Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Returning Home…

Paulina Opoku-Gyimah says: As the number of first and second generation ‘returnees’ of Anglo-Ghanaian descent [and beyond] escalates, -Guardian and Independent Newspaper journalist Afua Hirsch -manages to captures the zeitgeist of this phenomenon…and its implications.

The following was taken from the Guardian.....

Title: Afua Hirsch: Our parents left Africa – now we are coming home...
As a child in London, Afua Hirsch was embarrassed by her African roots. Then, in February, she became a 'returnee', choosing to live in her parents' birthplace, Ghana. Her story is echoed across the continent: attracted by economic opportunity and a new sense of optimism, the African diaspora is starting to come back …

Afua Hirsch
Afua Hirsch, photographed in Accra, Ghana for the Observer New Review. Photograph: Nana Kofi Acquah
When I was a teenager, my mother overheard me telling my peers that I was Jamaican, a clearly absurd statement from a half-Ghanaian, half-English girl whose first name is one of the most common in a major African language.

My mother, born and raised in Ghana, was mortified. Although in part I was living out the now well-documented struggle of mixed race youngsters to grasp their identity, mainly I was just embarrassed. It wasn't cool to be African in those days and in my ignorant teenage way, I was acting out a much bigger crisis of confidence, one that had been swallowing Africans and spitting them out as permanent economic migrants in Europe and America ever since the end of colonialism.

My family left Ghana in 1962, and in those days, leaving was permanent. Flights were few and expensive and spare cash was instead sent back home, establishing a remittance economy that exists to this day.

Life abroad, in London in the case of my mother's family, meant access to a stable income, reliable healthcare, plentiful food and a credible education. Meanwhile, many African states began falling apart.

The 90s, when I was so quick to deny any association with Africa, was the decade when wars from Sierra Leone to Rwanda formed one of the most lethal periods in African history since the end of the slave trade. It culminated in the Economist dedicating a notorious cover in 2000 to what it described as "the hopeless continent", claiming that across Africa "floods, famine… government-sponsored thuggery, and poverty and pestilence continue unabated".

Revolving door alternations between civilian and military rule continued in countries ranging from Nigeria to Burundi, Chad to Congo. The World Bank was offering financial bailouts, but with the condition that countries accepted the humiliating label of "highly indebted poor country". In Ghana HIPC, as it was popularly known, became a term of derision and a symbol of battered pride.

The sparkling literary talent Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said: "If I had not grown up in Nigeria, if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I, too, would think Africa was a place of beautiful landscape, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and Aids, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind white foreigner.

"The consequence of the single story is this," Adichie continues. "It robs people of dignity."

For many Africans, the whole ideology that the western world was more sophisticated became internalised into a kind of inferiority complex. One of my uncles, when he returned to London after a period of schooling in Ghana, simply exclaimed: "Back to civilisation." Anyone who could left and the subsequent brain drain only served to make matters worse.

The flight of Africans from their own nations fuelled cartoon-like perceptions of the continent abroad, in which the Economist was far from alone. And this was the context in which I grew up. Pretending to be Jamaican seemed a sensible solution at the time.

For my mother, that was the wake-up call she needed to organise our first trip to the west African land of her birth, an essential re-education in our roots.

In 1995, we visited the Ghanaian capital, Accra, for the first time. I remember the usual things that people comment on when visiting equatorial African nations for the first time – the assault of hot air when stepping off the plane, which I confused with engine heat, the smell of spice and smoked fish on the air, and – most significantly for me – the fact that everyone was black. It sounds obvious but I had never really seen officials in uniform – immigration authorities, police, customs officers – with black skin. I don't think I had realised that there was a world in which black people could be in charge.

That first trip shaped my future in ways I could never have imagined. In the almost two decades that followed, I have moulded all educational and professional decisions into the form of a road that would lead me back to Africa. I devoured African literature, studied African politics, wrote my thesis on African women and political power, worked in development, law and now journalism, all with a focus on Africa. A decade ago, a job with an international development foundation led me to Senegal, where I lived for two years. Then, in February, I moved to west Africa for the second time, now setting up shop in the city of my very first trip to the continent, Accra.

Friends and relatives in the UK, even those who share my Ghanaian heritage, have repeatedly expressed astonishment at my desire to live in Africa. But the view from Ghana could not be more different. Far from being original, I find myself part of a narrative told with increasing fluency, as a steady stream of other European and American passport holders of African descent arrive at Ghana's Kotoka International airport, collect their worldly possessions from shipping containers at Tema port and search for homes in Accra's popular residential areas – Cantonments, East Legon and the Spintex Road.

They pay up to two years' rent upfront in dollars, at London prices, and find jobs with the growing number of international companies and professional service providers in Ghana or, more commonly, start their own business. At some point, this ceased to be an individual journey and instead became a phenomenon with its own label – "returnee".

There is a symmetry to the journey that returnees are making, which speaks volumes about the state of Africa today. Our parents left – exactly 50 years ago in my case – fleeing deteriorating economic conditions and limited opportunities at home. Now their children are forming an exodus from the crisis-ridden eurozone, four years of recession and the dogged perception of inequality and discrimination in the west. "Who needs the glass ceiling when you could be running your own business in one of the world's fastest-growing economies, enjoying the warm weather and surrounded by your own people?" one returnee to Ghana told me. "There is no contest."

The facts about Africa's change in fortunes are dazzling. Dubbed the "next Asia" for its rapid growth, the IMF forecasts that seven of the world's fastest-growing economies over the next five years will be in Africa; Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria are expected to expand by more than 6% a year until 2015.

The resource-rich continent has benefited from a boom in commodity prices, ranging from cocoa to gold, but has also increased manufacturing output, which has doubled over the past decade. Surveys by firms such as Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey all describe how the telecom, banking, retail, construction and oil and gas industries are booming, sending foreign direct investment to dramatic new highs, while themselves representing an eagerness among global firms to attract business in Africa.
In Ghana, whose economy is one of the strongest, with current growth of around 9%, the City of London is arriving in force. Investment banks, magic circle law firms and international consultancies are permanent fixtures at Accra's plush hotels, where they are literally queuing up to tout for business.

With the growth in GDP comes a burgeoning middle class. The number of households earning more than $3,000 per year is expected to reach 100 million by 2015, putting the continent on a par with India.

A recent report by the African Development Bank on Africa over the next 50 years predicts that "most African countries will attain upper middle income status, and the extreme forms of poverty will have been eliminated".

It's hard to overstate the impact of mobile technology on this transformation. Mobile penetration in Africa is now around 50%, forming the fastest-growing mobile market in the world. There are 100 million in Nigeria alone, a country that 20 years ago had only 100,000 phone lines. Telecoms companies now compete fiercely for almost 700 million consumers, not just to make calls, but for mobile money transfers, banking or even tracking agricultural and commodities data for farmers.

Seven per cent of Africans have access to broadband, but this is expected to reach 99% by 2060. New infrastructure such as the fibre-optic submarine cables now connecting south and east Africa, and due to connect west Africa this year, are playing a role in transforming productivity and making online technology realistic for African nations.
There are comical collisions between new technology and old problems.

In Ghana, whose impressive GDP growth has not been met with the requisite increase in national grid capacity, people are using Twitter to monitor the frequency of power outages. "Lights off", as it is colloquially, almost affectionately known, is endemic in many countries. Ghana's power failures pale in comparison to Nigeria, where Lagossians say that if they have four hours of continuous mains electricity, then it is a good day.
These contradictions are the reality in most African countries. Economic growth is neither designed nor distributed evenly. And, in reality, it has not been matched by the kind of improvement in living conditions that many of my grandparents' generation expected when they witnessed independence from colonial rule.

