Tuesday, February 5, 2008

World Have Your Say

As the Africa Cup of Nations rages on in the centre of the earth, the world is taking notice of Ghana - and for more than just football.

The BBC, in an effort to capture some of the other issues that are going on in Ghana have produced two shows of World Have Your Say, a fascinating conversation between local peoples who are dealing with a particular issue and the rest of the world. Or at very least, the 100 million or so people who have access to BBC's World Service.

The first show takes place in Tarkwa, a mining community about 2 hours outside of Takoradi, and is a co-production with local station Dynamite FM. The issue to be discussed is whether Africa is making the best use of their natural resources or if the foreign companies and their money and expertise required. The debate that ensues could also be described as whether or not Ghanaians benefit from the mining industry or if foreign companies are simply extracting the wealth.

I make the trip to Tarkwa and take in the show. The program is one hour in duration and facilitates a discussion between local residents, mining workers, mining company management, an NGO called the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) and callers, texters and emailers from across the globe - all live to air across the world.

The show proves to be an great opportunity for people to voice their concerns, complaints and frustrations and for the mining companies to practice their spin control. Ros Atkins is our host. He manages to maintain control over an excited crowd, incorporate the input of eager listeners from around the world, entertain us with his British wit and keep us within the limited time frame.

Listen to it here.

I play the part of observer along with fellow Canadian Matthew Palmer, who is living in the community as part of a Trent University international development program. His amazing pictures from his experiences in Tarkwa and surrounds can be found here.

After the show, Matthew and I hit a chop bar for banku and groundnut soup and a Star to discuss his ongoing plans to produce a radio documentary. He will be visiting a community affected by a Canadian mining company with Jerry from WACAM, and I will tag along.

After a night of spine-adjusting sleep on the floor of Matthew and Jerry's apartment we head out early to Dumase, one of the larger communities in the area. Dumase is home to Golden Star Bogoso Resources Ltd., a Canadian company that is operating an open pit mining operation that has forever altered the community.

Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque, one of the co-founders of JHR, produced a documentary on the community and it's struggles to survive amid the 'progress' of development and the left-overs of industrial processes.

We meet a small group of community members who tell us that their water supply has been destroyed due to damming and chemical spillage, for which litigation is still pending. The community members produce a document of a water sample taken from a local stream, which was analyzed and proved to possess levels of toxins well beyond acceptable standards for drinking water.

Golden Star has provided bore-hole wells for the community, but residents say that the water is undrinkable and in too short supply for their needs. Golden Star is now suggesting resettlement for the entire community, an idea that is forcing the residents to consider abandoning their homes in order to have reliable access to potable water.
"It is not our will to resettle, because we know there are so many disadvantages to resettlement. But, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are saying that there should be resettlement, because we all know that water is life. All the streams that we, the town, rely on have been spoiled for their mining activities, and they are not willing to give us pipe-borne water. That means we can't live here. As we don't have water to drink, how many of us can afford to go to another town to bring water. If you don't have water, that means you are going to die. We can't live here and die. So, that means you have to resettle us, with good terms."
- Kwame Appiah, resident of Dumase.
Listen to the full story here.

The second edition of BBC World Have Your Say in Ghana takes place at SKYY, and is simulcast on SKYY radio & television. The topic is whether Ghana is benefiting from being the host nation of the Africa Cup of Nations, or is the tournament and it's legacy a white elephant for the developing nation.

The discussion leans to the benign with a focus on Ghana Man Time, or the lack of concern over punctuality and it's effect on Ghana's economy, and whether the tournament can change Ghanaian's temporal perceptions. I bite my lip as thoughts of how poorly paid and hard working the average Ghanaian worker is, how unreliable the transportation system, or any other infrastructural system, can be and even of the sensitivity training I received as part of my pre-departure boot camp in Toronto that tried to explain the idea of cyclical time.

Then, about half way into the show, the conversation takes an interesting turn. The question of whether Africans own Africa, as a way to explain why Ghanaians don't respect punctuality, arises. When asked for comments I quickly raise my hand. When my turn comes, I tell the audience of 100 million, give or take, that having recently returned from Tarkwa, home of the last World Have Your Say, I can say that average Ghanaians don't benefit from their natural resources. Profits are streaming out of the country and into the bank accounts of foreign corporations while local people suffer. I also ask whether the 'gift' of two brand new stadiums, one of which is in Sekondi-Takoradi, from a Chinese government that has a terrible human rights record, is something for which Ghanaians will have to pay for at a later date.

A follow-up comment comes from a local chief and member of the STVOC, or Sekondi-Takoradi Venue Organizing Committee. He reiterates my concern, more eloquently, and from a local perspective. After the show is over, he approaches me and invites me over for dinner. I readily accept, but am still waiting his call.

The show ends and as the cleans up begins I spark up a conversation with the crew. They invite me out for dinner at Captain Hook's, the fanciest restaurant in town. I accept, along with two SKYY colleagues, and my friends Jessie and Novin. The dinner proves to be even more entertaining and informative than the radio show, as we get to hear the adventures of intrepid, globe trotting BBC World Service employees. I'm told by radio engineer Derek that he has contacts in Sierra Leone. I can't wait to call on them.

To listen to the show, click here.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Hi Kevin. I liked what you wrote and glad you got to see for yourself Dumasi! Hope you got a chance to see the film's website: www.when-silence-is-golden.org
good luck with all your work there. cheers, Alex, JHR