Eviction Stories

Several months have passed since I left Ghana, but while I have safely returned home, my mind remains with the tens of thousands of people displaced as a result of evictions and demolitions in Agbogbloshie. When I visited the area on the day before departure, demolitions had occurred that very morning near the Agbogbloshie market, clearing a space of roughly 20-30 meters along the river.

Although our own organisation was affected by the demolitions in the sense that our store location was demolished, we secured all our goods in time, and have now moved into a location outside the slum. Whilst this guarantees our store safety, it is a clear obstacle to servicing urban slum dwellers with solar electricity. And for the people still living in Old Fadama and the surrounding community, the situation has scarcely improved since the June and July evictions, with electricity being restored only to some areas. Below follows an account of what happened to different individuals on the different days of demolitions. The questions were kept deliberately short and open ended in order to secure fact-based answers, avoid leading the answers in any directions and to avoid triggering traumatic memories. The aim was for people to speak on their own initiative about what had happened. One student from Queen Mary University of London, Y Minh Le, conducted several of the interviews with women from the community.

All of the people pictured below agreed to have their names and photos taken and published.

Name: Alhassan Iddrisu

Profession: Company driver apprentice

IMG_6604“I wasn’t aware of the demolitions and wasn’t told by anyone I know. The government hasn’t provided any relief, we’ve got no water for a bath or anything. My house was destroyed when I was at work, when I came back it was just gone. Cash, clothes, TV-set, fan, radio, refrigerator, power generator etc, all worth about 3000 GHC. When I arrived at the scene a military man pushed me and told me to go away. I saw police beating people and firing teargas. The police had heard me and a few others talking about how we weren’t happy with the government and so they started firing teargas and beating people. Only one soldier sympathised with our situation. It was raining when it happened and I had nowhere to go, I had to sleep outside and my phone was destroyed by the rain.

I was affected by the teargas but I did not have to break my fast, but my mosque was destroyed.”

Name: Mutawakil Abdullai

Profession: Fashion designer, shop owner and landlord in Old Fadama

IMG_6605“I had heard of the demolitions. They have been giving dates for the past year. I heard about this one on television the Wednesday before the demolitions. We expected them to come on the Friday, not Saturday at 5am. They didn’t say what time they would come. The notice issued by the mayor (Alfred Oko Vanderpuije) covered 50 meters, the government came and marked a 50 m area. But when they came they changed the amount. All this happened because of Oko. Before they came out with the 50m notice, Oko had said they would demolish 100m from the river, but community leaders said it was too much and agreed on 50m instead.

I don’t stay here (in Old Fadama) but live in Zungo. I heard from others in the area about the demolitions. I was renting out a room, the person had rented it for 12 months and was only 7 months in when they destroyed it. He managed to get most of his belongings out but they were in a hurry so he couldn’t get everything. His fridge, radio, TV-set and mattress were destroyed, worth about 1000-1500 GHC.

When I came to the area I saw policemen collecting phones from people, and a lot of police brutalizing the residents. They were hitting them with sticks and handcuffing them for no reason. I was not assaulted myself, and was far away when they shot teargas so did not have to break my fast.

Some of the policemen tried to help us, but because we were panicking and saying things like “the government was doing this, the AMA was doing that”, the police couldn’t handle the pressure of people yelling and so started using tear gas.”

Name: Saibu Seidu

Profession: Drummer

IMG_6609“I was around at the time of demolitions but my brother wasn’t, so I tried to save his belongings. When I tried to go inside the military wouldn’t let me. I tried anyway and one of them beat me. They had batons, and he hit me on the back twice. I can’t turn my back to the side and it hurts when I breathe. The military official who beat me asked the police to arrest me but the police said they wouldn’t. I didn’t hit him back or anything, I was just trying to get the belongings inside. In the end, they destroyed my brother’s TV, speakers, radio, mattress, fans… It was all destroyed. Maybe 4000 GHC worth of things.

I breathed some of the teargas but I didn’t break my fast.”

[Author’s note: I took Seibu to the hospital myself one week after the incident, him lacking the funds to do so. He was diagnosed with a bruised rib and given painkillers.]

Name: Abubakari Abdul-Rahman

Profession: Scrap dealer

IMG_6610“I did not receive any notice and have received no compensation. My house, two rooms, was destroyed. I saw the demolitions begin on the Saturday morning as I was on my way to work. I was at my worksite at 6am when my wife called me to come back and collect our things. I managed to get all of it but I had nowhere to store it and, since it was raining heavily, my TV-set, cheque book and clothes were all destroyed. Maybe 1000 GHC worth of things.

I saw policemen collecting people’s phones. I was trying to take a picture but wasn’t allowed to and they told me to go away. I wasn’t assaulted nor did I see anyone assaulted, but I was affected by the tear gas. When we were getting our belongings, there was chaos, and people were asking the police and military ‘Why are you doing this’ and they responded with tear gas. It was a big crowd but I did not see any aggression towards the police. I don’t know of anyone injured.”

Name: Mohammed Abdul-Rahim

Profession: Scrap dealer

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“I did not hear about the demolitions until they happened. My house was destroyed with my laptop, stereo, fan and TV system. Maybe 1500 GHC’s worth. The police wouldn’t let me go and get it, and said they would beat me if I did. I saw others being beaten for trying to take their possessions. I built a new place out of plywood about twenty meters further away but they destroyed that too.

I had to break my fast because of the teargas and because they destroyed my things I have no financial means. I do repairs as well as scrap dealing and was keeping people’s things inside my house, now I have to pay them back because they were destroyed.

I took pictures, but the police took my phone away and deleted all the pictures, and I hurt my leg running away from the teargas.”

Name: Yussif Idrissu

Profession: ???

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“I didn’t receive notice directly myself but heard from friends saying something about a thirty meter clearing from the lagoon. My friend said the mayor issued the notice. We haven’t been given any alternative accommodation, but some trucks arrived with water supplies the other day. [note: these were Japanese government water relief trucks.] My house was destroyed so now I’m staying with some friends in the area. I took some things but left others, nobody told me to stop but they kept saying ‘hurry, hurry’ and once I got back to get more things everything was torn down. My TV, speakers and fan were destroyed, worth around 600 GHC.

I was not assaulted but saw others being taken away by police. When there were demolitions going on people said they would not accept it, and because they were saying things like that they got were handcuffed and sent to jail. Maybe 10 people I saw handcuffed, I haven’t seen them since. When people were speaking to police they started firing teargas, one guy was hit in the face and wounded by a rubber bullet too. I also saw the police take away phones from people taking pictures.

I did not break fast myself but many people had to because of the teargas. I saw small children affected by the teargas as well.”

Name: Abdulai Humu

Profession: Water salesman

IMG_6660“I did not hear anything about a notice. My house was torn down. Now I’m living with a friend, seven people in one room. We haven’t received any compensation whatsoever. Goods aren’t coming into the community as before so I can’t work as before.

They kept telling me to hurry up so I could not take everything out of my house. My mattress, speakers, fan, refrigerator, some clothes. About 1000 GHC worth of stuff destroyed. They did not confiscate my phone but saw people’s phones taken away and their pictures deleted. They kept shouting at me to leave when I was trying to take my things.

Because of the teargas I had to break my fast. They shot it at us when we were collecting our things. Some people had thrown rocks at the police and they shot teargas back into the community. I saw two children affected, their eyes were irritated because of the gas.

People did not understand why their homes were destroyed, they were angry and the police was scared, then they shot teargas. Some people bribed the police so they wouldn’t destroy their homes, but then they destroyed them anyway.”

Name: Issah Suleman

Profession: Kayaye (head porter)/landlord

IMG_6661“I heard nothing about a notice. The property I was renting out was about 50 meters away from the lagoon but it was destroyed, two rooms gone. One of the people renting was in the north, the other guy was around when it happened. All of their things were destroyed. TV, fans, mattress and clothes. They had paid half of their rent, I won’t ask them to pay the rest.

I saw one of my friends [Author’s note: Saibu Seidu, listed above] get beaten by military. He was beaten with a stick when he was walking away and fell down. It was just one military, he beat him four times on his back and on his arm.

I heard about phones being taken away and police taking bribes but I did not see it. I did not have to break my fast because of the gas but I saw children affected, blinded by the gas. I think they were abusing their power to shoot teargas.”

Name: Suleman Ziblin

Profession: ???

IMG_6662“My house was destroyed, it was about 40 meters away from the river. This is the second time they demolished it. The first time they did was in 2008, there was an agreement between the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the local chairman [Author’s note: local chairman of OFADA is member of ruling party] that they would clean the river and expand it, so I moved all my things and took down my house. But then they never came, so I moved back, and a week later when I had gone to work, they demolished it. I was surprised, I didn’t think they would actually tear it down.

This time they came and did a measurement and said my house wouldn’t be affected. It was a task force issued by Vanderpuije who came and said they wouldn’t destroy it. They had drawn a line and were shouting with a megaphone. The line they had drawn was 50m, I was just on it but they said it was okay. First they said they would demolish in May but then they [author’s note: ‘they’ = the AMA, Accra Metropolitan Assembly] came back and said they wouldn’t do it at all.

I now live in a tent on the same spot where my house used to be. It’s just a plastic sheet. When I got back one day all my things were gone – my friends said  looters came and took them.

They haven’t provided me with anything. No accommodation or compensation. A bus service started yesterday for people wanting to go home [author’s note: ‘home’ = back to the north, mainly Tamale].

I saw police beating people and shooting teargas. I was not affected by it, but many people stepped on nails and fell in the gutters when running away from the teargas among all the rubble. A little kid, maybe three years old, was affected by teargas. He wasn’t breathing well so people were clearing his throat and eyes with water.”

Name: Awal Alhassan

Profession: ???

IMG_6663“My house was destroyed, it was 100 meters from the water bank. I didn’t receive any notice and they haven’t given us any help. My brother went back home to the north and told me to stay in his house so that’s where I am now. A lot of people have already gone back home, when they realised people were going back they started providing buses. But they only started yesterday [author’s note: according to various testimony, a bus service began on the Wednesday following the beginning of demolitions on the Saturday].

When my house was destroyed I had to sleep outside and it was raining a lot. I was cold and wet and I saw a lot of children also sleeping outside.

