Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Time and Times of Cape Coast Polytechnic

By Oliver Griffin
This week, we at CENTRAL PRESS NEWSPAPER interviewed the man who has worked longest at the Cape Coast Polytechnic. Ezekiel Andoh has been cleaning at the polytechnic for over two decades and has seen many changes take place. Now, as he is head of the cleaning staff, he is starting to see the children of previous students come to study themselves. We spoke to him to find out just how the Polytechnic has developed.
It is a hot day in Cape Coast, and I am walking through the campus of the local Polytechnic to meet the head of the cleaning and maintenance staff, Ezekiel Andoh. I’m not sure what to expect in this meeting. The words ‘longest employee’ conjures images of an elderly man for whom time in employment is swiftly coming to an end. Mr Andoh, however, could not be further from this image. A strong, smiling man approaches me and introduces himself and invites me to take a seat.
‘I started working at the Polytechnic in 1984,’ he started. ‘I was just a cleaner and maintenance man then, but that was twenty seven years ago! There have been many changes since then.’ Mr Andoh does not have the appearance or demeanour of a man who has spent the past 27 years taking part in manual labour. Having seen the comings and goings of three principles, it is his experience, expertise and knowledge of the polytechnic are the only things that give anything away. ‘When I started working here,’ he continued, ‘we only had these three buildings (pointing to my left and behind me), and one of those is the toilet! All of those buildings by the entrance have been developed since then.’ It certainly is an impressive level of expansion – in a relatively small amount of time, the polytechnic, which specialises in accountancy and mechanics, has expanded drastically. ‘The student population started at about 1,500 people,’ said Mr Andoh. ‘Now, though, it has increased to about 3,500 students, with about 500 people living in accommodation on Campus.’ When asked about cleaning up after students, Mr Andoh just smiles and shakes his head. ‘The students are good and well behaved,’ he laughed. ‘We work together with the students. When they want something, we assist them. When we need something from them, they assist us. Together we work as a team.’
Team work or not, this campus is still huge. Talk turns to maintaining it to such a high standard, but Mr Andoh reveals that some of the labour they get is for free, courtesy of the local convicts. ‘We use people in the prisons to clean and maintain the site. Other than that though, I employ twenty two permanent staff as part of the maintenance team.’ The fact that convicts are being used to support a regular janitorial team is a very good thing indeed. The prisoners will surely develop some sort of social conscience, which will help them to become useful members of society upon their future release.      
Soon, it is time for Mr Andoh to get back to his duties and for me to leave. He tells me that he is now starting to see the children of former students come through the polytechnic and that his career has come full circle, although he hopes to continue working for some time yet! We at CENTRAL PRESS wish him and the polytechnic the best of luck for the future.

Accountant Turns DJ in Cape Coast

By Oliver Griffin
This week, I managed to catch up with Eagle 87.7 FM’s DJ Kwabena to talk about a passion for music which led to a serious change in career – from being an accountant he is now the DJ presenting Eagle’s drive time show. He was fortunately able to take some time out of his busy week to talk to us about what he gets up to.  
DJ Kwabena, whose real name is Obour Isaac, is the current drive time presenter (the show that runs between three and six in the afternoon) for Eagle FM which is based at the Cape Coast Polytechnic. Once he completed senior high school in 2002, he went on to become an accountant. He studied accountancy at the Cape Coast Polytechnic, and as he did, become increasingly involved with radio station. While training to be an accountant, it is apparent that he discovered his true passion in life was music and radio. From this realisation he decided to continue his studies at radio focus in Kumasi, a nationally renowned college that specialises in journalism and media. After a radio competition in Virginia sports stadium, in which he came 2nd, he went on to work at what is now called Angel FM for three years in Kumasi. His favourite music genres include Caribbean, Hi-Life and Hip-Life and as well as a score of Ghanaian bands he also likes music from international artists, such as Ja Rule, Busta Rhyme and Lil Wayne.  As well as working on the weekday drive time, he also has a show on Sunday’s called Kasa Hari. That means he works at least 6 shows a week! This is made all the more impressive by the fact that although he has producers, he researches the material for all his own shows (anyone wanting to be a DJ take note – it’s not as easy as it sounds!) When he’s not working, he likes to chill out and listen to music, practice DJ-ing, watch CNN or read papers like the Daily Graphic and the Central Press. Unfortunately for the ladies reading this paper, DJ Kwabena has a girlfriend and is off limits. If you wanted a musical boyfriend, it seems that you’re going to have to look elsewhere! Finally, after the question I ask every DJ, he revealed that the person he would most like to interview is Lil Wayne. So, Lil Wayne, if you’re reading this, give DJ Kwabena a call!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cape Coast Stadium at a Loss as ‘Fans’ Watch from Trees

