Event: The Day the Stories Took Over Accra

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Seen the full schedule for the Accra Theatre Workshop‘s Storytelling Marathon today at the Nubuke Foundation and there’s something in there for everyone in the family. In case anyone’s interested, I’ll be taking part in two interesting events.

The Flash Fiction Workshop (10.00 am)

Nkenten collaborates with Flash Fiction GH and the Ashesi Storytellers Club on a morning session of readings from some of the rising stars of Ghanaian flash fiction, who will be training the audience in how to write their own flash fiction pieces.

The Nkenten Discussion: ‘Telling Tales: Are Our Stories Really Telling Our Story?’ (2.00 pm)

Yours truly will moderate a discussion featuring storytellers across different media – literature, music, video, photography, blogs, etc – on how well Ghanaian & African artists are representing Africa’s myriad stories in their work.

Invited guests include Dr. Sionne Neeley (co-founder of AccraDotAlt), Mamle Kabu (writer), Paa Koti (Twitter troublemaker), Kajsa Hallberg-Adu (blogger/lecturer), Kinna Likimani (educationist/blogger), Ghalileo (musician/artist), Wanlov the Kubolor (musician), Eli Tetteh (writer/communications specialist), Seton Nicholas (photographer), David Edem Dotse (writer/musician), Jonathan Dotse (writer), Joseph Oduro-Frimpong (cultural critic/lecturer), Nina Chachu (librarian) and more.

Music: Blitz the Ambassador’s ‘Native Sun’

Kobby:

For someone who doesn’t write much, I’ve been lucky to have received a lot of praise for my writing before. However, today I would like to shine the light on someone else who doesn’t write as much as he’d like to, but who makes me think of retiring every single time he does.

Eli @elidot Tetteh: this one’s for you.

#DayOfTheDot

Originally posted on Wherever I Lay My Hat:

Today marks the global release of Blitz the Ambassador’s brilliant new album, ‘Native Sun’, which you can hear in its entirety here.

I’ve been talking about this album since before I almost snapped my neck bopping my head to it at the preview party Blitz hosted at Rockstone’s Office a couple of months back.

I was going to write a long review about it using words like:

“A conversation between Africa and America. Highlife and hip-hop. Ebo Taylor and Big Daddy Kane…”

and…

“If ‘Native Sun’ doesn’t work then – seriously – any Ghanaian aiming at the international market may need to rethink the idea.”

Scratch that though. Instead, let me share with you the thoughts of someone whose musical opinion I value more than almost anyone I know – Eli Tetteh – who just tweeted the following:

“I’d like to issue a formal apology to @kobbygraham. I’m sorry…

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ASHESI UNCHARTED

Originally posted on jeffreyjefferson:

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Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is simply to create awareness. I do not by any means intend to start some propaganda against “the powers that be” in order to force their hand. I doubt they even know who I am or care about some lame blog post with just a little over 10000 views. The way I figure, this battle has been going on in the shadows for a long time and maybe it is time it was brought to light. My weapon of choice, social media.

Let us start with the facts. Ashesi University College (note the highlighted word cos I will come back to that!) is considered by many to be the best university in Ghana. It was voted the 7th most respected company in Ghana 2012 by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Business and Financial Times. It was ranked the 10th best university in Africa by Africa.com Blog…

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On Fuel Prices Increases & the African Art of Negotiation

I just received the following bit of news from Vodafone (one of the latter’s slightly more useful services):

The Ghana Road Transport Operators (GRTO) has announced a 10 percent increase in transport fares across the country.

My immediate thought is that since the government upped the fuel prices a few days ago, I have already had to factor it in to my every negotiation with taxi drivers since.

‘Afternoon Bossu, I want go Osu. How much? Ntoboase… me pa wo ky3w. Me wo palpitations wai’

‘(laughing) oh, twenty cedis p3h’

‘Ajei! M’akoma! But boss, why? You want give me heart attack?’