I saw a lot of people being assaulted by both military and police. When they started destroying properties, if you tried to go in you were beaten with sticks or they hit you with the butt of their guns. Some people were seriously injured and bleeding. I heard about phones being confiscated but I did not see it.

My TV, clothes, speakers, fan, mattress and some of my friend’s and sister’s belonging were all destroyed. About 2000 GHC’s worth.

I was affected by the teargas, my eyes were itching badly. I saw children affected as well, some were just babies, another was maybe four years old, a pregnant woman was affected too. They all left for the north. People were falling when they were running away from the teargas and got trampled. Some people had bruises and had stepped on nails because they had to run away quickly.

They treat us like animals. At first, this place was just waterland – my tribe [author’s note: Dogomba tribe] came from the north and put sand on it. Then when the government saw that the land was habitable, they tried to take it away from them.“

Name: Mohammed Abubakar

Profession: Construction worker

IMG_6680“My home was destroyed on the Saturday when I was at work, it was just one room. I was staying with my wife and my child, there some other people living there as well. I’m staying with a friend now, my wife and child went back to the village in the north. I did not receive any notice, I didn’t hear anyone talking about it in the community either.

My family was at the market when they demolished the house, the house was demolished before I got back from work. A friend carried some of my belongings out of the house, but he couldn’t save the TV, fan or mattress. Maybe 500 GHC’s worth.”

Name: Musah Mohammed

Profession: Construction worker

IMG_6683“My house was destroyed on the Saturday, it was about 50 meters from the river. Me and my wife had been living there for two years. Now I’m living outside, my wife is staying with other women in a room. I did not receive notice and we haven’t received any compensation, no alternative accommodation, no message from the government, nothing.

My wife managed to save some things but she had to leave the cooking equipment, fans, TV, radio. About 1200 GHC’s worth of things. Military and police were blocking me and telling me to go away, they tried to shock me [author’s note: few reports of tasers being used] so I ran away. I saw many people get shocked. Some tried to stay because they had their babies in the house, but when the police threatened to shock them they got their babies and left. They were even taking away people’s phones when they tried to take pictures.

I saw children, even babies affected by teargas. I had to break my fast. They were using teargas on the Saturday so that people would go away. In the morning before the demolitions, they shot teargas into some crowded areas where they wanted to evacuate people. Some people stepped on nails running away, others were hurt when they ran into the destroyed buildings, their faces were cut. I stepped on a nail.

I am surprised because we are all Ghanaians, we are not strangers from another country. We are just surprised that the government is doing this to us. It’s very bad. I moved here in 2007 and have been working hard to help my family in the north. Some of them are studying so I’m sending money to support them. My brother died a few years ago and my father died in 2000 and so now I am the head of the family. I have to take care of them.

Name: Adisa Mohammed (wife of Musah Mohammed)

Profession: Kayaye

IMG_6689“My house was destroyed, I had been living there for two years with my husband. Now I am staying with three others in a room, but my husband is living outside. We were at work, thinking we wouldn’t be affected because we do not live close to the river. At work I saw people running home, I asked why and people said they were demolishing. I didn’t worry because I did not think it would be a problem for us. When I went back so much had been destroyed, so I ran home to see if it they had demolished it too. It wasn’t destroyed yet, but the police was preventing me from getting to the house. I went in anyway when they looked away. Then I heard people yelling “They are coming! They are coming!” so I got scared and left. My friend had taken the TV out but I left my phone behind and other things like clothes, cooking ware, fans.

On that Saturday after the demolitions people crowded together, shouting that they would not accept this. And then tear gas was used to make them go away. We were affected by the tear gas, but I did not break my fast. This mother with a small girl was crying that she could not see, and asked for someone to come and help her. When people came to help they realised that she had died. She was maybe two years old.

This has affected me too much. I was working so hard just to get something, and I already had some things, but now it’s all gone. I am not happy, this is very bad.”

Name: Wasila Alhassan

Profession: Kayaye

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[Wasila with one of her daughters to the right.]

“Our house was demolished, it was maybe 25 meters away from the river. We didn’t receive any notice, I did not hear anyone talking about it. We were five people living there, my children and me. We have lived there for two years. Now we are staying in Old Fadama with another family, we are thirteen people in one room. We haven’t received any compensation or help.

We managed to take some of our belongings and left the rest. Our refrigerator, TV and fan were destroyed, we couldn’t get it because of the teargas. It was worth maybe 600 GHC but we had to run away. My daughter was affected by the teargas and had to break her fast, she’s only twelve years old.

I am scared now because I think they could come back anytime. I feel very anxious.”

Name: Zeinabu Ayuba

Profession: Head porter

IMG_6687“My house was demolished, it was about 25 meters away from the river. I live with my husband, we had stayed there for the past two years. Now we stay with friends, three people in one room. I had heard from a friend who had heard from another friend that it was going to happen, that was the day before the demolitions happened. She didn’t say what day or what time they would come, I had no idea at all. I was at the marketplace when they started demolishing, when I came back I tried to get my things but the police said no. My husband was there at the time and managed to save almost everything, I tried to get the refrigerator but they had guns so I didn’t force it. Only the refrigerator was destroyed, it was worth around 250 GHC.

The military cut my brother with a knife [note: she pointed to her left shoulder blade], I haven’t seen him since. He was hurting very badly when I saw him. He had heard the police were demolishing people’s homes, he was renting out a property and staying next doors. They destroyed both.

Because of the demolitions I feel very nervous whenever I go to the market. We can’t work properly because we are always looking back, worried that the government will come back and continue destroying our homes.”

Name: Habibata Musah

Profession: Head porter

IMG_6688“Our house was destroyed, I had lived there for ten years with my husband, we have a three year old child. It was located close to the Sikkens bridge, near the road close to the river. We didn’t receive any notice, not from friends or anything. I was out working on the Saturday morning when they came, so when I came back it was all destroyed. We sent our child back to the north to stay with my parents, it’s not safe here. Now I am living in a room in Old Fadama with four other people, my husband lives outside.

We haven’t received any help or compensation, no play to stay. My husband managed to get our TV and a bag, mattress and fans. Everything else was destroyed. I had 400 GHC cash in my room, the rest was just clothes. The police were telling my husband not to go inside, but when the police were looking away he sneaked inside.

We weren’t affected by the teargas but I heard from friends that children had been affected and that people had their phones taken away, I also heard that the police had accepted bribes. I did not see it happen but I know some people stepped on nails when running away, I was also told the police had thrown rocks but I did not see that either.”

Name: Kwame Bashiru

Profession: Driver and landlord

IMG_6690“My two houses were destroyed. One house was located about 35-40 meters from the river, the other house more than 80, maybe 90 meters away. I did not hear about any notice, I had not heard anyone mention it. I bought the room 5 months ago and rented it out to kayaye [head porters] but I have been staying in my own room for three years with my wife. She went to the north, but I’m still here, working. Now I live outside.

They have given us nothing. Some people said they would move this place to Ajei Kotoku on the way to Kumasi, I saw it on TV, after they had destroyed the properties. Since I heard that on Tuesday they haven’t said anything else. As they were demolishing, my friends said my house would be fine because it was far away enough, but by the time I got back everything was destroyed. My wife was away working so she could not get anything in time. The mattress, the TV, the laptop, clothes, refrigerator, all of it was destroyed. All I have is my phone and this t-shirt I managed to save.

On the Sunday we were demonstrating, a lot of us together, just in a crowd, not like the Monday. [Note: protests reached a peak on the Monday] They thought everything would be demolished so they were walking together and shouting. We decided to put a car in the road and light it on fire to prevent more military from coming, but Chief Zaachi and others told us not to. When I was taking the car away, another protester pulled a knife on me.

I have no place to sleep now, nothing to protect me from the mosquitos. Normally I light a fire and lie close to it to prevent the insects from hurting me.”

Name: Ziblim Adam Baba

Profession: Scrap dealer

IMG_6759“I have been staying in this community for seven years, and I lived in that house for one year and two months. It was forty or fifty meters away from the lagoon. My wife and one year old daughter were staying with me, but on Tuesday after the demolitions I sent them home to the north. I packed my things and put them in a room, but right now I am sleeping outside.

I was sleeping when my wife woke me up and said ‘Come out you won’t believe it’, I saw an AMA task force demarcating a line about twenty meters from the river, then the machines passed by and demolished all those houses but passed us by, so I thought we would be fine. But my wife said we should pack our things, so we started packing and then they came back and destroyed our house as well. I hadn’t heard anyone mention the demolitions, I did not think it would happen. We managed to pack a few things but a lot was destroyed, our clothes and our fans.

I saw the police shooting tear gas on the Sunday after demolitions. Because police had destroyed our homes, people gathered in groups and were telling the police and military to stop. Some people were so angry they threw stones. I didn’t, but I saw others do. Because women were carrying their children to go to the market at the time, everyone was affected. They [the police] knew people were going to the market, but they shot anyway. It was very cruel. My wife and I were both affected, pregnant women and children as well. Some people had their phones taken away from them, people were hurt running away, and one guy was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.”

Name: Nindow Iddi

Profession: Second-hand clothes salesman

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“My house was about 35 or 40 meters away from the lagoon but it was demolished. I managed to save all my things in time. I didn’t hear anything about the demolitions until the day itself. They announced it on a megaphone and said 10 meters would be demolished. It was an AMA information van around 6am. They haven’t provided any help since, I heard they gave some food somewhere but I didn’t receive any.   I have lived in the community for twelve years, the past five I lived in that house with my wife and my son who is three years old. They both stay with a friend in Accra, but I stay here, outside.
My entire family was affected by the tear gas, and a friend of mine was slapped in the face by military for taking a picture. His phone was confiscated as well. When I was walking past the demonstrations I was shot in the foot with a rubber bullet. At one point a guy came into the community and showed something to the rest of us asking what it was, he didn’t realise it was a teargas can until we all yelled ‘Teargas!!!”

I used to sell my clothes to my brothers and sisters here, but because of what happened either they have left or they aren’t working, so there’s no one here to sell to.”

Name: Shahadu Alhassan

Profession: Scrap dealer

IMG_6762“My house, just one room, was demolished about 40-45 meters away from the river. My wife and I had lived there with our child for six years. They both went back to Tolong, and I’m staying outside. I didn’t hear anything about the demolitions – I just woke up early in the morning and saw the big machines. I managed to save all my stuff but now that so many people have left and people are afraid they will continue to demolish, no one will buy any scrap metals.

