Saturday, December 6, 2008


A few interesting election observations:

1) all compaigning had to stop, by law, last night at midnight. That makes today (the day before the election) campaign-free. Kind of refreshing.

2) if money is any indication of who will win, then the NPP (curent ruling party) will trounce the NDC. From my unscientific observation, NPP commercials outnumber all the other parties combined 10 to 1. They also seem to have more billboards and signs, though not by as great a margin.

3) i don't know if i menioned this earlier, but because there are multiple political parties, if a presidential candidate doesn't get 50% + 1 then there is a run-off between the top two candidates. The run-off would, by law, be held within the next three weeks.

4) The presidential candidate i met in yendi a few days ago was on the radio being interviewed. it was kind of weird hearing him on the radio after having met him. he talked about the last few rallies and i vainly waited to see if he would mention the crazy white man who had spoken at his rally only the day before... but no such luck.

5) i heard another of the smaller party's candidates on the radio. he had an electrical engineering degree from the university of california (or somehwere similar). He had started many businesses, including bringing Western Union to about 10 countries all over africa. he must be hideously wealthy.

6) They shut down the border between Ghana and Togo. It will be re-opened monday (or tuesday was it?) One contact suggested that it was to prevent the Ewe people in the east from brining their fellow tribesman accross the border from Togo to vote for the NDC. I suspect it was actually Togo that closed the border, in order to keep any election chaos from spilling over onto its soil.



Thursday, December 4, 2008

How and Why

I've had many people ask how I got the opportunity to do this and also why i'm doing this. I'll attempt to answer both.

It all started in 2004, when the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights was looking for an attorney to serve as an election monitor in Aurora. I grudgingly accepted. On election day i almost got arrested. I was hooked.

They asked me again in 2006. While it was tamer, on incident struck a chord. One particular gentleman kept getting sent back and forth between 2 polling stations because of a misprint on his voter registration card. He kept driving the 20 minutes back and forth as the election judges at each place told him he was in the wrong place. I got involved after he had been doing this several hours. While i was helping him straighten it out, another man came into the polling place, saw that there was a line with 10 people in it, said "Forget this! I'm not waiting in line!" and promptly left. The contrast between the two men was startling.

2008 was even tamer, though the number of first-time voters made it challenging for the election judges, increasing the nubmer of honest mistakes.

Anyhow, having done it in the states, I thougth I could help out abroad. I picked Ghana because I lived here during college for a semester, so i was familiar with the country. When I first inquired around, no international groups had trips planned, though the Carter Center and the European Union both ahve teams here.

So I contacted a Ghanaian organization, the Free World Foundation, that is doing election observing and could get me credentials. I raised the money to come and bought a plane ticket.

"Why" is more complicated.

I work at a Comprehensive Homeless Resource Center (don't call it a homeless shelter) which satisfies a big chunk of my desire to help save a slice of the world, but not all of it. Even there I am increasingly becoming aware of the systemic elements of society that can create or eliminate a problem in very short time. For example, homelessness like we know it today did not exist 25 years ago. So i'm more aware of systems that create injustice now than i was before.

Combine that with my burgeoning awareness of the power of democracy. We take it for granted in America, it has been so ingrained in us. Even 2000, which was an electoral train wreck, never saw any real prospects for civil unrest. We forget that in the history of the world, democracy, as a concept, is in its infancy, and that a large chunk of the world suffers under something we wouldn't recognize as democracy. Most countries of the world claim to be democracies. That is a good thing. There was a time when countries wouldn't even bother trying to fit into the term.

But, now that there is somethign approaching worldwide agreement that democracy is a good thing, governments want the label without the responsibilities it entails. Presidents want to be elected in "free and fair" elections whose outcome is pre-determined.

I have not been to Zimbabwe, but its economy has collapsed in large part to a president who has done everything in his power (and many things outside of it) to crush all opposition. (Interesting fact, Zimbabwe's annual inflation is 231,000,000%. Yes, you read that correct, it is two hundred and thirty one million percent per year).