The reality is that many African governments still serve primarily as agencies for the distribution of foreign aid. As the Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda has said: "Most of the rich countries are attracted to Africa's poverty rather than its wealth. And in the process they end up subsidising our failures, rather than rewarding our accomplishments."

There is plenty of poverty to be attracted to. Average life expectancy is still only 56 years, child mortality remains high at 127 per 1,000 live births in 2010, and overall literacy rates are only 67%. Africa's economic growth is often described as "jobless" for its failure to create jobs, in particular for the 60% of Africans aged between 15 and 24 who are unemployed and who, a recent report found, have given up on finding work.

With these seemingly incompatible realities existing side by side, there is increasingly a PR war for the image of Africa overseas. The Economist, still apologising for its "hopeless continent" issue in 2000, recently branded Africa "hopeful" instead. Most international news outlets now have programmes or seasons specifically designed to champion positive news stories in Africa. The BBC runs African Dream, a series about successful African entrepreneurs, while CNN has African Voices.

But it is not the role of the media to sell a rebranded version of Africa, any more than it was right to paint it as the heart of darkness in the past. The problems remain and they are real. Since I moved to Ghana in February as west Africa correspondent for the Guardian and Observer, there have been two military coups. Everyone living in Ghana – rich and poor – is lumped together in a permanent jumble of terrible traffic, unreliable water and frequent power outages. Poverty is real here, there is hunger and disease, and there is no welfare state. Far from setting out policies that promise any real social change, many African governments are focused instead on administering foreign aid and directing showcase infrastructure projects that do little to benefit ordinary people.

As a journalist, I navigate both these worlds, and it is not always easy. When I wrote an Observer column about attitudes towards sex in Ghana, I was bombarded with criticism from both ends of the spectrum. On one side, Ghanaians claimed I perpetuated outdated stereotypes by describing sex as taboo and often transactional in nature. On the other were NGO workers who complained that I had failed to mention female genital mutilation and maternal mortality, in their view central features of the African sexual experience.

The battle for the image of Africa – helpless and underdeveloped versus rapidly emerging economic giant – often gets personal. Journalists frequently, and rightly, draw criticism for describing a continent of 54 nations and breathtaking diversity as one country. But some commentators are quick to employ a definition of what it means to be African that excludes returnees like me for being too fair-skinned, too British or too westernised.

But being African is an increasingly complex identity. As someone who has been told she is too black to be British, and too British to be African, I am strongly against the notion that identity can be policed by some external standard. And I am not alone. The term "Afropolitan" is beginning to enter the mainstream; one definition describes it as: "An African from the continent of dual nationality, an African born in the diaspora, or an African who identifies with their African and European heritage and mixed culture.
"It doesn't matter whether they are born abroad or not; the important thing is their global perspective on issues, as well as their mixed cultural identity."

The enthusiasm with which people of African heritage around the world are embracing their roots has reached the level of a cultural resurgence. In stark contrast to my teenage Africa-denial, a significant number of international cultural icons are now African. The black British music scene is dominated by rappers with Ghanaian heritage – Tinchy Stryder, Dizzee Rascal and Sway. Azonto, a popular Ghanaian dance, has begun colonising clubs in London, a growing number of which now include Afrobeat on regular rotation.

This is not to dismiss the inequalities that still exist between Africa's increasingly visible international, urban elite – a category many returnees fall into – and the vast majority of Africans.

The reality is that, on so many levels, access to the west is still a fault line for determining privilege. For example, entrepreneurs in west Africa currently find that borrowing money for their businesses typically comes with interest rates of up to 30%, an unrealistic burden by any standard. Returnees, on the other hand, who have access to loans from foreign banks, can enjoy single-digit interest rates, effectively dominating local markets.

Africa is entering its new dawn, like all societies, with these divisions and inequalities as part of the story. For me, there is a very literal sense with which the past meets the future. On the weekends, from my home in Accra, I often visit a town in the mountains behind the city – Aburi – where my ancestors lived. My grandmother tells me the story of how her grandmother used to roll palm oil in barrels down the hill and on to the coast. These days, I like to visit a restaurant there, set up by a British Ghanaian returnee, and eat Ghanaian food – or pizza, depending on my mood – alongside so many other fugitives from the polluted city, enjoying the cool mountain air.

When she reached the ocean, my great-great grandmother would board a boat westwards along the coast to Takoradi, where she was from. These days, Takoradi is a hub of activity for barrels of a different kind of oil – crude – which have transformed Ghana's economy into one of the fastest growing in the world. I think she would be happy that her great-great granddaughter had returned to see that transformation for herself.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/26/ghana-returnees-afua-hirsch-africa

Ghana Rising Hearts Rebecca Osei-Baidoo


Rebecca Osei Baidoo wears a J W Anderson skirt, Portobello jacket, Fendi bag and sunglasses by Prism.. Credit: http://magazine.motilo.com/mfw-day-three/


“We have never coveted a bag so much as we do Rebecca’s colourful Fendi one. This style-smart lady has mastered a fashionista take on preppy – injecting bold colours and a floral printed mini to keep the look feeling fresh and fun. Her mannish Maje coat adds just the right amount of grown-up cool to the look. And for that we award you top marks lady!” Credit: http://www.graziadaily.co.uk/fashion/archive/2012/05/10/book-and-street--style--smart-in-maje--celine--fendi--uniqlo-and-chanel.htm

“I’m wearing Miu Miu shoes, a Topshop skirt and top and Celine glasses”-


The best dressed fashionista in town, the ever beautiful Rebecca Osei-Baidoo a fashion buyer for Browns London is fast becoming Ghana Rising’s favourite fashionista.

I first spied Ms Osei-Baidoo in Grazia magazine -and clocked straightway -her fabulously eclectic luxe style, -the way she mixed high and low pieces together and her natural elegant beauty.. And it got me thinking…. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see her at the upcoming Ghana Fashion & Design Week in Accra -scouting for stylish Ghanaian talent/brands for London’s hip boutique, -Browns? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

One of a select few of people-of-colour who are truly moving-and-shaking in the upper echelons of High-fashion , its lovely to see another name I recognise as truly Ghanaian in this cutthroat industry…

Zandile Blay-Amihere, Dr. Richard Boateng, Jacqueline Shaw and Sharon Siriboe named as panellists for Ghana Fashion & Design Week’s educative seminars…..



Accra, Ghana (26 August 2012) – Ghana Fashion & Design Week announces schedule for educative seminars, to be hosted by industry experts. Designed as a platform for Knowledge Transfer, and a medium to Inspire and Empower both existing and future creative practitioners.

The Ghana Fashion & Design Week’s 2012 free Inspirational Seminars will host key international industry experts, and key experts from Ghana, with a wealth of knowledge, experience and skills, bringing with them exceptional value and priceless knowledge in support of the successful development of the industry’s creative business practitioners.

This year’s seminar, the first of its kind to be established by GFDW, brings on the panel experts across different sectors who will share and give valuable insight into their specialized fields, touching on important topics relative to the business of fashion and creative industry development.
Reaching out to international market is key to the expansion and growth of any business. On the panel this year, from Canada, is Sharon Siriboe, Buyer of one of the world’s most prestigious Departmental Stores, The Hudson Bay Company (HBC) in Toronto, Canada. With a wealth of experience under her sleeve, Sharon Siriboe will be on the panel to give valuable insight into North America (Canada and United States) relative to the Business of Fashion and the aspects of Buying.

GFDW keen interest in Ethical Fashion development brings to the panel from the UK Jacqueline Shaw, founder and director of African Fashion Guide, and publisher of the book dedicated to Africa fashion and textiles -“Fashion Africa”. Jacqueline’s exceptional experience in her field, with expertise that extends to consulting for multi-national brands, international suppliers and contractors, and her large interest in Africa’s fashion and textile industry, ethical fashion and sustainability development, Jacqueline will highlight key topics, and give valuable insight into Ethical Fashion practices and sustainability.