By Oliver Griffin
Cape Coast Stadium at a Loss as ‘Fans’ Watch from Trees
The Mysterious Dwarfs are the Cape Coasts major football team. While they have loyal supporters willing to pay money to watch the match from inside the stadium, it seems that some so called fans would rather risk life and limb to watch from the tree tops, rather than pay to see the game. Today, we at CENTRAL PRESS NEWSPAPER have decided to find out what’s going on.
Mr Wilson
In the offices at the Mysterious Dwarfs’ ground, I am met by Mr Kweku Wilson, 51, the regional director of sports and his colleagues Mr Christian Mensah, the 29 year old administrational officer and Mr Haiuma Issah, the stadium manager, who is 57. Although three very different men, they are united by a love of football and despair at the situation they have with less loyal fans. ‘Of course,’ Mr Wilson started, ‘Part of the problem is due to poverty. Some people simply cannot afford to pay for the ticket that costs 3 GHC.’ However, it obviously cannot be ignored that some people choose to climb the trees regardless of the price, deciding that they would rather save money and watch the football for free. ‘We have never had a problem with capacity,’ Mr Wilson continued. ‘People are not climbing the trees because there is no space inside the stadium. It is because they think they are smart, that they avoid paying for the match that they want to watch.’ With a wry smile he added, ‘Although, some of them insist that watching the football is better from the trees, we do not agree.’
So just what repercussions does this lack of patronage have? For a start, the players cannot be paid for their matches – meaning they will either have to find other jobs, or move to clubs that can afford to pay them. ‘I wish we could educate them, inform them of the damage they are doing to the club,’ said Mr Mensah. ‘Not only are they hurting the players by not supporting them financially, they are risking their own lives.’ He’s right; the trees that these people climb are not small, reaching between 10 – 15 metres in height. Although no one has fallen from one yet, it is a strong belief amongst these three men that it can only be a matter of time before someone has a serious accident if they should fall. ‘Sometimes,’ Mr Mensah added ‘we ask the police to stand around and guard the trees from people. However, it is difficult to enforce. People need to get the coconuts to sell and eat, we cannot completely prevent people from climbing the trees if it is part of their livelihood.’ Of course, with funds stretched thin, the club has no means of preventing the people themselves: ‘We don’t have the time or money to concentrate our efforts outside the stadium’ concluded Mr Wilson.
While Mr Wilson maintains that the situation has been like this since the 70’s and 80’s, all the men are in agreement that it has got marginally worse since the club was promoted to the premier league. ‘They miss out on meeting friends and the atmosphere. Since the promotion, more people come to watch the game, there are more food stalls,’ Mr Mensah stated. It is clear that this is a big issue – if people don’t pay to see the games, the players will have to leave and the club will face closure. It can only be a matter of time before the club faces disaster, or the supporters come to their senses and actually start to support their team.

Radio presenters should be politically neutral

By Oliver Griffin

We at Central Press enjoy music as much as the next man – with this is mind, we decided to track down Ghana’s sweetest DJ, Sompa FM’s one and only Candyman to have a chat about music, radio and Central Press being the best newspaper this side of the sun:
DJ Candyman
Another humid day in the ever wonderful Cape Coast has left me thankful for the air conditioning in Sompa FM’s lobby. Although not much to look at on the outside, the inside of Sompa’s building is nice. Polished tile floors and well-kept surroundings could forgive you for thinking you were in a Hollywood studio and it’s only when the door to the outside world is opened and the lively bustle of Ghanaians going about their business filters in, are you reminded that you aren’t.  I wait only for a few minutes before possibly the coolest man I’ve ever seen opens the door and invites me into his presenting booth. “Okay, we have about five minutes, that enough?” It’s a statement more than a question, but I understand. The Candyman is Sompa FM’s ‘transport time’ DJ and I’ve turned up at about 4 o’clock, right in the middle of his show. If anything, I’m grateful he has time to see me at all.
After a few niceties, he explains a bit about his back ground. Once I enter the plush studio, I sit behind a desk with three microphones while my host keeps his listeners occupied with music as we talk. “I was born in a village called Butre, in western Ghana” he says. “My full name is Lucas Candid Meimseh, which is partially where Candyman comes from.” Aware that he is short on time I ask him about Sompa FM’s political neutrality. “It’s easy. Governments come and go and we don’t want to run into difficulty just because we supported a previous government. Instead, we promote learning and try to bring this to as many radios in the central region as possible.”  It’s easy to see where he’s coming from – as a politically neutral radio, Sompa can better serve the interests of Ghanaians without an agenda. Candyman’s support for politically neutral radio may come from previous employments, like when he worked for the state radio. When I ask him about breaking into the radio industry he explains “My Dad had a friend called Kwame Inseidoo, who inspired me a lot. He worked in broadcasting and helped me get work experience; he told me to record a demo tape, so I did. Radio stations liked my voice and so I was invited to shows, now here I am.” I ask him if he’s been working with Sompa FM since he began his career but he quickly informs me that he started working with Kwame at the GBC state radio station in Cape Coast. He says “it was good there; they had a vision to help beginners, to train new DJ’S. But when Kwame moved, I felt that it was time to move as well.”
It turns out that Candyman has a lot of radio experience. He tells me about his early career with pride – “I worked for the University of Cape Coast radio Valco 95.3 FM. Everyone wanted to present and DJ there so I presented sports (he later became the head of sports). Since then, until about seven months ago, I presented on Radio Attomka in Elmina. I like working here at Sompa, though. The facilities are better, the online and digital services are up and running so we can reach more people here.” He’s right about the facilities. The room is a hive of hi-tech equipment, which is maintained excellently with love and affection. Slowly, the talk turns to hobbies and Candyman reveals he loves reading “I just love to read, it’s great. Here on Sompa we try and encourage people to read as much as possible. I love to read books and newspapers” ‘And you love central press yeah?’ “Haha, yes!” he laughs “I love central press too, it’s a good paper.” Damn straight. Besides his excellent choice in newspapers, Candyman is an excellent speaker, I’ve known him only five minutes but I feel completely at ease in his presence. We laugh and talk about music, which he is greatly passionate about. He expresses his love of Ghanaian music and also international artists, R-Kelly and Amy Winehouse are but a few on his list.
All too soon it’s time for me to go. I get up and after we shake hands (I’ve got the Ghanaian handshake down to an art now) I leave. As I step into the share taxi back to Abura, Sompa 90.9 FM is on the radio and I join a multitude of people as a listener, no longer an interviewer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


By Oliver Griffin
You may remember in the last issue of Central Press, we highlighted some of the issues faced by those in the Cocoa industry. This issue, we have returned to look further into the deepening pension crisis that is affecting Ghana’s poorest, as they struggle to live after a long life of labour.

Lydia Adongo

Last issue, we discovered from Ebenezer Appiah (a Marketing Clerk of cocoa distribution) that cocoa farmers are crying out for an efficient and worthwhile pension scheme. I and the paper’s editor, Kwamina Bamfo, visited the Cape Coast SSNIT Informal Sector Fund – an organisation dedicated to providing pensions to hard working Ghanaians. However, after speaking to Lydia Adongo, a data entry officer, we discovered two things that gave cause for concern. The first was that less than five per cent of their clients were what they call ‘freelance’ workers. Included in the SSNIT definition of freelance workers you will find the likes of cocoa farmers and fishermen – workers who historically do not make much money. The fact that fewer than five per cent of people on their data base of active members work in these sectors must be telling of people ability to contribute money to the scheme. Mrs Adongo told us that SSNIT register people from the age of 15 years to 59 years, and that the rate of contribution is not fixed, that is to say, they can choose to contribute daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly.
This led us to our second question. How much money must workers contribute a day? The answer was 1 GHC.  1 GHC does not sound like a great deal of money to those that can afford it, but to people like Elizabeth Dankase, the cocoa farmer we interviewed recently, this is almost completely unaffordable.  Not only do farmers in her position not make much money from cocoa, they have to also pay their workers. 1 GHC a day would equate to 365 GHC a year. Taken from a total of 800 GHC from cocoa sold, this would leave her with a minimal 435 GHC with which to pay her workers and support her family. It’s all very well saving a pension with the dream of living well after your retirement, but if it results in barely being able to survive in the present then few people are going to be able to, or indeed want to, start saving for a pension at all.
In his interview, Mr Appiah said that the workers “are praying for the government to set up a pension scheme for the cocoa farmers.” I can only imagine that this sentiment is shared by fishermen and other such ‘freelance’ workers who worry about what kind of a future retirement holds for them. The Central Press would implore the Ghanaian government to seriously consider starting a good national pension scheme. They already have a working health scheme, so surely a pension scheme is not beyond the government’s capabilities. Ghana has a growing economy. In order for it to continue to grow, the workers that provide the stable base, such as the fishermen and cocoa farmers must be properly and fully supported; not left to fend for themselves in an uncertain environment.   


 By Oliver Griffin

Orphanages in Cape Coast do amazing work  but it appears that some are better funded than others – Central Press decide to go and investigate the extent of the truth in the matter.  
Food preparation area at Human the Service Trust
Today, I visited two orphanages in the Cape Coast region, near Abura. Both have bright, happy and polite children. They also have good, hard-working and dedicated staff, but unfortunately that is where the similarities end. For you see, The New Life Children’s Home has one thing that the Human Service Trust Orphanage does not – money.  The difference in facilities is really quite startling. New Life has ample space with good kitchen, bathroom and dormitory facilities. The children have a large amount of space to play in and are frequently visited by volunteers from around the world, namely from Projects Abroad and Global Volunteer Projects.  It seems unfair that two orphanages, so close together, should be so different in the amount that they can offer the children who live there.

Half of the play area at Human Services Trust

I arrived at Human Services Trust not really knowing what to expect. One of the volunteers who showed me around, Sophie Manders, 21, had explained that the Orphanage was much better now than it had been last year. However, she went on to point out that there was still room for much needed improvement. Where the New Life home has a good kitchen and good sanitary conditions, at the Human Services Trust the children cook outside in the back yard, where an open sewer runs around the perimeter and out into the front, where they are allowed to play. Once again, this is where the differences between the two homes are clearest. The New Life home has a football pitch, volleyball net and pleasant surroundings, whereas the Human Services Trust has a rectangle that is around 12 metres by 3 metres, again with a sewer right next to it.

Football pitch at New Life
Is it fair that two such important facilities should be so utterly contrasting? Of course, the answer is no. One of the things that would help this situation is the fair distribution of volunteers between the two organisations. Not only do these volunteers provide much needed human resources, they also pay for their placement. Where New Life has so many volunteers it has to turn some away, Human Services Trust receives barely any. As the volunteers pay for the privilege to help, it means that Human Services Trust is not just missing out on physical help, but also on money that could help them to buy better equipment and food for the children. The point I’m trying to make is that these orphanages both do fantastic work and need to be funded. For New Life, the funding has to be consistent with what it’s receiving at the moment – just because this journalist has noted it is well equipped that does not mean it should receive any less, or not be entitled to more in the future. However, the situation at Human Services Trust needs to be addressed. Better equipment and funding is needed to make sure that the children not only have a happy childhood but also grow into adults capable of living on their own. Children will always be the future of every country, and it is each country’s responsibility that all are given as equal a chance as possible. It is not for lack of heart and effort that these orphanages differ, but purely because of the revenue that is available to them respectively – a tragic lottery for all the children involved.

Unfortunately, no one at either orphanage was available to comment.

Monday, August 22, 2011


By Ryan Millward and Saul Sebag-Montefiore

Travelling to the northern parts of Ghana is extremely rewarding when visiting and touring the country. However, just how easy is it to reach to these remote parts when relying on the roads and transport of what is, fundamentally, a developing country.

Road transport is by far the most dominant carrier of goods and passengers in Ghana’s land transport system. In fact over 95% of all passenger and freight traffic reaches communities over Ghana on road yet the abysmal state of the Nation’s roads is causing the country a series of serious problems:

Firstly, the thousands of unrepaired potholes that litter the Nation’s roads are a major hazard and the cause of hundreds of annual accidents and brake-downs. Drivers swerve wildly to avoid driving into potholes only to find themselves colliding with another car or rolling into a ditch leaving them with a puncture, injured, or worse. There are some parts of the North of Ghana that are so peppered with potholes that you would be excused for thinking that you are driving over the creator ridden surface of the moon.

The time it takes to travel anywhere around Ghana is lengthened significantly, which hinders and limits the tourism industry that would otherwise have so much potential. On a recent trip to the North we spent 35 hours in tro-tro’s to visit only three places – had the condition of the roads been of a higher standard the time of the trip could have, at the very least, been sliced in half. The length of the journey is enough to deter many tourists and locals from travelling around Ghana meaning that the potential business that could be done through tourism is severely restricted.

