Voices of Africa Online in Accra

Ghana bloggers by day
Literary drinkers by night
On a continent known for its storytelling, with a rich tradition of oral history and communication through narrative, I am always surprised at the lack of quality bloggers. Yes, there are bloggers of note, and some of fame, but I’m talking about the grassroots, the common person putting thought to electron and creating personal and professional narrative in the scale and scope that we’ve seen in America.

I think the two main reasons we don’t see a similar or greater exposition in local, digital content are:

  1. Low ICT penetration rates: With the combination of high costs and low overall usage, I can understand that it’s not easy to find access to the tools of blogging. Trying to compose posts in a cybercafe is hard – I know, I did it for years. And few African jobs are as computer and Internet focused as American employment, which underlies much of our content boom.
  2. Restrictive public discourse: In the USA, we have a long and very well defended freedom of speech. And while you can get fired for blogging from work, its rare that your personal options can get you dismissed or rarer still would it get you arrested. Few countries in Africa have the same liberties/

So its with great joy and love that I came across Ghana Bloggers. A core group of West Africans who are pushing the edge in personal content creation and display in several categories of discussions. While there are a number of Ghana bloggers, I’d like to highlight two that I find worthy of my RSS Reader:

  • Oluniyi David Ajao – is a Nigerian living and working in Ghana, so he’s very West African in mindset and business focused in his thoughts and writings
  • Mac-Jordan – is a Ghanaian social blogger who covers technology and Accra with refreshingly good writing

If you can only add two new voices in your life, you’d do good to add both. Oh and if you’re in Accra, buy either a beer, but do your best not to support David’s horrid taste in booze.

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MamaPut’s Cook With Recycled Rim Stoves

Now we’re cooking with oil!
Glowing with MamaPut goodness
I love street food. Everywhere I go, from street markets in Russia, to back alleys of Beijing to side streets in Skopje, to the boulevards of Bamako, I make it a point to eat as many meals from roadside stands as possible. Ghana and Nigeria are no exception. In fact, I love me a MamaPut.

Its only where Mama herself is there to put more of her good eats on your plate, that I really feel I’m getting a good meal. Why? Because I can see ever step of its preparation, talk with the chief personally, and share the transcending bond of food with my fellow man and woman.

Now I wouldn’t call myself a street food expert – I’m not discerning enough for that title, but I am observant in the different styles of edibles vendors. In West Africa, I’m particularly impressed by the stock street food cooking apparatus. Simple, cheap, and recycled, I present to you the “Rim Stove”.

Using the steel rim off a car wheel as the basic starting point, three metal legs are wielded to the outside of the rim. Inside, a metal grate is added to the bottom to hold in the coals, and some form of pan or kettle stand is wielded to the top.

I’ve seen several variations on this theme, but the basics are always the same – the Rim Stove burns charcoal that’s been ignited in the middle of the rim, fed by air from the bottom and heating a cooking container sitting either on the pot stand or the coals themselves.

During on extending brainstorming session, I even tried to think of improvements to the Rim Stove – how it might burn hotter with less customization. My only solution? Make sure a Rim Stove is cooking chips for your fresh grilled fish.

Ghana to Obama and America: Thank You!

Estatic for Obama
Celebrating the First Family
Its hard to appreciate or underestimate the effect Barack Obama’s presidency has on Africans. That a black man, son of a Muslim Kenyan, is now President of the United States. Add in that he comes after the Bush years, which were seen as very arrogant, and his election was a watershed moment in American-African relations.

Now don’t even try to imagine the overwhelming pride of Ghana, a small West African, in being the first African country to host Obama after the election. Even walking among Ghanaians after his visit, talking with everyone from taxi drivers to leading businessmen, I still can only glimpse at their happiness.

But I can see the manifestation of their joy everywhere I look. The signs of celebration are omniscient. Major roads are bedecked in posters of the US and Ghanian presidents and their respective flags. Random intersections have huge billboards honoring the whole Obama family.

On a personal level, taxis have Obama’s picture on their dashboards, kids wear Obama t-shirts, businesses use Obama in ads, and everyone is happy to talk about America – a huge change from my previous visits. Now I no longer need to worry about being American. I am celebrated, not scorned, for my nationality.

Here’s a little non-Ghana story to give you an example. Back in 2004, I crossed the border between Kenya and Uganda several times at Busia, Kenya. Each was an experience in pushing and shoving with annoyed crowds to get stamps and visas from annoyed officials. In November 2008, I crossed that very same border, and while the dust and crowds were the same, the experience was not.

This time, once I pulled out my blue American passport, a cry when up, “OBAMA!” I looked around, wondering what was happening, just as the shout became a chorus of, “Obama! Obama! Obama!” and they were signing and shouting while pointing at me. I look nothing like Obama. But I am American, and at that moment, I felt my own moment of unimaginable pride.

We, a nation of immigrants, millions of first and second generation of strivers and hopefuls elected one of our own. A first generation American. Proof that anyone can have a president as a son. I cry now, typing this. I cried then, in that dusty visa line at the Kenyan border. And I cried too when running through a beachside slum in Accra, I heard “Obama!” and raised my hand.

Thank you America. Thank you Barack Obama Sr. And that you Dad for crossing the Rio Grande.