Victims without voice: measuring gender-based violence in schools

Oct. 14

By: John Van Dusen


ACCRA – It was only after the third girl was raped the school took notice.

“If it had been one student who had been saying it, we would have thought it was a fabricated story. But five or six girls mentioned the same issue where a school administrator raped three girls,” said Jamilla Ariori.

Ariori, with the Human Rights Advocacy Centre in Accra, said an alarming number of rapes in Ghanaian schools are never reported. Of those that are, very little changes.

“The last girl that got raped got pregnant. And she was trying to abort it,” she said. “They dismissed her for getting pregnant and also for trying to abort it.”

Ariori said that’s when it came out that the administrator was responsible.

“Before he could be axed, he ran away from the school,” she said.

Ariori led a two-year study on the prevalence of gender-based violence in schools. She surveyed students and teachers in the Greater Accra, Volta and Eastern regions.

The results showed that half of the students interviewed reported incidents of sexual touching. One in five students surveyed said rape had occurred.

In one case in the Eastern Region an “influential person” in society raped a 13-year-old.

“Nothing was done about it,” Ariori said, adding that those responsible are rarely held to account.

“She reported it to the Girl’s Education Officer for the district and the lady reported it to the police and then this person was arrested. But after a month or two (the victim) saw the person in the community. No one did follow ups.”

Ariori said in some cases following a complaint, a teacher is transferred to another school.

In other instances, the perpetrator pays off the family and the case is dropped.

“And that’s what I’m suspecting happened. And the girl doesn’t know that her family has taken money,” she said.

In other cases, Ariori said parents encourage their daughters to do favours for the teacher, hoping it will result in a marriage proposal. In one village, she said male teachers were complaining of parents pressuring them to marry the girls.

“The parents would push their daughters to run errands for the teacher, cook for the teacher,” she said. “Because they feel that if he’s a teacher, he’s reputable, so he’s good for my child.”

Ariori said a number of teachers are not aware of the formal procedures in place in the event of an incident. Each region in Ghana has a Girl’s Education Officer. There is also a teacher’s code of conduct, but Ariori said it’s not being used and not a single school was able to produce a copy.

“You wouldn’t find a uniform procedure that all schools are using,” she said. “We’re suggesting the ministry should adopt our procedures so that every school would have that process.”

That would include annual training for students and teachers on gender-based violence, a third-party – outside of the school system – where children could report incidents, as well as counselling for victims.

Ariori wants the government to implement a standardized approach and raise the number of gender-based violence incidents reported to authorities.

It has already caught the attention of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.

Sylvester Kyei-Gyemfi heads the ministry’s research and advocacy division. He said the results from the study are “thought-provoking,” and with more research it could influence government policy.

“The issues raised are so many and they are so dimensional,” he said.

“The first step is identification and once you have identified it, it tells you you need to do something.”

Ariori said it’s not just schools that need guidance. She said everyone – parents, police, the government and the community – has a role to play.

“It comes from the culture,” she said. “We have to change our way of thinking. But in time, we’ll get there.”

Beyond the 9 to 5 in an informal economy

Oct. 15

By: Carolyn Thompson



ACCRA - The trotro was full but I didn’t want to wait.

It can take half an hour for the minibuses to fill up with passengers heading to my neighbourhood on Accra’s east side from the bustling Nkrumah Circle, the city centre.

We all laughed as I squeezed onto the rickety metal seat at the back of the bus, squishing beside the trotro’s “mate” – the worker who collects fares and calls the bus stops.

“Oyiwaladoong,” I said. Thank you.

He laughed at my accent. As the trotro bumped along Ring Road, halting unsteadily and frequently with the busy traffic, Benjamin told me his story.

Benjamin used to work as an administrator in an office, but he was let go when a new manager took over. He told me finding a job is hard in Ghana. It’s even harder to find a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job in an office or for a company.

After searching for a bit, he said his only choice was to work as a trotro mate.

Benjamin is one of more than four in five Ghanaians who are working in jobs in the “informal private sector.” The number comes from a report compiled by the Ghana Statistical Institute using 2010 census data.

Only about 7 per cent of Ghanaians work in jobs in the “formal private sector” – those are jobs with an official employer, with regulated hours, with a salary, with structure. Another 8 per cent work for the government.

Most people, just like Benjamin, work informally instead.

They run shops along streets in Accra, managing their time and earning money by profiting from sales. They drive taxis or trotros, often rising early in the morning, with some working holidays and weekends. They sell pineapples or buns or fabric or colas on the street, scurrying between cars while the light is red and scattering when it turns green.