Jean-Sebastian, a French tourist, commented, ‘I was staying in Cape Coast and travelled up to Mole National Park with the intention of visiting the other towns and regions in the area, for example, Wa or Bolgatanga but the roads were in such a bad state that it was going to take me 9 hours to visit Wa despite it being a similar distance from Tamali to Bolgatanga. I was shocked at the state of the roads and felt so unsafe when driving that I was forced to shut my eyes and pray.’

It is not just the tourists that are limited by the poor roads as many local Ghanaians from the Central Region have never visited the North due to the unreasonable amount of time and stress that it takes to get there.

Paa Kojo of Cape Coast stated, ‘I have always wanted to visit some friends in Tamale but because of my job I rarely get the time to travel and when I do it is a very limited amount of time. I think something drastic has to be done about the roads because it prevents me from seeing my friends and I know of many others who have never had the opportunity to leave Cape Coast throughout the duration of their lives because of the time and effort it takes to get there.’

This is surely an unacceptable situation for Ghana, the most advanced and progressive African Nation to be in. However, the situation looks unlikely to change as the Deputy Minister of Roads and Highways, Mr. Nii Okley Quaye Kuma has in the past been forced to concede that the road fund policy can only cater for 60 percent of road maintenances in the country. He said even though the fund got about GHC 1.1 billion in revenue between 2010 and 2011, it cannot cater for the remaining 40 percent. This is an incredibly serious issue that needs to be addressed because the state of the roads is just as harmful to the Ghanaian economy as it is to human life.

However, it is not just the state Ghana’s roads that are creating a health risk for travellers. Trotros, even though they remain incredibly popular for travellers across the country, are a potential death trap with poor quality mechanics and overloading of passengers that make the long journeys a painful and dangerous affair as many accidently commonly occur.

A trotro preparing for battle
It is common fact that a trotro should have, at a maximum, four or five people on a row of seats; however, many trotros now squeeze in 6 people per row as they jot across the pot-hole ridden roads of Northern Ghana. When people are paying good money of between five and fifteen Cedis to ride these vehicles, there really should be a more respectable approach to handling passengers. It is the price that appears to be the problem; when they make a good price for each passenger, the drivers and trotro station workers see money over space and comfort – in such, they aim to cram as many people in as possible and even pick up more along the way. Drivers of Kingdom Transport Services who used to travel to the northern part of Ghana told how they used to pick up passengers at Techiman, Kintampo, and other spots. Leg room, arm room and any room in general is sacrificed in these overheated and overcrowded tros.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the journeys were short – however the poor quality of the vehicles mean they often slump along at around 20-30 mph as the engines struggle to carry the heavy weight along the dilapidated roads. Historically, many cargo cars have been turned into large trotros and buses by fixing artificial seats in the vehicle; this is the case of the trotro entitled the ‘207’ which has claimed more lives than any other with its poor maintenance and huge number of passengers. There remains a poor constitution of management for these trotros who are rarely, if ever, inspected. It is true that mechanics at Suame Magazine in Kumasi, at Abossey Okai in Accra are doing their best, but their activities must be certified by a higher authority before they are allowed to practice fitting in Ghana. The police are also on hand at regular checkpoints to make sure the vehicles and drivers are fit to carry out their duty; however, many of these police get lazy, particularly in the night as trotros stumble through the check points whilst not being inspected properly.

It is true that the government is struggling to find the funds in its present policy toward road and transport maintenance. However, when you look at the unnecessary dangers and discomforts that are created as a result of shoddy roads and poor transport, it is obvious that this is an issue that the government must pay more attention to and focus more resources on as it is something so central to Ghana’s future success.

An overcrowded tro

Ghana’s First Mosque Crumbling

 By Saul Sebag-Montefiore

In the small northern town of Larabanga stands Ghana’s oldest Mosque yet now that time is beginning to erode this historic monument it is becoming a constant, desperate struggle for locals to keep the ancient building erect. 

Although small, the incredible white structure of the mosque built in the mode of West-Sudanese architecture sits powerfully in the centre of Larabanga. Its very appearance commands awe and respect as it stands out so strikingly from its modern day surroundings: grand, white with the unusual use of wooden supports holding the ancient mud walls together. The locals claim that the Mosque was constructed in 1421, however, the National Museum in Accra puts the construction date at around 1643-75. The simple truth is that nobody really knows when this rare, ancient building came to be and there is similar air of mystery surrounding who built it.

According to the locals the founder, a great warrior named Ndewura Jakpa and his spiritual guide Ibrahim, decided to throw his spear into the air seeking spiritual guidance of where he could set up a Muslim settlement for his people. After the spear was thrown Ibrahim had a dream/vision of where the spear had landed and the following morning he and Jakpa went to the place that the spear had landed in his dream, Larabanga, to find the foundations of the mosque already in place. Soon after Jakpa died and Ibrahim went on to build the mosque on Jakpa’s last orders. Legend has it that while being built the mosque noticeably increased in height each night and the locals suggest that Allah helped to build it – making this a ‘God given Mosque’. The Mosque is also home to a copy of the holy Koran that is said to have descended from heaven making it one of the holiest Muslim sights in Africa.

It has four entrances with small doors, each for a different type of person (men, women, chiefs and Eman, Mula) and a limited number of seats – on Fridays most gather outside to hear the proceedings over a loudspeaker with only 200 seats inside the Mosque and 4,000 people (made up of 12 clans) gathering around. This demonstrates how important this holy, historic building is to the modern Muslim people of Ghana.

For this reason it is incredibly alarming that this ancient and precious Muslim Monument is being threatened by its own incredible age and the struggle of the local people to keep this Mosque standing has been present for several decades now. In 2002 the mosque was placed on the World Monuments Watch by the Word Monuments Fund because of damage sustained after an inappropriate, botched restoration in the 1970s. In 2000 one of the minarets collapsed during a storm and the financial services company, American Express, provided $50,000 for the mosque to be restored. A team of local artisans and laborers used the funding to restore the monument with special emphasis on reviving the ancient knowledge of mud-plaster maintenance.

