’ during a media event at the International Press Center in Accra.
These images ran with a series of articles and in a center page photo montage in the Daily Guide from August 27-August 29. Images in black and white where published in the paper. The Daily Guide won several awards and a free lance journalist, Awuni Azure Manasseh, won Journalist of the Year.
These photos were from a story on the release of the new GHC 50 note at the national bank. The black and white image was the image that ran with the story.
Photograph appeared on: August 22nd, Daily Guide page 8
Originally published in Public Agenda on August 27, 2012.
By Schuyler Durham
The Institute for Fiscal Policy (IFP) hosted a workshop on Thursday, August 23, 2012 to provoke discussion about money mismanagement and increasing the quality of basic education resources throughout Ghana. The workshop was chaired by Prof. Jerome Djangmah, former head of Zoology Department at University of Ghana, Legon, and later pro-vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana.
Dr Zakaria Yakubu, programmes director of Integrated Social Development Centre, in his welcoming address, pointed out that, “when money is mismanaged, it is the poor… who suffer.” This statement set the tone for the workshop, which focused largely on how Ghana can best provide quality education to those in poor public school districts. According to IFP’s research, of the bottom 50 schools, in terms of BECE performance, 41 are public schools. Compared with the five public schools that make up the top 50, it becomes clear that there is a great disparity between the education received by Ghanaians in various settings, having largely to do with public funding.
IFP also found that general public funding has been on the decline since 2008. While education expenditures made up 10.1 per cent of the total GDP in 2008, that figure dropped drastically to 9 per cent, the following year. In 2010 the figure rose again, by less than a per cent, but several actual expenditure statistics show that financing continued to drop, especially in areas like teacher training.
Indeed, properly trained teachers have become the minority. Since 2008, untrained teachers have made up over 50 per cent of the total teachers in public schools. This, on top of irregular school inspections and declining textbook availability, has created a difficult environment for students to successfully learn.
Another major issue, brought up by IFP, was the gap between male and female graduation rates. Of the three years researched, male pass rates never dropped below 61 per cent, while female pass rates only breached 58 per cent in one of those years.
According to IFP, the most common root of problems with public education is the irregularity and unpredictability in the flow of funds, as they work their way down from the Ministry of Finance. Another major issue is the lack of school inspections, which has been shown to lead to decreased productivity from teachers. In some rural areas, where school inspections are especially scarce, teachers have been known to take long stretches of time off school, leaving children to fend for themselves, educationally, for weeks on end.
Representatives from the Ghana Education Service (GES) were in attendance and responded with hopeful words about how their budgeting will improve in the future. They said they had revised their list of needy schools, in order to give better resources to those who need it. Per child spending in needy areas will increase by 7.5 Ghana cedis in this next year. Also included in their rebuttal was a promise to introduce school report cards, to make school inspections easier and more frequent.
The GES also ensured those at the meeting that there are going to be increased grants, targeted to needy girls in school. “Intensive packages,” were promised, though no definitive figures were announced for this.
In general, the GES reported, there are plans in place to meet all goals set in the 2010 Education Sector Strategic Plan by 2015. As it stands today, not one of those goals has been met.
After the response by GES, a back and forth ensued in the room between those upset with insufficient funds and money mismanagement within education, and those working within the infrastructure to adequately provide for the people. The tone was respectful and friendly, though it was clear that the main rift between the two parties is an issue of trust. Members of the GES continually promised future action, in response to concerns raised. Their promises were met with cautious approval, one attendee responding that he was unable to satisfactorily accept their response until there is increased transparency in the flow of money downstream to individual schools, and more reliability in government grants.
Mrs Philomena Johnson, who presented IFP’s research earlier in the workshop, helped calm the buzz of debate with a few summarizing words. “It is clear,” she said, “there is the need for strong collaboration between agencies and Civil Societies.” She continued that there “has to be mutual trust” between these two. Without this, Mrs Johnson warned, nothing is possible.
The morning was an example of what is going to be needed for true progression in the educational sphere; a space in which various facets of educational involvement can put their heads together. With increased conversation between government agencies and concerned citizens, there is sure to be a brighter future for the school children of Ghana.
In the end, Prof Djangmah closed, “what you get is what you put in.” Let’s give the youth the attention they deserve, and allow Ghana to continue to progress.
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Preview: Jared Kaufer
The 2012 London Olympics have come and gone, and the Ghanaian contingency has absolutely nothing to show upon their arrival back in Accra. Going into the 2012 Olympics, the nine Ghanaian athletes who qualified weren’t given much of an opportunity to come home with a medal in hand. Each Ghanaian athlete was placed in their respective sporting events with bigger, stronger, and more athletic athletes. A true miracle had to occur in London for even one of the nine athletes to hear Ghana’s national anthem on the podium. Unfortunately, there were no miracles to be had for the Ghanaian athletes who were given the rare and unique opportunity to represent their country while all eyes watched.
With a population inching towards 26 million people, there is no reason why Ghana shouldn’t have many more than just nine athletes competing at a world-class level in a wide array of Olympic sports.
Ghanaian Olympic 200m veteran Vida Anim placing 8th out of 9 competitors in her heat? Not acceptable.
Puerto Rican Jantony Ortiz Marcano making child’s play out of Ghanaian boxer Sulemanu Tetteh in the first round of competition? Can no longer be tolerated.
Host country Great Britain, with a population just 3 times the size of Ghana came away with 65, medals, including 29 gold, while Ghana came home with zero, zilch. What makes it even more upsetting is that there was not even a moment during these Olympics where the thought of coming home with even one medal had crossed anyone’s mind. Yes, we had nine athletes competing, but each one’s ability and performance was depressingly subpar.
But, there is hope. Ghanaian citizens who want to show to the world that we can produce top-notch athletes potentially don’t have to wait much longer.
It wasn’t too long ago that Great Britain was the laughing stock of Olympic supporters, as they came home with just ONE medal, when legendary Olympic rower Sir Steven Redgrave won gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A mere 16 years later, Great Britain has added 28 more gold medals throughout a vast array of Olympic sporting events, such as handball and long jump, which their athletes didn’t even qualify for 16 years prior in Atlanta.
There was no coincidence in the drastic spike in Olympic success that Great Britain achieved and Ghana needs to want to emulate Great Britain’s path to success to obtain Olympic glory.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, money was a major factor in Great Britain’s miracle turn around. In 1995, a year prior to the Atlanta Olympics, Great Britain government officials realized that they didn’t have the caliber of athletes to compete against other top nations such as USA and Russia, so they implemented the National Lottery funding program. The program was an initiative that diverted a portion of the proceeds from the state-run lottery game in areas such as sports, arts and entertainment. Since the program was conceived 17 years ago, it has pumped $6 billion in sports, from grass-roots level to elite-athlete funding.
Britain officials knew that they wouldn’t see the positive impact of the initiative in time for the Atlanta games a year later, as it would take time to cultivate the young talent throughout the country.
Fast forward 12 years to the Beijing Olympics, Great Britain finished third in overall Olympic medal count. The numbers speak for themselves.
Just like Ghana is capable of doing, the Brits did their research on how to target radical Olympic improvement. Britain put extra lottery resources upon Olympic events that met two criteria: Sports that didn’t have a well-established and lucrative professional structure within the country (which is every sport in Ghana besides soccer), but could yield a high number of potential medals. Events such as cycling and archery have the possibility to produce numerous medals and it is something that Ghana should look at focusing in on.
Lauren Messman, a colleague of mine, recently told me that she interviewed 100 Ghanaian’s on the street asking them if they had watched any of the Olympics. She found out that roughly 92% of Ghanaian’s hadn’t even watched a minute of the Olympics for various reasons. On the other hand, a recent poll showed that 71% of Americans watched at least 6 consecutive minutes of the Olympics. What do all these statistics mean? It means that Ghanaian’s as a whole aren’t interested and invested in the Olympics at all, which to me shows that they are either embarrassed of the Ghanaian athletic showing at the Olympics, or they just don’t have the national pride of other countries.
The overall negative attitude about the Olympics will change if Ghanaian’s see that the government is fully invested in doing all they can to bring a winning atmosphere to Ghana, with top-tier athletes competing in a wide array of Olympic sports.
Government officials don’t necessarily need to adopt Britain’s Olympic model of success, but who’s to say they can’t? Ghana has a lottery system just like Britain has, why can’t they funnel some of the money they receive from the lotto system into funding for state of the art sports complexes.
The government needs to open sports complexes in cities such as Accra, Kumasi, and Tamale where grassroots and Olympic development occurs. Olympic sports such as archery, badminton, fencing, and ping pong must be offered to cultivate talent among Ghanaian youth while also having training available for Olympic hopefuls.
Ghana is very capable of doing this, and if they invest the time and funding in it just like Britain did 16 years ago, then who’s to say Ghana can’t come home with 20 medals in the 2028 Olympic games
Preview: Jared Kaufer
The India High Commission (IHC) in Ghana announced that they will sponsor an Invitational T20 Top 4 Cricket tournament taking place from 19 August 20120 to 9 September 2012 at the Achimota Cricket Oval.