For those workers, many government regulations about employment are meaningless. Ghana’s minimum wage is GHC 5.24, about $2.60 an hour in Canadian currency. But it doesn’t apply to informal workers.

As well, the United States’ 2010 Human Rights Report on Ghana found that the minimum wage level for the formal sector was not enough to provide a decent standard of living.

“There was widespread violation of the minimum wage law in the formal sector, and there was no official minimum wage for the growing informal labor force,” the report said. “The law sets the maximum work week at 40 hours, with a break of at least 48 consecutive hours every seven days. Workers were entitled to at least 15 working days’ leave with full pay in a calendar year of continuous service or after having worked at least 200 days in a particular year. However, such provisions apply neither to task workers or domestic workers in private homes, nor elsewhere in the informal sector.”

In our Apaapa neighbourhood, even on weekends and national holidays, Olooti Street is still quietly bustling with shopkeepers who can’t afford to shut the doors, and pineapple vendors who hope a few people will come by to make a purchase.

We’ve made friends with a family at a nearby home, who sell pineapples, nuts, peppers, and water. Every day I say hello to “Princess Diana” and Grandma.

Although Ghana’s constitution outlines working rights clearly, Diana and her family and Benjamin don’t see how it applies to them.

“Every person has the right to work under satisfactory, safe and healthy conditions, and shall receive equal pay for equal work without distinction of any kind,” says the Constitution. “Every worker shall be assured of rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periods of holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays.”

But for informal workers like Benjamin and Princess Diana, that’s just not a reality yet.


Tanzanian government bans nation’s largest newspaper

Oct. 12

By: Chris Oke

DAR ES SALAAMYesterday, Tanzanian newspaper stands welcomed back an old friend: Mwananchi newspaper returned from a two-week government-imposed hiatus.

On September 27, Tanzania’s Director of Information, Assah Mwambene, announced that he would be temporarily banning the paper, because of stories intended to influence “the citizens to lose confidence in State organizations.”

One of the most widely-read newspapers in Northern Africa, Mwananchi holds over 50 per cent of the media market share in Tanzania. The paper is owned by Nation Media Group, which is based in Kenya and was founded by the Aga Khan.

Mwananchi-NewstandAll of these factors—its size, international ownership and influential benefactor—had been thought to make Mwananchi immune to government threats. This obviously wasn’t the case.

On the same day, another paper, Mtanzania, was shut down for 90 days, for writing stories that accused the government of not doing enough to prevent a recent spate of acid attacks in Zanzibar.

A third paper, Mwanahalis, is still shut down after being closed indefinitely in July 2012.

The bans are perfectly legal in Tanzania, according to its 1976 Newspaper Act, article 25 of which states that the government can prohibit the publication of any paper it sees fit, if the minister responsible feels that the ban is in the public interest.

The act is a relic of the days before Tanzania became a multi-party democracy, and many local rights groups have been lobbying for years to have the laws amended.

The government later announced that it intends to make amendments to the Act, but not the sort that rights groups were requesting. The government wants to increase the financial penalties it can levy on offending newspapers. It made no mention of removing article 25.

In the original statement issued by the Director of Information Services, the government stated that the forced closures were “due to their trend of publishing news stories and articles that provoke incitement and hostility, with the intention of influencing the citizens to lose confidence in State organizations, and thus endanger the peace and cohesion that prevails in the country.”

As examples, the government cited a story about government salaries, which had been based on leaked information. Another story blamed for the ban concerned police providing increased security at local mosques, which the government felt was insulting to Tanzanian Muslims.

However, many believe the ban to be based on other subjects.

The nation is in the process of drafting a new constitution. Mwananchi has been giving voice to complaints about the process from opposition parties, as well as the disgruntled chairperson of the Constitutional Review Committee.

Originally, Mwananchi planned to continue publishing its online edition, but was told to stop on October 1, under threat of further sanctions.

The paper claims to have lost over 400 million shillings (over $250,000) during the ban. But it was the journalists who were the hardest hit. The majority of Mwananchi contributors work as “correspondents” and only get paid per story.

Then there are the legion of printers, distributors and vendors who get the paper into onto the streets everyday—poorly paid people who went without a paycheque for two weeks.

These are tough times for journalists in Tanzania, and not just because of government censorship. Journalists are often threatened with physical violence. And a year ago, Channel Ten reporter Daudi Mwangosi was brutally beaten and murdered by police after covering a political rally.