The restoration project was a success and now the Mosque stands splendidly in the centre of town. However, the incredible age of the building means that it is in constant need of maintenance - the sight of green moss growing over the white wall is a visual reminder of the erosive effect of time that ticks like a time bomb. To make things worse in the area local conmen have started to take money from tourists under the false pretence that all proceeds will be spent on the restoration of the mosque, when in reality they go towards their personal gain that means that the major source of income to keep the Mosque standing is being significantly compromised. There are many issues facing this wonderful piece of living history and if Ghanaians are to prevent one of the most precious, ancient and holy monuments of the country from crumbling into non-existence then decisive action must be taken before its too late.



By: Ryan Millward

Tourists visiting popular attractions are commonly being targeted by groups of young men looking to take advantage of their naive nature to steal money and valuables.

The gangs, nicknamed 'The Streetboys', operate in communities such as Larabanga (the gateway to Mole National Park) where they play 'spot the tourist' so that they can begin their operations into exploiting them in a criminal fashion.

The operations of the gangs include telling tourists they have a place to house them for the night and that they can provide transport for them around the area; while they may sound like a charitable group, The Street boys, in actual fact, are part of a amateur act where they charge huge prices for transport and where valuables are often stole off tourists as they sleep.

'The Streetboys' in action
We first encountered them in Tamale as we looked to travel to Mole where we would have to stay overnight in Larabanga; originally, with a bed and transport promised, everything seemed to be working out fine. However, as we began the journey to Larabanga, we became increasingly skeptical with their actions. Desperation to get us to stay over the night coupled with one of them changing the details of a previously told story, made us think twice. Eventually, when I spotted one of them had an expensive IPhone that had a case best belonging to a girl, we made the decision to call up a hotel in Larabanga.

When we got there we were glad we did. We spoke to the owner of the Salia Brothers Hotel, Salia Alhassan, who told us of The Street boy's unrighteous actions. Mr Alhassan told us: "We call them 'The Streetboys' as they stand on the street looking for tourists to go and exploit." "They tell lies such as offering free home stay for the night when they are looking to exploit as much as possible." Some of the apparent exploitations include draining tourists of their money by getting them to pay them as tour guides while putting pressure on them to donate to non-existent charities such as water programs and football teams.

However, the actions turn even more devious when we learn of the alleged incidents of thief that have taken place. Reports of phones and money being taken have been commonly reported to the fact that many guide books to Ghana now even issue warnings for would-be travelers. The Street boys come in their numbers too as Mr Alhassan went on to say: "In the area of Larabanga, there are 12-15 of them and they vary between 20-25 years old. They stand waiting for buses either in Tamale or Larabanga looking to exploit tourists. Some of them even claim to be the Salia brothers!" He added: "They operate 24 hours a day and 7 days a week."

Salia Alhassan
The Street boys, if you know what you're looking for, are easy to spot - they remain young, enthusiastic, overly friendly people who offer home stay and motorbike/scooter rides around the area you are visiting. Although we encountered them on the way to Mole, it can be said that they operate in various other communities predominantly up north.

In such a case, it is best that tourists know how to act when they are approached by these groups; the best advice we and Mr Alhassan can give, is to book a hotel in advance and ignore all and any other offers from strangers or locals. We certainly didn't regret booking into Salia Brothers Guesthouse as we were treated kindly and educated about the actions of The Street boys. We hope that, with this knowledge being spread, less and less tourists will now fall victim to these immoral gangs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Focus on National Youth Authority - Tamale Branch

By Saul Sebag-Montefiore

This week the Metropolitan Youth Coordinator at the Tamale Branch of the National Youth Authority spoke to Central Press about the extensive list of issues facing Ghana's youth in the Northern Region and what the Youth Authorities are doing to aid and empower the Nation's abandoned future.

It is common knowledge that the youth, as the future of Ghana, must be nurtured and raised in the correct environment to give them the opportunity to make an honest living and provide them with the right resources to carry Ghana forward. However, it is an unfortunate truth that a sharply rising number of the Nation's able youth are leaving Universities and Colleges after years of training only to find that there are no jobs. Although, some would say that these young people coming out of university are the lucky ones because in the Northern Region there are still groups of young people who don't get the opportunity to go to school and are mercilessly spat out into adulthood with no real skills, training or qualifications. The National Youth Authority of Tamale draws direct connections between incidents of young people committing street-crime, engaging in street-fighting, having unprotected sex with peers, and turning to drugs and prostitution as desperate attempts to deal with or escape from their bleak situation.

The Metropolitan Youth Coordinator, Mr. E.B. Gyan Ansah, stated, 'The family system is breaking down leading to young people turning to drugs, violence and crime. The devil finds work for idle hands and it is inevitable that if the youth are left unemployed they will cause trouble - just look at the recent events in London.'

There is a certain truth to these claims by Mr. Gyan Ansah that has been demonstrated by the recent riots that occurred in London where many frustrated young people took to the streets to steal and cause damage despite many of them not knowing what the original protests were about and after a year that has seen thousands being made unemployed there is much evidence to suggest that this violence was an angry reaction against the establishment after struggling to find a source of money to survive. Therefore this issue is not isolated to Ghana but is present all around the world.

Mr. Gyan Ansah also pinpointed the neglect of young people's Human Rights in the family environment as a major factor in the rises in unemployment. He reflected on a study that was made by the NYA in 2006 that revealed that a large group of young people in Tamale were being denied basic education, being draughted into child labour. According to Gyan, 'some parents even denied their children nutrition, for example, we came across a mother who would not feed her child an egg because she believed it will make him steal, despite the child's desperate need for sustenance.' The Metropolitan Youth Coordinator sees the unemployment issue as having its roots originating in the home of the young person and if parent's fail to do their duty to guide their children along the correct path then there is an inevitability that Ghanaian children will emerge into adulthood with no skills to create their own livelihood.

