The rejections and disappointments I never shared

I arrived in the UK exactly a month ago and I absolutely love my new home Cardiff University, where I have begun my academic life in pursuit of a master’s degree in International Public Relations and Global Communications Management. I’ve received a number of requests from friends and readers who followed my blogs (https://nanaboakyeyiadom.wordpress.com/) while I was on the YALI programme in the US; that I should blog about my experiences in the UK too. I’ll try to keep up, but before I attempt it, let me start from how I eventually ended up here in Wales.

The trigger

I’m not exactly sure what we were talking about in my office but one of my colleagues commented, “But Boakye, as for you don’t complain, your life is perfect… Do you have any problem in this life?” The person retorted and was supported by the others in the conversation.

Another quickly started listing the perceived successes in my work, family and my life in general; “You are a director in this office, you fly around to different parts of the world regularly and doing well with your iJourno Africa project”. Charley don’t even bring yourself”, he jokingly threatened.

Those comments rather struck me differently and I recoiled to think about it a little bit more. Indeed I have shared some success stories in my career and projects I have championed outside my regular job. In 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I picked up the first place award in the African Story Challenge competition for African journalists. There were over 300 journalists across the continent that competed and I came up tops.

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Picking up the African Story Challenge award in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Later, that story – ‘Phone Farming’, earned me the Best Online Story award for 2013 at the Ghana Journalists Awards. The prize for that award for the African competition, was for me to choose any international media organization on the planet to work with for a month – it wasn’t a difficult decision – The BBC. So I was in London for a month, all expense paid plus some real good money to make life very comfortable while in London.

In 2015, I started iJourno Africa, a pan-African data journalism training not-for-profit organization to teach student journalists for free. It’s currently in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa is ‘warming up’.

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Speaking at one of the iJourno Africa training sessions in Accra

In 2016, I got selected for President Barack Obama’s leadership initiative for young Africans called the Mandela Washington Fellowship, under the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). As part of the programme, I was camped at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and subsequently met Mr. Obama in Washington with the other cohorts.

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In the same room with former US President Barack Obama talking to 1,000 young African leaders in Washington D.C

This year, I’ve been selected for the prestigious UK government-sponsored Chevening Scholarship for my master’s degree in the UK and I am studying at Cardiff University.

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So ‘Charley’ I won’t fault my colleagues, real and virtual friends who follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram who also see this as a perfect life. Fair!

How about the failures I didn’t post on Facebook, etc?

True, the above-listed sound really good especially on a CV. But I believe strongly it’s the favour of God upon my life, what I usually hashtag #UnmeritedFavour. You may or may not fully understand it, but that’s another discussion. Apart from my wife, very few people know about the several “We are sorry” emails I have received after applying for scores of international training programmes or fellowships or scholarships when I was looking for support to further my education.

At the 2nd of the two send off parties my colleagues and management of Citi FM organized for me before I left, our MD, Samuel Attah-Mensah, popularly known as Sammens, told my colleagues of how to the best of his knowledge, I had attempted and failed on three occasions to secure scholarships with Chevening and Tullow Oil over the last years. “I know Boakye did the first and second world war and failed. We thank God on his third attempt, he finally got it,” he said.

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Some of my colleagues at the Friday newsroom-organized send of party

Yes, he only knew about the three main ones. And in fact, on this occasion, he wrote one of the two important and powerful referrals to back my Chevening application.

I chased various scholarships for my master’s degree for five years. Yes, five! I applied to numerous scholarship programmes; about 15 different times over the period. I wrote a countless number of essays usually between 500 – 2,000 words for each of these scholarships without success. Each application usually demands a minimum of three essays; so do the math on how many words and essays I wrote in all these essays over five years.

Tullow scholarship – When the Tullow Oil scholarship started I tried to secure that scholarship as well somewhere in 2014. That was my first attempt and I made it to the semi-final stage. By this time, I was almost always on the Cardiff University website. Watching videos about my course and the school. Looking at the beautiful greenery, flowers, ancient buildings and testimonials from past students saying amazing things about the school. I would go to bed still thinking about them and dream that I was on campus, only for reality to hit in the morning lol. But at this point, I was almost certain that I was going to be in Cardiff soon. There was no way I won’t pass this interview.

When the final list came out a few weeks later, I was eliminated.

I was crushed!

Nothing made sense to me. I was angry, disappointed, deeply hurt to the extent that tears even failed me.

But I had to get over it. I prayed and said to God to take over and that I won’t ask Him any questions about how he allowed this to happen to me. He should just take control.

I got over it and made a second attempt the following year. Guess what? I wasn’t even shortlisted for an interview. The same scholarship programme I went all the way to the semi-final. It didn’t make sense to me but again, “I let go and let God”. I tried my hands on other ones; Commonwealth Scholarship, World Bank Scholarship, Mastercard scholarship for Africans, Japanese, South Africa, China and many others that didn’t even look credible. I think I was getting desperate at this point. All those returned with “We are sorry you were not selected because, this year, the number of applications… Blah blah blah.”