Despite it all, journalists have remained defiant. Earlier this week, media groups issued a joint-statement that they would be boycotting the Minister of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports as well as the Director of Information Services.

Any events organized or attended by either of these individuals will not be covered anywhere in Tanzanian media.


When one human right trumps another: Water vs. property rights

by Teri Fikowski

Devota Lyimo stands in front of her property in Dar Es Salaam where spray paint marks the construction location for a water pipeline.
Devota Lyimo stands in front of her property in Dar Es Salaam where spray paint marks the construction location for a water pipeline.

Imagine two men knock on your door one morning and tell you they are pushing your property line back four meters. No consent, no compensation, and no discussion. They return two months later and announce they’re taking another seven meters of land.

That’s the situation for Devota Lyimo and her family living in Salasala, Dar Es Salaam. They’re among hundreds of residents living between the city and Bagamoyo who claim their property rights are being violated for an ongoing pipeline project.

The Dar Es Salaam Urban Water and Sewage Authority kicked off construction on a 56-kilometer Bagamoyo – Dar Es Salaam water pipeline in April, 2013. The goal is to replace the current three-decade old pipeline, in place since 1976, that’s riddled with leaks and aging equipment. The current line provides around 300 million liters of water a day to the city which doesn’t meet the daily demand of 450 million liters. The new line promises the ability to pump 700 million liters of water a day to the city in hopes of shortening the gap of water demand and water deficiencies.

Needless to say the project is one of good intentions and necessity.The problem for many is the pipeline’s path.

Many residents’ homes lay within the projects blue prints and claim they're loosing land or homes all together.

“One day it’s four meters. Then it’s seven. When will it stop? Maybe next it will be our home,” Lyimo worries. And her fear is only a stone throw away. Several of her neighbors have a large red “X” spray-painted on their houses marking their eviction.

Blue and red spray-paint marks notice for many residents living within 15 meters of a future Bagamoyo - Dar Es Salaam water pipeline.
Blue and red spray-paint marks notice for many residents living within 15 meters of a future Bagamoyo - Dar Es Salaam water pipeline.

“I’ve invested my whole life to my home. If they take it, I will have zero. I will have nowhere to go. Nothing,” she adds.

Lyimo and her neighbors don’t deny the water pipeline is crucial for the growing population in Dar Es Salaam. In fact they support the initiative to bring the resource within 50 meters of each street in the city, having a lack of water access themselves. But they are criticizing the lack of public consolation, information, and compensation.

However, according to reports on several occasions government and DAWASA officials have stated residents whose property lies 15 meters within the pipeline’s path have been informed and fairly compensated to clear way for construction.

Residents like Lyimo claim they've received no prior knowledge about the project and believe holding a community forum isn’t asking too much before vacating people from their property.

“That’s why we’re doing this now, we don’t understand. It’s already started and people don’t tell us anything” Lyimo shares.

The Kikodoni street chairman promises to bring residents concerns forward in order to find a fair compromise between the need for the pipeline project and residents property rights.

One thing everyone seems to agree upon is water needs to go to Dar Es Salaam. Ensuring citizen’s rights are respected in order to do so is proving to be another battle all together.

The project’s expected completion date is set for March of next year.


A Safe House in Tanzania

by Adam Bemma

ARUSHA, Tanzania – Welcome to Pippi House. Karibu sana. Please feel at home. This is Tanzania’s only safe house for abused and homeless girls, founded in 2011 by Aristides Nshange.

After spending five years establishing a place for street kids in Arusha, Watoto (kids) Foundation, Nshange felt it was an unjust policy to only allow boys into the program while leaving girls out in the cold.

“I decided to start another project in order to support girls because I found out there was a big need of supporting girls living on the streets,” he says.

During Nshange’s outreach in the community, the social worker came into contact with two homeless girls in Arusha. He consulted his wife and they agreed to house them temporarily until they could find them a safe place to live. When he couldn’t find anything, he realized his calling and decided to start Pippi House. A place for these, and other girls, to call home.

“I’m supporting them with mine and my wife’s salary,” he says. “We decided we’d try to support these girls as long as we can by ourselves.”

Pippi Foundation for Girls is now a certified non-governmental organization (NGO) in Tanzania. Pippi House has 18 girls living together in Arusha. According to Nshange, the girls come from all over the country and range in age from 13 to 24. The oldest at Pippi House has two children of her own, a four-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy.

“It’s incredible how safe and happy the girls are here,” says Cindy Paisio, an Australian counsellor who works with the girls, trying to heal the physical and emotional scars. “Most of the girls here were forced into prostitution or beaten and abused by their employers.”

Nshange says many Tanzanian girls begin working at a young age as domestic servants, cleaning and cooking for wealthier families. When they are no longer needed for house work, sometimes they are put out in the street with nowhere else to go, as their kin no longer want them back, so they end up in vulnerable situations.

The Tanzania director of Girls Foundation, an American-run organization providing educational opportunities for adolescent Tanzanian girls, Gwyneth Hesser, believes there’s no other place like Pippi House.

“Most of the girls Pippi supports were former housegirls who had run away after being physically or sexually abused and ended up on the streets,” she says. “Some of them were sent by their families to work as housegirls at such a young age that they no longer even remembered the names of their villages, or how to locate their families.”

Family reconciliation is a priority for Pippi House. But Nshange admits not many families are eager to take their girls back, so all of them remain at Pippi House for an indefinite amount of time. When asked about their living conditions, the girls say they feel as if they’re a part of a family again. A 22-year-old living at Pippi House is even going back to primary school, taking classes with 10-year-old kids.

“When the girls first came here they didn’t know how to read or how to write,” Nshange says. “Here we give them a chance to continue their education.”

An old adage says it takes a village to raise a child, but at Pippi House, it takes a safe home and family environment to instill confidence in abused girls. Nshange hopes to see each girl become a healthy, educated young woman. He’s now looking for funds to keep the doors at Pippi House open and the project sustainable for the long-term.

Karibu tena,” he says. Come back again soon.


Tackling Development in Tanzania

by Adam Bemma

ARUSHA, Tanzania -- As a boy growing up in Tanzania, Juma Kittyler never gave the game of rugby much thought. In fact, he didn't quite understand the sport until his teenage years. Most African youth grow up playing soccer, or football as it's known across the continent.

At 19, Kittyler was asked to play a rugby match with some friends and he instantly fell in love with the sport. By the time he reached his twenties, Kittyler began playing for the national team, the Tanzania Twigas, where he's since competed internationally 15 times.

"Rugby gave me the confidence to do well in school and succeed in life," he says. "It also taught me sportsmanship and team work."

A chef by trade, the now 30-year-old Kittyler decided to try his hand at coaching at-risk kids rugby not long after moving to Arusha from Mwanza, his home city.

In 2009, he founded Arusha Rugby Development Programme (ARDP). Kittyler now trains local kids, teachers and parents on the benefits of playing rugby, all while working as a P.E. (physical education) instructor at an international school on the outskirts of Arusha.

Juma Kittyler on the sidelines
ARDP founder Juma Kittyler with at-risk kids at Arusha school.

"It's a great game," he says. "I wanted to use my knowledge of the sport to help those less fortunate."

After hearing about the work Kittyler is doing training youth to play the game he loves, Lewis Patience came to Tanzania from Scotland to provide support to ARDP and other Arusha sports programs.

As a trustee of Yes! Tanzania - Youth Empowerment through Sport - Patience  works alongside Kittyler training youth how to play rugby. Every weekend the pair spend a few hours with students from the Arusha school on Fire Road in town.

Kittyler and Patience stand side-by-side watching the kids practice on a sunny Saturday afternoon. As Kittyler blows his whistle to stop the action, Patience remarks how far ARDP has come over the last four years.

"Juma shows commitment and dedication to the sport," he says. "He's also inclusive by allowing girls to compete alongside the boys."

Lewis with ARDP kids

Yes! Tanzania trustee Lewis Patience helps Kittyler teach ARDP kids.

Girls ranging in ages from six to 14 participate regularly in ARDP practice sessions, according to Kittyler. In the Arusha school match, girls make up the majority of kids in the field playing on this specific afternoon.

"I like rugby," one young girl says as she catches the ball near the sidelines.

For Kittyler, his rugby program is all about changing the lives of disadvantaged youth around Arusha. He hopes to expand ARDP to other parts of the country to reach youth all over Tanzania.

"In the future I was thinking about renaming ARDP to Tanzania Youth Rugby," he says.

Rossa O'Donnell is project manager at Playing for Life, an Irish aid organization dedicated to helping children in Tanzania. O'Donnell just finished a trip to Arusha, where he donated 20 rugby balls, t-shirts, cones and water bottles from an Irish rugby club to ARDP.

"I believe rugby has the potential to bring a form of discipline and objective to the lives of Tanzanian kids," O'Donnell says."It can allow them to gain an enormous amount of self-confidence and it can result in what I have seen on the playing field, older players passing on the skills of the game to the younger players."

According to Kittyler, rugby is growing faster in Arusha than anywhere else in Tanzania. Unfortunately in Africa, rugby isn't a very popular sport amongst youth, excluding South Africa of course, where it's the national sport.

"The game will take time to grow on the continent, but I hope to see it become as popular here as it is in South Africa," he says. "All I'm trying to do is give kids a chance to play rugby, then it's up to them if they want to pursue it further."


Ghana’s police division unequipped to aid victims of domestic abuse by Jessica M. Campbell

Dasaah by Jessica Campbell

Elizabeth Dasaah, national secretariat for the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), points to what is supposed to be unit's National Crisis Response Centre, an essential location in Accra to aid victims of domestic abuse. Instead, the building sits unused and unfinished for it's fourth year. 

Most people move forward to find solutions to problems. But Elizabeth Dasaah looks back.  

 Sitting at her desk at the police headquarters in Accra, the national secretariat for the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), tells my colleague and I why the division, established in 2009 to specifically service Ghana’s abused, is struggling. 

 “We need more staff,” she says.  

In 2012, Ghanaians reported over 15,000 cases of domestic abuse to DOVVSU, which is an increase of 3,000 claims from 2011. Dasaah says the unit responded in 2013 by hiring 50 additional psychologists to their team of about 500 people. Meaning, in theory, each staff member adheres to 30 cases each year. 

“But our biggest challenge is office accommodation,” says Dasaah. Adding, it’s one reason they have a limited number of employees. They don’t have room to house any more staff. 

She stands from her chair and turns around. Drawing the curtain, she points outside to what is supposed to be DOVVSU’s National Crisis Response Centre. A building the unit started constructing in 2009 to be the main location where victims can report their cases of abuse in Accra.

 But as it stands now, both figuratively and physically, the building serves only as a reminder to Dasaah that her unit is not equipped to help Ghana’s victims of domestic violence. Nearly four years later and it sits unfinished and unused, just concrete stacked on concrete right behind Dasaah’s office. 

“We need more resources,” she says. “We need external support.” 

The centre has 31 rooms by design, which will make up cells to detain abusers, as well as, offices for psychologists, Dasaah adds. 

“Usually the challenge for us has been how confidential and private the cases have been handled,” says Wendy Abbey, the executive director at the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) in Accra, a group that provides free legal aid to Ghana’s abused, oversees their trials in court, and also, accompanies victims to DOVVSU when filing their claims. “That environment of comfort, that environment of ensuring confidentiality is absent.”

 Abbey says there are usually multiple DOVVSU officers in an office at a time, regardless of a victim’s presence. 

 More funding can also provide DOVVSU officers with vehicles so they can improve response time to the crime scenes, says Dasaah. Which, none have at the moment. 

 But, while DOVVSU looks for resources to better equip them externally, the unit has internal issues needing attention.  

“We need to standardize our approach,” says Dasaah, as she explains her employees have no regimented or systematic protocol when dealing with the abused. The unit’s current tactics, she adds, are “not measurable.”

Which is a worry to people like Abbey at the HRAC. 

The group conducted a study on spousal murder last year, another increasing statistic in Ghana. The group found that there is a link between domestic abuse and spousal murder, the more extreme the abuse, the more likely it will end in murder.  

“The abuse builds up to the point you would have a murder,” says Abbey. “It’s sort of like the worst form of domestic violence that can ever happen to anybody in a domestic relationship.” 

With a surplus of cases, limited staff, and no systematic protocols, it’s these more serious, life-threatening cases of abuse DOVVSU might inadvertently overlook. 

 “Along the lines they [DOVVSU] drop the cases,” says Adowa Yeboah, one of the 104 lawyers at the HRAC that aids the abused. “They [the abused] always tell us we have been there [DOVVSU] already and nothing is happening.”

The HRAC’s 2012 study says there have been 53 spousal murders in Ghana since 2010. Six were male, the rest female. This year, there have been five spouses murdered since May. According to the study, the country’s average is 24 per annum. 

 DOVVSU is currently working on developing standardized procedures and training manuals for its staff when dealing with victims, says Dasaah. 


Hand in marriage for an “upper hand” by Jessica M. Campbell

Michael OpokuGyeb Shows off his student visa

Michael Opoku Gyebi Shows off his student visa-photo Jessica Campbell


“Sssstttt. Sssstttt.” I looked back. 

