By: Modou S. Joof, News Editor & Head of Sports The Voice Newspaper in Banjul, The Gambia
I left Banjul on 16th April, 2010 at 1755GMT to attend training on Conflict Transformation and Peace Building organised by the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ) of InWent Germany, in Accra, Ghana.
Having waited so long at the Banjul International Airport Terminal, posing and discussing about the cancellation of flights to and from Europe, we hard a big bang at around 1745GMT and anxious travelers stood and said, ‘oh! The plane has arrived.’
After some time, we were asked out through the exit doors of the tarmac but not until immigration officer tore part of our tickets. We were drove to the plane, Ethiopian Airline 019 (ASKY) by a bus and I really feel the joy of having to travel by air for the first time in my life, nervous I was though.
As soon as the plane left the run way and head up for the sky, revealing to me for the first time an aerial view of the beautiful landscape of “The Smiling Coast”, The Gambia, a man, fair in complexion with coiled hair style left his seat in the business class and head swiftly for the
back of the plane.
Nervous I was thinking he might be a “hijacker”. I was very much unsettled at the time but then I thought what for will this man want to hijack the plane? I thought he should have been at the pilot’s cabin if he were really in a position to do so, but then I said to myself may be he is gone to take out a gun.
Inquisitively, I said to one of the airhostesses, excuse me I want to ease myself, and she said the toilet is at the back, so I concluded that this man is answering the call of nature and not a ‘hijacker’ and soon afterwards he was back on his seat looking more relaxed and me as well.
The six hours journey took us through Conakry, Guinea and Freetown, Sierra Leone where we landed to take other passengers on board and others disembarked.
Setting foot in Accra
I and two of my colleagues, Mamadou Edrisa Njie and Amie Sanneh touched down at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra on 17th April, 2010 at 0000GMT, where we were stranded for almost more than an hour.
Prior to our arrival, the Highgate Hotel Staff said they did sent their driver to pick us up but the driver was told that our flight has been cancelled due to the ‘volcanic ash cloud’. Thanks to the kindness of a bar attendant at the airport, we were able to make contact with one Mr. Fiifi of the Ghana International Press Centre, who facilitated our transport to the Highgate Hotel.
The hotel is big and of standard but lacks a swimming pool and garden for leisure. It is very expensive too but appreciated by almost everyone who lives or once stayed there. However, billing me for two bottles of malt which I did not consume was rather unwelcomed. Nonetheless, I did not pay for it though and besides that, the hotel has wonderful staff.
“Ash Cloud” too arrives in Accra, lectures least disrupted
On Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th April 2010, we began to feel the effects of the infamous “ash cloud” which came as a result of a volcanic eruption in Iceland, grounding airplanes from across the world for a week. Since the IIJ Consultant was also caught stranded in Germany on her way to Accra, it means we have to provide lunch and dinner for ourselves over the weekend, while breakfast was part of our hotel bill taken care of by InWent.
From Monday 19th to Thursday 22nd April 2010, the training proper began but without our lecturer for the first week, Mr. Wolfram Zuner who was also stranded in Germany due to what others called the “stubborn ash cloud”. Sadly, he never made it to Accra after his attempt to travel to Amsterdam where he was due to board a flight to Accra but to no avail. Nonetheless, he was very much instrumental in giving guidelines and directives from Germany as to what we should embark upon. He also managed to send by email most of his presentation to all participants. “That was a distance learning anyway”.
Our second week lecturer, Ms. Sabine Hammer arrived on Wednesday 21st April 2010 and cover-up on lectures for the two-days (Thursday and Friday) left by Mr. Zuner. The consultant, Susan Sharaf, arrived on Thursday and that reduces the burden of having to provide dinner everyday by ourselves, as she dishes out allowances to us.
But all this while, Mr. Walter Kudzodi has been very instrumental in coordinating our daily activities, he has always been around through out the course.
Earlier on Tuesday, participants were taken for a visit to Ghana’s biggest publishing company, Graphic Communication Group Limited (GCGL). The visit was aimed at acquainting journalists with the operational system of the Company and to create room for activities as the lecturer for the first week was stranded in Germany, due to the ash cloud. The company currently publishes seven newspapers and an advertising newspaper which are all said to be market leaders in the industry as in Daily Graphic, The Mirror, Graphic Sports, Graphic Showbiz, Junior Graphic, Graphic Advertiser, graphic Nsempa and Graphic Business.