I’m confused. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should go back north, but there’s no work there. I’m just thinking what to do.”

Name: Eric Isaac

Profession: Computer hardware engineer

IMG_6776“I heard about demolitions the Wednesday before it happened. There was a car with a megaphone announcing that they would come on the Thursday and said that anyone who had things along the lagoon should remove it, and that they were coming to remove structures and clear the Korle Lagoon. They did not say what time and they did not say how much they would remove, just that those who were right next to the river should go.

My house and shop were destroyed on the Sunday, it was about 40-45 meters away from the lagoon. I lived there together with a friend of mine for four years, he went back home to the north but I sleep here, outside. They haven’t given us any help whatsoever. I tried to go inside my house and get my things but a soldier beat me on my bottom with a hard stick so I ran away. They yelled at the women, they didn’t beat the children, but they beat us. No one was allowed to take any photos, if you did they would come and collect your phone.

I had system units, laptops – loads of things inside my store I was repairing, now people are coming to me asking for their money back, but all of my things were destroyed as well. TV, clothes, fans, stereo and speakers, woofer, lights – everything gone. With the store and my house, the value of everything was maybe 5000 GHC. I would have earned 900 GHC for all the work in my store but now there’s nothing. I’ve had to stop work completely. Unless someone helps me, I have nothing, no money, no nothing. Only God. I am from the Dagomba tribe and I came here because there were no jobs where I was, I send back money to my family all the time. Unless I find something else, I think I will go back.”

Name: Mohammed Alhassan

Profession: Scrap dealer

IMG_6777“I have lived here for 10 years in the same house with my wife and my two children. I am of the Dogomba tribe and came to Old Fadama because I could not earn enough where I came from. I thought I would come here and start a new life, then send back money to take care of my family back home. I am supporting 15 family members with money. My wife and child have gone back home to the north, but I am still living here with a friend.

When they started demolishing on Saturday and Sunday, I was not afraid because our house was so far away from the lagoon, at least 80 meters. They did not say anything about where they would demolish. On the Wednesday both me and my wife were away, and when we came back it was all destroyed. Our TV, laptop, fridge, fans, clothes and mattress, worth about 1500 GHC at least.

I saw the police shooting tear gas and rubber bullets, I was even there when someone was shot in the eye. Demonstrations had already finished by the time that guy was shot. There were bullets and teargas all around Sikkens [note: paint shop near Sikkens bridge, leading into Abose-Okai road and the onion market] and as I walked past he was shot. He took himself to the hospital but he was not fine. I myself was affected by teargas but I did not break my fast. A lot of children were affected by tear gas as well. People’s phones were confiscated by military as they were trying to take pictures, the military didn’t say why.

I still work but now but I sleep outside. I can’t keep my things anywhere and the storage space where I had my scrap metals was destroyed. I haven’t received any compensation.”

Name: Adam Mahamadu

Profession: Truck pusher

IMG_6778“Back in the north I have six siblings, some of them are students. I  worked on a farm but the work depended from year to year, sometimes there was no rain so everything was spoilt and there was no yield. So I came  to Accra in 2008 to earn a living so that I could send money back home. I worked hard and could pay for my brother to finish university, now he was able to help me. Right now I send money to nine people at home.

The AMA had said they would demolish 100 meters. My house was the furthest away in the demolitions – my neighbour was not affected. It was demolished on the Tuesday. On Sunday they said they would do it on Monday, the same week as the real demolitions. But then they didn’t come, even though people had gone home from work and were expecting them to come. I did too, because some people had said they would demolish all of Old Fadama. And then they started on the Saturday instead. I saw someone had his phone taken away by military.  I still didn’t think they would demolish my home because it was so far away from the lagoon, over 100 meters away, so I went to work. Then I came back and it was destroyed.

My mattress survived so now I rent a room and sleep with that. My TV, my wife’s clothes, refrigerator, my own clothes. I sent my wife and children back to the north, they are six and three years old, a boy and a girl. The only thing I have left is what’s on me.”

Name: Kassim Abdul-Razak

Profession: Scrap dealer

IMG_6781“I have been living here for five years. I came because I thought that I could work and earn a living so I could support my family. I am supporting eleven of them.

My house was 50 meters away from the lagoon. It was demolished on the Saturday, I woke up when it was happening. I lived there with my friend, but now I am staying with my older brother here in Old Fadama. I had heard about the demolitions from some people, but they said they would only demolish a small bit. Then they started, so I tried to save my things. But the military were pushing me away. I saw them beating some people, others were handcuffed and taken away, my friend said he was tasered as he was running away from the military.  Now, my TV, speakers, deck, fans are all destroyed. I only took my clothes. They haven’t given me any compensation.

I have not gone to work since it happened, because I keep hearing and thinking that they will come back tomorrow, they will come back tomorrow. There’s still police and military present so I am scared that they will continue. They shot tear gas everywhere before, some children were affected and I was too. But I did not break my fast.”

Name: Husseini Alhassan

Profession: Fashion designer

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“I’ve been living here in the same place for 10 years. I came to learn how to do fashion and tailoring and started off as an apprentice, now I work for another place. My house was very far away from the river, over 100, maybe 150 meters, but it was demolished anyway. My children have lived there since they were born, they are 5 and 9 years old. They are with my family in the north now, me and my wife are still here, but we are sleeping outside. I can’t go back home unless I take something with me.

Yes I heard about the demolitions. The leaders of the community and the party chairman had said they would demolish 100 meters and that they would come on the Thursday. They said this two days before but then they didn’t come. When I saw that they were coming on the Saturday I took my things out, but they didn’t destroy it. So I put them back, and then on the Sunday they came again and demolished it all. They were keeping us from getting our things back so I could not save everything. My TV, fan, deck, mattress and clothes were all destroyed. It was worth around 400 GHC.

I heard about military taking away people’s phones, and when people ran away from the demolitions and tear gas they would stamp on nails. I ran away when they started to shoot rubber bullets and I saw some children who had been affected by the tear gas.

Because of the demolitions, there is no electricity and no customers. I have not worked since they started. “

Name: Abdul-Wahab Abdul-Wahab

Profession: Computer technician

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“I have lived in Old Fadama since 2006, in the same house. I came because I wanted work, and I learned how to work computers here, inside Old Fadama. I lived with my with and my child, only one year old. They went back north but I am staying here, outside.

I heard them  talking on the Tuesday before demolitions about clearing 100 meters, but I did not know when. On the Saturday my house was destroyed with everything in it, computers, mattress, clothes, TV, fans, so many things I don’t even know. It was worth a lot, 2500-3000 GHC.

The government provided some buses to Tamale, but that was it. There were not enough buses for everyone. If there was a bus I would take it, but I hear a lot of people are just stranded in Tamale with no way to go home. My work and life have been destroyed so I don’t know what I will do next. Maybe I will go back north but if I find work, I will stay. I am supporting eleven members of my family back home.”

Name: Abdul-Rahim Karim

Profession: Computer technician

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“I have lived for 8 years in the same house, I came here because I needed to support my family back in Tamale, there are eight of them. I lived about 50 meters away from the river, but it was demolished on the Saturday. Someone called me to say they were demolishing and so I came home around 9.30AM and managed to save one computer. When I came back for more the room was already destroyed with eleven monitors inside. They did not tell me in advance that they would come.

I was living with a friend but I have three children who are staying in the north, Tamale. Now I have rented another room in Old Fadama, but I am scared, some people said they would come back again.  I was planning to go home and celebrate the end of Ramadan with my family with the money I made from repairing the monitors. I heard they are providing buses and that some people are leaving for Tamale, but I can’t go back without anything to give them.”

Name: Mohammed Alhassan

Profession: Scrap dealer

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“I have lived here for 15 years, 7 years in my last place. It was demolished on the first day even though my house was 100 meters away from the river. I came here to look for work and money so I could support my family back in the village, there are twenty of them I am supporting. Now I stay in a room in the area with my wife and my kids.

They came on the day before demolitions and announced through a megaphone that those who had structures close to the water had to take them away, but they did not say when they would be coming. They haven’t given me any help, no compensation, no buses, no water. My wife was around when it happened, she saved as much as she could but our TV, mattress and clothes were destroyed. There were a lot of clothes, maybe worth 1500 GHC.”

Name: Zilfau Alhassan

Profession: Banana salesman

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“I am from the north, I came here to learn to be a dress maker. But I had no money so I started selling bananas, until I can buy a sewing kit. When I get money I will send it to my family back home, but I have family here as well. I have been here for three and a half months.

I lived near the lagoon with my husband, now I live in a room nearby but my husband sleeps outside. They had not told us about the demolitions, I went to the market and heard some people living close to the river saying that there would be demolitions, that was the day before it happened. No one said how much they would destroy but nobody thought they would destroy where we had our house.

When they came on the Saturday, the military said that they would destroy three lines of houses. We were on the fourth line so when I heard that I was not afraid. But they destroyed it with our fan, clothes and mattress. I managed to save the TV and my smallclothes, but the military were caning people who tried to get in.

My husband’s brother’s phone was confiscated, he was just making a phone call but they thought he was taking a picture so they took it. Because of the teargas I had to break my fast, my child as well. I have not been able to sell bananas because of the demolitions. A lot of people have gone away, and I am always scared that they will come back. I will stay for a while, maybe a year, until I learn how to make dresses. If I have enough money maybe I will go back north and start a new life.”

Name: Bamunu Fatawu

Profession: Kayaye, selling Batik and drinks

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“I have been living here for the past 23 years, in the same house. I came from Tamale, but there was no way of supporting my family. Too much poverty and struggle, so I decided to take a journey to the south and support my family. There were not a lot of people when I first came, only a few.

My house was 80-100 meters away from the river. It was demolished early on the Saturday morning. I was living with eleven friends in one big room. My husband was staying in another room which was also destroyed. I have been living like that for 23 years, I was the owner of the house and took care of it. My three children are still with me but my husband has gone back to Tamale because there is no place to sleep, he was sleeping in a mosque for a while. Right now I am living with friends, but once I have sold all my things I will go back home. If I go back and receive some commercial support, I will rent a store and start a business.