Hissing is socially acceptable in Ghana. Unlike in Canada, a forceful push of breath through open lips and locked teeth gets you service, not a dirty look. Intended targets are often cab drivers, street hawkers, waiters or waitresses.

But, even though I don’t roam the streets of Accra, the country’s capital, driving a taxi or selling goods, I get “sttt’d” at all the time. My supposed “service” is valued, and noticed primarily by Ghanaian men.

As common the hissing, this particular punter came as a surprise. He ran towards me dressed in uniform. A helmet on his head, tall black boots on his feet, and a gun strapped to his back. “Am I in trouble?” 

Far from it. 

“Obruni, I want to marry you,” the policeman said. Obruni is the Ghanaian term for a person from outside of Africa, usually white.

This was my fifth proposal. That day, I mean. And all asked before hearing me speak. The policeman’s ticket number, issued by me and not him, and his disregard for his supposed authoritative role, marked this as a watershed moment. 

Reasonable visa process

It’s when I started investigating why some Ghanaian men obsess over marrying not me, but the colour of my skin. I initially assumed it had to do with border regulations. Rigid protocols might make marrying an obruni the easiest way to travel beyond Africa. I made my way to the Canadian High Commission to confirm my suspicions.

There, Michael Opoku Gyebi, 21, was nearly in tears after a man handed him his passport through the pick-up window. He dropped it off two weeks earlier in hopes of getting a student visa to study accounting at the University of British Columbia come September. He wasn’t sure if the Commission approved him when he left his house that morning. 

“I’m just excited,” he said, staring closely at the keypad on his cellphone to compensate for his trembling hands trying to dial home. “My dad is going to be so happy.”

Although meticulous, he said the process to get his visa was reasonable. He had to verify his school’s acceptance, and that his family can financially support his education. He spent CND$125 on an affidavit to confirm the above information.

His medical exam, about CND$100, had to confirm he is in good health. This included an x-ray of his chest and blood tests. Finally, he paid his CND$150 application fee when handing over his passport for a multi-entry visa. Single entry is CND$65.

U.S. universities also accepted Gyebi for admission. “I chose Canada because I know it is peaceful,” he said after being told by friends already studying across North America. They also value Canada’s education system, he said. “It’s practical.” Gyebi wants to return to Ghana to run his family’s road construction business when he completes his degree in four years.

Like Gyebi, other Ghanaians stood in line at the Commission waiting to retrieve their passports. Aside from the common grumble about paperwork, all had positive feedback on Canada’s visa application process.

Anthony Teye, accompanying his brother applying for a visa, said he has already been to Canada three times: “I didn’t go through any hassle.” A few years ago, he obtained a single entry visa to attend a conference on water management in Ottawa. “It was approved the same day,” he said.

Teye has also been to the U.S. and said he prefers the Canadian application process. In-person interviews are mandatory for U.S. visas, unlike the Canadian system.

“I usually don’t compare apples with oranges, so I take a country on its own” said Teye, who has been interviewed for both countries’ visas. “But the U.S., sometimes they don’t really want to listen to you and look at your actual circumstances. They base their decision on how they feel. I find the Canadian interview to be much friendlier because the questions were related to personal issues.”

Despite this subtle difference, both processes are quite similar and fair, said Teye.

“White is better than black”

Evidently, you don’t need to marry an obruni to travel to Canada or the U.S. Not knowing what I was still missing, I swallowed my pride and headed to Ghana’s Immigration Service to interview the head of public affairs, Francis Palmdeti, the next day. We shared a laugh when I told him about my investigation. 

But, his response wasn’t as funny.

“A black man’s fascination is a result of seeing a white lady as of a certain prestigious level,” Palmdeti said. “To have a white woman is of ultimate status. He thinks that white is better than black.”

This outlook, stemming from the country’s demoralizing involvement in the slave trade centuries ago and now perpetuated by poor education, is specific to certain “social circles,” said Palmdeti: “It has to do with upbringing.” A lot of “unpolished” men believe in myths about obrunis, he said, they think white women come to Ghana looking for husbands. 


I would almost rather my potential fiancés be motivated by unrealistic visa processes. They’re a lot easier to remedy than individual mentalities on race.

But, realistically, tighter border controls would only further perpetrate the problem, as travel is a part of the solution. 

Sitting at his desk in his military-like uniform, Palmdeti’s face lit up when I told him my nationality. “My wife wants to move to Canada!” he said.