Krissie and I went to Kenya in June and saw what a country looks like 6 months after a rigged election in which thousands are killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. There were burned out buildings, IDP ("refugee") camps, and there economy was in tatters because the effect of the fighting on tourism. It was great for us to have the country to ourselves, but not so great for the kenyans.

So that all drew me to Ghana for their elections. So they could avoid that fate.


My favorite story in the bible is the one about the woman about to be stoned. Jesus encounters a mob ready to stone a woman who had committed adultery. I love what happens next, because Jesus performs a miracle without doing anything that you and i can't do. He bares witness to the injustice about to be committed. Not his exact words, but his presence says to the crowd: "I see you. You cannot commit this injustice in the dark. I know what you intend to do." And his presence said to the woman: "I see you. You are not alone. I feel the injustice you are experiencing." Jesus didn't call down thunderbolts or hop on his trusty white stallion (donkey?) and speed her off to safety. Instead, he used his presence and his words to point to the mob another way of being.

I think we are all called to bare witness to injustice. So, if my presence in Ghana says "I see you. The wolrd cares that Ghanaians have the right to vote without fear of violence" then i hae accomplished what I have set out to do. If my presence makes Ghana an itty bitty tiny bit less likely to repeat the mistakes of Kenya or Zimbabwe then this trip is a success. And after today, if talking to me today will cause one person to pause before giving into mob mentality, then it was worthwhile.




DISCLAIMER: This email has some minor vulgar language. And tons of misspellings and grammatical errors. I'm on a cruddy computer without spellcheck and typing as fast as i can to try to get it all in before the internet crashes again.

Today was quite the eventful day.

The interviews were much darker up here than in Kumasi. That may partially be because i have a local translator/guide, but i think it is more to do with the fact that there are far more problems up here. The atmosphere is very different.

The day started with interviews with five men at the NPP headquarters in Tamale. The NPP is in the minority in Tamale. They explained that two months ago there was a rally when shots were fired. The police came out and calmed everything down, but that night both the NPP headquarters and NDC headquarters were burned to the ground. They claimed that the NDC burned theirs first and they did it in a response (no, none of them were there, but 100 other people were). When I talked to NPP people later, they claimed that the NPP burned the NDC headquarters first and then set fire to their own, so it would look like the NDC did it.

When I asked the NPP why they burned the NDC's headquarters, they said that the NDC had killed several people and burned dozens of houses since 2002. They said that they "decided that when something is done, they will pay them back. We want peace, but when the NDC starts violence, we will do violence." They claimed (similar to almost everyone i talked to) that they personally didn't care about the clan divide that got co-opted by the political parties; that they only wanted development in the country.

On a personal note, i must say it was a bit disconcerting to sit outside of the NPP headquarters talking to them while they talked about NPP supporters being shot, beheaded and burned. I had my back to the street and everytime a propoganda truck came by blasting its loud speakers I was a bit jumpy. The men I was interviewing weren't jumpy though, so i took a cue from them.

We then took a 2.5 hour bus ride out to Yendi, the epicenter of the problems. The problems out there were totally different than i expected. Instead of the NDC and NPP fighting, in Yendi, the NPP was fighting a breakaway faction that had gone independent.

The very first person i talked to said there had been "a few" problems in Yendi. He then went on to show me the three places he was shot by the police after a rally 3 weeks ago (wrist, back and side, if i remember correctly). I'm not sure what a bullet wound looks like, but they looked like what i would imagine they would look like. He also had a hole in his motorcyle that he says was a bullet hole. Again, i'm not sure what a bullet hole looks like in metal, but it seemed real enough.

Interestingly, his account of how the fight started was backwards from what the other side reported. He claimed that the other faction (the break-away independents) came back from a rally and drug a man out of a mosque during prayer and started beating him. This man's group then got the women and children out of the way and started attacking. The other group reported that when they got back from their rally, that this group was ready for them and started the fight.

From most of the reports, most of the fighting starts after these rallies. I understand why now, but more on that later.