In my 23 years here I have never been threatened with demolition, no one I know was talking about it happening. We have not been given any help or support, a few buses before but no more. My clothes, money, money my friends had asked me to keep, all destroyed. I had 300 GHC cash and 600 GHC worth of other things. We managed to say the TV but my phone was destroyed.

A lot of people were injured, some because of blocks falling down during the demolitions. Others ran away and hurt their feet on nails, people were panicking and running everywhere so some people were trampled and would run into each other. I was affected by the teargas and had to break my fast. A lot of people had to.

Yesterday they came back and marked where they would demolish, they pushed the line even further in. I think they will maybe destroy all of it. I am very scared that my new place will be destroyed.”

Name: Huzeima Abubakari

Profession: Cleaner

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“I lived in a village called Tuburu, not far from Kombogo next to Tamale, but poverty was too much and I have a family of thirty, so I thought if I come to Accra I can find work and support them. They are cotton farmers. Now I am staying with friends, my husband is in Kumasi to buy scrap metals.

Our house was about 80 meters from the river, I lived there with my husband and two children. I was not told about demolitions. When demolitions started on the Saturday they did not destroy our house, but I took all our things out. The neighbours said they were demolishing so far away that we wouldn’t be affected, so I took everything back. The next day it was all demolished. We were too afraid to go and ask them to stop or to get our things out, they had big guns. They destroyed our TV, DVD player, handbags, clothes, cash bank, fan and small fridge. I had 1000 GHC cash and the rest was worth maybe 1000 GHC more.

A lot of people were injured when they ran away from the demolitions, stepping on nails that had fallen to the ground. My children and I had to break our fast because of the tear gas.  It was so sudden, people were crying and then running away. I am still working here but every time I go I am scared that my property will be destroyed, I can’t stop thinking about it. I keep all my things on me and bring it to work. Maybe I will go back home and become a groundnut farmer, but I don’t have the money right now.“

Name: Adisah Inusah [lives together with Bamunu, above]

Profession: Kayaye

IMG_6792“I came here three years ago, I was lived in the same house but it was destroyed. Now I live with twelve friends in one room near the Old Fadama police station.

I had heard about demolitions, but we thought they were very far. I heard it from young guys around the community, saying the government would clear along the canal and clear the river so the water could move free.

They haven’t provided any help and there is very little water at the moment. All my money was destroyed in my house, it was about 500 GHC, so I have very little.

I was arrested because I was part of the demonstration. We went to the president’s house to ask what was happening, why had he given authority to the AMA to destroy our homes – he is from the north himself and all the southerners are insulting us in this community so why would he do it. We were shouting insults at the police and the president and when we did started to chase us. They put me in jail but released me in the evening and told me not to go there again. They took my phone away but I am scared to get it back.

A lot of people were injured. Some were vomiting because of the tear gas, I was affected too and had to break fast. There was teargas during demolitions and demonstrations. In the demonstrations we were making a lot of noise, drumming and dancing.

After what happened I did not go back to work for a few days, and when I went back I found out they had replaced me so I lost my job. But the people organising the demonstrations said no one should go to work and that we should all unite together to demonstrate, so I did.

Name: Moshie Mohammed

Profession: Works day to day, currently Kayaye

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“I have only lived here for two months. I come from Yurunai in the northern region. I wanted to earn money so I came to Old Fadama, then I could go back home to support myself and start a business. I had heard from friends that you could make money in Accra.

My house was about 40-50 meters away from the river. They destroyed it on the Sunday. After they had started demolishing on the Saturday, I still didn’t think they would destroy mine. I had heard that they would demolish from friends and family, but they didn’t say how much. I lost all my cash, about 450 GHC, they haven’t given any compensation. I need to find a new job, probably I will be a kayaye.

I saw police and military beating a lot of people who tried to get their things out of their homes. They were using batons to hit them as they were getting their things. They used tear gas to evict people and remove them from the area.

We are no longer free to move around the market. If you use a particular place, and something happens and you move to a new site, life is different. People are different from the ones you know. Moving within Agbogbloshie I have to adapt to new conditions, it is distressing and difficult to work. I don’t have a steady job, it’s just day to day business to get by.”

 

Annonser

Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah – Old Fadama.

Written on Tuesday 24th of June 2014


 

24 hours. It’s been a while, electricity.

Experiencing a long power-cut has not only made me more aware of my dependency on computer and phone for daily work and social life, but it’s boosted my appreciation for solar panels. It’s understandable why most business owners I’ve met around Accra express an interest in buying a solar panel to power their fans, lights or TV.

While I’ve done my fair share of complaining, it seems everyone here are perfectly used to it. They shrug it off and see it as a naturally occurring thing that they don’t have power to change. They simply move on to whatever’s next – perhaps this is an attitude grounded in the daily struggle through the hustle. On the flip side, they seem to be reaping a much larger benefit in the form of friendship. Patrick, a local radio celebrity and my current guide, told me that at the end of every day and at the end of every week, everyone just does their best to relax. “On Fridays, the doctor’s de-stress, the lawyer’s de-stress and the professor’s de-stress. You wouldn’t be able to tell a mechanic and a high-flying businessman apart in the streets.” This attitude has been impossible to ignore in the midst of the familiar atmosphere at my regular pub, the Red Lion. When I went there last night to meet with Patrick I immediately got called over by one of his many friends, Chamberlain, to sit down for a beer. Ten minutes into the conversation I was already invited to his birthday dinner later in the week.

Since I came here, Patrick and I have watched almost every world cup game, shared many beers and had many laughs with his friends at the Red Lion pub. But the other day, I decided to speak to him about Old Fadama and find out what he knew about it. He said there was a political deadlock that caused all legitimization or eviction attempts by any government to fail. Apparently, any government that tries to legitimize the citizens or provide them with some basic access to water, electricity and sanitation are met with criticism by the opposing side, being accused of legitimizing the illegal or wasting tax money. Considering there is roughly 100,000 people living there, the votes of this community can make or break a candidate’s campaign, so all political adversaries closely monitor all moves in relation to the region.

In his explanation of the situation, the scarcest resource of them all became apparent: belief in the government. By this I mean not just the current government – any government. Things had never moved in Agbogbloshie and they never would. The status quo seemed to be an impenetrable and accepted barrier to change. Patrick told me outright that he was surprised I had not been assaulted or robbed on my way to and from work, considering it was a place riddled with criminals and trash that the government wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. “Sodom and Gomorrah” he called it. But in my opinion Sodom and Gomorrah is an outdated label for Old Fadama. In a country where Christianity is strongly present, the name only serves to instill a sense of Godlessness within people’s views of the slum, but the many mosques and churches tell a different story. Rather than being a crime-ridden slum forsaken by God, a more accurate description would be a community abandoned by the Government.

I asked Patrick whether he would come along with me on a normal day to work. Although he had driven past Old Fadama many times, he had never set foot inside. The next day, Fred, one of his friends who happened to hold a degree in Environmental Impact Research, came to pick us up and took us to Agbogbloshie. With quick and increasingly familiar steps I showed them through the slum all the way to work, and from there we went for a quick visit to the Korle lagoon. It was their first time there and I could tell they were almost as shocked as me when I first arrived.

In my weeks here I have noticed the people working in the streets, looking for a way to start a business or to increase their prospects of success. I have not been attacked once nor made feel uncomfortable. When they speak to me I speak back – a simple show of mutual respect, the presence of which has made me feel increasingly safe as I walk to and fro work. I’ve been told that the reason why I haven’t been subject to crime is because these incidents happen at night. This may be so, but crimes occurring at night are not phenomena exclusive to Old Fadama. The lack of Government-provided streetlights just means that when the pitch-black darkness sets in at about 7pm, rapists and robbers are engulfed in a perfect cloak. Part of Energy For Old Fadama’s work here is tackling this problem by increasing the number of light sources in open communal areas, for instance by providing solar lanterns. Time will tell if it’s an effective solution.

The next day I spoke to Patrick about his thoughts since our last conversation about Old Fadama. His words were few but true: “When I walked out, I felt sober and privileged.” Hopefully his changed perspective and stance on Old Fadama will reach out to his radio audience. It is clear that something must be done to dispel the myths about the community – not just to people abroad but clearly also to the citizens of Accra. Without any change on this front, the Government’s inactivity means its feet will be sinking further into the mud…


 

Wednesday June 25th 2014


 

The past three days I have been preoccupied with interviewing the owners of the solar panels installed by EFOF. Although I have about half left to survey, I am already gaining a fairly clear idea of the short and long-term benefits of the project, as well as some of the areas where we can do better.

Because of the cost of the panels, it is essential that the panel is installed where it can benefit the largest number of people to the greatest extent possible. Hence, a business selling food all night to 200 visitors would benefit more greatly from a solar panel during a power cut than a school home to 400 that closes at 3pm. In my surveys, the question “what has been the most practical impact from the solar panels?” has produced the most interesting answers. Previously, many of the buildings where there are now solar panels would resort to kerosene lights, fuel-powered generators and candles during power cuts. Not only is kerosene highly toxic, but it also increases the risk of fires in the community. In a place where most buildings are made of wood and close together, fires are a particularly big danger that must be monitored and fought with all precautions. Furthermore, all these alternatives are costly and diverts money that could be better spent elsewhere. Additionally, by lighting up areas such as food markets the owners of these buildings have seen a direct increase in the number of customers. This is actively spurring the local economy and could have long-term benefits in terms of employment that might steer people away from sifting through metals at the electronic waste site.

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One of the schools with solar panels installed. The solar lightbulbs are the ones on the left and right side as well as the fluorescent lights.

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Solar panels powering a school of over 500 students. Each class is about 50 students big.Bild
Fatawu, case intake officer at FLAP and my interpreter for the day, surrounded by many happy faces at a solar-powered school.

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A Kayayee (head porter) in one of the solar-powered food markets
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The proprietor of the Kayayee Youth Union, a community center supporting Kayayees with their worker’s rights and other issues that arise. I was told that many of the people working as Kayayees (these are, by the way, present on every big street during traffic jams) come from Old Fadama. The area where this building is situated is particularly susceptible to power cuts and sometimes these last up to a week.

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Fatawu reaching for a light switch to test the solar lamps in one of the busiest food markets. The market can now continue to operate at night without resorting to kerosene lights or having to close shop – power cuts happen about 3-4 times a week for 8-12 hours.