Having received lectures from Kent Mensah, web editor on the “Importance of Blogs and Internet Reporting”, Retired Brigadier General Francis A. Agyemfra, security consultant on “The Role of ECOMOG in West African Security Strategies” and Ms. Naila Salihu research and training officer development diplomacy programme, on “Conflict Mapping, Comparative analysis of three cases and discussions”.
Kofi Annan International Peace Training Centre
On Thursday 21st April, we visited the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), Accra, Ghana, where we were introduced to “Mission and Training Experience of KAIPTC by guest speaker Colonel (GS) Dieter Schneider on the experience of peace support operations (Kosovo).
The Centre is one of three Peacekeeping Centres established by theAfrican Union. It is funded by support organisations and concentrates mainly on operational peacekeeping. One of its objectives is to develop regional and sub-regional capacity in the delivery of international peace support organisations (IPSO), enhance capacity for conflict prevention, management, resolution and peace building. (www.kaiptc.org).
Over the weekend of Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th April 2010, we visited the Arts Centre in Accra, where we did a few shopping; from there we proceeded to the Accra Shopping Mall. We were made to understand that the Mall is the Biggest in West Africa, with almost everything on display but we were more or less eye shoppers as the cheapest product will cost you some
US Dollars. The Ghana Cedi appreciates and one dollar is almost equivalent to one cedi (One Cedi-Forty Pesuas).
Kakum National Park “one of the few patches of rainforest left in West Africa”
On Sunday, we made a long journey to the Cape Coast, which is two hours thirty minutes drive from the capital, Accra. Our first point of call was the KAKUM NATIONAL PARK, the tropical rainforest is said to be home to half of the world’s species, covering just seven percent of the earth’s land area and yet it harbours at least half of all plant and animal species.
Kakum is one of the few patches of rainforest left in West Africa and to the wildlife that lived there; it is like an island of habitat surrounded by a sea of towns and farmland. We also walk through the “Canopy Walk Way”, which stretches through the 270 miles (360KM2 tropical rainforest). The Canopy Walk Way, built by two Canadians on 26th April 1995, is situated 40 meters above the ground, giving a perfect aerial view of Kakum National Park. It took the constructors six months to finish the job and it is made up of iron, wood and ropes, connected to some of the tallest trees within the forest.
One Africa, keeping up with Africa’s pride
We had our lunch at the One Africa Bar and Restaurant, situated at the Cape Coast, 169 kilometers from Accra. It is owned and managed by an African-American who traces her roots from Sierra Leone, IMAHKǗS Njinga Okofu Ababio.
She led us to her museum and it is fascinating to know that the museum also serves as her living room, where she has on display great African-Americans, like Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Barrack Obama and Pan-Africanists like Kwame Nkrumah, Saikou Touray, Leopold Sedar Senghore, Thomas Sangkare as well as the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
From the entrance, a frame with an inscription “Arrest Bush” is hanged on the left side of the wall and when she was questioned on the issue, she argued that George W. Bush is and will remain the biggest terrorist in the world ever.
“Bush served as president for eight years and you cannot tell how much atrocities he has committed in Afghanistan, Iraq… Bush should be arrested for war crimes,” she said while acknowledging that such will be difficult as America is not a signatory to the Rome Statue, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Hangings on the walls are also quotes from humanists… “Each person must be willing to tolerate the other person in their differences and their inner sounds. We are diverse, yet we can be one”… Barbara Jordan.
“Death is the end of all life in the individual or thing… He who lives not uprightly dies completely in the crumbling of the physical body, but he who lives well, transforms himself from that which is mortal, to immortal”… Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. (www.oneafrica-ghana.com).
We were also entertain with some reggae life band while having our lunch, the rhythm on the musical system and the banging of waves from the turbulent sea nearby created a perfect sound and a good and relaxing atmosphere.
ELMINA – “The Mind”
Our next point of call was the Slave Castle situated in the provincial town of ELMINA, which is a Portuguese word meaning “the mind”. The local name for the town is EDINA.
We were made to understand that the inner perimeter of the Slave Castle was built by the Portuguese who were the first settlers in the town for two centuries. They were followed by the Deutsch and later the English, says Mr. Walter Kudzodi who had worked at the Castle as researcher gathering information regarding the history of the Castle. The history of the Castle is pretty much the same as Fort James Island in The Gambia and other historical slave points in British West Africa.
It was a point where captured slaves (men and women) were kept and lined up for trafficking trough the Atlantic Ocean to the then newly found world of the Americas where they were subjected to hard labour in the plantations.
Business as usual
From Monday 24th to Friday 30th April was business as usual as we delve into topical issues with lectures on Gender Issues from the Perspective of a Journalist; Gender Sensitivity in Conflict
Sensitive Reporting: Realities, Trends, Challenges, Skills and subconscious messaging in press photos; Techniques in Conflict Sensitive Reporting; Medialising Conflicts: Consequences for Reporting and How Can the Press Avoid Being Instrumentalised, among other things.
Barca won but looses, so did my friend D K Sengbeh
On Wednesday 28th April 2010, we were hosted for a Dinner at Tante Marie Restaurant by the German Ambassador in Accra, an event that was scheduled to take place on 19th April.
However, the grounding of airplanes across Europe which stranded the German delegation of InWent resulted to the reschedule of the dinner, but it was not really bad as the event went smooth and successful.
The German Ambassador to Accra noted that he was very pleased to host the West African journalists and being associated with such a good initiative of training journalists in Conflict Transformation and Peace Building.
There wasn’t much to talk about though we chat and interact, we did much eating and drinking as all kinds of foods and drinks were on offer, while watching that Champions League Second-leg Semi Final between Spain’s Barcelona and Internationale of Italy. It was a fun filled night to be precise and our hosts were so hospitable.
Our colleague from Monrovia, Liberia D K Sengbeh, News Editor The Informer (www.theinformer-lr.com) opted not to join us for the dinner so he could have a good time to see his team, Barcelona play. Though the Spanish won 1-0 they went out with a 3-2 aggregate and D K Sengbeh loose the game and the dinner: that was a 2-0 defeat to him.
Ghana textile conflict, Makola voices
The following day, Thursday 29th April 2010, we were led on a Field Exercise in Conflict-Sensitive Reporting: Interviews at Accra’s textile market: “High cost of cheap imports”.
Having been lectured on the conflict situation of the textile industry in Ghana 24 hours earlier, we were at Accra’s biggest textile market (Makola Market) to gain first hand information on the queries on the influx of cheap imports and the decline of Ghana’s textile industry.
Many of the textile dealers we spoke to decry that local textile products are very expensive and are not selling well as buyers prefer cheaper textiles, which are said to be of the same quality with local products.
However, having seen both products, I believe the local ones are of more quality bearing in mind the thickness and durability, but this is a fact that importers of pirated textiles, most of whom are said to have routinely managed to evade taxes or official excise duties, have always denied.
There were also queries that the local textile industry needs to be upgraded to march international industries like the ones in China.
On the other hand, Campaigners for the survival of the local textile industry are calling for stiff measures to be taken by policy-makers to salvage the collapsing industry, which has registered a revenue loss of 300 billion (old Ghana Cedi) according to the Government’s Budget Report in 2002, as a result of illicit textile imports.
The campaign resulted to the burning of seized textiles smuggled into the country, a radical approach in the fight to protect an industry that once been a leader in West Africa textile market.
A glimpse into the film industry, African Identity
On Friday 30th April 2010, we visited the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI) in Accra, where journalists made four presentations on “African Identity and Conflict Sensitive Media”. NAFTI was founded in 1978; it provides a degree programme on Bachelor of Art among other courses. It has 120 studios and graduates from the institute are usually film producers and not necessarily TV presenters who are drawn from Ghana, Namibia Mali, and The Gambia etc.
The Institution is supported by the Government of Ghana, UNESCO, NGOs, and DW Radio in Germany among others. We were also engaged in a question and answer session with the students of NAFTI on issues of conflict sensitive reporting.
Students of NAFTI raised doubts about what they called the unfair reportage of the media especially in conflict situations. Having interacted for two hours on the role of journalists and conflict sensitive reporting, they (the students) admitted that their doubts and perceptions about journalists and the media have been cleared.
The Institution also hosts an annual African Students Film and Television Festival, the 9th of which was in 2009. (www.nafti4u.edu). From there, we were back at the Ghana International Press Centre to wrap up what has been an exciting but educative training on Conflict Transformation and Peace Building.
Burning Issues On the Streets of Accra
The city of Accra has always been very hot, temperatures of which can only equaled that of the Upper River Region of The Gambia especially the town of Basse. You can feel the warmth even deep into the night, unlike in most part of The Gambia where temperatures are usually low at night for most of the year.
With occasional rains in the city, on occasional moments I encountered with a few people who always has an issue to discuss, critical issues for that matter. On a fateful Monday, during our second week in Accra, I was all alone (though not far from the Press Centre where we have our lectures) to buy credit to top-up my Vodafone Sim Card to call back my family in Banjul.
I met this credit seller whom I knew only as Challie, who seemed to be quite informed about the mysterious death of some Ghanaians in 2008 in The Gambia. When I told him am a Gambian after he had asked me, he said: “did you remember your people killed our people in Gambia?”
But this was an issue that I never wanted to entertain, for my own safety. I replied all I knew was that there were contradicting reports between the two governments with the number (Accra said 44 of their nationals were killed in The Gambia, and Banjul said only 8 bodies were found) and that findings by ECOWAS vindicated The Gambia Government of being involved.
The conversation didn’t last long because our lecturer was calling at the time and I was not prepared to argue on an issue that has soared diplomatic relations between Banjul and Accra over the years. As I said goodbye, he called me “Charlie” and when I asked he said it means “My Brother” in one of their local languages, but it was not goodbye at all as we had always seen each other everyday because he was always around the Press Centre and on three to four occasions I bought credit from him. Well, as he had taken me for a “brother”, he did wish me farewell on the day I was heading home. “Thank you Charlie, save journey,” he said, smiling and I said thanks, returning the smile.
Gambia Versus Ghana, immigration and sport
Two days later, at a bar where my friend had accompanied me to buy “Rothmans Cigarette”, a girl believed to be in her early 20s said after giving me the cigarettes, where do you come from? The Gambia my friend replied. “You people in your country immigration officials harass people on the streets, but in Ghana you can walk freely, no problem,” the young girl said comparing immigration policies and activities between Banjul and Accra.
Well we neither defend our officials nor commend theirs, but we made her understand that Ghanaians have a town of their own in The Gambia and are contributing to our educational system. I agreed that immigration officials on many occasion have been seen running after ECOWAS citizens for not paying for a residential permit or an alien card, but what I can’t tell is whether Ghana Nationals has been subjected to such harassment she was referring to.
I also made her understood that many of the foreign nationals in Banjul can now work freely because our government has signed Communiqués with some governments exempting their citizens from paying residential permits.
But this girl was not going to stop, this time she wants to prove that Ghana is far a bigger footballing nation than The Gambia, saying they’ve been to the World Cup, the games biggest tournament, that they’ve won the U20 World Cup and have hosted the Africa Nations Cup in 2008 and reach the Final in Angola 2010 with virtually a team of youngsters.
I was only proud of saying Gambia has won the U17 Nations Cup in 2005 on home soil and 2009 in Algiers, Algeria. I also put it to her that we went up to the quarter finals of the U20 World Cup in 2007 and before that we were in Peru for the U17 World Cup in 2005.
But at senior level I didn’t talk much as I knew we achieved virtually nothing, not even the Amilca Cabral Zone II Tournament, not to talk of qualifying for the Nations Cup or the World Cup. So I gave in that Ghana is far more a bigger footballing nation than The Gambia.
By this time, the clock was ticking 00:00hrs GMT and I put off the last cigarette in the astray and I thought I have heard enough to head home at the Highgate Hotel on Mango Tree Avenue, Asylum Down, where we stayed.
I felt being the only smoker in Accra, “Scary smoking Kills”
One thing that I was so much impressed about was the cleanliness of the city of Accra and the level of freedom of the press and of expression and the repeal of draconian media laws from their Constitution.
I must admit that for two weeks I didn’t see a single person smoking either cigarette of marijuana on the streets of Accra, and I felt being the only gasper in a city where everyone is busy going about their businesses, hardworking and studious. Ghanaians do smoke but mainly in bars and restaurants or may be in their homes. I understood there are not harsh anti-smoking regulations in there, may be people are so careful the way they smoke or majority are afraid to smoke bearing in mind that scary “Smoking Kills” stamped on the front and back of every packet of cigarette.
On the eve of Friday 30th April 2010, we had packed our travel luggage as we were set to say goodbye to Accra. We left the hotel for the Kotoka International Airport in Accra at 2200GMT to catch-up with our flight Ethiopian Airline “ASKY” 013 in the early hours of Saturday 1st May 2010. Me and two of my colleagues Amie Sanneh and Mamadou Edrisa Njie along with four of our Sierra Leonean compatriots flew out of Accra at 0100GMT, first landing in Freetown where they disembarked. Then we flew to Conakry and later to Banjul, arriving 0700GMT.
Freetown and Conakry both seemed to be beautiful from an aerial view at night. It is a pain that I can’t tell how beautiful because to and from Ghana, we have always landed in these two cities at night…… Journey’s End