Dead, Again, in Ghana


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All summer, Ghana’s capital, Accra, swirled with rumors of John Atta Mills’s ill health and death. The Ghanian president was rarely seen in public, except when a Nigerian cargo plane crash-landed in early June at the airport in Accra, killing 10 people.

After Mr. Mills toured the site, he retreated from public view, leaving his vice president, John Dramani Mahama, to attend public functions.

In barbershops and at roadside chop bars, and even on Facebook, speculation that he was near death was rife, much to the chagrin of his media team who quickly called local journalists to the airport to see him off on a previously unscheduled trip to New York. The photo-op, in which Mr. Mills declared he was not dead, only fueled the fire.

Still, Ghana’s minister for information, Fritz Baffour, told Rendezvous late last month that Mr. Mill’s health was fine except for the normal aches and pains of an aging former athlete.

“He has all the problems of old jocks,” the aide said. “He’s going into a very torturous circuit of campaigning. There’s no cause for alarm.” He attributed the rumors to political opponents. At the end of June, after a 10-trip consulting with doctors in New York, Mr. Mills jogged off a Delta Airlines flight into throngs of supporters, the picture of health. Then, on Tuesday came the news that he had lost a battle with throat cancer.

His untimely death isn’t likely to throw the country into a crisis, but in the months ahead its democratic institutions will be tested.

The fear in Ghana is that chaos could reign in a way that was averted four years ago, when Mr. Mills — who was known for his peaceful stabilizing influence — won the presidency by a razor-thin margin after a hard-fought campaign.One of his nicknames was “King of Peace,” and he wasn’t an aggressive, in-your-face- politician. That played a role in the effort to keep the country from falling into the kind of post-election clashes that have occurred in other countries in the region.

Mr. Mills, 68, was to have run for re-election this December against the same person he narrowly beat in 2008, Nana Akufo-Addo. He had secured the nomination of his party, the National Democratic Congress, to run for a second term, after beating back a primary challenge by a popular former first lady, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings. Ms. Agyemang-Rawlings and her husband, Jerry, were once staunch Mills supporters. Mr. Mills once served as a vice president to Mr. Rawlings. But recently, the Rawlings turned against him, accusing his team of mismanagement.

While Mr. Mills handily defeated the former first lady in the primaries, analysts have told reporters that they expect her to claim an automatic nomination now that he has died. But not everyone is keen on another Rawlings leading Ghana.

Alban Bagbin, Ghana’s health minister and a member of the NDC legal team, told Reuters the party will hold an extraordinary meeting to select a new candidate, including other high-profile leaders who may not have wanted to challenge Mr. Mills.

Mr. Mills oversaw the transformation of Ghana into an oil exporting country. He worked out a controversial $3-billion loan from China to speed up infrastructure development and secured a $600-million three-year loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2009. During his tenure, the Ghanaian currency, the cedi, lost value.

Mr. Mills was also somewhat of a darling to the United States. President Barack Obama visited Ghana in 2009 to show support for Mr. Mills and invited him to the White House, Camp David and the G20 summit in Chicago this year. He hailed him as a “strong advocate for human rights and for the fair treatment of all Ghanians.”

Mr. Akufo-Addo, who was already campaigning against Mr. Mills, and is also quite popular, has a significant head start on whoever his eventual opponent will be in December. Part of his summer was spent traveling and meeting world leaders.Other candidates could be John Dramani Mahama, 53, Mr. Mills’s vice president, who was sworn in as president hours after Mr. Mills’s death.

If Mr. Mahama is a candidate, he won’t have the luxury of time to show how he differs from Mr. Mills as some other vice presidents who succeeded their fallen principals have.  Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as president in 2010 after Umaru Yar’Adua died. And Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika and Guinea’s Malam Bacai Sanha died in office this year after proclaiming their health was fine.

Ghana, with its population or 24 million, remains one of the more stable countries in West Africa. A major cocoa producer, it has had a good record of power changing hands peacefully. Many will look to see if that tradition continues this year.

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African Style Goes Global, Despite Little Tangible Support From African Leaders

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ACCRA, Ghana — Every day on the downtown streets of Accra, debonair men and fashionable women can be seen proudly attired in Western-style skirts, shirts and slacks, all made from African prints by local tailors.

In recent years, local designers created ready-to-wear outfits with these prints. But today the quintessential British fashion emporium, Burberry, has taken similar patterns and built a collection in stores that takes “Accra style” global.

The prints and fabrics ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa have long inspired European and American high fashion, but Burberry’s Prorsum collection is the most prominent.

Ironically, this African design moment comes at a time when Ghana has gone from having 44 textile manufacturers to just four, employing a scant 2,500 people down from about 30,000.