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On our way back from surveying the buildings, we passed Stephen’s house, one of the workers at FLAP. His wife, to the left, trains the women working with WISEEP in how to make Batik cloths. They also run their own business making, packaging and selling hair gel (the big blue barrels).

 

Before I get to bed, one last update on the Pepsi situation. As I said in my previous post, I was told by Pepsi to come back today. When I went back, I wasn’t surprised to find out the CEO was not available due to external visitors. True or not, I knew it was going to be a struggle. That’s why every time I had come so far, I made sure to pay a visit to the woman working in the Pepsi retail store outside the factory. Every time I’d tease her by letting her guess my nationality, and her curiosity eventually led her to invite me into the shop for a drink while we sat and talked about Ghanaian culture as she continued guessing. Eventually she, Stella, asked me what I was doing at Pepsi every day. I explained to her my idea of getting Pepsi involved in recycling but that my efforts to meet the CEO were thwarted every day. Upon hearing this, she stood up and walked me over to the security guards who proceeded to tell me again that I needed to call Francis to see whether he was available. No answer from Francis meant no visitors badge.

Nevertheless, Stella did not give up. She called over a man walking past outside – after an introduction by Stella the man told me he knew a marketing manager on the inside. He called him up and handed me the phone – now I’ve got another meeting for Friday. After this Stella introduced me to three more workers at Pepsi, working on a fixed contractual basis with installing the IT technology in the new offices. Again, the enthusiasm was present and by the end of our conversation they were all brainstorming on how to help. One of the men, Peter, gave me some advice on what information to prepare, and further told me that if I brought a full report of my ideas on Friday he would pass them around to some of his contacts working within recycling.

While I may not have met the CEO, it seems I am gaining the support of the workers. Working from the bottom to the top is proving more efficient than I had thought – the enthusiasm I am met with is a testament to the will to change things. All that was needed was for someone like me to come along with an idea backed up by a bit of persistence.

The Lexorcist

Written on June 20th 2014

Today I witnessed the strangest thing I’ve ever seen and probably will see for quite some time.

First a quick summary of yesterday’s events. I went to meet the district station police chief with the claimant who was left impotent and with a broken leg after being hit by a car. Arriving ca 8 minutes late to the station in Arena, the chief greeted me with ”I told you 2pm and you arrive late. What is this?” I pointed to the man 40 meters away, slowly making his way to us on crutches. My point came across and we stepped into the police chief’s large office for the second time. He requested from us some documents, including the claimant’s driver’s license. Unfortunately, the claimant did not have a license at the time of the accident, meaning his claim may be weakened. We will therefore focus on securing enough witnesses to testify to the fact that the driver of the vehicle was reckless to the point that the claimant’s lack of license should have no decisive impact on his claim to compensation. Furthermore, driving a moped without a license is common place in Accra (though I’m doubtful as to whether this argument will have any weight). Today (Friday), the claimant met with the Old Fadama police chief and the driver of the vehicle to inspect the scene of the accident to take measurements and make a determination as to who was at fault. At least things are moving, but it’s difficult to predict if the claimant will receive any compensation at all. I will report back on this next week.

In my last post I said I had a meeting with the CEO of the Pepsi factory next to Old Fadama. I showed up on time but was told by the security at the entrance that the CEO was out with some visitors. ”Huh,” I thought, and asked if he would be there later in the afternoon. I was told yes, but when I returned at 4pm I was told he had gone home. I asked again whether there was a better time for me to come tomorrow. 2.30pm they said. The next day, I arrived on time, but the CEO had apparently encountered some trouble which meant he was at a different location and could not meet. Remembering my first visit to Pepsi over a week ago, I wondered if the CEO was the same man whom I had first met at the gates and who said he was the wrong person to speak to, referring me to the Quality Control Manager, Francis (who I’ve spoken to earlier). I couldn’t tell whether that man had been reluctant or simply busy. Anyway, I was told to come back on Wednesday next week, but I’ll return on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday if I have to. Pepsi’s potential plan to implement a recycling program after they’ve introduced their new PET production line is inefficient, since they can already decide on the raw materials used in the production process in order to make the recycling process more cost-effective. For instance, softer bottles using the liquid inside to maintain the shape can be made with less virgin plastic resin, meaning less use of crude oil and better opportunity to reuse different types of plastics.

I also purchased 10 cans of Mountain Dew from the shop outside the factory and then brought back the empty cans to see the reaction of the person I bought them from when asked whether they would be recycled. ”We just throw them away” she said as she seemed to contain a chuckle at the idea. Coming from a place where it earns you some money and is widely done, I was becoming increasingly flustered with the complete lack of enthusiasm for recycling. Anyway, I’ll keep pushing and see what happens next week.

Back to the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Remember Lucy? The girl who came to us and said she had been thrown out of her house and abused by her mother? After meeting with her mother earlier in the week and retrieving more information from different witnesses, it seems like Lucy may have exaggerated her story. In any case, it was very clear that the relations between mother and daughter were fraught with anger and conflict, so our best hope was to mediate between them to see if we could somehow mend their relationship and bring Lucy back home.

The mediation took place at the mother’s house this morning, in a small courtyard with other members of the family surrounding the scene. It was clear from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be easy, but we had the chief of a local tribe, Isaka, with us to help convince the parties to resolve their dispute peacefully. As we began explaining the process of mediation, it quickly derailed and the mother kept interrupting with more information on how Lucy had allegedly behaved and how she had taken care of many children before Lucy who had never complained. Furthermore, she said Lucy had offended her stepfather, who had taken care of Lucy for many years, and that he would therefore not partake in the mediation. Thankfully, Isaka and Frederick noticed that the stepfather was a previous acquaintance, and so the stepfather decided that he would agree with the outcome of the mediation.

In any case, as mentioned, the mediation quickly derailed. The mother, being the eldest of the group, felt entitled to interrupt the mediators with loud agitated words and stood up several times in what I perceived as an aggressive manner. But it was also clear that her gestures boiled down to the fact that she felt aggrieved by the actions of her daughter, who allegedly had ran away on several occasions, brought back strangers to the house and made false accusations against her mother. We were shown a note, written by Lucy, apologizing to her mother and explaining that she had ran away because she was slapped by her Auntie, whom she felt was not entitled to discipline her in such fashion. Her brother said he was surprised she was complaining and escaping, saying that her mother and the aunties always seemed to be defending her whenever they had a fight. While some readers may be shocked by the fact that she was slapped, please remember that a certain level of physical punishment against children, such as caning, is commonplace in homes and at school in Ghana. Furthermore this was far more preferable to the type of physical harm she was at risk of when living in the slum. The mother proceeded to explain that Lucy said something within her had been urging her to escape at night, convincing the mother and the rest of the family that Lucy was possessed by an evil spirit. This, they said, was the cause of her bad character. Things started to get interesting.

I’ll pause for a second to say that we asked Lucy on several occasions before and during the mediation whether she wanted to come back and stay with her mother, to which she nodded and said yes. However she seemed quiet and barely maintained eye contact when speaking to anyone. Her mannerisms verged on being rude, but I knew she wasn’t to blame. There was obviously something on her mind which she failed to express. Having been told by her mother (although everyone spoke twi so everything was being translated) that Lucy was a smart kid who enjoyed writing, I decided to give her my pen and told her that whenever she felt that something was troubling her she should write it down. The time I was telling her this seemed to be the only time she looked me in the eyes for an extended period and really listened to what I was saying. Thinking I may have somehow gotten through to her, I will return next week with a notepad for her to write on.

The mother kept gesturing loudly and interrupting our attempts to mediate and we almost gave up, when suddenly an elderly woman dressed in red and black entered the courtyard. Immediately, Lucy’s mother stood up and offered her seat. It was Lucy’s grandmother. Clearly, as the eldest, she commanded a whole lot of respect. She took the mother’s seat and we began to explain the situation, while she nodded and listened to us with care. She seemed also to think that Lucy was possessed by a bad spirit and that the mother was aggrieved by her actions, but that reconciliation was absolutely necessary.We called back the mother, who sat quietly (for the first time) as the grandmother explained to her that they needed to find a way to resolve their dispute.

The next step was Lucy apologizing to her mother. She knelt in front of her and quietly expressed her regret, while the mother sat down with a sad, deeply affected look in her face. While Lucy remained kneeling on the ground, the mother stood up and started walking around the courtyard. I was told that she was going to attempt to free herself from the spirits of anger that possessed her as a result of what she felt her daughter had done. Thinking she was simply going to have a long hard think about the situation, I started asking the others what they thought we should do next. Before I knew it, the mother began flailing her arms in the air and chanting in tongue. It suddenly dawned on me what was actually happening. I was told that the mother was a spiritualist at church who was known for releasing many people from bad spirits. She was now doing it to herself.

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Lucy kneeling in front of her mother (Lucy’s face is not shown but authorization to take and publish photos was given by everyone present)

 

 

As she walked around, eyes closed, throwing her arms in the air and yelling things I could not understand, the Auntie, an outlandishly large woman who had been sitting next to the mediation circle the entire time, walked up to her and held her tight. The mother then seemed to pass out and was carried through a door, disappearing from the courtyard while Lucy was still kneeling in front of the chair her mother had been sitting on. This was no longer a mediation. It was an exorcism. After a while, the mother came back out, eyes still closed. She turned her back against a wall whilst the Auntie held her and threw water on her face, cleansing her of the bad spirit. At this point, the chief, Isaka, stood up and walked up to the mother. He put his hand on her face and said some things, as the mother’s face twitched in what seemed like excruciating pain. Lucy was told to stand up. It was explained to me that the mother could not be released from the angry spirits because Lucy would not open up and let herself be cleansed. Without this, she could not be forgiven. Lucy went up to her mother with some water, which she poured on her mother. ”The water is no good!” the mother cried out (in Twi). It looked like the ritual wasn’t going very well.

Eventually the mother was carried back into the room and Lucy was asked to join her.  We waited for a while and eventually the mother and Lucy came out. After some more speaking in tongue, water-cleansing and the healing touch of the chief, the exorcism was complete. The mother had been cleansed of her anger and Lucy was one step closer to being released of her bad spirits. Everyone in the group seemed joyful, even Lucy who I saw for the first time smiling quietly to herself. The mother went around the group, shook our hands and hugged us one after one, and proceeded to cleanse the rest of the family and even the QMPBS volunteers of their bad spirits! She thanked the chief numerous times and we prepared to leave.