After Ghana became the first African Nation to join the UN and sign the Children's Act in 1998 it has become imperative that Ghana maintains its image as the most progressive, developed African Nation. Mr Gyan Ansah saw the reason for the mismanagement and neglect of young people as a lack of education rather than a lack of care. He explained that after the damning report of 2006, 'we needed to tell them the truth', and with the sponsorship of the US Assembly Human Right's Fund a large program was set up to educate the parents and children of Tamale. Workshops were organized for 50 people at a time and a community sensitization program in 10 communinities was set up that reached over 1000 people, and the NYA received free airtime on 'Radio Justice' to highlight the issues affecting children. The result of this program was astonishing and after returning to the communities 5 months later Gyan Ansah reflected, 'there was a very big change - a lot of children went back to school and were educated because of the program and there was also a major drop in teenage pregnancies.'

The experienced Youth Coordinator of Tamale then reflected on another similar action that was taken by NYA in 2003 following a wave of political, illegal and tribal street-fighting from youths. Gyan stated, 'We went to our communities to educate the youth and built up a network of support for peace building as ActionAid and the Christian Council came and helped us talk to the youth on how to prevent conflict in Tamale.' This educative program was another great success as hundreds of young people were reached in every community the NYA and it's collaborators visited. As Mr. Gyan stated, 'It has helped calm the political storm and violence in the region and now incidents of political violence are few and far between.'

These are examples of how instantaneously effective simple actions such as talking and educating people about the importance of giving Ghana's youth every possible opportunity to blossom and flourish can be and the NYA in Tamale have proved that they have the personnel and experience to make this happen. However, as usual, funding prevents the NYA from being able to do more. Gyan declared that the main issues facing NYA are, 'inadequate resources, lack of funding, lack of transport, and lack of equipment.' He pleaded, 'If we can get more funding we can reach out to more communities and we want to reach as many as possible in the future so that we can provide young people with the skills that will help them get employment and empowerment.'  

The work of the NYA and men like Mr. Gyan Ansah has resulted in an atmosphere of calm and peace in Tamale these days. Yet the battle against youth unemployment still rages on in Tamale and throughout the whole of Ghana. Hearing the issues facing the youth of the Northern Region and how the Youth Authorities have attempted to deal with them gives an interesting perspective on the situation in the Central Region where the sky high levels of youth unemployment has also become an uncomfortably prevalent issue. It seems that the pathway towards the empowerment of the Nation's youth is only Cedis away but where these will come from is far more ambiguous. The only thing that is clear is that more people must start to take heed of this issue to give the youth of this great Nation an opportunity to become its future. 


By Saul Sebag-Montefiore

On the surface Tamale market is like any other dotted around Ghana, buzzing with life, commerce, vivid sights, colours and smells. However, there is a small section of the market buried deep in the vast maze of incredible cloth and food stalls that opens a window to a dark, ancient world shrouded in mystery.

The fetish section of the large central market is tucked away in a small muddy corner of the market, comprising of just a few small stalls selling a large variety of weird animal artifacts. Scraps of tiger, leopard, snake and crocodile skin, horses tails, dried chameleons, lizards, turtles, vultures and shriveled monkey heads, imported from Burkino Faso, sit eerily in the stalls like a series of darks secrets that no-one wishes to whisper. The reason this section of market is such an incredible and unique place to visit is because it is a living relic of ancient superstition, black magic and voodoo witchcraft that used to be so prevalent in Ghanaian society and religion. Stalls like these are becoming a rarity in Ghana as the majority of people begin to finally accept that paracetamol tablets are more effective for curing a headache than running through a series of fires, entirely naked while swallowing dog eyes and waving a decapitated chicken above your head. However, there are still local people who cautiously sidle up to these dark, mystical stalls and purchase a piece of exotic animal to be used for traditional medical purposes.

Mohammed Kwesie, a shopkeeper from one of the fetish stalls explained, ‘local people come here and buy ingredients that they use in their own recepies to make herbal remedies to cure a variety of illnesses. Headaches, malaria, stomach bugs, body pains, skin disease and many other things. For example: to cure a headache some people use Ayigali, which is a black powdery substance. You use water and rub the block of Ayigali against a rock to create a watery paste that you rub onto your head and your headache will disappear within minutes. Ayigali is also used by many to clean the eyes and they spread the watery black paste onto their eyeball leaving vision clean and clear.’ Mohammed Kwesie looked at me strangely when I asked him whether it actually worked before stating, ‘Yes it works!’

A customer at one of the stalls came up and quietly bought a chameleon and a monkey head. He refused to give his name but explained, ‘monkey and chameleon is a Muslim medicine that cures anything. I personally prepare my remedy by crushing it into powder, burning it before either rubbing it into the skin or consuming it with food or tea. I use it to cure hand pain and stomach upset and it only takes minutes to relieve the pain. I have been using it for 15 years and it works, certainly.’

Although, this customer was happy there are also many conflicting views on the subject of whether the herbal remedies actually work. A middle-aged woman who was passing through the market stated, ‘I do not believe in this medicine, how can a crushed monkey head cure a headache? It does not work. I’ll never use it myself.’

The substances in these stores are not just used for medicines but are also used for much darker purposes, such as cursing. There was hardly anyone in the market who was willing to talk about this sensitive subject that is treated with extreme trepidation. However, one shopkeeper explained, ‘cursing is a way of putting bad luck and encouraging harm to befall upon a person who has wronged you – there are many different spells and methods of cursing so I could not tell you how people do it but generally the procedure involves crushing and burning the substance, to release the spirits and chanting and praying to invoke the deity to bring bad luck to the victim of the curse.’

Whether one believes in curses or not, there is an incredibly sinister, threatening and dangerous undertone to the uses of the substances in the fetish market. It is obvious to see why there is such fear and secrecy surrounding the subject because only a select few have the knowledge to carry out the mysterious rituals and even fewer are willing to talk about it. However, to experience this incredible place of secrecy and mystery transports you to an ancient African world of magic and witchcraft that still lives in a small corner of Tamale Market – a sight that you will see nowhere else on the planet.