With technology shaping our world today, so has our business strategies evolved. Renowned Technology researcher and lecturer Dr. Richard Boateng, Ph.D. focuses on developing, promoting and protecting ideas and concepts into sustainable projects of commercial value and development impacts, Dr. Boateng will be on the panel to discuss some of the key topics on Social Media and its impact on how we do business today. The founder of Pearl Richards Foundation – Ghana, and director of Research and Operations of ICITD, Southern University, USA, brings invaluable knowledge worth sharing on the platform.

Media and press editorial continues to play a key role in the aspect of brand exposure. GFDW brings from New York to the panel Zandile Blay-Amihere, style and culture journalist who specializes in content from and about Africa. The founder and editor of Africa Style Daily and fashion columnist for the Internet’s largest newspaper, Huffington Post, and Africa Editor for noted fashion blog, Fashionista.com, brings exceptional knowledge to the panel, with an insight into the fashion media world.

The inspirational seminars are open to GFDW participants, fashion and creative businesses, industry personals, and creative students who are looking to enter the creative industry across the different sectors. The free Seminars will take place on the 5th & 6th of Oct 2012, from 11:00am to 14:00pm.
Places are limited and offered on a first come first served basis. Interested attendees can book their place for free directly at; seminars@ghanafashiondesignweek.com

For Information relating to Press Accreditation, Show Ticket purchase and general inquiries Email: info@ghanafashiondesignweek.com
GFDW Public Relations W: www.ghanafashiondesignweek.com:
F: www.facebook.com/Ghanafashionweek  | T: www.twitter.com/ghanafashionwk (#GFDW)
E: Press@ghanafashiondesigndesignweek.com

Sunday, 26 August 2012

33 ♥ Things Ghanaian Parents Say... when very upset …

Some of the sayings below….

“You can talk but you can't even wash your panties”

“sleepover? what is sleepover?”

“Every Blessed day, I have to talk and talk and talk.”

“You’ve got a Slumberland bed here, you want to go and sleep on someone’s floor, -sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, -and you’ve got a bed here -nonsense”

“Are you mad”

“You This Girl”

“Shame on you”

“I used to walk ten good miles to and from school, holding my shoes so they wouldn't spoil.”

“Lazy Cocoon”

Don’t mind her, don’t mind her, marriage too is like that”

“ When you meet your husband….you cannot be doing all this one.. When you meet your husband, when you meet your husband you can’t be doing all this one”

“So because Ama is doing it, you too want to do it. You better pack your bags and go.”

“Disco, what is disco. You better stay home and learn.”

“You mark it on the wall. Mark it ….Mark it”

“When I come there…., you’ll see what I’ll do to you”

"Hoooo lady, you are going out like that? If you are going out like that, you might as well remove it all -and be free!”

“When I come, they’ll know someone is coming”


Paulina Opoku-Gyimah says: Just the other day, I was sharing about -how, with four children, -working full-time, paying a few mortgages -and with an ever growing family to support back home (plus the fear of something bad happening to her children etc etc) -that my siblings and I were mostly referred to as, ‘you this girl’ or ‘you this boy‘… I think my mother was toooo tired to remember our names -Bless her!!!!

Anyway, I’ll take this opportunity to thank my parents for all their hard work -in bringing up four children in a foreign country -without much help…. And a very well-done to them. Ohhh..... -I soooo recognise all of the above sayings -as they are truly the words of my childhood… 

Do watch this clip via Facebook and show some love to this fabulous sister…. A future comedian -me thinks…


I can sooooo relate to this as I’ve spent my whole life as, ‘You This Girl’

The Spirit: ‘Awurade Kasa’ by Cindy Thompson



Thanks to ‘African The Fire’ for uploading this wonderful hymn. Direct Link:

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Photographer and former Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, Peter DiCampo talks northern Ghana and electricity to Guernica Mag…..

**The following eye opening piece is taken from Guernica Mag and makes for very interesting reading….Be inspired to do something….

Title: Off the Grid -Glenna Gordon interviews Peter DiCampo
By Glenna Gordon
date: June 15, 2011

A photographer and former Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana observes the beauty of the dark and the politics of electricity. (With video.)

Photography is a record of light, so how does one photographer capture images without it? And for the 1.4 billion people who currently live without electricity, what does it mean to be without light?

As a Peace Corps volunteer in northern Ghana from 2006 to 2008, Peter DiCampo lived in a village where fires and flashlights were the only source of light after nightfall. A decade-old plan to bring power to the area had brought power lines but no electricity.

By day, as a Peace Corps volunteer, he worked on water and sanitation issues, with a focus on the water-borne parasite known as Guinea worm. By night, DiCampo—a Massachusetts native who studied photojournalism at Boston University—would explore the villages of northern Ghana and document what he saw. The results are lyrical photos that do something unusual: they show you what isn’t there.

By photographing in the dark, DiCampo illustrates what life is like without electricity. And life is vibrant: people dance, watch movies, read the Koran, and hang out. His flashlight portraits would be striking on their own. With the theme of energy poverty as a context, the photographs document the tenacity of their subjects.

His series, “Life Without Lights,” has since expanded into a much larger project, with DiCampo documenting energy poverty in Iraqi Kurdistan, New Mexico, and elsewhere in Ghana. For the next phase of his work, DiCampo plans to focus on solutions as well as on the health consequences of living without lights.

DiCampo, who is now twenty-seven, is part of VII’s mentor program, and his work is on view at VII Gallery in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood until July 12, 2011. DiCampo has been awarded grants from the Pulitzer Center, recognized by the British Journal of Photography, PDN Photo Annual and other prestigious prizes.
After several years travelling around West Africa, DiCampo is now stateside, living in Michigan, where his fiancée, a medical student, is doing a hospital rotation. I reached him there several days after the opening of his Brooklyn show. As for his travel schedule, he said: “I’m not quite sure where I end up next!”
—Glenna Gordon for Guernica

Guernica: Tell me how your “Life Without Lights” project began.
Peter DiCampo: I was a Peace Corps volunteer in northern Ghana in a small village called Wantugu. Wantugu has had power lines since the late 1990s, but at the time there was no electricity running through those lines—almost ten years later. For the first few months that I lived there, I didn’t go out in the night all that often.
As I became more comfortable, I started to check out how the village was different at night. I was kind of just wandering around at night, and there was this scene at the mosque with these kids kind of bent over the Koran with flashlights to study. I made a few pictures, and I was not at the time thinking about anything wider. I was just kind of caught up in how enchanting this moment was—the way they were reciting the passages in the Koran and there was this glow of flashlights all over the place. But I eventually realized that this was a great way to illustrate the problem that these people have—a lack of electricity. They feel like they’ve been overlooked. I was a Peace Corps volunteer at the time, and that was really my primary responsibility.
A couple of years later I was encouraged by a couple of photographer friends to go back and continue it. The bulk of the Ghana work is from a trip in February of last year. And I just kind of extended it into the entirety of the northern region of Ghana, where something like 70 percent of villages are not connected to the national grid, and do not have electricity.

Guernica: How was it different to be in Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer, versus being there to take these photos?
Peter DiCampo: To go back, it was incredible. The Peace Corps really forced me to learn a language and learn a lifestyle that was on the village level. Usually when you move to a new country, you’re in the capital. I’ll never really experience that in any other place, unless I really pick up and move to another culture again, and especially to another rural culture again. And so, when I went back, it was so easy for me to work in northern Ghana, much easier than anywhere else I’ve been. They love it that there’s this foreigner who can kind of communicate in the language—I mean, I’m not fluent—and who knows some of the customs, and can talk about the geography.
How often do you see video or any other form of interview that, for really a very lengthy period, that allows African people to talk in their own language and describe how they feel the issue affects them?
Guernica: So have you seen any changes from when you first were there compared to the most recent time you were there?
Peter DiCampo: Yeah, so getting back to electricity specifically, the village I started all of this in, the village where I was a Peace Corps volunteer, now does have electricity. But no other village that I photographed for the project does, and a vast majority of the north is still not connected.