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The mother, lifting the grandmother in joy and spinning her around.

Before we left I looked to Lucy one more time and reminded her to keep on writing. We left her with the number to FLAP and took the number of her grandmother, who Frederick will call to speak to Lucy every week for a couple of months to make sure Lucy is adjusting well as she is reintegrated with her family.

I left the courtyard speechless. It became clear that my skills as a lawyer had their limits in a culture pervaded by a tradition of spiritualism and the occult. Although it was strange to me, I could still see the reasoning behind it and an equivalent in my own culture. My own assessment was that Lucy felt depressed and did not know how to express it. She decided to run away, which is relatively normal behavior for any teenager. The choice of the family to explain it by reference to ‘bad spirits’ seems to me quite close a diagnosis of mental illness. While Sweden or the UK would address the problem with the help of a therapist, here a spiritualist is employed to relieve the person of what troubles their mind. Same problem, different solutions.

Nevertheless, I am worried that Lucy will continue to suffer. She seemed to have her doubts about the whole exorcism and it seemed to me that she was still somewhat troubled when we left. Whether it was due to her family or something else she was experiencing is difficult to know. I can only hope that the pen I left behind will allow her to better express herself and let her pour her emotions, or ‘bad spirits’, onto paper, whereby she and her family may better understand why she feels the way she does. Should this fail, she still has FLAP to rely on should anything else happens.

Today concludes my formal internship with FLAP, but my work is far from over. Next week I will continue surveying buildings electrified by Energy for Old Fadama and look at ways for FLAP to improve its services and internal structure. But first, the weekend to rest.

The Law and Its Long Arm

I’ve begun my second week in Agbogbloshie, working with human rights law at a legal advice centre and as a company secretary for an international social enterprise. When I first started working I felt like I got dropped off a passenger jet and hit the ground running by necessity. Since then I’ve been getting used to the hustle and bustle of Accra and feel more comfortable making my way around. Cold water showers in the morning are fine and I recognize the hand signs for the bus to Kaneshi, where the moped taxi drivers seem to remember me as I never pay more than 3GHC for the rest of the way to Agbogbloshie police station. Previously I’d wait by the road for someone from FLAP to pick me up, spending the time learning twi from Jonathan,  a lalante (local term for someone from Accra), and constantly rejecting his plea for me to marry his sister. (Tempting as it was, considering he was the brother of a local chief). Now I walk swiftly through the tangle of roads and explain quickly who I am and where I work to the people who stop me. One guy even followed me all the way to work just to check I was telling the truth. Perhaps there’s a lurking fear of the government preparing to evict them. Before I describe this week so far, I will post something short about our visit to the High Court of Adjudication last Friday. We arrived at about 11am and walked straight into the court room (the doors were wide open, bringing the meaning of open justice to a whole new level) where an application for a case to be moved to the Commercial Court was being heard. The argument by the applicant was that the meaning of the words in a statute impliedly granted exclusive jurisdiction to the Commercial Court for all commercial matters. ”Bold but unrealistic”, the judge replied. The respondent’s counter-argument was almost too harsh: – ”My Lord, monetary relief should be granted for bringing this case to the court in the first place.  It is a principle and maxim of Ghanaian law that exclusive jurisdiction can only be granted in mandatory terms. This application is fundamentally flawed and incurably incompetent.” Ouch. Afterwards, I took the opportunity to have a quick interview with the respondent commercial barrister about pro bono in Ghana. He said it wasn’t mandatory, but he typically did it for family and friends. His opinion was that it should be mandatory, but that the current legal aid system was in shambles and needed to be strengthened and properly manned. It should be made attractive to lawyers and incentivized by peer recognition or awards. Wigs, robes and jargon. The legacy of the common law is undeniably present.Bild The two QMPBS volunteers,  the commercial barrister and me. Bild From the street into the court room. Last week, there were 3 cases involving battery, an illegal abortion and a hit and run. The first one is dropped after the claimant was taken to another area by her mother and the second one we will attempt to resolve by mediation tomorrow. Last week we went to the police in order to help speed up the process of a man seeking compensation for the severe injuries he had suffered as a result of the offender’s recklessness. The driver and his bailor were called to appear before the Old Fadama police chief on the 17th of June, but, lo and behold, they didn’t show up. Seeking concrete action, we decided to pay a visit to the district police commander. We arrived at the police station at 2pm, situated in a vast, dusty red parking lot surrounded by residential buildings and offices,  in an area coincidentally called Arena. After a short wait in which I managed to make some last-minute editions to the case details I had prepared, we were shown into a large office with three big couches. We sat down and let Fred explain the claim and introduce us. After he had finished, I spoke up, introduced myself and explain some further details about the case that I felt were important to compel action and an arrest. At the end of the meeting, the commander had requested the full case details from the other police station and told us to return on the Thursday for a follow-up. Hopefully, the long arm of the law can bring the 7 months of suffering for the man who can no longer afford his hospital bills to an end. After this, we decided to take Lucy, the girl who claimed she had been abused and thrown out of her home, to see her mother. We needed to get the other side of the story before getting the authorities involved. The place was nearby the police station, in an area marginally nicer than Old Fadama. We followed Lucy through some narrow streets until we found a larger open area with about 3 women, 2 men and 4 children. One of the women sitting down was Lucy’s mother, who first seemed angered by our visit but who at the end of our visit agreed to a mediation session between her and her daughter. While both are claiming different things, the main objective for the mediation is for Lucy to receive shelter and financial support in a safe environment. For this to happen, we need to find common ground and compromise, which after everything the parties have gone through won’t be an easy task. If we do succeed, Frederick will continue to monitor Lucy’s situation for 3 months and speak to her to find out whether we have achieved what we set out at the beginning. Today was spent writing together an easy-to-use guide on how to make a will for the workers at FLAP and holding a presentation on contract law, in order for the FLAP workers to be more adept with the law when resolving disputes over agreements. From the discussion we had I gathered the following: • Almost all agreements in Ghana are oral or communicated by action • Registration of property the transfer of deeds is not widely present in Ghana, and completely absent in Agbogbloshie • Much of the UK law applies • There is customary law, established in the culture of different tribes and communities, which supplements the statutes and case law So what service can FLAP provide? Well, for one it could assist with drawing up contracts for services and goods. If anything then happens between the parties, FLAP can act as an arbitrator between the parties, freeing them from potential legal costs and speeding up the process of resolving the issue. Second, in terms of the registration of property, this may be difficult as the inhabitants are technically squatters. However, by crystallizing their adverse possession in deeds this may help convince the government to recognize their legitimacy. Lastly, although the UK law often applies, there have certainly been legal developments within Ghana. But these are difficult to follow without proper resources. I will therefore try to direct some of the funding for FLAP towards buying a small law library that can be used for easy referral in case of any uncertainty, or perhaps a subscription to an online law library. BildBild Left and Right picture: Nana and Vidette writing down fruits of the discussion on the whiteboard and presenting contract law to the FLAP workers. After paying another visit to the quality control manager of Pepsi, Francis, on the Tuesday, I was told that the CEO had seemed as enthusiastic as Francis when told about the project. Over the next year, Pepsi aims to internalize its plastic bottle production and expand into plastic bottles for carbonated drinks as well as water, significantly increasing the use of plastics. Furthermore, Francis pointed out that Pepsi was implementing a very thorough waste management system which made sure that the liquid waste was free from anything that could harm the environment when dumped in the lagoon. He showed me his lab equipment and pointed to a new machine he said would test for different polluters. In addition to this, he said that they were definitely interested in pursuing my idea of a community clean up and plastic recycling program – after the plastic production was in placed. Thinking this promise was too vague and long-term, I asked to see the CEO to hand him the full weight of my reasons and incentives for Pepsi to act now and not in a year. I am carefully optimistic – hopefully I can return with some good news. The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Better get to bed.

Rights and Plights of Slum Children

Written on Monday, 16th of June

What a day.

We started off with a set of group discussions with some women who are learning to start their own business, thanks to the help of Women in Slums Economic Empowerement, an NGO run by Frederick. I had only 20 minutes to prepare, but I believe it went well, as I gave them some ideas on promotions, maximizing efficiency on the production line and differentiating their product. Although I needed an interpreter, I felt we had good communication as a group and that they withdrew some inspiration from the discussion.

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The first claim arrived at 11am. A woman being forced by her boyfriend to have an abortion, for the second time. She had agreed as long as he paid, but he refused. Furthermore, all abortions are illegal in Ghana and she has been warned by a nurse that another illegal abortion would hurt her irreparably. Now he has estranged her, barely speaking to her and leaving her to endure this process on her own. Child maintenance has been one of the big topics today, and I’m glad I was prepared. Ghanaian law recognizes an equal responsibility of both parents to clothe, feed, provide shelter, medical treatment and play-time for their children. She has a legal right to force him to pay. But legal proceedings are long and costly –  this is where FLAP’s mediation process comes in handy.

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By speaking to the man’s boss at his place of employment, a car shop, we hope to compel him to the mediation table, where we will explain that he must face this child and the consequences of having it whether he likes it or not. Having noticed that the woman was devastated at the estrangement by the man, we will attempt to reconcile the couple. Failing this, we will reach an agreement between the parties that they can at least observe in the best interests of the child. If things go according to plan, the issue should be resolved by tomorrow afternoon – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Subsequently, we prepared a presentation on Child Maintenance for a group of women in the slum. We explain the rights of the child and obligations of the parents to a group of about 10, who seemed to be listening carefully. After finishing our presentation, we received two new claims on the spot. A woman’s daughter, aged 16, had become pregnant and was refused support by her boyfriend, aged 17. As we further investigate the claim tomorrow, we will explain to the parents of the boy that they are equally responsible for the maintenance of the child until the boy turns 18. If we have any difficulties conveying our message, the chief of a local tribe (who command the respect of locals after being elected) is at hand to help resolve the dispute.