By: Ryan Millward

Located in the Northern Region and covering an area of 4840km2, it is the largest national park in Ghana and one of the chief tourist attractions of the country as a whole. The park, situated in the heart of the pristine Guinea Savannah Woodland ecosystem, is host to an impressive 93 mammals of which include all the favorites such as elephants, lions, monkeys, hyenas and baboons; it is also home to 344 species of birds and a further 33 species of reptiles. Sure, while all the facts and figures draw the light on how exciting Mole National Park is to visit, they really can't tell the full story; the lush, wild African environment and plethora of wildlife must be witness to the senses and that is why the full story of Mole is best told by taking the journey up north and visiting the attraction.

Our visit remains a memorable one; stopping over in the nearby village of Larabanga the night before, we set out early in the morning on our rented bikes to cascade through the landscape on a dirt track before arriving at the park at 7am. The park runs two walks a day for visitors; the first, commencing 7am in the morning, shows tourists around the park in the light of early morning as the animals awake and birds sing deafeningly. The second walk takes place in the late afternoon at 3.30pm for people who want to catch the animals and wildlife in the closing half-light of day.

After paying 10 cedi to enter the parks gates and being split into groups, we were led into the wilderness by a long serving ranger and his trusty rifle; there really was an aura of excitement about it as we continuously edged further into the maze of greenery - infact it wasn't long before we bare witness to our first glimpse of the park's wildlife with a collection of baboons and warthogs surrounding the area around us. The animals remain surprisingly tame. The stereotype of baboons being vicious seemed odd as we walked by taking photos from what could only be a couple of meters away. Photos taken, both physically and mentally, we carried on further into the park to see what else would come our way.

Clumsily stumbling through the woodland, we made our way through the daunting army of trees and anthills, climbing up the paths and rocky ground and overlooking the vast landscape of Mole. The ranger further led the way like a true wildlife enthusiast as he paraded his rifle over his shoulder whilst creeping, listening and smelling anything he could to lead us into the path of more wildlife. It wasn't long before he did; through the trees a collection of antelope were visible. All females we were told. They galloped gracefully before spotting us. Heads turned, eyes made contact; we watched them for a while before they dissappeared into the green ocean of the jungle. It is rare to see male antelopes as they all fight for control of one area; in such, if you see two males together, more likely than not, they will be fighting for ownership of that land and all the female antelope that locate there. The male we did see, as expected, was alone; he stood intensely gaging the area out as we quietly passed through. That we did as we pressed on deeper into the park.

Antelopes, baboons, birds and warthogs; sure, while they are all nice to see in the environment, make no mistake - the main hope (baring the enormous odds of actually seeing a lion - the last one was spotted 3 months ago) is to see a collection of elephants. There are around 600 elephants living in Mole and they are regularly spotted by visitors with the guides expert tracking and knowledge of the area. With this thought we moved on down the hill to the lake and salt lakes where we had the best chance of locating them. Still humorously clutching his rifle, the long-serving guide lead us deeper and deeper into the park as he picked up recent tracks of elephants and hyena; we didn't expect to see many hyena as they are mainly nocturnal animals but the thought of seeing elephants in their natural environment was genuinely exciting.

Nervously we walked on toward the lake. Listening. Looking. Smelling. It felt like a true wildlife experience as we crossed paths with another group of tourists all bounded in the hope of seeing the large creatures. We edged further on. Passing through salt lakes and trees, looking for recent droppings or footprints. Eventually the ranger stopped suddenly. He looked into a collection of trees. Now, to the untrained eye, which I can say I very much am, it appeared as though nothing was there; but the ranger, still parading his rifle and standing with a stance of readiness, thought different as he sniffed his nose upwards and picked up the scent of elephant. We stopped for a few seconds more before making our way over a hundred meters or so. Before we knew it a large, dark grey shape was viewable through the trees. Elephants. We had found elephants. At first it was just one but as we approached further and made our way onto an open plain, we had within our sights a collection of 6 or 7 males.

They are fascinating creatures really; fundamentally they don't do alot, but what they do, they make it look interesting. Using their trunks to throw large clumps of mud over their backs. Snapping huge branches off as they stumble through trees. The elephants put on a entertaining show in the woodland for us as everyone dashed to take photos and be seen with the creatures. We stood, overwhealmed to an extent, in the African plains of Mole gazing at these joyful animals. 10 minutes later we were still watching. 20 minutes later we were still watching. 30 minutes later, yeah, still watching. Eventually they made their way back into the woodland and toward the lake. We followed.them some more like true stalkers before deciding to call it a day.

We had spent two hours in the clutches of Mole National Park and the visit was of great worth; as we sat eating at Mole Motel overlooking the never-ending canopy of trees that glided onto the horizon, the thought of how rare such an experience is passed through my head. A true taste of Africa was tasted. The animals and environment not only embedded into Ghana but also our minds. It is recommended that when in the north of Ghana, a visit to Mole remains compulsory; certainly as we passed another elephant and some monkeys on the way out, we can only recommend that you do.

Guide walks at the park are 3 cedi for one hour and 6 cedi if the walk reaches two.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


By: Ryan Millward

Charities in the north are undertaking action that will help provide vulnerable women in the area with skills for the future, such as dressmaking, tie-die and hairdressing.

Youth Home Cultural Group and COLWOD both aim to provide education and training to groups such as the youth and women so that they can turn their backs on problems such as poverty and crime and face up to achieving economic income for the future.

The Youth Home Cultural Group in Tamale was founded in 1984 and aims to teach dressmaking skills to young people. The charity is arranged with the youth and runs courses to a handful of enthusiastic young people. Master of Tailors, Alhassan M Hafiz, told us: "This Youth Home Cultural Group reduces unemployment and stops issues such as prostitution." The 32 year old added: "We offer sewing, dress making, measurements; the support is not there so we provide education and skills for the future."