Life Without Lights from Peter DiCampo on Vimeo.

Guernica: How did that come about?
Peter DiCampo: In the fall of 2008—it was an election year—and the government kind of picks up and makes this big show of trying to increase development in the region, to get votes. So it was in 2000 that they put the poles up, in 2004 they put the lines up, and in 2008, they finally connected a small handful of villages to electricity. This village just happened to be one of them. So it’s a great step forward for them, but it’s not an indication of any widespread change.

Guernica: I’m curious, has anyone in the Ghanaian government seen your work?
Peter DiCampo: Not to my knowledge, and it took quite a bit of work to get anyone to talk to us to get basic percentages on how much of the country is electrified. They were hesitant to talk, and very defensive.

Guernica: There is a big NGO push to bring renewable energy to places without electricity, most of which seems to be bypassing existing national grids, and is focusing on solar panels and lamps and other smaller solutions. Do you think this is the right way to go, or should there be a greater push for rural areas to be brought into a grid?
In New Mexico, you’ve got some people out there just struggling to find enough money to put fuel in their generators, and you’ve got other people who have taught themselves to hook up solar and wind solutions, and are completely self-sustaining. It’s incredible.
Peter DiCampo: I don’t see any reason for a grid if you can be self-sustaining, if another renewable source provides enough energy. Pajarito Mesa, just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico—that is a community that has never been connected. And you’ve got some people out there just struggling to find enough money to put fuel in their generators, and you’ve got other people who have taught themselves to hook up solar and wind solutions, and are completely self-sustaining. It’s incredible. They have no reason to go on the grid and be connected, paying their energy bill and have the uncertainty of someone hanging prices over their heads. Right now, I’m in Michigan, and here you have tons of people who cannot pay their bills because there’s one company and they can jack the prices up as much as they want. And if there are people who can’t pay, they shut them off, and they live through the winter like that. People in the Detroit area die from the cold because of that. Being self-sufficient with energy is just one more step towards being an independent person.

Guernica: Well, there’s an interesting political dimension for all of this. If you’re pursing a solution in Ghana that is off the grid, you’re saying to the government, we don’t have any confidence in you to provide us electricity. Whereas in Detroit and New Mexico, there is a government that could provide electricity but maybe it isn’t accessible to people. So it means different things in different places. Is this ultimately about a government failing people in all these different places?
Peter DiCampo: I think so. Having spent the time out in New Mexico, it was amazing that I kept encountering situations and this language in the States that I’ve encountered and that inhibit development in Africa. The power lines stopped down the road and the government was kind of complaining about not being able to find the money to put new poles up there. It was a very similar situation.

Guernica: I’m wondering about how political agitation figures into this. If your emphasis is going towards solar lamps, maybe it’s not going towards pushing for rural areas to be connected to a larger electricity system. How much is it government’s problem, and how much is it up to individuals to say, we’re not waiting for the government and we’re going to just do this?
Peter DiCampo: It would be interesting to pose the question to the Ghanaian ministry of energy and say, What do you think would happen if all these villages that you haven’t connected, if they took matters into their own hands? I’ll put that on my to-do list.
This is not really a project about electricity. It’s a project about a government denying people something.
Guernica: Let’s switch gears a little bit. A lot of photography of Africa is labeled “poverty porn.” You obviously are working in a very different aesthetic and tackling the issue of poverty. Is this something that you’re thinking about when you’re shooting?
Peter DiCampo: Well, what I think has been the biggest thing for me getting around this is to use so-called multimedia—which, speaking of terms I’m not crazy about, that’s another one. How often do you see video or any other form of interview that, for really a very lengthy period, that allows African people to talk in their own language and kind of describe in an in-depth way how they feel the issue affects them. That was an extremely important thing for me to do, and I’m really glad I did it. It’s still my favorite way or viewing the project—this five-minute photo film or short film that has three people sitting down and discussing not only the things that the lack of electricity prevents them from doing, but it also has them saying, It’s true that we’re happy anyway, it’s true that there are a lot of things that we’re able to do anyway, which I think shows a certain strength which is very present in African culture that a lot of photojournalism overlooks because it’s so kind of victim-oriented.

Guernica: Do you prefer multimedia for that reason?
Peter DiCampo: I don’t know that I was thinking of all this ahead of time. I was just kind of focused on this new way of telling a story—I was like, oh yeah, I’ve got a video camera now. I quickly realized that this was very important, and they were saying some very interesting things. So, I was thrilled to be able to put that to use. You know, a friend of mine in the Peace Corps pointed out to me that this is not really a project about electricity. It’s a project about a government denying people something. But the actual visuals, what you’re actually looking at, is people living in the same way that they’ve always lived. The visuals are not one group of people subjugating another group of people. The visuals are just, this is what daily life has been like for people forever. The information behind it is about the lack of electricity. But the visuals are more of a positive—this is what they do, this is what life is like.

Guernica: So, on this project, you’ve worked in Ghana, Iraqi Kurdistan and New Mexico. Where’s next?
Peter DiCampo: The next big things I want to be working on are, first, solutions. New Mexico was really the start of all that, and there are some really, really interesting solution projects. For instance, in Benin—which is of course very close to Ghana—in northern Benin, where the climate is very much like in northern Ghana—very dry, sub-Saharan—there is an organization called Solar Electric Light Fund that has used solar to give a whole bunch of villages water irrigation systems so they can farm year-round. In northern Ghana, the biggest problem is that they have a very short farming season and then, that’s it. That’s their income for the year. That’s one thing I want to focus on. And the other thing is on the opposite side of the spectrum: I think I need to show some of the more dire aspects of this situation, which would be health. Cooking indoors with an open fire is one of the top ten killers in the world, especially for women and children, because it causes all sorts of lung disease. Another thing is refrigeration with medicine. People with HIV can’t access the antiretroviral drugs if they don’t have refrigeration.

These types of things are not typical for photojournalism because, once again, they focus on the absence of things. But it just has to be done. To know that so-called energy poverty contributes to one of the top ten killers in the world, and there aren’t many visuals of this, I think that’s the next step

Paulina Opoku-Gyimah says: Even though this film by photographer Peter DiCampo is beautifully shot, and shows my people’s continued strength and tenacity in the face of adversity -it makes me angry, very angry!!!

When will the people of Ghana -have the basic rights that the rest of the world take for granted?? I’m sick-to-death of the unrelenting struggles -when will the Government of Ghana become more proactive and stop procrastinating?? Let there be light, not just in northern Ghana but the whole of Ghana -Amen….

Interview Source:
Source: http://vimeo.com/10930099

To show your support for this wonderful insightful film by  photographer Peter DiCampo visit: http://www.lifewithoutlights.com/

More info..
Year-round in Ghana, the sun sets at 6pm and rises at 6am – thus, the residents of communities lacking electricity live half of their lives in the dark. Over ten years ago, the government of Ghana began a massive campaign to provide the country’s rural north with electricity, but the project ceased almost immediately after it began. The work sluggishly resumes during election years, as candidates attempt to garner popularity and votes. But at present, an estimated 73% of villages remain without electricity in the neglected north – an area comprising 40% of the country.

Living without lights is more than just a minor inconvenience. Electricity provides a paramount step on the ladder of economics, and northern villagers know what is being kept from them: lights to study and cook by, machinery and refrigeration, and a standard of living that would attract teachers, nurses, and other civil service workers from the city, not to mention foreign tourists. Potential economic growth is stifled and poverty’s cyclical nature is perpetuated.