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Left: sitting next to Nana and Vidette, the two Queen Mary Pro Bono Society volunteers. Right: standing next to Isaka, the chief of a local tribe, in front of FLAP

What struck me most was the second case. One of the women at the presentation pointed to a young girl (let’s call her Lucy) who had been sitting next to us with a look in her eyes that didn’t fit her age. We were told that she had been kicked out of her home when she was 6 years old, and had lived with the women for 9 years, as her mother would not accept her and had allegedly abused her on repeated occasions. As we interviewed Lucy, she burst into tears. In order for her to go to school, she had cut down on buying food. Without time for play, learning or development, she was working long days just to get by. It was clear that she was doing everything to empower herself through education, but without the support and guidance of a parent, a child can only do so much.

Tomorrow Lucy will come to the FLAP center, accompanied by a woman at the slum. We will determine what to do next and what she hopes to achieve. I am worried that the mother cannot (or rather, should not) take care of her, and in this case we must contact social services in order for them to investigate and hopefully provide the girl with the support she needs. An alternative would be to somehow find the father, who’s identity has been refused to Lucy by her mother. I hope speaking to her mother tomorrow will go according to plan, but I have a feeling it won’t work as smoothly as we hope. Our only hope is that we can alleviate the pressure and responsibility that has unjustly been bequeathed onto her.

After this, the day was over, and I went home thinking how many more children there were like Lucy around the world. What are some of them forced to do just to stay alive? What are they doing right now? Who do they turn to? What would I have done if I had grown up in such a context?

Being the day of Ghana’s first world cup match, I decided to meet up with Patrick, to clear my head and cheer for my host country in Accra’s busiest place: Oxford Street. My hopes of celebrating with the Ghanaians were crushed in less than 40 seconds, and despite being a game largely dominated by the Black Stars, they missed too many opportunities and the game was lost. Having invested a lot of emotions into the game (since Sweden didn’t qualify I had strong hopes for Ghana), I was let down by my expectations and felt sad for the Ghanaians. Yet we still enjoyed the night, the game and the general atmosphere.

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View from Ouso mall down to Oxford Street, where a big screen lit up thousands of people in the street.

Driving home, we passed over a bridge through a thick cloud of burnt rubber and plastic. I looked to my right and saw a bright fire burning with some people scattered around it. My memory jolted, I remembered where I was and why I was there. Memories of the football game disappeared. Tomorrow’s work matters infinitely more.

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Solar-Powered Human Rights

Written on Sunday, 15th of June

I write this in the aftermath of an ant-massacre that could have been prevented. I should have known better than to leave a candy-wrapper out. Now the blood of a million ants stain the keys I am writing on. Oh well, enough dramatic effect.

As part of my work here, I will survey the impact of Energy for Old Fadama so far, by surveying all 32 electrified buildings and speaking to the proprietor of each building. The capacity of these buildings range from about 150-600, meaning the scale of people involved in total is very big.

After over a full week here, I have come to notice the frequency of power outages, which will be my main concern when assessing the practical, theoretical and potential effects of having a solar panel.

So far I’ve surveyed 3 of the buildings, one school and two mosques, and the potential of the project is becoming more and more apparent. Power outages happen on average 3-4 times a week, for periods of 6-12 hours. The dark sets in around 6pm here, making it very difficult or costly to study about half of the week, depending on the number of power cuts. If the children can’t study and learn, this places a de facto limitation on their human right to education and development. Interestingly enough, my work with the Fadama Legal Assistance Program seems to overlap with EFOF in this regard, as we held a presentation on Thursday to a class of children in one of the electrified schools on domestic violence and human rights. Aside from the hilarious fact they call me Mr White, I was thoroughly impressed with the level of knowledge and enthusiasm these kids have for learning.

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Giving a presentation on human rights and domestic violence to school children in one of the electrified schools, Queensland School

Since the installation of the solar panels, children can gather at the school during power outages and continue their studies thanks to the fluorescent lights and light bulbs. There are clear long-term benefits with regards to literacy rates and consequently strong potential for empowerment through education.

Furthermore, the solar panels avoid the cost of having to buy fuel for power generators. This seems to have been a particular benefit for the mosques, who can simply turn on the light at night for Quran and Arabic studies during power outages without spending large amounts of money. There is a clear benefit in terms of freedom of religion, especially on Fridays when over 500 Muslims gather in one of the mosques for prayer. An additional benefit is that lights on the outside of buildings increase security at night, lowering the rates of thefts and assaults. Crime rates is one of the main issues EFOF will tackle as we investigate the possibility of installing solar lanterns in large communal areas around the slum.

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Interviewing the Imam of one of the Mosques
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A security light installed on the mosque, also allows members of the mosque to sell products outside the mosque in the evening.

So far, so good – although there have apparently been some complications with the battery of one solar panel. Luckily, five men in the slum have been trained by our supplier to conduct maintenance and repairs, and thanks to this, problems with the panels are resolved swiftly.

Next week I will attempt to survey an additional 10 buildings or more, as well as interview the Fadama Mamas (15 women employed to sell solar products to the residents) and the solar technicians to find out what they really think of the project, how it has affected them, and what they wish to see in the future.

Cloud of Poison

As the past few days have been extremely eventful, I will divide it up into several posts this weekend, starting with the visit to the electronic waste site.

First however, I said in an earlier post that I’d return with more information on how the rainy season (which happened to be particularly bad this year, hello climate change?) has affected the slum. I think the pictures below summarize it pretty well – click to enlarge.

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Some parts have been affected so bad, is virtually impossible to get through a narrow street without sinking to your knees in a pool of garbage and mud. This seriously increases the risk of both malaria and cholera.

The E-Waste Site

Although I had seen pictures, I couldn’t really believe the scene when I saw it first-hand. I have attempted myself to capture in pictures the extent of waste present at the site (the rest of the pictures will appear in another post), but unfortunately (although lucky for you) the smell and heat can only be recorded by words.

We first visited the lagoon, which flows between Old Fadama and the e-waste site. Along the riverbank there is a blanket of trash which extends across the water thick enough for birds to stand on it. Frederick explained that the government had planned for the area to be a tourist attraction, where people could have a nice paddle on the river and enjoy the scenery. However, internal strife in northern Ghana led to the migration of people to Accra, where in failure of any other habitable zones, they settled in the slum. The government has blamed the residents for polluting the water, but the truth is that people from all around Accra dump their rubbish in the waters – this rubbish eventually piles up in the lagoon or flows into the sea (where it forms trash islands (!!!) along with garbage from other countries). As Frederick explains this, a man walks by and throws a large bin bag full of rubbish into the water. Frederick calls him over and threatens to report him to the police (who would fine the man 5 cedis – about £1) unless he picks it up. After a short heated argument, the man walks away but the bag remains.

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Left picture – a chicken scours for food. Right picture – a seagull sits on top of floating garbage.

We continue down the river towards the rising cloud of black smoke on the other side. The pungent smell of burnt plastic strengthens the further we go, and when we reach the origin of this poison cloud it is almost unbearable. I am amazed that people manage to live within a 50 meter radius of it.

Frederick guides us over to the other side, and while the other volunteers are understandably hesitant to move any closer, I insist that we push on towards the fire so that we can get a better look and experience the conditions of those working on the site. As we walk, a man passes by with a wheelbarrow full of wires, destined to the fire in order to retrieve the valuable copper. Noticing suspicious looks, Frederick advises me to stop about 40 meters away from the fire. I am told that a general paranoia by the residents of being evicted by the government means it’s best to keep my distance. Before we leave, I manage to discreetly (not really) snap off a couple of photos.

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Wasteland. From the background to the left, a toxic smoke screen heads straight into the settlement seen far away in the background to the right.

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On the other side of the river, a man searches through the waste for precious metals.

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In absence of any nearby vegetation, a goat chews on a Lipton teabag.

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Two men, one carrying a tyre and the other a box full of wires, head towards the fire.

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The fire and origin of toxic smoke, where people stand without protective gloves or masks, causing severe respiratory diseases and death at a young age.

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A toxic cloud heads over the river into the city.

Shocked by the rubbish, I feel even more motivated to find a solution to the problem. If only the government would recognize the people of Old Fadama in law, not only would they see increased tax revenue, but they could begin a sanitation program by dredging the water and collecting all recyclable material. Although there is some hope that the residents of Old Fadama will be recognized as more than squatters (having asked around, there seems to be a general perception that this is the case), internal pressure is too slow in persuading the government. The residents are crying out for external pressure by international organizations to speed things up, and they are right in doing so.

Meanwhile, on a more hopeful note, after noticing that water sachets were readily recycled but plastic bottles were not, I concluded that plastic bottles were not recycled for 3 main reasons:

• Recycling facilities are not widely available
• The renumeration for collecting the bottles is outweighed by the time and effort in collecting them
• The benefits of recycling are not widely known

The funny thing is, right next to Agbogbloshie is a large Pepsi factory, established only a few months ago. I thought to myself, if Pepsi provides a recycling facility, wouldn’t it lower their production cost of PET bottles, create employment for people working at the facility, earn some money for those collecting bottles and clean up the area? The time and effort in picking up bottles and carrying them to the recycling centers would be low, since empty plastic bottles are abundant and the factory is nearby.
Surely, someone must have thought of this before? I asked Lestowo, a man working with Projects Abroad, why nothing was happening in this respect. He confirmed it: people don’t have time to pressure government or companies into doing this, and even then, internal pressure doesn’t really move anything around here. With this in mind, one morning as I came in early for work, I decided to take a stroll to the Pepsi factory to see if I could get the number of someone working there. To my pleasant surprise, I received a visitors badge almost immediately and they introduced me to the quality control manager, Francis.

Francis responded enthusiastically to the idea and promised to take it up at the next manager’s meeting. I told him the benefits for Pepsi, for the community and for the government (who I am sure would back this project through subsidies or land), and offered free advertising in return for an express plan and time line for the implementation of the project. What kind of advertising you ask? That’s a secret. For now.

Although I’ll manage my expectations, I will continue to put pressure on Pepsi, and should they decline I’ll go to Coca-Cola. And if they refuse I’ll go to the original manufacturer. After all, as opposed to the Ghanaians living and working here, I have some time on my hands. Might as well use it to apply some well-needed external pressure.

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Human Rights in the Slum

Written on Wednesday, 11th of June 2014

Since my last post, I have moved from my previous location in South Doko to live with a man called Phoenix (who, like the legend of the Phoenix, came to Ghana 10 years ago and was reborn) on top of McCarthy Hill, situated in the middle of Accra. I will not bother describing the breathtaking view because I could not do it justice. I’ll take a picture at some point.