‘Oh, but massa, you know they have increased the fuel price…”

My question is how this 10% affects the already extensive negotiations I have do. Is it just the GRTO making things official? Or  does it mean I have to expect drivers to add an additional 10% to the cost that was already adjusted as soon as the fuel increase was announced? Because I wouldn’t put it past some drivers to argue that I pay more because of the fuel increase AND the 10% announcement.

Pardon me if that sounds ridiculous, but the truth is that we are living very ridiculous times in Ghana.

I remember once back when I was working in the Joy FM newsroom and the cost of fuel dropped.

Yes. This happened once. In our lifetime.

The government came out to say they expected transport costs to drop too. The people (or let me be honest: maybe it was just me) rejoiced. I had NEVER seen the price of ANYTHING EVER drop in Ghana.

Then I listened as a rep from GPRTU explained how – in spite the drop – something something something cost spread between number of people something something (insert magical, sorry I mean mathematical formula), therefore they couldn’t reduce their rates but they had to stay the same…

[Insert side-eye here]

I’m still waiting for the day when fuel prices go up and they say prices must in turn remain same because of the same magical formula. Or maybe it’s been happening and I just haven’t noticed. I don’t mean to knock taxi drivers: we’re all in the same daily grind outchea.

Truth is though, even if the GRTO or GPRTU didn’t issue such edicts, taxi drivers would still factor any fuel price increase into negotiations, because – let’s be honest – prices are not issued by any higher bodies. They are issued at street level, where negotiations involve not magic but sine equally mystic combination of knowledge of market reality, attire, accent, language, gift of gab, negotiation skill, the affluence of where you are being picked up or going to, etc, etc.

Frankly, the GRTO are just rubbing salt into already raw wounds. It’s not like there’s some official list of taxi prices listed somewhere that we can now add 10% to in preparing our daily budgets.

No.

So what’s the point in their announcements besides insulting us?

Mtchew.

Faith & Forgiveness

I know many of my friends who will look at me with a side-eye for discussing my thoughts on God, but it is what it it is. I do believe in God, albeit not some bearded old white man looking benevolently upon us from on high. Here are three pieces I’ve written outlining a few things I believe.

This post is however a culmination of thoughts I’ve had over the years regarding my relationship with Christianity. Think of it as a new relationship with it.

Kobby vs. Christians

It was recently brought to my attention by someone dear to me that I speak with a degree of bitterness when it comes to Christianity.

I have heard this before: once or twice right here on this blog. But there was something different in the way in which she said it to me. She spoke in a tone devoid of the kind of self-righteousness, arrogance and judgment that made me leave Christianity behind in the first place.

She spoke with Love.

An Apology

I try to live my life guided by Love and when I am addressing Christians on this blog, I try to speak with Love. I do not apologize for my criticism of Christianity (especially here in Ghana): I humbly suggest that such criticism is both healthy and necessary. Who the cap fits, let them wear it. I do not always hit the mark however, and I would like to apologize to anyone who has ever been hurt by my tone.

Kobby the Christian

If I do feel bitterness towards Christianity, it is for two reasons: my experience of Christianity as a young believer and my observations of Christianity today as a not-quite-believer. Both are linked. I’ve spoken about my past before, but what I haven’t spoken on much is my own journey.

I was raised, baptized and confirmed Methodist, and I was what I would call a ‘cultural Christian’ by the time I was a teenager in Ghana. I talked the talk (said things like, ‘have a blessed day’), regularly attended church, prayed, fasted, sang in Joyful Way, attended Scripture Union, etc, etc.

All these things are things you cannot really avoid as a Ghanaian Christian though: society expects them from you. They do not require a genuine, deeper understanding of your faith. You are taught them since before Sunday School, all the way into your adulthood. I see many young people today engaged in such ‘Christian culture’. You see it all over their social media.

Those things do not Christians make though. At best, they are a foundation. A shaky one at that. Too many cultural Christians are not driven by the kind of Love that was so compelling that Jesus replaced the entire ten commandments with it. Rather, they wear their spirituality for all to see. It is something that they perform. Mostly in public. They judge. They are holier-than-thou. In short, they become the very Pharisees they were taught to despise.

Love is… HARD!

In my experience, Love is kind… but it is also difficult. It requires hard things of its advocates in real life situations. It requires you not to judge but to be tolerant of people who do not share your faith. Show them love and – who knows – they may actually come to faith. If not? That’s between them and God. It’s not for you to advocate against them, gossip about them, judge them or feel better than them. Who are you anyway? By the standards of Christian faith, your goodness is like a dirty rag in the eyes of God. I don’t care if you are even a pastor: who are you exactly to judge?

Love requires us to make peace with those who would argue with us. To not cheat in a society in which it is made very easy for people to have flings and affairs. It requires us to be kind to those who are unkind to us. Basically, it requires the practical application of everything in Galatians 5:22-23

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’

My foundations in faith were cultural. They were not personal. Yes, I prayed and such. But I hadn’t engaged with God as much as I thought. All those churchy things were for society. They were not for God. They were not even for me, really.

Leaving Faith Behind

In the end, I grew bitter about my experience of faith. My growing contempt for Christian hypocrisy lead me away from Christianity – from Christ – as a whole, especially as I started engaging with the world beyond faith. I discovered people of other faiths and what they believed and I realized that their faiths made sense too. Far beyond signs and wonders. I came to understand – for example – from a Jewish perspective why Jesus was not the Christ, in a way that no pastor had ever explained to me without putting a Christian spin on things without knowing it. I dated a Muslim girl I fell in love with because she was one of the warmest, most kind, most loving people I had ever met. I learned about her faith and I discovered that much of the hate-and-fear-fuelled things I had heard about Islam were gross simplifications.

Meanwhile, so many people told me that the problem was that I was going to the wrong church. So they would always invite me to their church. But in between the good, I would see the same things over and over. Judgment. Hypocrisy. Arrogance. Self-righteousness. Fear. Hate. Xenophobia. Again and again and again. Wrapped up in the clothes of faith and love.

Eventually, I attended Bible classes: such was the extent of my desire to return to faith. The Alpha course helped a little. The first time I attended, I met people who did not judge me for having doubts and for having some very troubling questions. Questions that asking in Ghana had people looking at me funny. About Paul. About original sin. About the Fall. About the translation of scripture. About books left out of the Bible. Et cetera. It helped a little. I decided to attend a second time. This time, I met judgment. People looking at me funny. I left and never looked back.

Finding Love

At that moment, I decided that I had been praying for years for clarity in my soul and I realized that I had been ignoring a message that I had been receiving again and again and again. All the people whose faiths I admired – Christian or otherwise – were defined by their capacity for Love, above and beyond that of the average man or woman on the street. The moment I decided to start living a life guided by the kind of Love that we instinctively know without reading books about it, I experienced peace. A real peace.

Returning to Faith

However, I always suspected that it would all eventually lead me back to faith. I don’t know why. I remember reading Brian McLaren’s ‘A New Kind of Christian‘ – given to me by a friend in Geneva – and feeling incredible excitement. Here was someone expressing my doubts and yet who had managed to stay within the fold. I devoured everything I could find online about things like the Emerging Church movement and the house church movement and so-called progressive Christianity:

  • A spiritual vitality and expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused, and lively worship as well as a variety of spiritual rituals and practices such as meditation
  • Intellectual integrity including a willingness to question
  • An affirmation of human diversity
  • An affirmation of the Christian faith with a simultaneous sincere respect for other faiths
  • Strong ecological concerns and commitments

Yes, please: I’ll take two.

The Block

Ultimately however, I still could not describe myself as a Christian because I could not think of Jesus as ‘the way, the truth and the life’. I read ‘Mere Christianity’ and admired CS Lewis’ attempt, but found flaws in his lines of logic by chapter three. I have heard no argument that makes me feel that there is something inherently superior about Christianity as a religion to any other religion. After having actually engaged with them, I find it hard to take seriously any religion’s claim to exclusivity over the truth. Importantly however, I am committed to keeping an open mind, an open heart and open ears. I could be wrong.

So Why Engage?

Part of my continued engagement was because I missed two things about Christianity: ritual and communion. I don’t believe in being passive about what you believe in. Love in particular requires you to be active. This means being constantly reminded about it and challenged and such, and organized religion – at its best – has a great way of doing this. It keeps you on your toes. Or – at least – it can. The other thing it is great at is communion: connecting you with people with whom you share faith. Maybe its my Christian upbringing, maybe its human instinct, but I need these things. I miss them.

Ghana: Religious or Hypocritical?

By the time I moved back to Ghana from London, it became even more difficult to find a foothold on any kind of path back to faith again. Simply saying you do not go to church here is such taboo, much less asking the deep kind of questions I have. At least, it seems that way from the outside.

One thing that I humbly think needs to change in Ghana is how conservative we are about Christianity. I know there are those who would disagree and argue that ‘you can’t avoid the Cross’. The problem is that that is exactly what loads of people are doing here. Ghana is supposed to be the most religious country in the world. Yet – beyond church attendance – you cannot see it in our lives as a nation at all. Which suggests that we are the most hypocritical nation on earth. For me, I have always said that I will believe that Ghanaians are really imbibing faith when i see it on the road: when I see people drive in respect of the law and in respect of the dignity and humanity of their fellow man. No more blowing your horn as soon as the light turns green. No more forming third and fourth lanes. No cutting people off. No being on the road without a license. No hurling abuse at people. When we are so soaked in our beliefs that you can see it in the way we drive? Then we can talk about being religious beyond simply going to church.

There are so many different types of Christianity. And I don’t mean different kinds of churches all preaching what is ultimately the same conservative Christian message. I think it is very damning of us that the prosperity gospel is what we seem to have taken to rather than something as pro-poor as liberation theology. Both have their flaws but I don’t even see us critically engaging enough to discern something for ourselves. As Africans. At all. I intend to personally challenge this, especially if I find my way back to faith but even while I haven’t. I apologize in advance to anyone who may take offence, but I think it is the least I can do.

So Where Next?

A few of the things my friend told me – and the Love with which she told them to me (reminiscent of another friend of mine actually) – have helped me to course correct my journey. I have started discussions with people whose opinions I value whose faith I admire too. This new year, as part of a broader set of resolutions, I have decided on a few things:

  • A fresh start: I will recognize and shed the bitterness of my previous religious engagement.
  • Make more time for reflection, meditation and prayer.
  • Commune with fellow truthseekers.
  • Actively explore the Bible as imperfectly written but ultimately containing a Thread that I must find, pull out and follow
  • Read not around the Gospels but the Gospels themselves.
  • Give Paul a chance (this will be very hard)
  • Actively encourage critical engagement with faith in replacement of mere faith culture’ at Ashesi

Happy new year, everyone.

The BBC #100Women Event… starring Mom

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Women’s rights campaigner, bio-social scientist, author…

My mother, Efua Dorkenoo OBE, and I were up chatting late last night as she waited for a car to take her to the BBC. She is taking part in the BBC World Service’s ‘100 Women’ celebrations that have been taking place throughout October.

I am very lucky to be a son to such a genuinely amazing woman. There is no one who inspires me more.

Here’s her official bio:

“Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, is the Advocacy Director, FGM programme in Equality Now’s London office. She is also a trained bio-social scientist in public health and an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Health Sciences at City University, London. Starting in the early 1980s, her pioneering work on FGM has contributed to the international recognition of FGM as a public health and a human rights issue. From 1995-2001, she worked as the WHO’s first technical expert at their Geneva headquarters and assisted the organization in introducing FGM onto the agendas of the Ministries of Health of WHO Member States. Ms. Dorkenoo was awarded the British State Honours – OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the British Queen in recognition of her work as the founder of the UK NGO FORWARD in 1994 and for her campaigning work against FGM. In 2000, along with Gloria Steinem, she received Equality Now’s international human rights award for her lifelong activism on the issue of women’s rights. Ms. Dorkenoo’s book, ‘Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, The Practice and its Prevention’ (Minority Rights Publications 1994), was considered a first on FGM and was selected by an international jury for inclusion on the 2002 prestigious book list, “Africa 100 Best Books for the 20th Century.”