An interesting thing happened while we were talking to the man with the bullet holes. An agent from BN9 came up to see what we were doing. BN9 is their version of the FBI. I think they fashioned the name after the British MI6. When Muhammad told me there was a BN9 agent following us, I thought we ought to just go say hi. So we did and he was very nice. He was in plainclothes and very very serious. I explained what i was doing and asked if i could interview him. He politely declined, saying there were plenty of other people to talk to. Then he left us alone.

In talking to the different sides of this issue, a scary theme emerged. Both sides seemed to think that the other side couldn't possibly win without cheating, and if the other side cheated, there would "be problems." I can't see how they can possibly escape violence when neither side believes the other can win legitimately. Someone has to win, and the other side will not accept it as fair and honest.

A few people had complaints about the election commission, but they were vague and scattered.

An interesting note: very few of the accounts of violence were identical. When speaking of the same incident, one person might report 7 cars burned, several homes burned and 2 people killed; another person might report 2 homes burned and a few motorcyles and 3 people killed. Everyone speaks with conviction, but the facts seem to have been lost a while ago.

We tried to interview the head of the local election commission office, but he had a line with a dozen people waiting to see him.

Next we stumbled upon a rally for the PNC, which is not the majority or the opposition party. The party's presidential candidate was there for the rally. It was like accidentally walking into a rally for Ross Perot or Ralph Nader. They gave me a seat up front (by my estimate it was the 5'th most important seat, behind the presidential candidate and a few local officials). Many people gave speeches in Dagboni and everyone cheered. They asked if I wanted to talk, so i took the microphone, told the crowd what i was there for and told them I was hoping for peace and a free and fair election for them. Most of them didn't speak English, but they seemed thrilled that I talked anyhow.

After the rally we discovered that the last bus back to Tamale had already left. Oh crap. We took our chances hitch-hiking back and caught a truck pretty quickly. I was a little bitter that a Peace Corps truck looked right at us and kept on driving. Jerks.

When we got back to Tamale we drove right into the middle of an NDC rally. Now I know how these things are the root of all the violence. It was super-charged. There were hundreds of people dancing around and yelling. People were carrying elephant jaws and bones, waiving them in the air. Several people had their bodies painted. There were people beating drums everywhere, all to the same basic rhythm. I'll have to admit, there was so much energy, it was hard not to get caught up in the middle of it. Then energy built to a climax when the local member of parliment took the microphone and started speaking (in Dagboni) getting the crowd worked up. He got the crowd worked up and then got in his car and drove off. People went bananas, with wild dancing and loud drumming and screaming and jumping. All it would take is for one or two people to suggest violence for this crowd to lose control. Fortunately, nothing happened and the rally splintered off into different groups heading in different directions cheering.

So, I have two theories from today that apply to everywhere, not just Ghana. One: Just about everyone I have met is a rational person, but when you combine many rational people you have the potential to create a completely irrational group. Second theory: just about everyone i've ever met is a good person, but everywhere i go there are a few assholes that spoil everything.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

12-3-08 2

Well I made it to Tamale. 6.5 hour bus ride. The ride was beautiful. The beginning was lush, green and hilly. The end was flat, dry and savannah-like.

My plans just got shot. I had planned on spending tomorrow here then making my way back to Accra (the capital). Buses are full for several days and even the one airplane that comes up here, so i had to book a plane ticket back to the capital for Saturday morning. If it gets cancelled for any reason, I'll have trouble getting back to the capital in time for the election (and getting back in time to fly back to America, actually).

The good news though is that I have two full days in the north, where the worst of the violence has been. Several towns are reported to have had problems in the last few weeks and several are reportedly under curfew orders.

I have arranged a local guide, Muhammad ("but you can call me Moe") who speaks Dagboni and is willing to take me around for two days and make sure i get to the airport on time in exchange for me paying his bus fare and food and a "tip" at the end. He actually led a Canadian journalist on a similar expedition for a prior election. Seems like a good guy.

I can already tell that things are far more tense up here. There is an energy in the air that wasn't in Kumasi or Accra (and Tamale is often claimed to be the most laid-back town in Ghana).