In an interview with Italian Vogue, Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, said, “I really believe in the textile industry and I’m firmly convinced it can revitalize the country. Ghana is totally open to fashion, which is part of our history, and I think there’s a lot of untapped talent in this country. We need to return to the golden years.”

The golden years have been eroded by prints now made in China with Ghanaian patterns.

“We have very strict laws that impede the Chinese from bringing cotton fabrics into our country with Ghanaian patterns printed in China. If we find them, they are burned at the border,” Mr. Mills said before having his photo taken for Vogue.

The current May-June edition of L’Uomo Vogue is entirely dedicated to African fashion and also includes an interview and photo spread with Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Mr. Jonathan understands the power of images and was happy to tout his efforts at re-branding Nigeria to the magazine: “You know our designers. They’re talented and very creative.”

Indeed, Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos, hosts an exciting fashion week, even though it lacks substantial government support and is bedeviled by power failures and other infrastructure challenges.

Last March, Lagos Fashion Week provided an international platform for local talent and lured the Ghanaian designer Ozwald Boateng to Africa from his Saville Row outpost in London.

As the IHT’s Suzy Menkes noted recently, designers around the continent are leaping into fashion’s mainstream with quality and creativity. If harnessed properly, they have the potential to spark huge economic growth in these countries.

For continental designers to go global, they have to toot their own horns loudly and hope someone hears. This is exactly what has been going on for the past three days in Soweto, South Africa’s famous township outside Johannesburg.

The organizer of Soweto Fashion Week, Stephen Manzini, 23, raised about $7,500 for a bare-bones operation showcasing 16 designers, some inspired by Nelson Mandela’s pre-inaugaration wardrobe.

“We refused to be stopped because we don’t have funding,” Mr. Manzini told The Associated Press.

It was local fashion showcases like these that caught the eye of Theo Omambala, a former model whose Ubuntu International project showcased smaller Ugandan, South African and Nigerian designers during the 2011 and 2012 London Fashion Weeks.

Organizers say a new initiative, dubbed Theo’s Vision: La Haute Culture (TVLHC), aims to repeat that, but this time in New York, expanded to designers from various countries.

Last year larger designers and jewelers from Nigeria got exposure to buyers and retailers worldwide when they were spotlighted at the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week in a “Made in Africa” segment sponsored by Arise magazine.

Yet, despite appearances by West African leaders in Vogue, and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, appealing for support of African designers, there seems little chance of an effort from Ghana and Nigeria to push local talent onto the world stage — or even to commit to creating an international shopping hub in Abuja, Lagos or Accra.

Something akin to Los Angeles’s Rodeo Drive, or Paris’s Avenue Montaigne. A destination where boutiques can feature high-end local and foreign designers, the ones fashionable wealthy Nigerians wear.

Neither West African president made any tangible promises to Africa’s designers before smiling for the cameras. To see more and leave a comment click here.

Ghana’s Growing Gay Pride Faces Now-Familiar Evangelical Backlash



August 30 2011

By Frankie Edozien

On particular midweek nights, throngs of men and women gather at a few particular clubs to dance the night away to pulsating beats, and sometimes live music. The men dance provocatively close to each other, with reckless abandon. The few women around do the same with each other. Kisses are even exchanged.

At seaside dance parties where beer and reggae flow to all and sundry, it’s no longer uncommon for men and women in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, to test the waters and try to pick up companions of the same sex. Even in conservative Ghana, it seems that gays and lesbians are taking steps out in the public domain, at least at night.

But like elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, a backlash to that new openness has erupted as well. Since late May, it has spilled out onto the radio. Hours are spent debating whether gays should be allowed to exist here. Then Ghanaians wake up to national headlines screaming that gays and lesbians are dirty and sinful and ought to be locked up.

The pattern is becoming a familiar one throughout sub-Saharan Africa. As evangelical Christianity has seen its fastest growth on the continent, gay communities have simultaneously grown more open. The parallel developments have led to a growing list of countries in which politicians and media outlets have both incited and exploited social panic around sexuality. In the late 1990s, a beleaguered Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe drew global attention as he invited violence against gay people and blamed the country’s growing troubles on the European deprivation he said they symbolized. Since then, similar moments have struck in places stretching across the continent. Most recently, Uganda has been embroiled in controversy over a proposed law that would, among other things, allow the death penalty as a punishment for homosexuality. The authors of that law are closely tied to the U.S. religious right.

Now, this West African nation is having its own gay-dialogue moment and, once again, much of it has been unsavory, with religious leaders and some politicians stoking the flames.

“Gay bashing had never been a feature of the Ghanaian social landscape until, oh, I would say the last 10-15 years. And it came with the evangelical Christians,” says Nat Amartefio, 67, a historian, lifelong resident and former mayor of Accra.