Charley ‘Man Taya’! (Man is tired!)

YALI

But I decided to do other things, if (In my mind), God didn’t want me to pursue my master’s degree anytime soon. So I applied for Barack Obama’s initiative called the Mandala Washington Fellowship, under the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Let me also disclose to you that getting onto the YALI programme last year wasn’t on my first attempt. Yup! I had tried in 2014. Again, an email came, patronized me and finally delivered the uppercut. “You were not selected for the interview stage!” Again, I re-grouped and applied in 2015, the results came out in 2016 and BINGO!

Chevening Scholarship

My family and friends are really excited about my selection for the Chevening Scholarship. But guess what? This is not the first time I’ve applied for this scholarship, I tried it first in 2012 but I couldn’t even make the cut for an interview session. You can imagine all the rhetorical questions I asked myself. Again, “I let go and let God”. I applied again in 2016, the results came out this year and BINGO!

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That’s my blackself in the middle of my classmates in the group picture. Source: Cardiff University

The trick though

I am an optimist, but there were many times I nearly gave up. There were many times I said to myself that perhaps I was not meant to pursue a masters degree abroad so I should just look for the funds and study right here in Ghana, even though I had told myself several times that I’d pursue my second degree in a good university outside because of certain advantages I believe it comes with – (Doesn’t mean schooling in Ghana is bad). But when the frustrations set in, you’re most likely to doubt yourself, God and blame everything else and anybody around you, including the witches in your house.

How did I finally get results?

Truth is, the reason somehow I managed to claw back and finally got the opportunities in YALI and Chevening is that I kept doing the things I needed to do at Citi FM and took on leadership roles I was offered and tried to execute them as best as I could.

Outside Citi FM, I tried to learn new things, take on new challenges – and that’s how iJourno Africa was born. And I can confidently say the new challenges I took on and the new things I learned during the “fallow period,” finally got me what I wanted, and of course the #UnmeritedFavour.

When I got the opportunity for interviews on YALI and Chevening, I put in so much effort; I researched, spoke to past beneficiaries and even did mock interviews with some of them. Before I went for the YALI interview, I did a mock interview with Ethel Cofie (Founder of Girls in Tech) and Tonyi Senayah (Horseman Shoes). Before I went for my Chevening interview, I also had mock interviews with Sammy Bartels (A former Chevener who now works with Vodafone) and my boss Bernard Avle (Host of the Citi Breakfast Show). I just did not want to take chances and in the end, it paid off.

Consider these while in distress

  1. Maybe it’s not time yet.
  2. But keep your eye on the ball.
  3. And while at it, do other things to improve yourself. Don’t mark time.
  4. Keep believing God will do it eventually.

Don’t give up. Keep pushing. And finally, when you get what you want, write a blog like this. Who knows, it might encourage someone in a similar situation.

I’ll share my experiences in the first month in Cardiff soon.

I’m out…

Email: boakyeyiadomn@gmail.com

Twitter: @boakyecitifm

 

iJourno Africa: 15 months, over 120 trainees, South Africa next

Yes; South Africa next! That is the big announcement and I can’t even believe it myself. Sometime in the middle of the night in 2015, I woke up like I was being pursued in my dreams. It was the same feeling and restlessness I get when my whole being is convinced about something I should do immediately and I’m procrastinating. I pulled out my laptop and started typing away an idea that would later turn out to be iJourno Africa – now operating in Ghana and Kenya.

The basic idea is to teach student journalists, the concept of data journalism that looks closely at hard facts and figures, analyze and create stories others are not paying attention to, particularly developmental stories. In doing so, I’m hoping to inspire and churn out Africa’s next generation of data-driven journalists who will add rigour to the journalism work we do.

The journalism institutions in Ghana have embraced it because they agree it’s a great initiative and possibly the best solution for the huge chasm. We’ve had some promising student journalists from the Ghana Institute of Journalism, African University College of Communications, University of Ghana, Central University College – all in Ghana and Daystar University, one of the best journalism institutions in Kenya.

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The core team that organized Kenya’s first Journoshop (From Left: Carolyn Thompson, Jeremiah Kipanoi, Thomas Otieno Bwire[Kenya Chapter Lead] and Anne – a volunteer
The core team that organized Kenya’s first Journoshop (From Left: Carolyn Thompson, Jeremiah Kipanoi, Thomas Otieno Bwire [Kenya Chapter Lead] and Anne – a volunteer

Our trainees in both countries have produced some really good data stories that touch the core of our development life as a continent. I’m happy to announce that South Africa has opened its big, warm, welcoming arms to receive us, led by our Chapter Lead WandiswaNtengento. The University of Fort Hare, the same university that trained Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and other great minds from that country, will be our home institution. Keep a close eye on our Facebook page and on Twitter for more details.1,000 trainees

Our target is to train 1,000 students as soon as we can, in 2017 possibly. We’ve just done a little over 120, but we will keep our eyes on the ball and look on the bright side. Malawi, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Cote D’Ivoire are knocking on our doors; but all I can say is that, God’s time is the best. We will be there sooner than later.

The anchors

The real heroes on this journey so far have been the volunteers who sacrifice their precious time and spend their own money to make this happen. Let me take this opportunity to name a few; Daniel Peprah, Angela Bortey, Roberta Abbey Quaye and Kwesi Sekyere Osei. In Kenya, the guys making it happen are Thomas Otieno Bwire and Jeremiah Kipanoi. These guys have amazing passion and blessing Kenyans with it.

Special thanks to Bernard Avle, a director of iJourno Africa who has spurred this project on with fantastic ideas, money and his time.

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Bernard Avle (Right) and volunteer Angela Bortey

Another special mention goes to Carolyn Thompson, the Canadian journalist who opened my eyes to data journalism and has probably done more than I have, to train a lot of our students in Ghana and Kenya. She has an amazing heart, which has taken her to the volatile South Sudan to teach journalism there as well.

Last but certainly not least, Mawuli Tsikata, Sandister Tei, Jacky Habib and Philip Kofi Ashon, thanks so much for sharing your time and skill with our students. The sky is not even the limit, our dream to become Africa’s TRUE VOICE, shall come to pass.

YALI 2016 Diaries: Gays and the Cringe

I’ve been struggling to publish my 5th blog post on this YALI trip not because there’s nothing important happening here. Last week was one of my favourite weeks in the classroom following sessions on leadership styles and effective strategic communication. Somehow, I did not feel you would want to be bored by a test I took on what kind of a leader I am and learning and drawing strategies for effective communication (I may be wrong though).

I’m also not sure if you will be interested in this ever “touchy” topic of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community, but I have written it anyway. I must admit I’m a bit nervous writing about this topic as this is the first time I’m also publicly speaking about it and not sure how people will take it without judging or attacking like rabid dogs.

One of the themes for this YALI programme is “Inclusion of Diversity for Leadership.” This concept essentially argues that effective leadership can “only be achieved when leaders understand and empathize with the backgrounds and past experiences of community members who may be differently-abled, hold different sexual identities, or subscribe to different religious, cultural, and political beliefs.”

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It is on the back of this broad topic that the class on Thursday, entered into the LGBTQ discussions. Given our African cultural backgrounds, I was not sure how my colleagues were going to respond to this. Before it started though, the whole group watched a movie titled “Milk”, which depicted the struggles of the LGBTQ community for decades. The opening scenes of men kissing men and having sex (the sex part wasn’t very explicit) made most of my colleagues cringe. The kissing and the other things all continued unabated in the movie as my friends watched in silence.

Tolerance

About three of my colleagues from Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe work with and defend the LGBTQ community in different ways so it was predictable that when the discussions start, they would be more open minded in their comments. But majority of them were actually quite sympathetic and condemned any form of violence against gays. Some of them cited instances in their countries where people have been lynched and others burnt alive by people who accused the victims of being gay.

There were questions that left people thinking; “What if you found out your brother, sister, daughter or son was gay or lesbian, will you allow a mob to burn them to death?

In one of the mini discussions, someone posed a question; What would Jesus have done if he encounted a gay or a lesbian, will he ask that they be killed? Or just like the prostitute or adulterer in the Bible, he would rather protect them?

We were later sent to a centre that hosts young members of the LGBTQ community which helps them to deal and live a fulfilling life within a hostile society. Americans are still very hostile to people who openly display they are gay, despite a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriages.  We even later sat through a board meeting made up of gays, lesbians and a transgender.

To be honest, it really felt like a long day for me but I learnt.

 

YALI 2016 Diaries: The Mormons

I have had a lot of messages from friends who have seen my pictures on Facebook and Instagram, traveling from one city to the other on the YALI trip, and they all say, “You dey chill oo”, which literally means, “You are really having fun”.

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On the streets of Chicago with some of the Fellows; Dansira from Mali with me in that selfie, Y-FM’s Akosua Hanson from Ghana, Phazah is the man from Botwsana and Sim is photo bombing right up there.

Well yeah, I’m having a helluva of a time! But I think the organizers of the Civic Leadership Track at the University of Illinois, Dr Jeff Friedman and Dr. Merle Bowen got it spot on, beautifully combining classroom work and the practical issues on the field. That’s where the fun part comes in.

In week 2, we have been crisscrossing the state of Illinois, moving from Springfield (The capital), to Bloomington to Chicago and back to our base in Champaign. On these trips, we learned in the most practical ways, the history of America, the real issues of poverty, crime in midst of development and success, community service, civic leadership and the sometimes ignorant and myopic view of the American about the African continent.