So, the plan is that tomorrow, Muhammad and I will head to Yendi, which is the epicenter of much of the problems in the north. This is the town that I talked about earlier where the local chief was beheaded a few years ago. It is the capital city for that tribe. I'll bring my daypack with camera, a change of clothes and water. If it doesn't seem dangerous, we'll spend the night there and head towards other hot-spots out that direction on Friday. If it is too dangerous, we'll come back to Tamale and then head back out again on Friday. Even Muhammad, who grew up in Yendi and has many relatives there, wouldn't agree to spend the night there. He would only consider it if it doesn't seem too dangerous.

Oh, I forgot that in my email this morning I didn't have much time to report on my findings in Kumasi. Despite a greater language barrier than I anticipated, I was able to speak to dozens of people. I got a lot of "things are cool" and "no problems." Some of the various comments include:

- "We will vote like you do in America, except in america you have 200 years with democracy."
- "I don't think there will be cheating. 90 percent of Ghanaians want justice. The other 10 percent want to steal ballot boxes."
- "Kumasi is peaceful. Tamale has problems because of Chieftancy problems."
- "Those who want peace are more than those that don't."
- "We are praying for peace. We need peace."
- "We Ghanaians don't want to fight."
- "Every vote counts. But that does not mean that it is a reason to fight."

In the area near Kumasi, one person did tell me that there were problems in Obuasi 1 week ago and Kekwa 3 weeks ago. I did not have time to make it to either, as they were too far away.




If you go to the map below you can see where i'm at:

I flew into the capital Accra, on the southern coast. A few days ago I took a bus up to Kumasi in the center (272 km) (. It was supposed to take 4 hours, but took over 6 because of traffic. I spent yesterday there. Today I took a bus up to Tamale, towards the north (379 km). Tomorrow I will take a bus to Yendi, just east of Tamale. On Friday I will go to Gushiago or perhaps east of Bolgatanga, depending on where the reports are the worst. For some context, Ghana is about the size of Illinois and Indiana combined.

For a recent article about the trip in the Beacon News (Aurora, Illinois):,2_1_AU03_DOWDGHANA_S1.article


In the Kumasi area, the majority of individuals are NPP supporters, with pockets of support for the NDC.


Unfortunately, I don't have much time. I have to catch a bus in 20 minutes, and if i miss it, i'm in big trouble. there is only one per day. i am headed north to Tamale, where the worst of the violence has been.

Yesterday was a good day. I was able to interview a ton of people. The general consensus was that many more people wanted peace than not and that things would be ok. There was a general sense that things would go well.

The TV and radio is blasting continuous warnings for people to not vote twice and for minors not to try to vote.

A few incidents yesterday that were reported on the news. Yesterday was the day for the police and election observers to vote (so they are free to do their job on Sunday, the day of the election). Apparently, in an area not too far from here, 70 police officers were not on the voter roles. They insinuated that if they could not vote, that they would not work on election day.

The Carter Center is here with an election observation team. I have emailed them to see if I can be of any assistance.

Off to Tamale,


Tuesday, December 2, 2008



A few housekeeping notes:
1) the keyboard i'm typing on is missing some keys and a few others stick, so i apologize for any typos. and there is no spellcheck.
2) i wasn't able to send out an email yesterday because i couldn't get to an internet cafe. sorry.


I found my contact at the Free World Foundation.

I have had some time to talk to my contact about the elections. He said that he will direct me on election day to some spots that have had problems in the last several elections. He did election observing in 2000 and 2004. He said that he went to the Volta Region (a few hours east of here) in 2000 and some of the other observers were kidnapped for a while.


There are 2 major political parties:

NPP - is the party currently in power. They talk a lot about the infrastructure developments of the last 8 years.
NDC is the main opposition party. They talk a lot about the need for change.

According to a source: there is a problem with people registering to vote twice. One person was given a 7 year sentence (the max) for it and another is has been arrested. The NDC has accused that the voter roles are bloated with double registrations. When you register to vote you give them your name parents' names, age etc. and they take a photo of you. Unfortunately, the electoral commission doesn't have the software to do facial recognition matching on the pictures, so checking for doubles has to be done manually. Apparently, the two men caught so far were caught quite easily, as they used their real names for both registrations.