And seeing she has visited Canada and is married to a Ghanaian, it’s not to find a white man. It’s because every time she returns from Canada she raves about how friendly people are and how everyone there is treated equally, Palmdeti said.

Perhaps something she wouldn’t have learned without travelling there, and now something I aim to show my hissers during my travels here. How a person is valued should never be based on race. 

“For me, if I were to settle with a white lady, I must love her. I should find qualities in her that I wish to spend the rest of my life with,” said Palmdeti. Closed borders won’t let my hissers realize that, but an increase in cross-cultural interaction might. 


Democracy in Tanzania, the next chapter


Chadema truck
Soweto grounds in Kaloleni (Arusha) where the June 15, 2013 bombing at a Chadema rally killed four people.| Photo by Adam Bemma


By Adam Bemma

ARUSHA, Tanzania -- Once a beacon of stability in a region of turmoil, Tanzania is an emerging economy with serious democratic flaws.

On the heels of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the East African nation, many Tanzanians are left wondering how American investment will benefit the country. According to the White House, Obama came to Africa to promote democracy and good governance, but it seems improving trade relations between the U.S. and Tanzania was his number one priority.

Tanzania is rich in natural resources and critics are saying Obama's visit was just an attempt to counter China's growing influence in the region. Three months ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Tanzania to shore up support for many projects, including the natural gas pipeline from Mtwara, in the south of Tanzania, to Dar es Salaam, the country's most populous city.

This Chinese-funded project sparked a furor in a long-neglected region. Mtwara residents attacked government CCM party offices in the area and fought open street battles with police and Tanzanian security forces, causing many fatalities.

Over the span of five weeks, two bombs ripped apart the northern region of Arusha causing chaos and confusion. Known as a stronghold for the political opposition party Chadema, Tanzania's diplomatic hub was once called "The Geneva of Africa" by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Now Arusha is internationally known for violence, as the latest bombing killed four people at a Chadema rally the day before expected district by-elections (since postponed to July 14, 2013).

Here are the facts about Tanzania: World Bank data states the population is 47.78 million. Life expectancy is 58 years and the infant mortality rate is 45 per 1,000 births. Literacy is at 72.9 per cent, according to 2012 figures. Definitely the statistics of a developing African country.

If Obama was in Tanzania to promote democracy and good governance, he should have been alerted to these recent violent episodes and raised concern with President Jakaya Kikwete personally.

The ruling CCM party (Chama cha Mapinduzi, or Party of the Revolution) has been in power since gaining independence from Britain in 1962 and the political unification of mainland Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. The CCM was born out of the merger of TANU (Tanganyika African National Union) and Zanzibar's ASP (Afro-Shirazi Party). That's half of a century of one party rule. Tanzania's first-ever democratic, multi-party election only took place in 1995.

Fast forward to 2013 and the Global Peace Index (GPI) compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) ranks Tanzania 55th out of 162 nations in the world according to its political stability and general all-around peacefulness. The best ranking in East Africa.

The global think tank along with The Economist magazine's intelligence unit have been tracking peace around the world for this report since 2007. The GPI goes on to state that "'longstanding leaders are often accompanied by a marginalization of opposition parties: deprived of the opportunity to change leadership via the ballot box, populations will turn instead to more violent means."

Tanzania's president has been the head of state since 2005 and looks due to step aside before the next election in 2015, unlike some other East African leaders. So the future seems optimistic for Tanzania, right?

Well, there's a little matter which one party states must always try to tackle, but is never able to, and that's corrruption. Transparency International, which measures corruption around the world, states Tanzania's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index is a meager 35 out of 100, which is extremely low and the nation places 102 out of 176 countries ranked in the study. Control of corruption is also on a downward trend according to its 2010 data.

If Obama wanted to help democracy flourish in Tanzania, he should have been briefed by one of America's oldest human rights monitoring groups, Freedom House.

The Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House ranked Tanzania's democracy as only "partly free" while the 2012 Democracy Index labels the country a "hybrid regime" tying it with Guatemala and Singapore at 81 out of 167 countries (North Korea being the last).

Not great company for Tanzania to be in at all. But what's next for the emerging economy?

A political shift seems to be happening in the country with more people openly supporting the opposition party Chadema despite attacks. Recently, long-time Tanzanian hip hop artist Professor Jay switched allegiances and left the governing CCM for Chadema.