The Book of Mormon and Chicago

Let me start from the last point. On Thursday night, we were scheduled to watch the popular Book of Mormon play at the Private Bank Theater. In the entire auditorium, apart from the black casts, I think I could not spot any other black person (I could be wrong) apart from us (The 25 YALI Fellows).

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Inside the Private Bank Theatre before the play started

The Book of Mormon is a religious satire, which sort of exaggerates Americans’ opinion about Africa and Africans. In most of the scenes, it turns very vulgar and offensive, with direct *F word insults to God and Christianity. In writer and theatre producer Jim Bennett’s words, “Indeed, R-rated movies seldom contain this much profanity, nor do they aim it at deity with such vitriolic glee.”

The writers of the play used The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the US as the focus group to sort of represent Americans, and Uganda to represent or better still, misrepresent Africa. By the time the play was half way through, most of my colleagues were so livid they wanted to storm out. But we were supposed to keep “an open mind.”  Its all part of the training. Observe and make our own judgments. Honestly in the end, I didn’t know what to make of the play. The play certainly did not do any damage control and I think to a large extent, it left many of the ignorant ones thinking they were not wrong afterall. Somehow, I don’t think The Latter-day Saints; popularly called the Mormons have openly condemned the play yet for what ever reason. I’ll just leave it there.

Before we ended up at the theatre though, we were at the Chicago City Council, learning about how they enact laws to govern the city and how they are also particularly struggling with violence – known for one of the highest crime rates in the US.

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The city is sharply divide, the white population on one side, Asians and new settlers in the middle while the huge black community is also tucked on one side. I don’t think Hon. George A. Cardnes, a member of the Council representing Ward 12, adequately answered my question about whether they have placed a finger on the real cause of these violent acts and how to drastically reduce it. But I’ll leave them to deal with their problems, as they seem to be looking for lasting solutions. The number of homeless people on the flashy streets of Chicago is also quite profound and any visitor to the city will easily recognize this.

Community Service 

Americans are big on community service and volunteerism is an essential part of American culture. Million of Americans volunteer for charitable and national service organizations in their country and outside each year because they feel the need to give back. I don’t know how they managed to get their people to think that way. But it’s a good thing to help your neighbour or a community in need. In the classroom, we studied the goals and outcomes of community service, comparing and contrasting volunteerism to community engagement. We later visited the Illinois Wesleyan University to understudy the vibrant Action Research Center, which is using innovative ideas to transform nearby communities.

We did not just listen, we got our hands dirty to paint some chairs meant for the community bus stops.

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That’s me with mask showing my painting prowess

Others also painted giant flower ports which are meant to beautify a community that is largely seen as neglected and poor.

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Husein from Burundi (left) and Ashura from Kenya

Today is 4th of July, America’s independence day.

I’m looking forward to the activities lined up for today and the fire works. Hopefully the weather will be charitable today. We’re supposed to be in Summer but the cold weather and the rains are conniving to ruin our plans.  Hang on for the pictures for the 4th of July in my next blog.

And oh, before I sign out, I finally attended church on Sunday at the University of Illinois Baptist Church. Loved it!

YALI 2016 Diaries: My Deaf Roommate

It really has been a long week, with a cocktail of thought provoking conversations, field trips, mad fun and learning.

I also think the fellows seem to be bonding well now. People are striking great relationships while others try to tolerate the annoying ones; hopefully I’m not annoying anybody.

Just think about what happens when 25 super intelligent brains from Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, Burundi, Mali, Liberia, Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe are all put together in one room. Maybe later I will pick each one of my new African friends and write about them, but that is for later. For now though, let me tell you about something fascinating… I’m learning sign language.

My new language 

I came on this programme with an “empty head,” prepared to stuff it with as much as I can learn. But I definitely did not think, or in my wildest dreams anticipate living with a deaf person. I’m not sure what my feelings were when I figured it out. But the questions came pouring; how will we communicate? Will our stay in our suite be boring? What if he needs something? What if I need him to do something? With my own concocted gestures, I tried to tell my Kenyan roomie Richard Mativu Masau very early one the morning, that I’m going back to sleep for one more hour before breakfast so he should wake me up before then. It turns out I told him something completely different. I missed breakfast and was nearly late for class. This would be a really difficult 6 weeks with Richard, I thought to myself.

Richard in our kitchen area
Richard in our kitchen area

However our first class session on this programme really opened my eyes to something probably you, and I have taken for granted. Inclusiveness. I don’t think we have bothered much about people with disabilities within our communities. Mind you, disabilities are not just physical, some are hidden; like hearing impairment, brain disorders, among others. I think from what we learnt, America is a doing a great job at making sure persons with disabilities do not feel alienated. For each class session and all field trips, interpraters were provided. So I thought to myself, why don’t I attempt to learn the sign language? It actually might make my stay with Richard more enjoyable.

Well, I have and now I’m able to say good morning, welcome, how are you? Thank you and also spell in sign language. On Saturday night, I was proud of myself. As I struggled to communicate to him, I remember I could actually spell what I wanted to say. I did, he smiled and in all the excitement, gave me a fist bump that nearly broke my knuckles lol. Just to let you know though, Richard can speak but can’t hear. He’s an intelligent and a great guy! And oh, he can really cook! Wink wink…

Knowing America

Spread across dozens of respected US universities; some of Africa’s most promising leaders have been learning about all the nuances of civic leadership, public management and business and entrepreneurship. These academic courses have been carefully crafted to expose these young leaders to how Americans “did it”. But just to be clear, this Mandela Washington Fellowship did not bring us to see a perfect America, learn and magically transform the Africa continent in a twinkle of an eye.

I like the reality check from the Programme Director at the University of Illinois, Dr Jeff Friedman; “America is NOT perfect!”

And honestly that is the plain truth. At our opening reception at the plush Illini Union building, the Director of the Cline Centre for Democracy, Scott Althaus put it quite succinctly; that the country is seeing one of its worst election campaigns in decades, with some of the most appalling comments from Presidential candidates, just like we hear back home in Ghana.

As a matter of fact, through our ‘Civic Engagement in Modern American Society’ class, our professor Joe Hinchliffe displayed dozens of false statements some of the current Presidential candidates made during their campaigns, just like we hear back home in Ghana. I couldn’t believe that the state of Illinois had gone almost the entire fiscal year without passing the state budget because the leaders on the Democratic and Republican sides could not come to a consensus, effectively affecting certain social interventions.

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Thats me asking the Senate Representative Carol Ammon why they allowed this to happen nearly 80 years after it first happened
That is me asking the Senate Representative Carol Ammon why they allowed this to happen nearly 80 years after it first occured.

Only 9% of Americans trust Congress (the legislator), only one third of the population trust the justice system and just fewer than 40% of Americans trust the presidency. So yeah, America is NOT perfect.

However, I think what makes the US the “All mighty America” is actually their attempt to fix their mistakes. To a very large extent, the country has made enviable strides through civic engagement, which constantly looks out for the interest of the people. And from what we are learning here, they are indeed fighting to make it better. And so should we.

Juror Duties

We have also been studying and discussing the American judicial and education systems and the civic movements that have supported the development of America. The organizers of the programme at the University of Illinois have done a fantastic job, making sure we practicalize most of the things we learn in the classroom. So during the week, we were the jurors in a moot court at the law school. I never realized how difficult the work of a juror is until I was put in that position. But it was fun, intellectually engaging and an eye opener.

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Then the Fun Weekend

How else can a great weekend start? My very good friend from Y FM, Nana Akosua Hanson’s birthday was on Friday 25th June. It was as if the city of Champaign planned another street festival to coincide with the birthday. So we made it the party grounds. Some blues, good old jazz music, drinks and well made ribs were just enough to ensure we turned the place on its head.

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The usual suspects; Sim and J from South Africa, Phazha from Botswana, Prince from Liberia and yours truly, made sure Nana Akosua had a blast.

But Saturday was really good too, as we drove out of the main university campus to visit the Allerton Park. This facility was owned by perhaps the richest bachelor in US at the time. Because he didn’t have biological children, he later donated this sprawling and amazing park to the university of Illinois.

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YALI 2016 DIARIES – Day 3&4: The rude awakening

Hello,

I’m back again because of the overwhelming response I got from my first blog on this trip. It tells me I can’t stop. People want to know what this programme is really about; how they can benefit especially as they nurture hopes of applying next year. Good, but don’t get ahead of yourself yet. It’s just starting; we are still easing slowly into things. We just got our university ID cards, orientation and generous cash/stipend for our stay (smiling).

Street Festival (Saturday night)

Let me give you a sneak peak into the fun at the street festival. It happened at Downtown Champaign, which is a predominantly white neighbourhood. So you can imagine how conspicuous we were (About 15 African nationals) milling through the crowd and not being sure of where we can stand and enjoy the party away from the curious eyes. But eventually we didn’t give a ‘hoot’ about the prying eyes anymore and got into the grove.

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I didn’t enjoy the music, I’d have preferred something I could do the ‘Alkaida dance’ with. But never mind. I was determined to have a blast at the party anyway.

It was mostly jazz and country music. So I got my dancing shoes on and asked a beautiful lady from Kenya, Wanjiku to join me on the dance floor. Apparently she was itching to dance too. The rest couldn’t muster courage to join us. The verdict on how I performed is in the video below. You are the judges (Please be nice).

Sunday

I had really meant to find a church on campus to attend in the morning. That was the first thing I had planned to do I promise. But the Saturday night I guess took a toll on me. The street festival at downtown Champaign was really fun and by the time we were done, I was too exhausted  and weak and I knew waking up for church would be nearly impossible. (Please don’t tell my pastor if you know him). So yea, I skipped church.

Breakfast as usual was very good. Time for orientation. At the orientation, the Programme Manager Dr Jeffrey Friedman did not mince words. “This is NOT a vacation!”

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Trust me people had plans lol. Some had planned to travel to see family and friends in different states, go sightseeing and other fanciful stuff. But really, you can’t just come on vacation on Americans’ tax payers’ cash. That ain’t happening! (My LAFA come small).

So this is the deal, you can’t travel on your own to anywhere within a 300 mile radius from campus, you can’t travel anywhere by flight and we are to fully participate in ALL the planned activities. We have only 2 free days in the entire 6 weeks academic and leadership training progamme. Everyday has been planned for us. If you’re unable to comply, you will be packed onto the next available flight. Period!

So that was the “rude awakening.”

Later, we took a tour of the biggest library in the United States of America, which is on the University of Illinois campus.

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It reminded me a lot about the Balm Library at the University of Ghana. Later we will make use of the resources at that library in the course of our programme.

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But real work starts on Monday. Bring it on!

Day 1&2: My Mandela Washington Fellowship Diaries

Hello guys! Yea I know its been donkey’s years. Today I’m not here to talk about business or any hard news. I’m just here to share my experiences on my journey on President Obama’s flagship programme; the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). I’m not going to say much on these diaries but just enough for you to follow the drift.

If you also want to read more about my selection onto this programme, follow the links below.

http://goo.gl/2eF5st

http://goo.gl/Yz9cLn

http://goo.gl/g0LOVM

DAY 1&2: The Long Tiring Trip

So I’m going to leave the selection process and the details about who made it from Ghana out of nearly 2,000 applicants and go straight to the journey to Obamaland. My bad habbit of packing luggage late for travels caught up with me again. So after working half day on Thursday 16th June, (same day we were traveling to the US), I realized I need a new suitcase. I was driving and running around Accra like a headless chicken. I ended up at Game at the Accra mall to grab one, a few other things and rushed home to pack for the trip.  There were a million things and sourvinirs to buy but I knew it was too late to find. Soon, it was time to fly out. KLM flight from Accra-Amsterdam-Chicago and then a bus drive to the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaigne.

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YALI Fellows from left: Josphine Godwyll, Nana Akosua Hanson (Y-FM) and moi at Kotoka International Airport

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

It was a really smooth flight from Accra to the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. The real killer though was the 5-hour waiting period. Damn it was hard for me but the lady behind me in the picture below on piano and great internet speed somewhat did the trick.

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O’Hare Airport, Chicago

After more than 7 hours in the air to Chicago, the tiredness, jet lag and the awful mood all just vanished when I started meeting all the other African brothers and sisters who are also on this programme. I’m extremely good with recognizing faces so I recognized most of those who posted pictures on the 2016 YALI Facebook page. Fantastic feeling I can’t really explain. Now the whole programme felt so real. Apart from Illinois, some of them were heading to Purdue, Wisconsin, North Western universities among others. We waited at the Hilton Hotel at the airport for about 4 hours. Waiting for others to arrive so we can travel together. The tiredness turned into pain in the legs and headaches. But most of the time, you slip into oblivion, chatting with all these amazing guys who I only previously knew on the Civic Leadership whatsapp group. It was nice meeting all the guys, Rachel and Halima from Malawi, Yaye from Senegal, Chichi from the Gambia, Christian, Sersges.

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From far left: Yaye, Rachel, Halima

Urbana Champaigne

By the time we got to University of Illinois, I was literally a dead man walking. But that good feeling of being part of this great programme kept me going. We were taken to the Presby Hall, which would be our new home for the next 6 weeks or so. Very clean, and oh I love my room.

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I was told we would be about 4 in one suite, each fellow with a room but shared bathrooms. But I was pleasantly surprised. Richard from Kenya is my only roommate and we both have private bathrooms. Smiles…

Day 2

Saturday. I thought I’d sleep for like several hours and even miss breakfast because of the long night on Friday. But no. I was up by 5:30 and couldn’t sleep anymore, obviously the system is confused and all messed up. But breakfast was good! Nothing that triggered my phobia for new food. Loved it! And then later, a quick walk with new friends to see the town, the malls, the fantastic weather and the beautiful people.

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It will take time to remember all the names lol. But lady in middle is from Sudan, and the other from Nigeria

Oh later tonight, there’s a festival from 7pm to 10, and we also have plans to go to the movies.

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That is Sim from South Africa

I don’t want to think about all the hard work  and stress that will follow from Monday. The books below will give you an idea.

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For now though, allow me to chill small…

Toyota, BMW… Kantanka? ‘Made in Ghana’ cars go on sale

Japanese Toyotas, German Mercedes and BMWs, GM cars and trucks from the USA are driven in countries around the world. But in Ghana an inventor and church leader who started out trying to make voice-controlled television sets is telling the auto giants to move over.

Kwadwo Safo Kantanka — nicknamed the “Apostle” because he also runs a network of churches — has finally realised his dream of developing and marketing cars “Made in Ghana”.

“It’s been in the pipeline since 1971,” Kwado Safo junior, one of the inventor’s sons, told AFP. “It started with the old man, so it’s been a long time coming.”

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Kantanka’s range of sports utility vehicles and pick-up trucks have got Ghana talking on social media, thanks in part to an advertising campaign using local movie and music stars.

The sticker price of the vehicles run from $18,000 to $35,000 — out of range for most people in Ghana. But a cheaper saloon car is expected to go on sale next year.

The locally made vehicles are entering a tough market, going up against established brands in a country that sees about 12,000 new and 100,000 second-hand cars imported every year.

But the inventor’s son, who is chief executive of the Kantanka Group, is confident the demand is there and the firm can hold its own in the competition.

“Already we have certain companies in Ghana who have come to make certain outrageous orders for huge numbers that we have to meet. So, we are working,” he said, without giving any specifics.

– Buy local –

Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama has been pushing his compatriots to buy locally to boost a stuttering economy hit by inflation, a depreciating currency and high public sector debt.

In 2014, he showed off a pair of Ghana-made shoes during his annual State of the Nation address and criticised the lack of appreciation of locally made goods and over-reliance on imports.

He noted that some $1.5 billion was spent in foreign currency on items such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, tomatoes and fish — all money “which could have gone into the pockets of Ghanaian entrepreneurs”, he said.

“Any import items we buy as Ghanaians constitutes an export of jobs in this country, especially in respect of the items for which we have comparative advantage to produce,” he said at the time.

For Kantanka some key components such as glass, tyres and brake callipers are imported, AFP was told on a visit to the company’s technology research centre west of Accra last year.

But local sourcing is a key component of Kantanka’s vehicles, whose radiator grilles feature Ghana’s five-pointed star emblem.

Wood from Ghanaian forests is used to make dashboards while the cream-coloured leather seats in the black SUV were made in the country’s second biggest commercial city, Kumasi.

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Akan — a language widely used in Ghana — is written alongside English on the electronics.

– ‘The next Toyota’? –

Kantanka’s son was adamant about the uniqueness of the cars, which have all been approved for safety by Ghana’s Drivers Vehicle Licensing Authority.

The Made in Ghana label means that “if you have any problems with the vehicle, you wouldn’t have to import from India or China or America. All the parts are right here and we have a 24-hour service,” he said.

Six months ago, Ghana’s police service received one of the pick-up trucks, potentially paving the way for other government agencies to place orders.

Kantanka junior is upbeat about the way ahead.

“The future of Kantanka for the next 10 years is to try as much as possible to increase our lines,” he said.

To the curent three lines, he said, “we intend to increase by next year January, February and add two more lines to it. We intend to go into more lines like buses, mini-vans and all that.”

For Ghanaians, the cars could put their West African nation on the map.

“We must believe in the Ghanaian just like Toyotas and Hyundais,” said Murtala Mohammed, who lives in Accra.

“They all started from scratch. Who knows? Kantaka could be the next Toyota.”

The quiet giant: My London – Miami experience on a British Airways A380 Airbus

 

For such a humongous piece of flying metal piece, passengers would naturally expect that an A380 Airbus would have roaring and loud engines to propel it into the skies, and would dread the level of cabin noise.
I got the opportunity to fly on a British Airways A380 Airbus, on an inaugural flight from London to Miami, USA, in a Club World cabin.

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The double-decker plane has two Club World (Business class) cabins – one on the main and the other on the upper deck. I couldn’t help but notice the rear facing middle seat on upper deck which offers additional interior storage space for a laptop or iPad and an additional flat surface for drinks and magazines. It also provides privacy for working and sleeping with aisle access in either direction. It was incredibly spacious.

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The most striking feature

I dreaded the irritating cabin noise which typically does not allow passengers to enjoy the inflight entertainment such as the latest movies, good music, audio books among others. By the time we were in the sky, and breaking through the clouds, the cabin was dead quiet! The A380’s quietness in the air is its loudest feature. It does not force passengers to shout in chit chats and allows them the maximum relaxation throughout the journey.

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Currently, British Airways is operating the A380 between London and Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Singapore, Washington, San Francisco and Miami. British Airways ordered twelve A380 Airbuses and expects all to arrive by 2016. This particular aircraft forms the centrepiece of British Airways’ £5bn investment in products and services to benefit customers.

Club World 

You can work or sleep in peace in this cabin. Passengers can operate the privacy screen to prevent sometimes, uncomfortable stares from passengers close to you. If a passenger happens to choose a window seat, there are side storage areas that run the length of the aircraft, offering customers extra stowage capable of storing a laptop and other items. However my favourite feature was the two USB sockets providing power for personal devices. I had used up my battery power before take and I was concerned about my phone when we touch down, but it was all sorted out.

The shortest 9-hour journey

Mid-way through the flight, I decided to take advantage of the quietness and have a nap. It was actually an attractive thought because the seat could recline into a fully flat 183cm bed with a memory foam headrest and quilted blanket.

In no time, I was staring into the beautifully lit Miami from the skies, promising fantastic time for the few days I’ll be there, and boy did it not disappoint!

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Ghana’s Presidency and it’s blatant disrespect for journalists

My sadness when I heard some of my colleagues covering President John Mahama have been involved in an accident was quickly swallowed up by anger. Yes I’m damn angry! I’m angry because for years I heard about the horrible stories from some of my colleagues who covered the first man of the land.

Samuel Nuamah, rest in peace. I feel for your wife and your little child. My friend William of Peace FM, I hear you are battling for your life at the hospital.  I am praying for you, I pray you recover soon.  I hear colleagues on the bus even thought you had died because of the condition you were in when help arrived. I am praying for the families of all those who are in the hospital.

Because of the way, our governance works, being a presidential correspondent is one of the most important duties in every newsroom. You are close to the Commander in Chief and the source of, sometimes, all the big news stories.

But I wonder if the president knows the conditions under which most of the journalists who follow him around work.  He probably respects them. He doesn’t know that in many instances, they are treated shabbily.

I understand that with all the pressures of government, he does not wake up in the morning thinking about which vehicle will convey the journalists who travel with him. But you see, once they move because he moves, they are his responsibility. In fact that is why they are called the “Presidential Press Corps.”

The excuses may sound very convincing but the excuses won’t bring Samuel Nuamah back. The little child has been deprived of a father.

Who’s  idea was it to hire a Ford bus for the journos?

Sadly this is not even the first time. Can you imagine? So a certain trotro driver is sitting behind a Ford bus wheel and “flying” on the road following the President’s convoy (Not in this Volta Region situation though). Mind you, any driver that follows a president’s convoy needs specialised training. Besides, do they even check whether the vehicles they put the journalists in are in good condition? Or they are not as important as those on the presidential convoy?

What also baffles me is that, the presidency with all the money and access could not fix any of the four broken down press corps vehicles but rented a rickety vehicle for them to travel on to cover the President in the Volta Region. Is it that they do not value the lives of journalists?

Bad treatment

I know a few of the Presidential press corps team members. I also know a few who got tired of the insults, disrespect and mistreatment of those in charge of the  media at the Presidency. They are all singing from the same hymn book; “they don’t treat us well.” I know respect is earned, but the issue just goes beyond that. As reported by some of the journalists themselves, the individuals who are in charge do not appreciate the work of the journalists who bring to Ghanaians, the activities of the president. That leaves me wondering why these people even have jobs there.

I have heard stories about how they have gone hungry for hours following the president from town to town. They can’t stop and find food anywhere because the convoy is moving too fast and nobody will bother. They have been stuffed in stinking, cockroach infested hotel rooms, all in the name of covering the president. Those close to the President, you can bet they will not be found in such hotels.

Nonetheless, I will not insulate these journalists from blame. They take all the “crap” and murmur, without protesting. The sad and muted truth there is that, if you protest, the bosses will leave you out of the next international trip by the President. Yes I have said it!

Insurance

It’s sad to acknowledge that many of the media houses in this country have not insured their journalists. Our job can be dangerous. Extremely dangerous. If your legs get chopped off in the line of duty, sadly, you take the rest of your body home. You may be compensated but trust me, it won’t take you far.

How about the Presidency, for the sake of good name and responsibility, insure all the press corps members. Motor insurance for these journalists will not be over the moon. When the election season fully kicks off next year, it be will crazy. Maybe the media houses can insist that if the presidency does not insure them, nobody will cover the President.

The Ghana Journalists Association

I think this is another opportunity to redeem the battered image of the Association. I know they have concerns too but they have heard about the ill-treatment some of the journalists endure at the presidency.

You can champion this course.

When I mentioned your name in connection with this matter, people wrote you off and promised you won’t do anything about it.

Please prove them wrong!

Like I said, it didn’t have to cost a life but at this point, Mr President you should be concerned about the men and women who cover you and they must be treated right. There should be a codified procedure on how journalists follow any President of the land.

Either the media houses take care of their own bills, get correspondents to cover in the various regions or the presidency should stop taking care of the movement of journalists if they have to cover him.

Thank you