Monday, July 22, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #6

Catching Up

Whoops, well I kind of dropped the ball on regular updates the last couple weeks: one weekend catching some sort of flu led to another which I spent in the city of Cape Coast, which then led to the next one travelling to Lake Volta with a co-worker, Vincent, who's from the Volta region. So at least I have somewhat of an excuse. Travelling outside of Accra has been a vastly different experience from inner-city living: while Cape Coast is mostly dependent on tourism has therefore has a lot of infrastructure, I was able to stop by some tiny villages on the way to Lake Volta, where houses are constantly surrounded by wandering herds of cows, sheep and goats, which vastly outnumber the village inhabitants! Lake Volta itself is a beautiful and huge stretch of water, a lot cleaner than many places on the Atlantic coast. I was able to watch traditional boats loading and unloading cargo and passengers from ports all across the lake.

While more tourist-oriented, the trip to Cape Coast and Kakum national park were memorable for many reasons, the main one being the site of the Elmina slave castle and the infamous "Door of no return" through which slaves were herded through towards the horrors of slavery...On a lighter note, the visit to Kakum was a lot of fun, the main attraction being giant suspended bridges throughout the trees from which we could see the forest canopy

The guide explained that there were actually some big animals like elephants and monkeys down below but we couldn't see them because it was siesta time. Going between Cape Coast and Kakum I got to ride in one of the ubiquitous "tro-tro" minibuses that act as public transportation between cities, where I got a taste of a typical tro-tro" experience! On the ride to Kakum the radio was blasting Michael Jackson when I heard a loud BANG. I jumped, but the other passengers just groaned: the tell-tale sign of a flat tire. The driver kept on going till we reached a small collection of huts (not even big enough to be called a village) but where an auto-parts dealer miraculously did business. After choosing from a large pile of tires, the driver with the help of some passengers screwed on the new tire, and off we went! All in all a good tro-tro experience save that mishap and a couple of cow herds the driver swerved by!

Meanwhile at WANEP, a meeting involving the Zonal Coordinators in charge of WANEP national programs throughout the region came to the office in Accra for a briefing on some of their new duties. It was great hearing from their experiences from the field, particularly from the WANEP ZC based in...Banjul, Gambia. I don't have the faintest idea how an independent civil society organization can function in a country that is apparently being ruled by a new Idi Amin Dada, but this guy has apparently made it work, props to him

At the PMC, a keen eye is kept at the approaching elections in Mali and Togo and efforts to keep them on track...

This Friday, I was invited to attend a special session at Ghana's parliament, which was celebrating the National Peace Summit, an event that brought together the youth organizations from all political parties, representatives from the major religions, and the traditional chiefs, who still have an important role especially in Ghanaian local politics. The keynote address was given by none other than former president Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings! He emphasized the need for continued peaceful relations between the political parties, particularly as the Supreme Court case regarding the 2012 presidential election has moved into its closing phase and a time frame for a verdict is awaited, sometime around August 15th. Newspapers, radio and TV stations are all reporting the latest from the courtroom, and I have the impression people are waiting with bated breath...

Again, apologies for the late post, hopefully I'll keep more on track from here on out. Only 2 weeks left here, I'll have to allocate my time wisely!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #5

Civil Society-con 2013

Today marks the beginning of a long weekend, as this Monday, July 1st, is Ghana's Republic Day. I also learned a cool Friday tradition in the Ghanaian workplace, as the government has been encouraging office workers to wear traditional garb. As it happened, I decided to wear a traditional shirt today, but it paled in comparison to some of the very elaborate robes and headdresses worn by many colleagues here.

This Monday during WANEP's weekly meeting I was proposed to represent the company at an annual reception of grant partners in a program called STAR-Ghana (Strengthening Transparency, Accountability and Responsiveness in Ghana), funded by USAID, UKAID, DANIDA (the Danish development agency) and the EU. The two-day conference was held at an upscale hotel in downtown Accra, and I got to experience how some important actors in the civil society "industry" in Ghana conducted their business. Among the guest speakers were members of Ghana's parliament testifying about the efforts of CSOs in their constituencies. The 4 major themes discussed revolved around health, education, oil&gas and governance. I was surprised that conflict prevention and resolution was not represented, given the fact that its become such an important component found in CSOs across the West African region. It was an interesting experience however since I got to see how these different policy fields that are so often mentioned in GSPIA unfolded in Ghana. And, of course, it was hard to complain much after a quality 4-star hotel luncheon!
To wrap up the week, I finished updating the Early Warning Network regarding incidents in the Francophone countries and reviewed a policy brief on the upcoming elections in Togo. I can't believe it's already been a month since I stepped off the plane, it still feels really fresh! I think I've gotten the basic geographic notions  and survival skills down, notably how to negotiate a non-outrageous rate with taxi drivers (one of whom had to hotwire his car to get it started instead of using the ignition, much to my concern), although the daily near crashes get my heart rate going...The rolling blackouts can be quite peeving, as I experienced a few times this week again, especially after a long day when all you want is the AC on full blast, but all in all so far so good!