The courses that the group teaches remain very professional with 3 years of teaching to provide students with a high level of sewing skills whilst others take courses that vary between 3-6 months to learn skills such as tie-die, smock weaving and the making of traditional drums. The courses are free for people to undertake and there remains a queue of young people all waiting to replace the current students when they finish.

Adul-Rahaman Mohammed, the director of the Youth Home Cultural Group, said: "We provide learning for the future so that if the girls studying dress making marry, they can use their skilled training to take care of family and provide money."

Certainly it seems that the young girls learning trades from the group appreciate this rare opportunity that has fallen to them. Amadu Shirifa, a 20 year old who is currently learning dress making, told us: "I can now make my own clothes to secure money for food and because of this, many of my friends have an interest in the course." She added: "I think my life will change through these skills."

Another student, 19 year old Mohammed Mujuna, said: "Before I found my life very hard, now I can make clothing for myself which saves money I can use for food." "I want to continue to make a living through this trade."

Abul- Rahaman Mohammed
The Youth Home Cultural Group are evidently providing a priceless experience for some young girls in Tamale, who are all using the opportunity to increase their quality of life. However, the group are not the only charity in Tamale that are helping people learn new skills for trade. Charity group COLWOD are also providing vulnerable women with a chance to 'achieve economic independence'.

The charity, founded in 1995, aims to give women skills such as sewing, tie-die and hairdressing so that they can use them to provide trade. COLWOD goes out to meet people around the area to teach for free. Mary, a worker at the charity, said: "Men are head of the family, therefore women have to work alongside to provide for families and fight poverty. We train these women to be more equipped."

The course is similar to the youth group with 2-3 years of training needed to learn professional sewing and 3 months to teach skills such as Batik and Hairdressing. COLWOD is the center for the women's economic independence and by teaching these trades, just like the Youth Home Cultural Group, they hope to give women a new chance in life and rid them of issues such as poverty and prostitution.

Whilst these two groups are currently helping immensely battle these such problems, further support and sponsorship will be needed to maintain the charity's good work. The Youth Home Cultural Group used to be supported by the Danish government, but now remain independent and lacking new support. Director of the group Abdul-Rahaman Mohammed expressed: "We struggle to get support. If we get support we can continue but currently we have to turn people away because of the lack of equipment."

Young girls from youth group

COLWOD also remain cash strapped as they rely solely on support and sponsorship to buy the material that is used at the center. COLWOD worker Mary said: "We import everything from Tema, Accra. Therefore this costs a lot of money to buy the material and then pay for transport."

It seems there is a thirst for new support by the charities in Tamale that are helping to improve the lives of women in the town. With this, a new lease of life will be brought into the two organisations and more people can be helped.

It can only be hoped that new sponsors and support comes forward as to help these charities carry on in their quest to provide education and skills to women in the community. Either way, Youth Home Cultural Group and COLWOD can remain proud and with their heads held high; in a place where many women could live in poverty and turn to crime and prostitution, they are supplying fresh and exciting courses for women to go out and learn new skills and trade. It can only be hoped that they continue their good work in the future.

Colwod center

Monday, August 15, 2011


By Oliver Griffin

Done the beaches? Seen the castles? If you're stuck for something to do in Ghana and want to find something a bit more off the beaten track, Kakum national park is for you - this week, Central Press has plunged head first through the forest to bring you all of the information you need to have your very own jungle experience. 
It’s 5:30 in the morning, and I’m awake. Normally, this would be a somewhat excruciatingly painful experience, but this morning is different. This morning I am up by my own volition, excited by the prospect that I will soon be walking 40 metres above the ground through the magnificent Kakum national park.  
I have spent the night on a tree platform, and although the various forest noises kept me awake long into the night, the sound of monkeys calling to each other in the distance and the low hum of chattering insects made it all worthwhile.   
Kakum national park is, quite frankly, a triumph. In a world plagued by deforestation, any establishment or organisation that cherishes the ever depleting jungle and cultivates it, protecting its rare wildlife and unique habitat, is surely something to be celebrated. The park itself covers approximately 350 km2 and keeps it protected from the various industries, such as
 timber and building, which would use its natural resources for profit and not education.  The guides here are knowledgeable in their field and give insightful information when you go to them with questions. These gamekeepers have spent time in training, learning about the significant cultural and medical requirements of the dense foliage. Before arriving at the tree platform, the forty five minute hike that is required to reach it, revealed a few of the difficulties that exist in navigating the forest. Firstly, roots and mud do not make for easy walking – it is advisable to take good walking boots if you plan on going through much of the undergrowth. Secondly, ANTS! Ants in the forest are not your friends. After inadvertently walking through a nest of them as we went on our evening hike, the group suffered quite badly due to an untold number of ant bites. Keep an eye out on the forest floor for any ants you might be walking through.
The most impressive attraction to see at Kakum is without doubt the canopy walkway. Positioned between 18 and 40 metres above the forest floor, it gives a fantastic vantage point from which visitors can look out over the park.  The walkway was built in the 1980’s by two Canadians and six Ghanaians. The Ghanaian engineers that live on site wake up early every morning in order to check that the walk way is in good working order – health and safety is strictly upheld at Kakum, perhaps to a level that tourists will not see when travelling to other parts of Ghana (or riding in a tro-tro, perhaps). Although there were not many different species of animal to be seen while on the canopy walk, the very fact that it is situated so high amongst the trees more than makes up for it. The view of forest stretching for as far as the eye can see is somewhat awe inspiring.
Kakum national park is a must see for any tourist but also for any Ghanaian that hasn’t yet been. The lesson and importance of forest preservation is something that everyone should be made aware of and the work that is being done at Kakum is of the utmost importance. By going and supporting Kakum, you are helping to counteract the deforestation that takes place in Ghana, and also the rest of the world.     

Kakum National Park is situated 33km north of Cape Coast, the Central Region capital and approximately 170km from Accra. Roads are good and the best ways to travel are either by tro-tro or drop taxi.