That said, some forms of progress are inevitable, and a number of surprising modern amenities reveal themselves in the night. Mobile phones are widespread, and a growing local film industry allows northerners to see movies in a setting and language familiar to them for the first time in their history. All of this exists despite the absence of a convenient outlet in which to plug basic electronic appliances.

Is Ghana / Africa still the white man’s burden? Or are we standing on our own feet?

The following comes courtesy of ’The fanzine’ and makes for very interesting reading…

Title: Just So Stories: Stories We Tell About Africa (And Those We Don’t)

Perhaps more than any other part of the world, outsiders have tended to treat sub-Saharan Africa as a blank canvas on which to project their own hopes and fears, logics and irrationalities. For 150 years, since the first British and American adventurers and missionaries began visiting Africa and reporting back home on what they saw, visitors have tended to tell a cluster of stories about Africa and Africans that often, if not always, share common traits. During the Atlantic slave trade and the subsequent plunder of Africa through European colonial rule—in short, from the 1600s to the 1950s, a span of 350 years—storytellers tended to portray Africans badly for a complex set of reasons, which included using stories about Africans as a means of justifying their own errant behaviors and values.

Since the wave of de-colonization and political independence a half-century ago, the narratives about black Africa and its people have hardly changed. A set of five “master narratives” continue to dominate the global conversation about the continent, overwhelming efforts to create new images of the region, and impoverishing the global conversation about Africa, its people and the relationship of the sub-Saharan to the rest of the world. This essay aims to describe the five master narratives whose very persistence belies the notion that it is possible to really see Africa, its people and cultures clearly, if at all.

Africans themselves are influenced by the five master narratives, which exert a powerful force on even those storytellers determined to ignore, subvert or transcend them. For Americans, whose special relationship with Africa arises partly from the history of the Atlantic slave trade and the sometimes difficult and always passionate relations between African Americans and their motherland, the master narratives matter. Because the stories we tell about Africa are unsound, the judgments we make about Africa are unsound too. And not only literary and artistic judgments. Stories helps us make sense of the world and our place in it.

The stories we tell about Africa mislead us so profoundly as to overwhelm well-intended efforts to become more informed or discerning about the authentic Africa, the genuine Africa. These misunderstandings, borne of explorations in the African imaginary, have real-world consequences, however elusive.

The master narratives about Africa are inevitably political; art about Africa and Africans, especially art created by non-Africans, inevitably becomes intertwined with the historical use and abuse of the African imaginary. The political entanglements of literary artists engaged with African affairs are complicated by the emergence of a new humanitarianism, which presents African problems as a litmus for the moral capacity of wealthy societies to respond to the plight of less fortunate souls around the world. Just as the response to the genocide against the Jews defined the contours of conscience following World War II, so today does the engagement with Africa define the moral condition of the developed world. Because the engagement with Africa is a test, often narratives about the region and its people are consciously fabricated and fantastic; bad means are justified by good ends. Master narratives from a century ago have been revived and renovated, aimed at generating vast global audiences, with lies and distortions rationalized as part of what the storytellers themselves view as a legitimate “campaign” to help liberate Africans from various maladies—from disease, bad leaders, environmental hazards, wars and other menaces we’ve come to associate with the region.

These “progressive,” or developmental, storytellers have even gone so far as to willfully ignore or distort African realities in order to tell the worst stories possible—and thus attract the greatest possible support, financial or moral or otherwise, for “saving” Africans. Such stories that diminish or degrade Africans have been justified (though rarely publicly) as necessary; for without such stories—true or not, exaggerated or strictly accurate—it is believed that people around the world would not express sympathy for the plight of needy Africans.

My survey concentrates on five master narratives about Africa and Africans. The persistence, force and appeal of these narratives greatly influence what is said and written about Africa and its people by outsiders and even by Africans themselves. To understand why the sub-Saharan and its people remain misunderstood—why they remain props for an epic theater performed by the rest of humanity—these “master narratives” are essential. And because these narratives are themselves constructions, they can be reconstructed.

The root of all fictions about Africa is the name itself.
What do storytellers mean when they invoke the name “Africa”? Do they refer to a race of people? A geography? A brand name? Does the term “Africa” obscure more than reveal? Does the label itself carry an embedded narrative that shapes the way stories about “Africa” are received, repeated, deconstructed and reconstructed?

In their excellent African History (2007), John Parker and Richard Rathbone argue that the very ideas of Africa were constructed by non-Africans chiefly for the purpose of creating “an exotic prism through which outsiders, mainly Europeans, refracted images of ‘the other’ and of themselves.”

Parker and Rathbone conclude that, for many European and American storytellers in the 19th and 20th centuries, Africa as exotica—as the epitome of otherness—permitted storytellers to present Africa as a monolith— timeless and uniform, without history or diversity.

“I had a farm in Africa,” writes Isak Dinesen in her memoir, Out of Africa. First published in 1938, Dinesen’s book presents the essence of Africa through the prism of her coffee farm, which was located in the Kenyan highlands. Rather than pretend to tell the story of European plantations and the white settler community in the Great Rift Valley, Dinesen insists that her farm embodies all of Africa. She erases all the many differences among the people and places in this vast continent in order to present a pure, unadulterated core. Her farm, she writes, “was Africa distilled up through 6,000 feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent.” Repeatedly, throughout her memoir, Dinesen generalizes about the entire continent, even down to the psychology of its inhabitants. “It is not easy to know the Natives,” she observes (and the capitalization is hers), yet knowing them is crucial because, “The Natives were Africa in flesh and blood.”

Dinesen should not be viewed as merely anachronistic. Trading on the “Africa” brand name is a commonplace. In my own memoir, Married to Africa (2009), I invoke the image of a continent in a similar fashion, though in truth I am only married to a single African who is simultaneously Igbo, Nigerian, West African, and (only) finally African. The Africa “brand” appeals to Africans themselves. On his 2007 album, the Senegalese musician, Yousssou N’Dour, sings, “This is Africa calling” in the song “Wake Up,” which obliterates the diversity of sub-Saharan peoples even as it seeks to celebrate it.

How to generalize about Africa, or even whether to do so, is fiercely contested. Anthony Appiah, a Ghanaian-born philosophy professor at Princeton, has argued that the whole concept of Africa is “an invention.” Africa and African-ness are socially and historically constructed concepts, he explains in the opening essay of In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (1992). Because it is a construction, the idea of Africa can be de-constructed and re-engineered in order to adapt to changing times. In Appiah’s considered view, “Africa” as a unitary concept is suspect—and has always been so. He quotes Edward Blyden, an African American who moved to West Africa in the 19th century, as emphasizing the importance of diversity among Africans—so much diversity, indeed, that “no single definition, however comprehensive, can embrace them all,” Blyden wrote in 1887.

Over the past fifty years, a new appreciation for diversity within Africa has transformed thinking about the sub-Saharan. Yet the recognition of this diversity even now need not preclude gross generalizations. Granta, the British literary magazine, in 2005, entitled a special issue, “The View from Africa,” as if the various writings collected under this rubric came from the same place. Indeed, the issue editor, John Ryle, entitled his introduction to a wonderful collection of writings, “The Many Voices of Africa.” Yet though affirming the notion of diversity, Ryle insists on the unity of the region, insisting that “Africa is part of everyone’s life, whether they know it or not.” And whoever or wherever you are now, Ryle adds, “Africa is where we come from … our ancestral home.”

Ryle’s confusions underscore how the ‘A’-word obscures more than it reveals. “Africa” is itself a meta-narrative in need of deconstruction, a big lie that we cannot live with or, seemingly, without.

Poor and marginalized, Africa is the uber-victim, the object of a monumental scramble, an inspirer of envy, an elusive El Dorado forever pursued by an exploiter. The pillage of resources—from human beings to minerals to other natural resources—is synonymous with African history. The Atlantic slave trade draws continuing attention from scholars and ordinary people around the world.