According to a 2011 youth-led research study in Tanzania by the London, U.K.-based advocacy group Restless Development, the East African country has the tenth largest youth population globally. 47 per cent of the population are under 15-years-old and 66 per cent are under the age of 25. These staggering statistics show a burgeoning youth population hungry for change in Tanzania.

The opposition Chadema party's Arusha-based youth organizer, Nanyaro Ephata, has been capitalizing on disaffected youth, encouraging them to join the party.

"The rise of Chadema started in the 2010 general election," Ephata said. "We invested in youth as they are the main changers. Youth are the nation of today."

In a country of rulers instead of leaders, Obama must return to Tanzania and spend time encouraging peaceful, democratic development instead of focusing on trade, oblivious to the change happening in the country. Many Tanzanian youth look up to the U.S. president and not acknowledging them was a serious error.

But Obama did once say: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the one's we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."


The many faces of Tanzania

Shukuro Paulo sitting in his office. | Photo by Ashley Koen

By Ashley Koen

The temperature was stifling, as most afternoons in Tanzania tend to be. I looked up for some relief and sure enough the ceiling fan was spinning away, barely shifting the air in the small office of St. Augustine University of Tanzania’s (SAUT) very own Legal and Human Rights Centre.

I flipped open my notebook and faced the humble man in charge of it all: meet Shukuro Paulo.

St. Augustine’s main campus is located in Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city and part of the Lake Zone region, which is known throughout the country as a hotbed for human rights abuses, often making headlines for witchcraft, albinism and FGM (female genital mutilation).

In meeting Paulo, I realized that Mwanza is not simply a place on the map that produces these atrocities; it is also a place where passionate local people are making a difference.

After graduating from SAUT, Paulo felt that there was a critical need for educational and legal resources in his community.

The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) was established in 2006 as a response to the rise in human rights violations within the Lake Zone, particularly the increase in the killings of elderly women in association with witchcraft. 

The 2012 Tanzania Human Rights Report indicates that in 2012 alone, 630 elderly persons have been killed in connection to witchcraft allegations.

He told me that the goal of the centre is to “stimulate public debate and provide civic education to promote human rights and good governance in Tanzania, particularly in the Lake Zone regions by providing human rights based education to members of society and to those in positions of influence and pedagogy to become local leaders and establish the pillars of good governance”.

And how does he do this?

Through initiatives like Radio SAUT, a student-run radio station on campus operated by mass communication students. Once a week, Radio SAUT and the LHRC host a live program focusing on regional human rights issues.  

Like a large majority of Sub-Saharan Africa, radio is king.

Radio transcends the barriers of cost, geographical boundaries and low literacy skills, allowing the facilitation of political debate and encouraging listeners to engage with the challenges of everyday life in the country.

SAUT’s radio program takes an informative and educational stance to address and discuss local human rights issues. After an on-air discussion the program invites the audience to participate by calling or texting in their questions, views and opinions. The program has featured fundamental topics that are rarely discussed in rural settings, such as the right to health care in Tanzania, the basic rights guaranteed by the Tanzanian constitution, and the role of the media in a democratic country.

The station’s success was strongly displayed during the 2010 general election, when they opened up the airwaves as a public forum for parties to discuss their platforms. The opposition accepted and the ruling party declined. Three months before the election, the radio’s airwaves were banned on ‘political grounds’ by a letter issued from the ruling party, which is not uncommon practice with Tanzania’s lack of press freedom.

Yet their efforts still managed to produce an impact. Two days before the election Radio SAUT went back on air and for the first time in their local constituency, the opposition party was elected as a majority. This example is huge in a country that has only had one party in power since independence.

In my time as a media rights trainer in Tanzania, I have become increasingly aware of the complexities of the rural regions of the country. I asked Paulo what he thought the sources of human rights violations to be in the Lake Zone region.

He said that it basically came down to four factors: economic hardship, environmental background, and a lack of social knowledge and civic responsibility. Often times, those who are responsible for the killings are hired for money and cannot turn down the income. Those who grew up in tough environmental conditions are governed by survival instincts, above moral compassion. Lastly, as always, it comes down to knowledge and education. The social stigmas that inform animosity are a product of a tradition of misinformation and discrimination.

There are many faces of Tanzania, and of Africa. As human beings, we are naturally drawn to destruction: the faces of abuse, corruption and poverty. But there are many others that exist alongside these portrayals, ones that do not simplify an image of Africa but diversify it. Sometimes in the face of adversity, these are the faces worth looking for.

Africa Without Maps

  • There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

    Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada's Youth International Internship Program.