Thursday, July 26, 2012

The President is dead (In Accra again) (Week 8)

Prologue (July 20th)

Having spent just one short and wild night in the capital the last time, we are heading to Accra again, only nine days after returning from our all-covering trip around Ghana.

The reasons for us to go to Accra again are multiple. First of all, there’s kind of a change of “generation” going on in The House. A lot of the people that arrived during the beginning of my stay are already leaving. They obviously want to experience the biggest city in the country and have some fresh experiences before returning, in most cases, to the first world. And I want to join them in it. There is a bunch of new guys, all seemingly nice in our group, but I’ll have time to hang-out with them. Five more weeks of it. Secondly, there’s a friend of a friend I want to meet in Accra, mostly for fun and maybe some insights on the YES Project, since he works for a big development agency at the department of sustainable economic development. Turns out he’s in the Philippines for the next couple of weeks, but that’s no reason to call the trip off. Also we are going to try to make some use of the bus fares by trying to meet up with some other potential sponsors in Accra. The third thing is that it seems impossible to get your visa right here. In Europe, we applied for a three-month visa and got a one-month visa, for reasons that were never made clear to us. After two weeks in Kumasi, we sent our passports, with cash, to the immigration service in Accra for an extension. We applied to have our allowed time of stay extended until the 2nd of September, and the visas returned extended until only the 2nd of August. The plan now is to go to the immigration service in person first thing Monday morning to sort it all out once and for all. An ambitious plan, considering my experience in sorting anything out quickly here…

The President is dead

On Tuesday the 24th of July the president of Ghana, John “Prof” Atta Mills, passed away. The vice president, John Dramani Mahama, was sworn in immediately. This is the first time in the short history of Ghana that the sitting president has died. Therefore there is no predicting of outcomes.

The perceived immediate seriousness of the blow to everyday life from the death of a relatively strong and affluent leader seemed immediately clear to me. I was in the company of Henry and Lim from the YES Project when I heard the news outside Mr. Jonathan Annan’s office. We had to wait for an appointment with the big force driving our project for half an hour, a blink of an eye in Ghana. We could hear him going on in heated discussions with his assistants and the office being flooded by short, intensive phone calls. Apparently, the demise of the president has lead to a pressing need for an emergency meeting. Mr. Annan only told us there is a need to quickly decide how to handle the situation, how to assess the future. The future of whom? Does the change in powers instantly affect the university that much? Is there going to be some movement amongst the students, already being fairly active politically? Are there some political goals to be found amongst the university authorities?

When returning to Ghana, we walked with Belinda straight into our corner bar where we met Joe. There were definitely more people at the bar than on a regular Tuesday night. The TV was broadcasting the national news, very loud. Joe pointed out that even if the death of “Prof” Atta Mills really doesn’t affect everyday life that much, there is definitely some tension in the air since the presidential election, in which Atta Mills was running for another term, are coming up in five months, in December. According to Joe, there is a habit, well documented all over Africa, to vote along ethnic divisions. It is not hard to imagine this being even more the case after Atta Mills leaving something of a vacuum among the choices of candidates. The urgency of decisions and changes was emphasized by a big black car, apparently the regional minister, racing by The Bar with alarm-lights, sounds and all, towards the capital. What was fun to notice is that the locals, especially Joe, use without hesitation the term tribes for ethnic groups, something that is strictly seen as colonialist and racist in the northern development discussion.

Some unrest is not impossible, and there are genuine concerns that instability caused by Mills’ death together with the upcoming elections will have a negative impact on progress. You can read more in this article by the Guardian, both assessing the situation now and giving a good comprehensive picture of developments in “the success story of Africa.”  For anyone interested in what happened during the last elections, there’s apparently (I’m still to see it) a very good documentary done on it, called “An AfricanElection.”.

I’m just hoping the upheavals won’t affect my application for a visa extension, still under revision in Accra…


Cozy beach life in Accra
Accra is a big city. We spent three whole days there without really seeing anything new. As the meetings I was supposed to have during the weekend didn’t work out the trip was pretty much turned into a weekend on the beach. Obviously, this was something everyone needed after some hectic times around Ghana, mostly away from the sea. Because of some miscommunication when trying to find our way to a National Park north of Accra, Belinda, Guy and me ended up in Tema on Sunday. Tema is a small town east of Accra. The largest harbor in Ghana, and the largest manmade harbor in Africa, is there, and that’s it. The city itself can well be described as a classical port town as it does not offer much more to see.

Our visit to the immigration service can best be described as a complete disaster. The annoyed official in a stylish, dark green suite seemed to know one sentence of English: “Fill in this form.” Note the absence of the word please, here representing the general feeling of us not being welcome. There was no chance of getting to see the paperwork, for instance the forms we sent in earlier, on our case. There was no chance of getting an explanation to only having gotten a one-month-extension instead of one for two months. Also we were informed of the need for a letter from the organization we are working for, AIESEC, to move the matter forward. This effectively moved the matter out of our hands, so it all comes down to the one personal trait you definitely need when working with authorities in Ghana: patience. I’m sure we will be told to provide another $20 or so for whatever operational expenses. Did someone say institutional corruption?


  1. Hei! Luin viisumin pidentämistänne, mutta en ymmärtänyt kaikkia yksityiskohtia, joten voitko vielä selventää asiaa? Onko viisumin pidentämisessä jotakin, josta meidän pitäisi olla tietoisia tai jossa tarvitsette apua?

    P.S. Olisi mielenkiintoista saada lukea jotakin Ghanan öljyteollisuudesta, vaikka aihe voi olla aivan liian tylsä sinulle.

  2. Moi!

    Viisumitilanne on sellainen, että Tanskan suurlähetystö myönsi meille alunperin vain 30 päivän viisumin, mikä ilmeisesti on maksimiaika jonka voivat myöntää. Haimme siis pidennystä paikan päällä. Paperit olivat kunnossa, mutta jostakin syystä pidennystäkin myönnettiin ainoastaan 30 päivää (meidän haettua 60 päivää). Tälläkin saatta olla tekemistä sen kanssa ettei Tanskan suurlähetystö myönna pidempiä viisumeita. Olemme siis nyt jo toistamiseen lähettäneet passit ja paperit Accraan pidennystä varten. Kyse ei ainakaan vielä ole mistään draamasta, mutta pidennys maksaa aina noin 20 dollaria ja passia saa odottaa viikkoja, joka on aiheuttanut sydämentykytyksiä muille harjoittelijoille jotka ovat hakeneet pidennystä turhan lähellä maasta poistumistaan. Rasittava mutta (toistaiseksi) siedettävä yksityiskohta, byrokratia on jäykkää ja voitelu on aina hyväksi...

    Öljyteollisuus on aihe, jonka kimppuun olen suunnitelutkin käyväni, kunhan saan kunnon yleiskuvan. Nyt voi jo sanoa että aihe on kiistelty ja todella tärkeä, mikä tarkoitta että kaikilla on omat kommenttinsa :)

    Esittelin jo blogissa Guardianin artikkelin, jossa puhutaan m.m. öljystä ja tulevaisuudesta:

    Tässä muutama muukin sivu näin lämmittelyksi: