To keep us entertained on our next journey, Ben has made us ‘bus bingo’ – including just a few of the sights that we have seen on our travels thus far.

bus bingo Ghana

Busy trotro bus Ghana

2:1 ratio of people to seats

Travel in Ghana baby

Baby exiting bus via window







If you think we’ve omitted anything, leave your suggestions in a comment!

Is global inequality inevitable?

by Ben

Ghanaian Cedis GHSOxfam recently claimed that the top 100 richest people in the world earned enough last year to end extreme poverty four times over – but is that really the case?

Philanthropy is on the rise, that’s for sure. In recent years a number of high profile US billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg have publicly pledged to give away at least 50% of their wealth. Some individuals have gone even further: Warren Buffet has famously pledged to give away 99% of his wealth (est. $52 billion), mostly through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The Gates name is synonymous with wealth but it is now the leading name in philanthropy. Their foundation has an endowment of $31 billion, of which an estimated $25 billion has come from Bill and Melinda Gates’ own personal fortune. That’s more than double the size of the United Kingdom’s foreign aid budget which sits at a respectable £6 billion.

Speaking of foreign aid budgets, the United States gives away a whopping $52 billion per year to poorer countries. China alone has invested $6 billion in African infrastructure as it looks to develop access to the continent’s mineral reserves, which it hopes will power its own continued economic growth. There is also a huge volume of money spent on institutions such as United Nations, World Food Program and World Bank, as well as countless charities and NGOs around the world working to improve people’s quality of life.

So with all this money flowing around, why aren’t things getting better? The $52 billion foreign aid from the United States is more than the GDP of 173 countries – surely poverty, famine and drought should be a thing of the past? Surely this money should be able to help alleviate people’s misery and fund accountable governments who have the best interest of their people at heart?

Well, lets look at a recent example. Over the last 10 years the largest example of an ongoing reconstruction project has been that of Afghanistan. The United States has spent $100 billion on aid and reconstruction projects alone as part of the effort to stabilise the country. $100 billion on a country with a GDP of $18 billion. Now of course there are some unique problems in Afghanistan such as the ongoing Taliban insurgency – but the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction stated that 85% of the aid budget had been wasted on overheads, corruption or simply poorly managed.

The same situation can be found in Iraq which was described as ‘the wild west,’ with funds being kept as freshly printed $100 bills. During the CPA‘s control of Iraq it was estimated that $8.8 billion was lost due to the lack of oversight. One story tells of an American soldier being asked to help the Iraqi boxing team get itself back on its feet but he gambled the money away. No one knew how many thousands he’d lost because there was no record of what he’d received.

Now I suppose it’s easy enough to discount aspects of those two examples to the unpopular administration in the United States however in both situations even with the countries holding their own free (well…) elections the problems continued. People were quick to their new positions of power and to hand out favours to tribe or family members. Jobs were handed out on a basis of patronage and not qualifications. Entire sects within the population such as the Sunni’s in Iraq or non-pashtuns in Afghanistan were sidelined by more populous and thus more powerful in electoral terms. The Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai’s, brother who continues to hold a position of power despite being consistently linked with the heroin trade.

You see, the one thing that can be only be guaranteed from access to the vast wealth of the world’s top 100 earners is that corruption would prevent the bulk of it reaching those who need it the most. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try; as I pointed out at the start of this article, a lot is being done but the answer is not to simply flood poor regions with money without first developing their own internal structures. Without a strong and independent judiciary capable of taking action against corrupt individuals and a legitimate government in the eyes of the people, we will see no improvement in the situation in the poorer parts of the world; this isn’t something that money can necessarily buy. Circumstances dictate that. The Arab spring is the perfect example of changing circumstances forcing a region’s governments to adapt to the needs of the people.

The other thing we must remember is that humans are by our very nature devious creatures. Even if you could theoretically level the playing field there will always be those willing to work harder than others, those who are smarter, faster, stronger and there are those who are willing to cheat, steal or even kill to advance their own agenda. There are those of us who are apathetic to money and those of us who think that we should never have to work a day in our life and we should be given everything. Inequality is inevitable. The question we have to ask is: at what level are we prepared for it to start? And we need to acknowledge that money is not the only solution.

Just chilling…

by Zoe

old fridge tamale ghana

Rusty old fridges will soon be a thing of the past in Ghana…

Tolu mentioned the other day that our house is somewhat lacking in facilities. Well, for those of you worrying about my well-being (hi mum), the good news is that we’ve now got a fridge!

The even better news is that our fridge is brand new. If we’d moved here a few weeks earlier, it might not have been, as a new law was passed on 1 January which bans the import of second-hand refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners. Ghana is the first country in Africa to introduce such regulation.

In addition, a new Refrigerator Rebate and Exchange Scheme offers incentives of up to GHC200 (around £70), as well as credit facilities for the remaining cost, for Ghanaians who trade in existing fridges with new ones.  As at 10 January, 800 used refrigerators had already been turned in under the scheme.

Currently, the average Ghanaian refrigerator consumes 1200kWh of energy per year – whereas energy efficient versions consume around 250kWh. It is expected that the rebate scheme will save around 216MWh of electricity per year for the country –equivalent to half of the electricity that will be produced by the Bui hydro-electric dam when completed.

The other advantage to getting a new fridge instead of a second-hand one is that it comes in a cardboard box. And it turns out that cardboard is surprisingly comfortable to sit on, when compared to the floor…

Chilling on our reclining chairs...

Chilling on our reclining chairs…

Will Ghana do it again?

by Fatawu

Ghanaians went to the polls on 7 December to elect a president and members of parliament for the sixth time since the Fourth Constitution of the Republic of Ghana was ushered in. Typical of African elections, it was not without tension and apprehension. In all, seven political parties and one independent candidate filed successfully to contest the elections, but only two political parties were considered to be real contenders: the National Democratic Congress (NDC) led by John Dramani Mahama and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) led by Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo. NPP is considered to be an elite party deeply inclined to right while NDC is seen as a political party inclined to left.

Even before the nation was ushered into political peak season, the untimely death of Professor John Evan Atta-Mills, the sitting president and the presidential candidate of the NDC, threw the whole nation into a state of mourning irrespective of political allegiances.

The sudden demise of the late President was seen as ‘make or break’ for the ruling party as it meant that the party had to reorganise a new congress and elect a new standard bearer to lead them into 2012 election. In an extraordinary congress held in Kumasi on 30 August, the ruling party chose John Dramani Mahama to lead them into the election. Many observers think this was a blessing in disguise as it made John Mahama the first politician from northern Ghana to lead any major political party under the fourth republican constitution.

The nation was then ushered into full swing political campaigning. Even before NDC endorsed its presidential candidate, the NPP had started its official campaign in August, and subsequently published its manifesto captioned Transforming Lives, Transforming Ghana: Building a Free, Fair and Prosperous Society. The NDC followed suit with the launch of its official campaign and manifesto, with a theme of Advancing the Better Ghana Agenda.

The issue of education was a priority in both parties’ manifestoes. However, they differed in their approach. The NPP committed to making education from kindergarten to Senior High School ‘free, quality and accessible’ while the NDC believed that the nation has to approach the concept of free education ‘progressively’ – Mahama vehemently argued that “we should not be in haste to do what our economy cannot sustain”.

The NPP candidate, in an attempt to drum home his ‘free senior high school’ mantra, cited Kenya as an example of an African country that has successfully implemented this policy – though argued that Ghana is more resourceful than Kenya. He went further to state that “The cost of providing free secondary school education will be cheaper than the cost of the current alternative of a largely uneducated and unskilled workforce that retards our development. Leadership is about choices, I will choose to invest in the future of our youth and of our country.” NPP was not alone in this view; all the other political parties apart from the NDC also promised to make education from kindergarten to senior high school free. Up until December 7, when Ghanaians went to the polls, the battle for presidency was reduced to pro-free education and anti-free education.

President Mahama inauguration 7 January 2013

Our front seat view of President Mahama’s inauguration

On December 7, a total of 14,031,793 voters went to the polls; the NDC won with 5,574,761 votes, representing 50.70%, while NPP had 5,284,898, votes representing 47.74%. The remaining six political parties obtained 1.56% of the vote.

The NPP refused to concede and congratulate the winner; instead, they are arguing in the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land, that the elections were neither free nor fair. They alleged that major provisions regulating the conduct of public elections in the country were violated and that there were widespread irregularities which favored the incumbent president. The battle for votes has now been reduced to a battle of wits and Ghanaians are eagerly waiting for the outcome of this landmark case. Will the outcome of this case enhance Ghana’s Democratic credentials? Only time will tell…

Round the bend

by Ben

So we’ve been in Tamale for 3 weeks and I’d say that so far – and I’m definitely not biased – I’d give us an A+ for our acclimatisation. We’ve eaten just about every Ghanaian dish that we can find – including delights like gizzard kebabs, we’ve dealt with the spiciest chillies they could throw at us and navigated the market successfully, we’ve made friends with the locals and even picked up some of the language.

But an area that I personally have failed to adapt to is the rules of the road. Frankly I’m not sure if there are any!

Bus travel Tamale Ghana

Now I should begin by stating clearly for the record: I have never had a driving lesson in my life. I went go-karting once, wasn’t too bad, but aside from that I’ve never sat behind the wheel of anything except those driving games you get in the arcade of a bowling alley! I do feel, however, that I have a stronger grounding in the rules of the road than some of Ghana’s budding young motorists. For me, the journey to work is one of the most interesting parts of my day and it’s always worthwhile having the camera to hand.

Mopeds/bikes are a common form of transport in Ghana. Unlike in the UK though, it’s not one person buzzing through the traffic; I’ve seen upwards of four on one bike! It’s not uncommon for a mum to ride to work with her two young daughters casually chilling on the back. No helmets, no protective clothing, not even hanging on!!! Sometimes even the side of the road that traffic is supposed to be on seems to go out the window with people casually cycling against oncoming traffic.

In fact it seems that anything goes:

public transport tamale ghana

I decided it’d be worth finding out some more information on this so, as we all do, I turned to Fatawu, our local volunteer who is a resident of Tamale. What he told me simply confirmed my worst fears. It turns out that to ride a moped or bike you simply have to register with Ghana’s DVLA equivalent and they don’t ask you for license details. Handy because most people on a bike apparently don’t have one! Insurance also doesn’t exist here; if there was an accident the people involved would try to resolve it amicably on the roadside!

My brain was frazzled but I pressed on… surely there are more stringent rules in place for actual cars? Surely they need a license? Well, it turns out the majority of people do have licenses and I sighed a sigh of relief. However, it wasn’t to last, I should have known better. In order to receive a license you simply pay someone to give you the document and there is normally no test involved… excellent.

I don’t know about the rest of the team but I’m feeling a little less confident about the journey home!

cow on a bus Tamale Ghana

Pipe dreams

by Tolu

water pipes Tamale GhanaWe moved into a new house in Tamale and the initial excitement of living in a humongous brand new house has quickly worn off. We’ve had no furniture, fridge, kitchen utensils, and to top it off no running water.

Being without water quickly gets you to appreciate the little things in life such as making a cup of tea, washing your feet after a dusty harmattan day and flushing the toilet. In moaning about our misfortunes, a joke was made about how our right to water was being infringed upon. But we clearly know that all we have to do is kick up a fuss, apply some pressure to the landlady and water will come gushing out of the taps. Not that this has worked for us as we’ve now been for almost a week without water, but we live in hope and expectation.

However, for a lot of people in Ghana, a steady supply of water is an intermittent luxury with little hope of a quick remedy. Tamale (where we are currently based) is one of the fastest growing cities in the country; the demand for water is around three times more than supply. The dry season makes water supply even more erratic, with households going more than a week without any water and in some extreme situations, up to a month.

The lack of adequate water supply has more far reaching consequences than not being able to have a shower or make a cup of tea.  It disrupts the education of children if they have to travel far to access water in the mornings, it affects healthcare if hospitals are also subject to water shortages and sanitation also suffers which brings on its own consequences.

The Human Right to Water has proved controversial in international law and was only formally acknowledged by the UN General Assembly in 2010.  Up until this point, there was no legal oligation on states to fulfil this right, merely a political acknowledgement that it existed.

The Ghanaian constitution does not explicitly contain a right to water, but Ghana has shown commitment by ratifying the 2006 Abuja Declaration where it pledged to promote this right. The Government also met its aim to reduce the number of people without water supply by 85% by 2015 in time for the Millennium Developments Goals deadline, ahead of the designated target set by the UN of 78%.

In addition, development organisations are working in northern Ghana to establish a better water supply for communities. There is clearly a desire for improvement and the new term of President Mahama inspires hope that even more positive change will be seen in the Northern region of the country.

For a more detailed explanation of the issues in this post, check out the Water Aid website.