Here’s the schedule for anyone who is interested (all times London: GMT+1)

  • 0930 Opening and welcome from hosts Shaimaa Khalil and Rupa Jha, followed by address from Zeinab Bangura, UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict.
  • 1000-1100 News debate: issues of the day up for debate, including Syria and the Roma. Presented by Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet.
  • 1100 Address by Martina Navratilova, 18-time Grand Slam singles champion
  • 1110-1130 Debate: Feminism and the modern world. Presented by Jane Hill
  • 1130-1200 HardTalk live - Zeinab Badawi interviews Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino
  • 1200-1300 The Big Ideas: Members of our 100 Women give their pitch for the future, and the women debate their ideas. Presented by Lyse Doucet
  • 1300-1330 Lunch break
  • 1330-1400 Debate: Does the media represent women fairly? Presenter: Razia Iqbal
  • 1400-1445 The glass ceiling, economic empowerment, women in tech.Presenter: Lucy Hockings
  • 1500-1600 Debate: Is motherhood a barrier to equality? Should women accept this? Presenter: Nuala McGovern
  • 1600-1700 Debate: Can you be a follower of one of the main religions and still be a feminist? Presenter: Chloe Tilly
  • 1700-1730 Keynote speech and close – Sigridur Maria Egilsdottir

Guest Post: I Hate Ecobank

The following post was written by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah; a woman who works for the African Women’s Development Fundis co-founder of the award-winning blog, Adventures From The Bedrooms of African Women and MAKSI Clothing. These are only a few of her achievements.

Does she sound like a woman you would want to cross? I doubt it. Others – it seems – disagree.

Good luck to ‘em.

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I joined Ecobank because it proudly describes itself as a Pan-African bank, and I’m a woman with Pan-Africanist ideals.

Last year I attended a workshop in Nigeria. I took my Ecobank card, and some dollars (you know: just in case…) When my contact picked me up at the airport, I said to him, “Could we please stop at an Ecobank so I could take out some money?”

At the first ATM I was unable to withdraw any money, so he took me to a second ATM, same scenario, and then a third. I was embarrassed, ‘Oh I don’t know what’s happening, I definitely have money in my account.’ I knew taking money out of the ATM shouldn’t be an issue. I had purposely visited my bank and asked them if I could take out money in Nigeria and I had been told yes. I had previously used my Ecobank card in the United States and had experienced no issues at all. I called one of the staff at my local bank in Ghana, and he advised me to call the general customer number, and so I did. A customer rep picked up my call, promised to call me back, and never did. Thankfully those US dollars came in very handy.

I have been threatening to leave Ecobank for ages. Every so often I get on Twitter and rant about the lack of service I receive at the bank, or about waiting in a queue forever, or the unnecessary bureaucracy Ecobank (Ghanaian banks) seem to delight in.

Do you remember when Ecobank floated shares? I bought some. So did my mother, and my brother. Over the years my mother and brother have received miserly dividends – $5 here, $3 there, ohhhh and a big cash in of $7. All along I received a big fat nothing. A couple of times I went to the bank and asked, ‘So what is happening. I never get any dividends’? The response for a couple of times was, ‘Hmmm. People have been complaining. We’ll look into it for you.’ Eventually I was told, ‘You need to go to Ridge to ask about your shares’. I was irritated. Ah, how do I need to go to Ridge to ask about my shares? When I was buying these shares I didn’t need to go to Ridge but eventually I went to Ridge, and there I was told I needed to visit the Ghana Commercial Bank on the High Street if I wasn’t receiving my shares.

Have you ever visited the High Street on a regular working day? I sat in traffic for about an hour before arriving at my destination. And there we discovered the bank had made an error inputting my address. A crucial ‘2’ had been left out when my details had been entered in the system. ‘You need to go to a notary, and then the post office for x (I can’t remember what x is now).’

I lost my cool.