Before I describe the work I have done in the past three days, I’ll just note that I’ve successfully avoided malaria so far (although those cheeky mosquitoes keep trying) and I’ve forgotten what it feels like to flush a toilet. At the time of writing, the only light I have is a candle, as we are experiencing another power outage. Yet these are only minor inconveniences (certainly relative to the living conditions in the slum), and I find that it’s quite easy to adapt to Ghanaian life. Every day I take the Trotro (bus) to Kaneshi, where I then switch for a motorcycle taxi for the rest of the way to the slum. My hopeful attempts at predicting traffic are taking a beating by the harsh reality of this place.

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I arrived at Agbogbloshie on Monday, 10th of June around 1pm with Vidette. The sun was boiling, yet people were brimming and buzzing as they dealt yams, melons and phone top-up credits along the side of the main street that runs through the settlement. We were welcomed by Frederick, the main representative of EFOF-Ghana (as well as founder of WISEEP and FLAP) who showed us past the Old Fadama police station, through a maze of muddy and narrow streets riddled with goats, dogs and chickens all the way to the centre where we will spend the next two weeks receiving cases from the residents of Old Fadama.

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Frederick, founder and leader of FLAP, to the left.

Let me explain the purpose of the Fadama Legal Assistance Program. FLAP seeks to assist members of the community by assisting and advising them on issues surrounding wills, human rights, child maintenance, domestic violence and other disputes that may be peacefully resolved by mediation. They have no formal authority, but command some respect with the local authorities, which helps clients stress the importance of their case or present it in a clear and legible way in order to assist lawyers in a situation where the case proceeds to court. FLAP was formally inaugurated last year on the 19th of September (coincidentally my birthday), but prior to this a lot of work had gone into establishing all the forms and procedures. This was mainly done by Jennifer Croker, an Australian lawyer who along with myself and 3 others form the International Advisory Committee for FLAP.

During my internship here, I will be assisting in two main cases. The first concerns a man who was run over by a truck and severely injured (over 7 months ago), but left without any compensation by the perpetrator to pay his hospital bills. Although the man behind the wheel was arrested, he was released within 48 hours on bail by the police. Although inconclusive, it is possible that an element of corruption was involved. Our work so far has involved calculating and documenting the man’s medical costs (evidence of which has been partly destroyed by the rain) and visiting the police station, to push for the compensation that this man deserves.

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Taking a case, me (right) and Vidette (middle)

After visiting the police station (there’s a new sheriff in town since when the incident occurred – always wanted to say that first part), the perpetrator and bailor have been summoned to the station next week. We were assured that if they did not appear, an APB and arrest warrant would be put on the vehicle and the man. Meanwhile, I will be putting together the details of his case with medical evidence of his injuries and the full calculation of his costs. A witness to the accident who was apparently the intended victim (this may not have been an accident) will support the man’s case.

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The second case I will be dealing with involves a woman who refused to have sex with a married man. Since then, he has beaten her several times and threatened to continue to do so. She seeks compensation and prosecution. As she does not have a phone number, we are awaiting her return from the police station where we advised her to report the case together with medical evidence of her injuries, and to return with the results of her visit so we could proceed with putting together her case should the police require any further details.

These are the current cases we are dealing with. Later this week we have planned to hold a presentation on domestic violence to children in a local school, and to conduct a survey of a solar panel installed in that very same school. I will also be visiting the lagoon and electronic waste site. I’ll make sure to have my camera with me as I predict words won’t be sufficient.

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Akwaaba, obroni…

Written on June 8th 2014

Although not my first time in Africa (I went to Tunisia about 10 years ago), supra-Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa have notably different cultures, and as I stepped off the plane I immediately began to scribble some things down in my notepad. I will do my best to include some interesting facts as I continue to describe life and work in Accra.

I received what you may call an unusual welcome. Vidette, the person whom I travelled with (a fellow volunteer from the QM Pro Bono Society and member of Energy for Old Fadama) happens to be the daughter of a very well known actor in Ghana. As we made it through customs without a single hitch, I became conscious of the fact that stardom is a lubricator for administration here. Let’s call this culture shock no 1. Having prepared for GMT (Ghanaian Mean Time, a cultural phenomenon whereby you can expect a meeting set at 1pm to begin at 2 or 3pm), I soon realized that the support of this celebrity would not only gain exposure for our work, but also practically obliterate the effort and time required to meet with a representative from the government.

I will not yet reveal details with regards to our conversation, but I will say that my level of excitement rose sharply after we met and discussed the project. More on this to come.

Back to the airport, where I experienced shock no 2 as we stepped out of the gates. I was greeted by a man who quickly took my bags and asked whether it was my first time to Ghana – I readily answered ‘Indeed it is!’, thinking he was a friendly member of the entourage of 5 people who surrounded the celebrity that I was with. He was not, and it soon dawned on me that he was performing a sneaky service. When he realized the company I was with he immediately changed his tone and became more careful. He still asked me for a tip, and my attempts to explain that I truly, really and actually had no cedis (the Ghanaian currency) were futile, as he continued to reach his hand towards me when I awkwardly closed the taxi door.

I was driven home by the cousin of my fellow traveller and colleague, a man called Patrick. Along the way, he asked whether I’d like to stop for a drink before we reached the estate in South Doko. After a 12 hour journey culminating in the choking warmth of Ghana I quickly accepted, thinking it would be a good opportunity to experience the local brews.

It was nearing midnight as Patrick, the cousin, parked his truck next to his friend’s bar. There I met some people (whose names I cannot remember, except for a man who called himself ‘Lion’) and began asking them about Ghanaian culture and their thoughts on Agbogbloshie. Referring to it as Sodom and Gomorrah, they all seemed to have the belief (along with other people I have subsequently asked) that the residents were illegal squatters who refused to pay for electricity, therefore causing electrical fires and draining money from the government. Whether this is true, or if it is a matter of not affording or having access to electricity, is a question that I will have to find an answer to myself as I enter the slum.

The area where I was staying is said to be one of the nicer places. Coming straight from London I could still feel the contrast, but mainly in the state of the streets (culture shock no 3). Recent rain had caused floods, leaving large holes in the ground that rendered walking slightly awkward, and driving a plain inconvenience. This is apparently a regular problem during rainy season (May/June). If the problems were so evident in one of the nicer areas of Accra, how did it affect the people of Agbogbloshie? I will find out and come back with answers to this.

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The next day was a failed attempt at receiving a SIM-card and internet stick, as we arrived 40 minutes late to the Vodafone store in Ouso street in central Accra (hence why I have only been able to post this blog post now). It was also the day I realized that I had forgotten my towel (sorry Douglas Adams and Towelie) and the USB chord to my camera. Until I get this chord, there will unfortunately be no pictures (apologies all around). I will try to correct this as soon as I can. [Author’s note: I’ve now managed to upload some photos taken around this time]

After spending over 12 hours without internet, the withdrawal was too much and I spent several hours desperately searching for an open internet café on a Sunday. Not a good idea. The sun was burning hot, and finding open shops on a Sunday in a very, very Christian country proved impossible.

Walking down a street in my hunt for the World Wide Web I was joined by Robert, a local who was on his way to church and asked if I wanted to follow. I was suspicious at first, having experienced the sneakiness of some people looking for an easy way to get some money. Thinking it would be an interesting experience, I decided to follow, and discovered along the 35-minute walk that he really was only looking to make a friend. The friendliness of Ghanaians continues to amaze me. After a quick session in what can only be described as the most powerful Sunday ceremony I have ever witnessed (clapping of hands, dancing, singing and loud preaching), we went for a bobra (pint) of Club beer. After he showed me all the way back, I left him with a promise that we’d see each other for when Ghana played its first match in the football world cup. (Btw, hating on Suarez for what he did last time is a great ice breaker here).

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At the time of writing (June 8th, 10pm) I have experienced about 5-6 power outages. When asked for the reason behind these outages, answers range from problems with the Akosombo dam to floods causing trees to fall and damage electrical wires. I have not yet experienced running water from a tap (there seems to be regular problems with the water pipes – culture shock no 4) and have become very comfortable using buckets of water from the nearby reservoir to wash.

This will do for now. Work has yet to start in practice but I am becoming more familiar with customs here, as I try my best to avoid using my left hand. I am excited to see the Fadama Legal Assistance Program first-hand tomorrow and will return with my first impressions of Agbogbloshie in two days, all thing’s being well. Or should I say, inshallah.

 

The journey begins…

I am about to embark on what will most likely be a surreal and life-changing experience. This pre-evaluation is justified. For one full month I will be living on the outskirts of the world’s largest e-waste dump, Agbogbloshie, commonly known as Old Fadama. Population: over 80,000.

The world’s largest e-waste dump. This has yet to sunk in.

At the time of writing, my feelings are a growing mix of terror and anxiety. But I’m also excited, and I won’t be going unprepared. I have been waiting for this since I was first approached by a fellow student back in the autumn of 2012, who had done a legal internship with the school’s pro bono society. After learning about the history of Agbogbloshie and experiencing the culture and living conditions of its citizens, as well as witnessing first-hand the aftermath of electrical fires, he came back to London with an idea.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign led by a team of students from an east London university the idea had come to life and Energy for Old Fadama was established: a social enterprise that seeks to provide a safe source of electricity for the residents of Old Fadama.

This blog will cover my work as part of the EFOF team as I travel to Old Fadama work to inspect the recent installment of 32 solar panels in community centres, schools, churches, mosques and a police station; analyze the current results and effects by conducting surveys; and assess opportunities for further electrification.

Furthermore, I will be volunteering at the Fadama Legal Assistance Program, a local advice center that provides a mediation and dispute resolution service for residents of Old Fadama as well as conducting other work, including compiling information on areas of Ghanaian law and holding human rights law presentations.

And of course, I’ll be updating readers with insights into daily life as I [struggle?] to adapt to Ghanaian life. I reckon it will be fine, but I’ve been constantly told to ‘enjoy the culture shock’. Of course I can’t know what it will be like until I get there, and the fantasies I have built in my head are at great risk of being shattered upon arrival. Time will tell I guess.

Final call.

I’ll try to update this blog as often as I can, aiming at a minimum of one post every three days. You can ask me questions by either commenting here or tweeting me at @AxelCMN – I’ll make sure to answer every question.

Wish me luck!

Signing off,

Axel