The IHC has stated that they expect the tournament to be held annually going forward. The Invitational has the full support by His Excellency, India High Commissioner, Mr. Rajinder Bhagat. The Invitational will be comprised of 4 top Ghanaian teams, namely Veterans Cricket Club, BGC 1 Cricket Club, Under 17 Cricket Club, and Bel Aqua Cricket Club.
Mr. Bhagat was a former Indian National Cricket Club member and played for Anritsar Punjab, which is one of the finest cricket clubs in the world. He was also a major contributor to the overall success of Mozambique Cricket in the country and hopes to replicate and translate the success he had there in Ghana.
Additionally, Mr. Bhagat is fully committed to assisting the Ghana Cricket Association (GCA) in developing the game at the grassroots level to ensure that it becomes popular among the Ghanaian youth. Mr. Bhagat believes that if cricket is taught in schools and communities it can offer the youth careers and self-discipline.
In terms of the level of competition that will be present during the Invitational starting on the 19 of August, BGC 1 finished tops at the closing of this year’s Accra T20 League after defeating fellow invitational participant Bel Aqua in the finals. Under 17 and Veterans Cricket Club finished 3rd and fourth in the league respectively. Not only will the level of play in the Invitational be top notch, it will also serve as a beneficial warm up for members of the Ghanaian National Team who are currently preparing for two international competitions.
The Senior National Team will participate in the Pepsi ICC Global WCl Division 8 in Apia, Samoa from the 15th-22nd of September and will also be featured in this year’s ICC Africa Regional Division 2 Tournament in Benoni, South Africa in October.
Originally published in Public Agenda on August 24, 2012
By Schuyler Durham
I don’t know if there is a place in the world that is more densely populated than the streets of Kumasi. I certainly have not been to one, and coming into the city with my fellow University of Oregon students, I could not focus on anything besides the intense amount of activity taking place all around our bus; taxis, trotros, venders, cars, hawkers, gawkers, and everything in between.
I was told that Kumasi’s population is about 800,000 more than Accra’s 4 million citizens, but if I had to take a guess coming into the city; I would have assumed there were twice as many people in Kumasi.
This initial reaction was only solidified with the first stop in our Kumasi adventure, the Kejetia Market, which is the second largest in all of West Africa. I’ve frequented open air markets and outdoor gatherings all of my life, but nothing back in the United States can compare with the apparent chaos held within the narrow paths winding like a maze through the vendors. I have never felt so claustrophobic in an outdoor setting before, but the sheer volume of people, sights, sounds, and smells left my senses completely saturated.
I felt a sense of awe that people manage to navigate these areas with determination and accomplishment on a daily basis. The ability to go into the market with a clear goal, and a clear route to accomplish said goal, opens my eyes to yet another skill set that had previously been off my radar. As one of my friends ahead grabbed onto my hand as a last minute effort to avoid being sucked into a passing crowd, I felt that a keen sense of physical awareness and direction must be some of the many treasures of the Ashanti people.
After a tour through Kejetia, my fellow Oregonians and I climbed back onto the bus to take a short trip to the Manhyia Palace, constructed for Asante royalty by the British in 1924.
In the palace, the wealth of the Ashanti people was proudly displayed from corner to corner in each room. The palace itself was meant to be an apologetic gift to the Asante people, after the British wrongly exiled their king, Prempeh I. However, the Asantes refused to accept such a gift and demanded to pay for it, hoping to avoid unnecessary obligations.
Weapons, decorations, and furniture adorned with gold were prominently featured in each room. Modern displays of wealth clashed with traditional treasures as kente cloth lay proudly next to a television set in one room and a refrigerator in another.
The Asante people pride themselves on the wealth of their kingdom, but it is worth noting that their wealth lies in much more than gold. As our tour guide explained that the hand-carried chariots are used to transport the King and Queen Mother during celebrations, even in this age of rapid transportation, I recognised the wealth in the spirit of the Asante people. The Asantes are rich in a way that American moguls will never understand or obtain. They are rich in a way that transcends material wealth. The Asante have a spirit that has survived for hundreds of years, in spite of multiple military clashes with colonisers, opposing Kingdoms and clans, and each other. In the face of globalisation, in the largest city in Ghana, the Asantes still carry their leaders in palanquins through the streets on their shoulders, and this speaks volumes to their cultural richness.
On top of touring the palace, my group visited several other sites in Kumasi, giving me the chance to try my hands at weaving kente cloth, stamping adinkra, and witnessing how beads are made. All of these sites just further drilled the image of Kumasi’s cultural wealth into my head. Designs and weaving styles make use of a vast array of symbolic meanings. Glass is recycled and ground into powder to form beads, boasting the sustainable brilliance of local craftsmen and women. Around every corner, the Asante people found new ways to introduce me to the wealth of their spirit. As long as the Asantes recognize the amount and variety of their wealth, their culture and traditions are never going to be endangered by outside influence.
The largest danger to Kumasi would be to trade the Asante Gold Spirit for the American Green Dollar.
Schuyler is a student of University of Oregon, Eugene, United States.
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Originally published in Public Agenda on August 24, 2012
By Schuyler Durham
On Thursday, 16 August, a meeting, entitled Community Dissemination and Engagement Forum on Advocacy Efforts in the Songhor Lagoon, was conducted in a schoolyard in Ada to further the discussion about how to maximise local benefit from the nearby Songhor Lagoon, rich with salt.
Nestled in the far eastern coast of Greater Accra Region, the Songhor Lagoon of Ada is one of the largest sources of salt in West Africa. However, the profits from this natural resource hardly ever find themselves in local hands. In an all-too-common plot-line for African natural resources, the majority of the lagoon has been sectioned off for private use by individuals from outside the area, who turn huge profits from the land by recruiting local salt miners to work at minimal costs.
However, the people of Ada seek to regain majority control of the mines through implementing the Master Plan, a land use resolution conceptualised in 1991. The Master Plan gives the rights to the Lagoon to locally formed co-operatives, who can then mine year round. Due to local disputes, a co-operative was never formed and larger private-interests jumped on the opportunity by introducing the Land Use Plan, which meant that the government developed the mines for private sale to local and outside individuals.
People and organisations such as the Ada Songhor Co-operative Union, which was in attendance on Thursday, are urging the locals to settle disputes and organise to take back their salt mines.
Currently, salt mining is often carried out on large mines, owned by a single person or corporation. The mines themselves are vast stretches of land, with shallow pools cut neatly into the earth. These pools for mining, referred to as dikes, are nearly uniform in length but vary drastically in width, often in correspondence with the wealth of the owner. Some mines, owned by outside interests, display rows of huge rectangles, while others are narrow slits that pale in comparison.
A single owner can have anywhere from just a few to several dozen dikes. An owner with 12 to 14 dikes might have about 30 miners working daily. Local people come early in the morning, to avoid the heat of the sun, and work for little pay until they tire and turn in for the day.
Considering the low pay for miners, the profitable salt that can be mined in a day is staggering. A security guard at one mine laughs as he comments, “The Asante think they are rich but they don’t realise… We have white gold.” Several miners working in one dyke can produce upwards of 500 or more bags of salt in a day, each one selling for 8 Ghana Cedis. On a farm working with twenty or more dykes, daily profits rocket to tens of thousands, all with little overhead cost due to the insignificant wages for miners.
People from all around the Ada area came together on 16 August to raise awareness on this issue and strategise for a solution.
On top of ownership disputes, another major issue called to attention by local people in attendance was the obstruction of waterways feeding the Lagoons.
The Songhor Lagoon is filled with sea water on a regular basis, but, since ancient times, the people have also depended on other sources of water to feed the Lagoon. Nearby rivers and waterways, such as the Volta River, have since been blocked or marred by pollution and development. If the salt mines are ever to return to their previous state, before the intrusion by outside influences, it is necessary to clean the rivers and stop the pollution that seeps into the rivers every day.
Rivers are not the only natural resource that has seen devastation in recent years of development. The forest Okowe has been considered sacred by the people of Ada since they settled in the area. According to local legend, a hawk led the founders of Ada to the forest, where an old woman introduced these new settlers to the splendours of salt mining. However, the forest now stands as a mere skeleton of its former self. Overharvesting of Okowe has left the lush forest with only a few handfuls of trees remaining as a solemn symbol of what the recent decades of development has done to the land and people of Ada.
The meeting escalated in energy and volume as the time stretched on. By the end people were running up to the front, one after the other, to shout their input to a crowd, some receiving cheers, some hardly noticed as my translator leaned over to me and said, “he is just talking to hear himself, there isn’t anything important I can translate.”
As everything came to a close, the crowd joined in on a traditional song to break the tension. Finally, everyone bowed their heads and a prayer delivered their thanks, efforts, and hopes to the Lord.
The Songhor salt mines offer much potential to the people of Ada, and hopefully, with God’s grace and some co-operation amongst the several clans who own pieces of the Lagoons, local ownership of these natural resources can become a reality in the near future.
Schuyler is a student from University of Oregon, Eugene, United States
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