“It’s these evangelicals who are looking for Satan everywhere, in everybody’s drawers, who have created this specter of an expanding gay universe. In all fairness, maybe they see things that those of us who are not involved cannot see. But they are the ones who are driving this hysteria,” Amartefio adds.

The recent hysteria began when a front-page article in the Daily Graphic, Ghana’s largest circulation newspaper, claimed that organizations doing health work in two regions had “registered” 8,000 gays—many supposedly infected with HIV. The claim was taken from a participant in a workshop for health workers to assist them in dealing with patients with sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV. The U.S. government, through its Agency for International Development, sponsored the training.

Religious leaders took to the radio to denounce the gays and ask the government to intervene, with one cleric saying he didn’t want Almighty Allah to destroy Africa. The Bureau of National Intelligence claimed it was investigating, and one Presbyterian leader branded gays as “unbiblical, un-African, abnormal and filthy.”

Each week in June brought a slew of new headlines with one legislator, David Tetteh warning that gays could be lynched like robbers.

”You cannot trace this act to any of the settings in Ghana. So this is foreign and I am I saying that Ghanaians cherish our culture a lot so for anybody to adulterate the cultural setting in Ghana … I have the fear that people could take the law into their hands in future and deal with this people drastically,” he suggested to a local journalist.

The “un-African” claim has recurred in each anti-gay backlash that’s hit the content, despite mounds of historical research showing that, in fact, gay and lesbian people have been part of many African cultures for centuries. Rather, homophobia was imported with European colonialism—and today’s growth in evangelical Christianity. Amartefio and other noted Ghanaian intellectuals have pointed out that gay men have been in the society from time immemorial and are sometimes referred to as ‘Kodjo Besia.’

Despite the rhetoric, Amartefio believes the moment will pass quietly. He doesn’t expect a “kill the gays” bill like what was proposed in Uganda. “I don’t believe it will lead to an open pogrom. There just are so many gays in this society who are in all walks of life, in all stations of society who don’t draw any attention because nobody is looking out for them.”

But the daily newspapers trumpeted a different perspective—the voices of those most virulently opposed to sexual freedom. Breda Atta-Quayson, a Daily Graphic deputy editor who wrote many of the headlines that had “Homos” in bold type, says the paper has no anti-gay agenda but wants the issue discussed openly.

“Unfortunately the stories we are getting are the ‘negative’ ones. But it’s not that we are putting it there because we are anti-gay,” he told “That is why we have refrained from even writing editorials. We wanted it to be in the public domain for discussion.”

Nana Banyin Dadson, a senior editor at Graphic Communications, adds that interest is high. “Editors are supposed to have a pulse of readership. It is what is strange that sells. It’s strange because this is the first time that it has come up as a subject of discussion openly.”

Against the onslaught from the religious leaders in the media, however, very few voices for LGBT rights could be heard.

One popular radio journalist, Ato Kwamena Dadzie, spoke out and devoted two articles supporting Ghana’s gay community. The response was vitriolic. He was called gay himself and many wrote in response that was the reason he had gone through a divorce.

“One of the jobs of the journalist is to give voice to the voiceless and one of the most deprived people in this country—in terms of voice—is the gay community in the country and I’m more than delighted to speak for them,” Dadzie says.

The former country director of Journalist for Human Rights adds that the piling on is a direct result of poverty. “If I struggle to get one meal a day and I have a band of homosexuals coming into my community and I’ve been told that this band of homosexuals cause God to come and take away the single plate of food that I have, I would fight,” Dadzie says.

Ghana has a high unemployment and nearly 30 percent of the populace lives below the poverty line, according to figures from the CIA World Factbook.

Accra resident Atta-Quayson, 59, says the frenzied coverage is ultimately good. “This topic is going to lead into a liberal society. Now that it is coming to the fore, a lot of people will want to find out what it is. Even though the religious right is so anti-gay.”

Dadzie believes that as the country grows more prosperous, society will be more open. He’s putting together a “coalition of the willing” to challenge the current interpretation of the unlawful carnal knowledge law, which criminalizes homosexual sex acts.

“We’re not going to get to the point of same sex marriages soon, but we’d get to a point where people will decide, ‘He’s gay so what.’ Maybe when I’m dead and gone we can get to same sex marriages,” Dadzie jokes, “but I’ll be surprised if in my lifetime we talk about same sex marriages in this country.”

Still, gay Ghanaians interviewed by Colorlines said they are waiting for the government to offer some protection and leadership in turning down the volume.

“This is what we are praying for,” says one corporal in the army, who has lived with a partner for two years. They would like to move openly into the barracks one day, where the accommodation is free. But for now, freedom on the dance floor is the only option. To see more and comment click here.

Frankie Edozien is a New York City-based journalist who is the director of New York University’s Reporting Africa program.