According to the same source: in 2004, some men stole 5 of the election ballot boxes in an attempt to delay the announcement of the vote beyond the statutorily mandated 72 hours. The election commission got around this with a little arithmetic. Apparently the NPP had 52% of the vote and even if the NDC won every single vote from the 5 missing ballot boxes, the NPP would still win by 500,000 votes.

I have seen many commercials and billboards warning people not to try to vote twice or else they will be arrested. They are pushing that very hard.

My contact at the Free World Foundation filled me into the details in the North of the country, where the worst violence has occurred. A synopis, according to him (parts of which I have verified from other sources):

The tribe in the area is the Dagbon (spelling?). The YaNaa (chief) can come from two different "gates" (clans), Abadu and Andani. When the 1972 coup occurred, the General who took control of the country dethroned the sitting YaNaa, but did not kill him. The people chose another King (using the traditional oracles), but there was a problem in that the other YaNaa was still alive.

So, the former YaNaa was from the Abadu clan (I think). The new YaNaa was from the Andani clan as have all successors since. In the run-up to the 2000 elections the member of parliment from the area is alleged to have said that if the NPP is elected, that they would remove the YaNaa from the Andani clan and install one from the Abadu clan. Apparently, this was credible because the Vice-Presidential candidate was Abadu, as was the member of parliment alleged to have made the comment. NPP did win, but did not dethrone the YaNaa.

In 2002, the Member of Paliment (who was by now Minister of the Interior) cancelled the annual Yam Festival, for fear of violence. The sitting YaNaa went to the capital and got the government to allow them to hold the Yam Festival. To make a long story short, violence did break out at the Yam Festival and 40 people were killed, including the YaNaa (who was beheaded). Now there is no YaNaa, but the former YaNaa's son is acting as regent.

The problem now, apparently, is that politicians grappling for power are using the tensions between the Abadu and Andani clans. The NPP has become aligned with the Abadu and the NDC with the Andani.

I'm headed up there in a few days.

I interviewed a few Muslims, who reported no problems with the election related to being the minority religion in the country.

Few people seem keen to talk about any troubles with the election. There seems to be a sense that in talking about the troubles, one might make them more likely to happen. For example, one man said there had been "little troubles." When asked what they were he said things like "rock and bottle throwing." When pushed further, he conceded that a member of paliment had been attacked. When I asked him about the town up north, he told me the name. When I asked what happened, he said that people were killed and houses burned. That seems a far cry from the "little" stone throwing.

This hesitancy makes my job difficult. People are slow to talk about problems. When I pry, it feels like I look eager to find problems. It also grates against my sense that people don't want to talk about it for making it so.

All of the Ghanaians I have met have been so friendly. One gentleman in a bus station gave me his name and phone number and said I should call him when I get to Tamale (in the north) so I could stay at his house. In America you would call that creepy. In Ghana you call it hospitality.


Today I will explore Kumasi, particularly a slum that is an NPP stronghold in a sea of NDC supporters. Tomorrow I will head to Tamale in the north.



Change of Format

Out of courtesy to the many of people I am meeting (all of whom have access to the internet) I will just be posting election related information on this blog. My full travel journal will only go to the email list of those who signed up to be on it.

Sorry for the inconvenience.



Sunday, November 30, 2008

African Elections: 11-30-08


The people are wonderful. Much more laid back than they had been in Kenya when my wife and I were there over this past summer.

I've not had much time yet to dig into the election, but I sense an optimistic tension. Optimism that they can be a model for African Democracy. Tension that if Kenya can succomb to election violence, then no country is safe. There are election posters everywhere and every other TV commercial is for the election. Most of the stories in the newspaper have something to do with the election.

More on that later. It is a Sunday and finding anything open (especially an internet cafe) is a chore. I still need to connect with my contact from the Free World Foundation. I have his cell phone number. I may have to pay a stranger to allow me to use their cell phone. I probably can't pick up a cheap cell phone on a Sunday.



Friday, November 28, 2008

First entry

I fly out tonight at 7:00 p.m. bound for Accra, Ghana via Amsterdam. I'll arrive in Ghana after about 17 hours of travel.