The scale of the theft of African resources over the centuries continues to have the power to shock. When in the late 19th century European countries shifted their strategy to political control over African resources through colonial partition, the British coined the term “the Scramble for Africa.” The classic story of scramble involves King Leopold of Belgium, who personally controlled the resource-rich Congo.

Adam Hochschild’s beautifully-written and acclaimed 1998 history, King Leopold’s Ghost, about the Belgian ruler’s treatment of the Congo a reminder of how history informs storytelling today and how fresh old wounds can seem. The recent rise in commodity prices, especially the value of “exotic” metals and gold, has ignited talk of a new scramble for Africa. The movie Blood Diamonds about civil wars in Sierra Leone fueled by diamond mining and trading, demonstrated the continuing hold of this narrative on storytelling, as did John Le Carré’s 2001 novel The Constant Gardener about pharmaceutical testing and marketing in East Africa.

The scramble narrative has a structure: a foreigner, usually a white European, extracts wealth from African soil, often in a brutal, self-serving and unreflective way. In the updated version, the white foreigner feels guilty about profiting from African suffering and takes action against the very “scramble” system. But the altruist is invariably doomed; the heroic character in Blood Diamonds can save a black friend but not stop the exploitation of resources. The white whistleblower in The Constant Gardener is murdered.

After African independence some 50 years ago, the scramble narrative required updating, since Africans were now nominally controlling their resources. In his 1972 book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the Afro-Guyanese historian Walter Rodney described an Africa ruined by foreign meddlers, an idea that has enormously influenced both the popular and academic view of African history. According to Rodney, the legacy of “exploitation” distorted the African personality, providing the “true explanation” for “underdevelopment,” which is not economic but rather psychological or even spiritual. “An even bigger problem is that the people of Africa and other parts of the colonized world have gone through a cultural and psychological crisis,” Rodney wrote. “That means that the African himself has doubts about his capacity to transform and develop his natural environment. With such doubts, he even challenges those of his brothers who say that Africa can and will develop through the efforts of its own people.”

Rodney’s version of the scramble narratives has rivals, most notably Things Fall Apart, the best-selling African novel of all time, published in 1958 by Chinua Achebe. Realistic in style and written in spare straight-forward English, it charts the life and times of Okonkwo, a doomed hero who cannot adapt to the changes brought to his land by British colonial rule. Okonkwo’s elaborate sense of honor, dignity and place collide with the presumed pragmatic of the foreign occupier. In the end, Okonkwo disgraces himself in the eyes of his fellow Igbo and violates the rules imposed by outsiders by committing murder. Achebe’s “take” on the familiar scramble story is complex, many-faceted; in short, great art. He once described his motive for telling stories about Africa as an attempt to correct the historical record by showing “that African people did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans; that their societies were not mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty; that they had poetry and, above all, they had dignity.”

Things Fall Apart is thus an important corrective, and even today the novel has the power to open new vistas and shatter conventional ways of thinking. Achebe’s story of a ruined Africa has been re-told in different ways many times in the 50 years since publication. Yet perhaps no other writer has brought together in a single work so many facets of the tragedy of the scramble for Africa. And this scramble continues to this day, led not only by foreign buyers of African resources but international charities and humanitarian aid agencies whose product is benevolence.

In the closing scene of Things Fall Apart, Achebe anticipates the new scramble for Africa, a scramble by morally upright outsiders who use Africans as proxies in a fight to gain the moral high ground on questions of international order and equity. Achebe chooses to have Okonkwo hang himself from a tree. A British security force finds his dead body. The Igbo from Okonkwo’s village, following custom, cannot cut the body down, so they ask the British to do this dirty work.

“Why can’t you take him down yourselves?” the leader of the British asks.
“It is against our customs,” one Igbo says. “It is an abomination for a man to take his own life … His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it. That is why we ask your people to bring him down, because you are strangers.”

When the British asks whether the villagers can at least bury Okonkwo, he is told, ‘We cannot bury him. Only strangers can.”

Achebe’s evocative fiction prefigures the scramble among foreign-aid groups to find Africans to assist and African institutions to partner with. And as with the task of burying Okonkwo, often Africans cede the messy jobs to outsiders. In Things Fall Apart, Africans even offer to pay the Europeans for handling the burial. Achebe’s counter-narrative suggests a persistent narrative trope: having broken Africa, outsiders must now fix it.

In countless narratives, both fictional and fact-based, Africa germinates threats, the unexplained, the destructive, the incomprehensible and the reprehensible. At the core of African metaphysics, in the ultimate darkness of a jungle that is both real and metaphorical, rational and civilized men turn primal, mad and animalistic, whether imported from distant lands or home-grown sophisticates.

Joseph Conrad famously coined the phrase, “heart of darkness,” bestowing it on a haunting novella, first published in 1902 and drawn from a brief visit he made to the Belgian Congo in 1890. In it a European sailor, Marlow, leads an expedition into “a place of darkness” in order to discover the fate of a mysterious ivory trader. Kurtz, he learns, has fallen prey to (inner and/or outer) demons and degenerated into corruption, rapacity, greed and ultimately self-destruction. In describing his situation to Conrad’s astonished narrator Marlow, Kurtz famously cries out, “The horror! The horror!” This defining moment in the narrative refers as much to the damaged psyches of Europeans as their encounter with the perceived unsettling realities of African life.

Conrad’s depiction of Kurtz has been subjected to conflicting interpretations. Conrad defenders insist Heart of Darkness indicts the European colonial project and exposes the moral failures of the men who carried it out. Critics of Conrad, notably Achebe, say Conrad shared many of the invidious attitudes towards Africans that animated the European exploration and exploitation of Africa. Achebe accuses Conrad of presenting “Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor.” Conrad’s error, Achebe insists, arises from “a preposterous and perverse kind of arrogance,” because the real source of darkness is “the breakup of one petty European mind.”

Kurtz, of course, did implode but stories by European adventurers, such as Henry Stanley and Richard Burton, recount Africa as a “testing ground of character,” conclude Dorothy Hammond and Alta Jablow in their neglected classic, The Africa That Never Was: Four Centuries of British Writing about Africa (1970). In the 20th century, many accounts of African safari—most notably, Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa (1935)—present Africa similarly as providing a stage in which cultivated men can discover stylish ways to overcome adversity.

Africans themselves are not immune to leveraging the “darkness” narrative. Two recent novels by young West Africans rely chiefly on the durable notion of Africa as a spawning ground for bestiality. In a short debut novel published in 2005, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala trades on the image of African child soldiers as youth with little to lose and easily transformed from innocent villagers into cold killers. Iweala, a Nigerian from an elite family who attended Harvard University, describes the inner life of one child soldier. Reviewers praised his insights into depraved African personalities and heard echoes of Conrad; The New York Times described the main character as possessing a “heart of darkness.”

The notion that Africa breeds a special kind of threat and, yet at the same time, presents a special opportunity for good works and redemption is a persistent literary trope, powerful enough to overwhelm any set of facts, or fictions. To Toni Morrison, surveying literature about Africa over the 100 years ending in the 1950s, “literary Africa…was an exhaustible playground for tourists and foreigners. In the novels and stories of Joseph Conrad, Isak Dinesen, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, whether imbued with or struggling against conventional Western views of benighted Africa, their protagonists found the continent as empty as the collection plate—a vessel waiting for whatever copper and silver imagination was pleased to place there.” In Morrison’s view Africa was “accommodatingly mute, conveniently blank.” For her, darkness was only part of the narrative. “In novel after novel, short story after short story,” she has observed, “Africa was simultaneously innocent and corrupting, savage and pure, irrational and wise.”