I am not going anywhere. I am not going to go and pay a notary, and then go to a post office to buy x. This is the fault of Ecobank, and I don’t see why I have to suffer for your mistakes’. A young man rushed over to the desk where I was being dealt with. ‘What seems to be the matter Madam?’ I explained the situation. ‘Please come this way’, he said.

After 10 minutes of fiddling about with paperwork and, speaking to his supervisor he said, ‘Madam I’m really sorry but you’re going to have to get the notary to sign…’ ‘Listen, I’m not going anywhere’…So another supervisor stepped in, and eventually they said, ‘Okay since the mistake was with Ecobank you need to go back there and tell them they need to change their address on their system’. And so I went back to Ecobank, and my address was changed on their system.

At this stage I wish I could say, ‘…and then Ecobank and I lived happily ever after’, but I made the mistake of making a simple mistake. I run a small business with my sister, and that small business also banks with Ecobank, and our accountant had requested that we get a copy of our statements from the date the account was open. I dutifully wrote a letter to the bank requesting for this information and dropped it off with the Enquiries desk at the Community 6 branch in Tema. When I went the following week to pick up the letter I was told, ‘Oh but you didn’t state when you wanted the statement to start from’, and so I wrote the date I needed the information from manually on the printed letter. ‘Okay when you are coming back for the statement bring another copy of the letter with all the information typed.’ And so the following week I came back with another word processed letter, and was told, ‘Just a minute please’. That minute lasted 60 minutes. I waited an hour to pick up a statement I requested 2 weeks previously.

I was fuming.

I sat there stewing in my anger. How can this be the case? At the same time I had dropped off my request at Ecobank I had gone to Zenith with the same request, and within 10 minutes I had my statements (I hadn’t needed to wait or ‘go and come’ for this information). At the end of the day I got an SMS update from Ecobank. I had been charged GHC40 for the statement printed earlier that day.

Everybody has a breaking point, and that was mine. That was the reason why I called up the customer service line to inform them that I would be closing our corporate accounts and I needed them to know the reason why. That’s the same reason why I am now shopping around for a new bank to manage my personal account.

Do you have any recommendations? Do you bank with Ecobank? What are your Ecobank horror stories? Feel free to vent in the comments box.

After all, misery loves company.

A few things have happened since we put this post up. In the name of fairness, we are bumping up from the comments below Ecobank’s attempts to right the customer service wrongs outlined above.

So please read on…

UPDATE#1 (August 19th)

Today I was visited by Ecobank’s Head of Branch Network Adobea Addo, and Area Manager for Tema, Beatrice Normanyo. They have both apologized profusely for the lack of customer service I experienced, and promise to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future. I am impressed that Ecobank sent senior staff to come and visit me to listen to the issues I’ve had to date. I told them I will observe what happens subsequently, and for the moment will maintain my accounts with them. They also told me to let them know of any other customers who have had issues with them. I know from the comments here alone that I am not the only one so I asked for an email address that grievances could be asked to and I was given allegh-csqhelpdesk@ecobank.com

So fingers crossed. On a positive side this shows that at least some companies listen when we make our issues known publicly. Time will tell whether I grow to love Ecobank or continue to hate them :) At the moment I am a tad mollified.

UPDATE #2 (August 20th)

Dear Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah/Kobby Graham,

Our attention has been drawn to your publication regarding series of unpleasant service experiences you have encountered with us. We have attentively read your message and we apologise sincerely for all the service delivery shortfalls from ATM experience, share dividends and request for account statement.

Indeed the conduct of our staff for the occasions mentioned fell short of the high standards we have set for ourselves in Ecobank in the service of our clients.
Kindly accept our apologies once more.

We would appreciate an opportunity that would enable us to resolve the issues at stake and avoid a recurrence.

We humbly request that you kindly contact us through our address:ecobankenquiries@ecobank.com enable us to establish a contact and resolve the concerns you have raised.

Ecobank takes this opportunity to express our sincere apologies to you and to the general public for any inconveniences caused.

Thank you,
ECOBANK