Ghana takes on the world as it boxes clever

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Pictures, design and words by David Dunkley Gyimah

Sporting metaphors befit some countries more than others. Ghana is one of them. Not the worn tropes, “punching above its weight” more “shaping up” and “boxing clever” on the international scene.

The country’s pedigree in boxing is legendary. Located near its High Courts off Atta Mills Street in central Accra, and nestling between the flagship Arts centre, is The Gym.

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We wander in, from a business meeting and are greeted by young aspirant men and women and a wall of hall of framers — former World featherweight champ Azuma Nelson, WBA welterweight champ Ike Quartey, and new cohorts such as Sampson Segbedzi (left) looking to a future crown.

There’s room for deeper reflection; Lennox Lewis with The Gym’s owner and legendary promoter Yoofi Boham is to the side. I muse. I was Lennox’s cinema journalist in Memphis during his epic fight with Tyson for the undisputed world championship and helped set up the meeting with the Ghana High Commission en route to Ghana.

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Photo & Video by Dr David Dunkley Gyimah. Lennox filmed training before his fight. High Commissioner H.E Issac Osei on Lennox Lewis’s right.

Heavyweight. That’s it. Ghana in the heavyweights. Some indicators are it’s set to become the portal HQ for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The IMF and World Bank, who’ve had an estranged relationship with Africa now pin Ghana’s growth rate at 8.8% — highest in the world. That’s up from 5.6% the previous year making it one of the world’s fastest growing economies for 2019. Oil, and the further discovery of off-shore fields, pumping out their liquid resource is one factor.

Fields of a greener hue, is another. In one of the stories we target (here) , CEO Francis Osei of iseo’s Agricultural consultancy shows how in the space of two years he’s created one of the largest Maize farms in Ghana, the size of 6000 football pitches. It’s a template that has attracted interest outside of Ghana.

Fields of Dream

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CEO Francis Osei has created a 440 hectare farm, the size of 6000 football pitches in 2 years.

There’s a knock on effect for job creation, manufacturing and services adding to Ghana’s domestic GDP which is drawing rightful scrutiny. Government policies reported by DW have also acted as fuel for growth. But as in boxing parlance a round is not the match.

Twenty eight years ago, then a freelance BBC World Service correspondent based in South Africa, I reported on US Sec. Ron Brown’s foreign direct investment visit to stimulate their economy. The rub? Multinationals were drawn to the country’s favourable market policies but the impact on local jobs and the GDP were comparably minimal.

Ghana’s flank exposes similar patterns and requires forethought. Several more multinationals attracted by trading conditions are due to set up shop in 2020. Al Jazeera report

Nissan, Suzuki, and Volkswagen will open plants in the country in 2020, transforming the region into a hub for the African car industry.

Part of the pull is Ghana’s spend against its revenues coming under check and efforts to clamp down on commercial corruption. A friend, who’s a senior executives at a high performing multinational, has hit on an ingenious scheme for transparency. We’ll report on this in the future.

I’m primarily in Ghana to pay my respects to my courageously loved mother who recently passed. My late father and her were part of the wave of Ghanaians who left the country soon after independence swelling and popularising, like so many others, the label of “diaspora” — which the present government has designated the year of homecoming for the many dispersed.

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Photographers approach us and we share a conversation. They request we pose and moments later appear with the prints for a fee. I thank them and also suggest politely they’re missing a vital component of storytelling; rather than photography as representation, more the emotional drama within photojournalism documentary. Humans after all are emotional machines.

The Overseas Development Institute is training young people in documentary photography, as well as an assortment of skills. It’s encouraging to see. Youth and employment are rousing themes in Ghana, with the president acknowledging there’s work to be done, particularly in educating the next generation, training them and helping them find jobs.

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Perhaps one of the biggest stories which should have global recognition is caught in what could be termed “Start-up stasis”. Ghana’s government has made education free for students to secondary school. Unesco’s 2010 stats says eight out of every ten 15–24 year-olds is literate. For the over 65 years-olds that drops to three out of every ten. That’s a huge story to champion and sell. Whether for us at viewmagazine working on Nato’s £500k War Games in which Europe games out different scenarios, or collaborating with successful start-ups, and launching courses at universities, it’s both an inter-agency and prototyping issue, supported by cinema journalism storytelling.

The parallels with South Korea come to mind when in the 1950s the average income for South Korea and Ghana respectively was $490 and $491 respectively, by 1990 South Korea was $4,832 to Ghana’s $481 — a ten fold magnitude jump. South Korean boosted learning and savvy businesses.

George Addai, CEO of Canadian Geosanda Consulting and a change leader working with first nation communities sees opportunities in manufacturing and training which are big wins. One of many other stories we’re pursuing.

Ghana’s climate conditions for Honey production, says Addai, puts Canada in the shade, yet Canada produces $232 million in honey production around 43,227 tonnes, whilst Ghana yields around 5000 tonnes and imports 70% of its honey. Addai managed bees for his father when he was in at school in Ghana and is convinced there’s an industry literally that can be tapped up.

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Media is one of Ghana’s success stories in its thriving democracy. The air waves reflect a liberalism and free speech, unlike many other African states. We’ve arrived in the country at a time when there are ongoing talks between the media and government over press freedoms and the protection of journalists. In the offices of Joy FM Ghana’s leading independent stations I’m introduced to Israel Laryea — one of the country’s most prominent newsmen courtesy of one of my former Masters students.

It’s clear from when we start talking we share mutual interests. I mention an old friend I’ve not seen in 21 years, former BBC Ghana correspondent Kwaku A. Sakyi-Addo, who now heads up Ghana’s media regulatory body — the equivalent of the UK’s Ofcom.

Laryea phones Sakyi-Addo on speaker whilst I express out aloud how disappointed I’ll be if he can’t remember me. There’s a pregnant pause, before howls of laughter from us both.

We last met when I worked with CNN and Turner executive Edward Boateng relaunching Ghana’s national television’s Breakfast Show. We took the show to South Africa where in the early 90s I was an Associate Producer for ABC News.

In this project we produced a collaborative set of programmes with the SABC. The then Director General Mr Frimpong asked for one good documentary to justify the financial outlay. We produced eight one-hour documentaries examining wealth creation, immigration and coming across PhD and Master students living 12 people to a room selling produce in the markets to make a living.

The impact was extraordinary, not just from the programmes made, but further governmental associations. One of South Africa’s best advertising agencies, and the first black led outfit The Herd Buoys would be invited to Ghana to share their knowledge with the Ghana Ad industry.

The Breakfast Show’s presenters Aku and Earl Ankrah (above) have since moved on. Aku is now the news editor of Ghana Television and Ankrah is a key figure in Fair Wages And Salaries Commission. Boateng is the ambassador to China, having successfully launched an unrivalled media agency after leaving Turner Broadcasting as head of Africa.

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Journalism and Tech are equally strong suits in the country. Google’s confidence has led to it setting up a base in Accra. In the UK its former head of comms and public affairs in the UK and Europe Peter Barron was someone I knew very well; we were both at BBC Newsnight in 1991 and Channel 4 News in the mid-to-late 90s and Barron became a supporter of my work, commenting:

“David saw the potential of digital video journalism early on, and keeps on pushing the boundaries in brilliant and beautiful ways”

However tech and journalism face a testing time from a set of legacy and emerging problems around the acquisition of personal and private data. Fintech and start ups offer entrepreneurial routes to build new businesses, and young people can be the main beneficiaries, but the nirvana of Silicon Valley through 50 Cents’ mantra “Get rich quick or die trying” needs to be tempered against humanistic values and ethics that have since revealed lessons untold. Framing a caring a future and Ghanaians fabrical sense of social care and community is one of them.

The pressure’s thus on journalism and in particularly storytelling of a new form that counters irrationalism and the dark forces of the unconscious mind strafing human nature. Being accountable, innovative and solving problems has never been greater and more pressing.

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Newsroom disruptions

Before arriving in Ghana in July I was scheduled to participate in two international schemes, one for the British Council which looked at the Future of News inviting 100 out of 3000 sourced young people to London and Reuters news agency for three days. Three were chosen from Ghana. I would also chair a debate by the Centre for Investigative Journalism on the role of multinationals in developing countries.

The digital entrepreneur and start-up culture requires further research for its footprint in Ghana and impact outside, and that there’s a leaning on progression rather than merely disruption, for its own sake. It’s one in which we’re passionate about having long experience working start ups in 1994 and in the dotcom boom of 2001. I was due to speak to the Dean of Ghana’s Institute of Journalism, but could not synch our diaries. There’s much I would like to share.

As the recipient of the US’ major award for Innovation in Journalism, in the UK we turned the corner realising the deficiencies of traditional journalism to cope with the politicised social and tech world.

From launching new courses for universities and private companies we expanded the remit of journalism into factual storytelling and the need for psychology, neuroscience and behavioural theory to be part of a multiverse that embraces new horizons in machine language, AI, VR and data.

Back in the UK, we’re about to move into the next phase of funding the Star Trek project looking at the future of news working with one the country’s leading experts. Similarly, as part of my university, I’ll be working with a number of stakeholders, including national broadcasters examining innovation with younger people.

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Lining up leading tv producers in the UK for an exhibition, book and series of gallery videos

All our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions said da Vinci and Art is a powerful expression by itself but also glues societies and lubricates other disciplines such as business.

Erecting symbols and showcasing the work of artists is a key indicator for inspiration and energising the next generation at viewmagazine.tv collaborating with partner, Simone. In the UK, the well publicised and received work (see here for details), from the public and government, of the UK’s leading Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic talent, many of whom are Ghanaians has been a boon. It’s been to the Mayor’s function and toured schools.

This year Ghana boxed its way on the international arts circuit with the Venice Biennale spotlighting six artists: Photographer Felicia Abban, film-maker John Akomfrah, Painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Artist El Anatsui, video-maker Selasi Awusi Sosu, Author and artist Ibrahim Mahama. Curated by Oforiatta Ayim, with the pavilions sculptured by the multi-award winning David Adjaye, this was about them as much as an about Ghana’s confidence.

Boxing clever was the theme of this article epitomised in an acute way by the entrepreneurs and arts and craft makers like Nii A. Hagla MD of Hagay Arts and Craft Gallery in the Arts Centre.

Like the boxers we met, he’s determined, persistent, and has a vision of what he can do. Unquestionably solutions are complex, but as I art direct him to pose in his shop saying I hope the post draws you to visit him at shop 163, I’m reminded. A country’s brand and character is shaped by the people. Can Ghana keep its up it momentum and how transformative does the various sectors set different goals. It’s up to you now! Keep jabbing.

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Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is the founder of Viewmagazine.tv an international award-winning hybrid digital publication and hub that provides pioneering stories e.g. Obama’s 100 Days at the SouthBank and disruptive campaigns He’s one of the top 20 global writers in journalism on @Medium, @twitters platform and was voted one of the top 40 influential Ghanaians in the UK’s Ghana Abroad. He’s worked or consulted in China, Russia, Egypt, India, South Africa, America etc. More on him here

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Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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