Some of the most visible stories about Africa today are about Americans or Europeans expending a great deal of time and money helping Africans. These stories are partly compelling because they feature celebrities (Bono, Madonna, Angelina, Oprah) or the very successful (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Pierre Omidyar, Bill Clinton). They also possess appeal because they show the redemptive side of people and implicitly carry a universal message: we are all in this together.

Stories about Americans and Europeans helping Africans inevitably carry echoes of the 19th century notion of “the white man’s burden.” One of the justifications for colonialism and the carving up of African territory by European powers was that Africans would benefit from what Andrew Mwenda, a Uganda writer, sneeringly calls “the saving hand of the West.” Indeed, efforts to save Africans—whether to save their souls through religious conversion, or their minds through education, or their bodies through medical and famine relief—were often based on a belief in African inferiority and Western superiority. Colonialism would bring improvements and thus, as Rudyard Kipling wrote famously in 1898, represented “the white man’s burden” to assist the less fortunate.

Kipling’s poem, written in 1899 following the American annexation of the Philippines and then sent to President Theodore Roosevelt, is worth reading. The poem, which was published in the influential McClure’s Magazine, frankly urges America’s best and brightest to embrace the “burden” of assisting needy peoples in faraway places:
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child…

Take up the White Man’s burden
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Kipling’s poem views the recipients of Western assistance, whether Africans or Asians, as inferior to those giving the assistance. Today’s stories about Americans helping people around the world aren’t justified in terms of American superiority but the belief that the well-off have an obligation to help the less fortunate remains central to narratives arising from the impulse to aid faraway peoples, especially Africans.
The main rationales for this assistance are presented in the cluster of “help them” narratives, for example that problems in Africa are so glaring—brutality, disease, famine, neglect of children, the persistence of slavery—that not offering assistance seems shameful to those who possess the means of providing it.

Perhaps the most compelling storytelling idiom in the “help them” narrative is slavery. Many storytellers about historic Africa put slavery at the center of their narrative. and contemporary ones often do the same. They invoke the “S-“ word in order to rouse distant outsiders to confront the “heart of darkness” with powerful Western therapies. These current chroniclers construct tales of child slaves, sex slaves, wife-slaves, even adult-male slaves. The rhetoric of slavery is so incendiary that an aggrieved reaction seems guaranteed. The mere headline, “I Was Born A Slave” (from the National Geographic, September 2003) unleashes a flood of powerful emotions sure to overwhelm nuanced analysis.

Worse, some claims about the persistence of slavery are distorted, exaggerated or false. Kevin Bates, a relentless advocate for view that slavery remains widespread in Africa, has repeatedly exaggerated his evidence. In 2002, after The New York Times magazine wrote a florid profile of a “child slave” in the cocoa farms of Ivory Coast, editors were forced to concede that the writer, a freelancer, had fabricated the child’s existence—and lied about the essentials of the story.

In 2007, a flurry of stories came out of Ghana about small boys enslaved to fishing boats on the Volta Lake. The International Organization for Migration labeled the children as slaves and claimed to have rescued hundreds of them. Ghanaians asked the agency to use the more neutral term, “forced labor”—which includes indentured servitude, serfs and prison labor as well as slavery—to describe the children’s conditions. The IOM continues to use the term in these situations, partly because of the media attention that ensues.

In their unguarded moments, campaigners against “slavery” in Africa privately admit that their real enemy is forced labor. Yet the term lacks emotive power, so the slave stories persist. While these distortions may incite compassion and engagement among international audiences, they also serve to further tarnish our conceptions of African culture and the humanity of some Africans.

The story of an American physician who gives up his lucrative practice to live and work in Africa is a staple of humanitarian mythmaking. Scores, if nor hundreds, of “bush doctors” are spending part or all of the year in Africa. The transition depends on the bravery and self-sacrifice of highly-skilled Westerners but their action reinforces the view that Africans are too callous and ill-equipped to take care of their own. Paul Farmer, immortalized by Tracy Kidder in Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003), is only the best known of a new generation of humanitarian workers whose passions echo those of the colonial-era physician Albert Schweitzer, who gained celebrity status for his altruism but at the same time famously denigrated Africans as inferior.

One of the cornerstones of stories about helping Africans is that help is easy to give. The ease with which money can presumably be directed toward alleviating African poverty creates a powerful incentive to do precisely that—to throw money rather than understanding at problems. The rage for combining consumption with assisting the needy is a prominent part of Bono’s (Product) Red project or the widening campaign to get grade-school children in Middle America to forego a meal at a fast-food restaurant and instead spend $10 on a bed-net for an African living in a malaria zone.

The willingness of the well-off to share their wealth with distant Africans, however, gives rise to a powerful counter-narrative of good intentions gone awry. William Easterly, an economist, examines unexpected outcomes, or what some call “market distortions”, that result from international aid in his book, The White Man’s Burden. A critique of Western assistance to poor countries, Easterly accuses aid proponents of being utopian and haphazardly doing more harm than good.

The “help us” counter-narrative risks turning African self-reliance into a destructive article of faith. Fifty years ago, independence-era leaders in Africa glorified self-reliance. “Africa for the Africans,” Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, declared in 1957. “We want to govern ourselves in this country of ours without outside interference.” Such noble sentiments, however, led Africans to shun for a time even legitimate outside help. In choosing a complete break with the French government, Sekou Toure, the first president of Guinea, declared in 1958 that his people “prefer freedom in poverty to riches in chains.”

The story of self-reliance, however appealing, can provide an excuse for the persistence of poverty—and a convenient cover for the ill effects of authoritarian rule. In Nkrumah’s case, within five years of assuming complete control of Ghana, he grew power-mad, paranoid and abusive. His ethos of self-reliance—insistence on driving away well-meaning non-Africans—became a tool for consolidating his repressive state. In a similar way, at present Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator, continues to justify his mis-rule by invoking the powerful myth of “Africa for the Africans,” heaping contempt on any appeal for aid to outsiders.

Striking a balance between self-reliance and slavish dependence on others isn’t easy. Yet narratives about Africa are dominated by extremes that overwhelm more nuanced, sophisticated and accurate counter-narratives that emphasize both independence and inter-dependence.

Roots, or the special claim that African Americans have on Africa as motherland, is another powerful “master” narrative that contains unexamined (and often unintended) consequences.

If the narrative, “we should help them” permits all manner of people to engage in a universal project of helping Africa, then the “roots” or “motherland” narrative achieves the opposite effect by dramatically narrowing the number of people who possess an authentic claim on caring about and engaging Africa deeply.

For hundreds of years, Americans of African descent were condemned to think deeply about their region of origin because of skin color alone. In the 19th century, African Americans were the first “to perceive the contours of the entire [African] continent” and to conceive “the idea of a singular African people … as a tool of redemption,” historians John Parker and Richard Rathbone have observed.

By the early 20th century, W.E.B. Dubois positively depicted African civilization and history in The Negro (1915), which became the key text in the first history class in the U.S. ever devoted to Africa (offered at Howard University, beginning in 1922). More recently, in an era of comparative racial equality, African Americans have actively constructed a special relationship with Africa that continues to nourish an important storytelling tradition.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family, the 1976 novel by Alex Haley, is the single most important example of this tradition. Haley’s book, which was made into a wildly popular television series, became both blueprint and metaphor for varied efforts by African Americans to reconnect with their African roots in the post-civil rights era.

In the long period of racial prejudice and legal segregation, African Americans were often made to feel ashamed of their African heritage.

With African independence and the civil rights movement (arising simultaneously in the late 1950s and early 1960s) came an outpouring of new stories about Africa, many organized around the “roots” structure.

Celebration and black pride inform most of these stories, such as Maya Angelou’s intelligent memoir, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, of her sojourn in Ghana in the 1960s. While inspired by the warmth, energy and self-confidence of Ghana’s people, Angelou also knew that a mere visit to Africa could not erase her own sense of alienation from an ancestral homeland. Walking the streets of Accra at the start of her journey, she wondered: “Were those laughing people who moved in the streets with such equanimity today descendants of slave-trading families? Did that one’s ancestor sell mine …?”

The longer Angelou spent in Africa, the more grounded she felt. She ultimately accepted that the slave trade brutalized every African touched by it. The realization saddened her, but also gave her hope—and made her willing to forgive those African ancestors who sold her own into bondage. “I had not consciously come to Ghana to find the roots of my beginnings, but I had continually and accidentally tripped over them in my everyday life,” she writes. In departing from Ghana, she was not sad, “for now I knew my people had never completely left Africa.”

Angelou’s experience is illustrative. “As paradoxical as it may sound, Africa has served historically as one of the chief terrains on which African Americans have negotiated their relationship to American society,” observes James T. Campbell, a historian at Brown University. “To put the matter more poetically, when an African American asks, ‘What is Africa to me?’ he or she is also asking, ‘What is America to me?’”

Campbell explores these questions in Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005. His book chronicles the fascinating, rich relationship between Americans of African descent and their ancestral homeland.

Many significant African Americans in the 20th century, from poet Langston Hughes to novelist Richard Wright to political leader Malcolm X, journeyed to Africa in order to discover something about their heritage—and themselves. Hughes was so excited about traveling to Africa that he tossed overboard his books after boarding his vessel, believing there would be no need for reading where he was going. Africa would be, Hughes believed, the “real thing, to be touched and seen, not merely read about in a book.” He was wrong.

Recounting the voyage and the visit in his autobiography, The Big Sea, he was dismayed to find Africans regarding him as “a white man.” In short, Africans failed to meet his expectations. The same disappointments were experienced by novelist Richard Wright, who visited Ghana in the mid-1950s. Unlike Hughes, who remained sanguine about Africa, Wright’s visit left him disillusioned. He called Ghana “a vast purgatorial kingdom” and concluded Africans were a “shattered” people.

The stories African Americans tell about Africa remain vitally important, because their engagement with the region has been more vital, long-lasting and complex than any relationships sustained by white Americans or Europeans. African American narratives about Africa have much to teach in an era when more people than ever are engaging African affairs and, implicitly or explicitly, asking the very question that animated Harlem writer Countee Cullen in his 1925 poem, “Heritage”:

What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his father loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?

One hundred years ago, a former American president, Teddy Roosevelt, on leaving office, went on a “safari” to East Africa, shooting animals almost non-stop for eleven months, criss-crossing a vast area then under the control of the British colonial government.

Roosevelt wrote an entire book about his experience, a detailed account entitled African Game Trails, which chronicled what historian H.W. Brands, a Roosevelt biographer, has called “the most sustained excitement of his life.”

Today, the son of a Kenyan is president of the U.S. While Barack Obama hasn’t gone on an African safari, in his memoir, Dreams From My Father, Obama journeys to Kenya, covering roughly the same ground as Roosevelt, trying like the other, earlier president to find in Africa raw materials out of which to help construct his own robust identity.

So much has endured about how Americans view, and use, Africa, both to tell their personal stories, and to live their own lives. And yet so much has changed. Roosevelt found savagery and violence in Africa, a terrain on which to test his oozing masculinity. Obama found his “authentic” self in Africa, the fruits of a different kind of romantic journey.

The two narratives about Africa suggest that nothing is frozen; stories about Africans and their people are fluid, dynamic and subject to revision, reinvention. Africans themselves will lead the creation of new master narratives, but the legacy of engagement with Africa and its people will likely mean that Americans also will have a hand in the new “master” narratives arising out of African soil, and the African imaginary alive everywhere.

That Africa captivates the imagination in a variety of predictable ways only highlights the importance of moving from “imagination to dialogue,” as Curtis Keim, a historian of African art and politics has written in the 2009 edition of his book Mistaking Africa. “Today it is still difficult for Americans not to stereotype Africa in one way or another,” Keim writes. While he provides no panacea for the problem of imposing master narratives onto African experience, he suggests a starting point that rings true to my own experience as the spouse of an African woman from one of the region’s most coherent and culturally-expressive ethnic groups, the Igbo of Nigeria.

“The first step to understanding African difference is to ‘listen’ to African cultures and attempt to discover Africa in its own words and in its own context. We should work at understanding how Africans conceive of reality and how that reality has been shaped by their environments and histories. In other words, we must allow Africans to be our teachers.”

To learn from Africans, in ways devoid of romanticism and the insidious projections that dominate the meta-narratives described in this essay, is serious work. For such a learning journey unites the personal and the political, the spiritual and the artistic, and is specific in its character. Such learning defies easy generalizations and categories. Inevitably, true stories about Africa are about individuals acting autonomously, standing outside of the stereotypes and pre-conceptions that even their own societies promote and protect. Only out of a heightened awareness of difference and a fidelity to the autonomy of Africans and their admirers alike can arise the raw material out of which new and necessary narratives about Africa.

Source: http://thefanzine.com/just-so-stories-stories-we-tell-about-africa-and-those-we-dont/

Friday, 24 August 2012

International Make-up artist Claire De-Graft is named as head make-up artist for Ghana Fashion & Design Week (GDFW)…..


Make-up: Claire De-Graft
Model: Soraya Khalil
Photographer: Akwasi photography

***All images courtesy of Claire De-Graft…..

Paulina Opoku-Gyimah says: Beginning early next month, the professional outfit behind GFDW (Ghana Fashion & Design Week) decamp to Accra, Ghana and I’m sooo excited…

It feels like a lifetime ago when I first posted a piece about said event -and since then, and as you all know, -news about Ghana Fashion and Design Week (GFDW) has gone global with bloggers, magazines and various media outlets expressing interest!!!!

So, I’m really please to inform you that Ghana Rising fave, international make-up artist Claire De-Graft (she has worked with the likes of: Janelle Monae for Arise magazine, Diana Vickers for Harpers Bazaar and Menaye Donkor Muntari for New African Woman magazine and numerous high-end publications including: Harpers Bazaar and Vogue) -has been named as head Make-up artist for Ghana Fashion and Design Week -which is taking place from 5th -7th October 2012, at the Moevenpick Ambassador hotel in Accra, Ghana… Wow!!!

Also confirmed for said shows are: Aisha Oboubi’s Christie Brown label and Naana Tennachie Yankey’s Coccolily collection...fab

With fashion insiders set to invade the Accra Metropolis for said shows, it really is the time, if you have a business -to promote your business with GFDW.

Note, renowned sponsors including, BLACKBERRY, L’OREAL, SO AESTHETIC, PORSCHE, MOET & CHANDON, with international media support from VOGUE ITALIA, alongside NEW AFRICAN WOMAN, FAB MAGAZINE, SHADDERS AFRICA, AFRICAN FASHION GUIDE, and a list of international media outlets are supporting this event -so if you are a business wanting to reach Ghana’s most fashionable -contact the professional outfit behind Ghana Fashion and Design Week (GFDW) at: Show@ghanafashiondesignweek.com

Anyway I’m beyond excited about GFDW!!! Ghana really needs its own professional fashion week and shows that have invited buyers -because otherwise, what is the point?

Below is the latest schedule from Ghana Fashion & Design Week… This professional outfit has dedicated the 8th -9th October 2012 to buyers -Amen.

The said two days have been elegantly set up as an open day for international and local buyers to view [up close] and purchase the catwalk collections at chichi Viva Boutique located in Osu, Accra.  -Thus GFDW promises to go where other fashion weeks in Ghana have never tread before, -to bring real business to all those designers and fashion houses taking part -and that’s how the likes of LFW, NYFW operate, and why can’t we!!!!

To keep up-to-date with all of GFDW’s fashionable happenings visit:


For more info about Claire De-Graft visit: