Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Contesting Presidential Candidates in elections 2012  

A very popular Ghanaian proverb affirms: “A child who knows how to wash his hands eats with Kings.”
On 6th March 1957, when Ghana asserted itself as the first country in black Africa to wrench its independence from the colonial Britain, the country became the torchbearer of the black race and a global centre of political attention in Africa.
Since 1992 Ghana has held five successful presidential and parliamentary elections in the midst of democratic turbulent in continental elections. This feat motivated the international community to describe Ghana as the “beacon of democracy in Africa.
In fact, the European Union has politely declined an invitation to come down and observe 2012 elections in Ghana. In their estimation, Ghana has proved beyond doubt that the country has democratically matured and can manage its own electoral affairs without external supervision. This is the highest honor any African country can dream to attain in geo-politics.
Yet, the Former UN Secretary General Dr Kofi Annan has cautiously   noted that, “the best is yet to come.”   Dr Kofi Annan was recently reported in the Ghanaian media as saying, “When elections are conducted in integrity, without being disfigured by election motivated violence that is democracy.”
“Flawed elections can create unrest, setting back development by decades,” the wise veteran international diplomat opined.  Repercussions of election violence in some African countries such as Kenya, Serra- Leon and Cote d’Ivoire are still serving as scars on the conscience of Africa.
In seven days from the date of writing this piece, precisely on Friday, 7th December 2012, over 13million Ghanaian biometric registered voters will go to the polls to elect a president out of eight presidential candidates and  275 parliamentarians.
The writer has observed that the fear of the unknown is causing national psychological anxiety amongst Ghanaian electorates. The anxiety is even more intense amongst the presidential candidates themselves and their partisan supporters than the general electorates. Why? Because of the acrimonial campaign strategies some of the political parties have adopted as the voting date approaches. What to do?
Another Ghanaian proverb admonishes: “An elderly person at home does not sit down   to watch children engage in verbal argument that may lead to physical exchange of blows resulting in someone losing an eye or a tooth.” It was the traditional wisdom in this proverb that goaded Ghanaian elders to set a historical political record in Africa in 2012.  Do you want to know what happened?
On Tuesday, 27th November 2012, in the cultural capital city of Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, within the premises of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KUNST) the National Peace Council did something that was unprecedented in the political history of Ghana if not in Africa.
On that memorable day, the National Peace Council under the auspices of the modern Asante King, Otumfo Osei Tutu II, and with the technical and administrative support of an Accra –based Institute for
Democratic Governance, summoned all the presidential candidates to a rare meeting to pledge the people of Ghana that they would uphold peace, before, during and after the elections. Like prospective jobseekers   shortlisted for interview all eight presidential candidates humbly responded to the call.
President John Dramani Mahama, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Dr Henry Lartey, the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, New Patriotic Party (NPP), Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom, Progressive People’s Party (PPP), Mr. Akwasi Addai, United Front Party (UFP), Mr. Hassan Ayariga, People’s National Convention (PNC), Dr Abu Sakara Foster, Convention People’s Party (CPP), who was represented by his running mate, Madam   Akosua Frimpomaa Sarpong Kumankuma and Mr. Joseph Osei Yeboah, Independent candidate,  all publicly signed a declaration to ensure peace during the December 7 polls.
The historic event was held under a broad them:  “Promoting peaceful elections and justice: Taking a stand against electoral violence, impunity and injustice.” The document to which the presidential candidates appended their signatures was dubbed as the “Kumasi Declaration” and was administered by no less a personality than the Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana, Her Lordship Mrs. Justice Georgina Theodora Wood.  It was more or less like swearing an oath of office. And the people of Ghana will hold them accountable to it.
The forum was made even more glamorous and glorious by the presence of the only two living Former Heads of state of the county since independence. They were President Jerry John Rawlings and President   John Agyekum Kufuor.  These statesmen did not only grace the occasion with their huge and giant physical persona but did share a few words of wisdom with those who were racing to sit on the hot throne they once occupied.
President Rawlings for instance, admonished that there was the need for fairness in the electoral process to prevent any unwanted situation. “Ghana has been blessed with peaceful transitions in the Fourth Republic and nothing must be made to dent this image,” he warned.
President Kufuor cautioned the presidential candidates not to see the signing of the peace pact as something done for themselves but for the nation as a whole. “The security agencies and the Electoral Commission must do their work with diligence and honesty,” he advised.
Besides the two Former Commanders- in- Chief  of the Ghana Armed Forces, the  current  Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Peter Augustine Blay, the Inspector General of Police, Paul Tawiah Quaye, and the President of the National House of Chiefs, Wulugu Naba Pugansua, Naa Professor John S. Nabila, were among the high profile personalities, who were at packed hall.
But one group of people who ought to be commended to the blue heaven is the religious gurus of our beloved country. From the Chairman of the Peace Council himself, the Most Rev Professor Emmanuel Asante, the Catholic Bishops Conference, the Christian Council, the Charistmatic Authorities, the Islamic Faith leaderships, the Traditional African Religious Authorities right down to ordinary church goes, Ghana must count itself blessed to be inhabited with souls that are amenable to peaceful co-existence regardless of race, creed or faith.
The purpose of this article is not to pretend to be holier than thou, but to politely refresh the memory of all compatriots that the entire globe is watching Ghana with one single eye. The world would want to see whether Ghana would be able once again conduct free, fair and peaceful elections in Africa.
As we go to the polls on that mystical day of 7th December, 2012, let us prove to ourselves and not anyone else that we are unique in the true sense of the word. That God is Ghanaian and Ghana is the chosen land of God to fulfill His own commandment of universal PEACE!
Writer is Deputy Director at the Information Services Department in Accra.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Data Journalism Application and Road Safety in Ghana

By Mawutodzi Abissath

“Thou shall not kill” is one of the biblical injunctions of the Ten Commandments. The implication is that if you kill someone, you commit a crime also known as murder.  And murder is a felony for which, when convicted, the offender is liable to life imprisonment or pay the ultimate price - death.

Yet, in Ghana a reckless drunk driver can take about 45 passengers in a rickety   moving coffin and murder them in a twinkle of any eye and go scot free. Why? Because that kind of murder is referred to as traffic or road accident. This is what is termed as “Free Murder on our Roads.”

From Wednesday, 24th to Friday, 26th  October, 2012, over 200 selected Ghanaian journalists and web developers participated in a three-day Data Journalism  Boot camp here in Accra. This writer defines tempted to interpret “Data Journalism” as “Collaborative Journalism” to suit his purpose.

Basically, the  bootcamp was  a hands-on training programme, using team-based project work where journalists collaborate with IT technicians, especially developers, designers as well as civic activists to use public data to build experimental civic media applications such as  websites, or services. The principal objective is to empower ordinary citizens with facts and figures to better appreciate the world around them to fight for their rights when need be.

It has been established that since the advent of Information Communication Technology (ICT) which transformed the world into a miniature community, journalism is one profession that has been revolutionised beyond compare. It first metamorphosed from traditional journalism to e-journalism, or online journalism, or cyber-journalism.

Then, while in transit, the profession experienced what is known as “citizen journalism,” with its resultant by-products such as blogging, vlogging, flikr, Facebook, Twitter, Word Press, YouTube etc, all capsule in what is now known as “Social Media,”  

Today we are talking of “Data journalism” or “Data Literacy.”  The world is so opening up that the amount of information and data available to the public for analysis, decision-making and action is mind-boggling.

But to be able to decipher and interpret the mounting data resources for the benefit of society, journalists need some basic data wrangling technical skills. That was the essence of the boot camp in Ghana.
 Records show that the Data Journalism bootcamp was pioneered by the African Media Initiative (AMI) and the World Bank Institute (WBI) in Kenya in January 2012 and delivered in other places like Uganda and South Africa.

The Ghana edition of the bootcamp was jointly organised by the Ghana Open Data Initiation (GODI) of the National Information Technology (NITA), AMI, Google, and WBI. After the first day of tutorial, participants broke into five groups and had a very limited time to develop and present their project works within 48 hours. And the final product was expected to be practical and beneficial to society.

In reality, it was impossible to master Data Journalism as a subject matter in 72 hours. So the course was intensive and the project work very competitive indeed!  At one stage tension in the computer lab was so high that some group members virtually turned themselves into detectives, going round to spy on what others were up to. Others were deliberately or otherwise pulling plugs here and there to cause artificial blackouts in their competitors’ camp.

In fact, the event was like a football gala match between Hearts and Kotoko. In some groups, heated arguments ensued among group members themselves where voices were flying across the room like ‘unseen objects.’ It was all pressure without animosity, really!  

In the end all project works were found to be very productive and creative indeed! The first award winning project was on the corruption in the Extractive Industry entitled, “WHERE OUR MONEY DEY?” It questioned how royalties are paid by mining companies but hardly reached ordinary people in the mining communities. 

Nonetheless, the best top-four project works were awarded cash prizes pegged between
$1,500 to $250. The prizes were sponsored by the GODI, AMI, WBI and Google. Mr. Craig Hammer of WBI and Mr. Justin Arenstein of AMI said they were highly impressed by the performance of participants in view of the fact that Data Literacy Bootcamp was being held in Ghana for the first time. All participants received Certificates instantly. But hard cash was yet to enter any pockets.

Dr. Nii Quanor, a veteran Ghanaian IT expert of international repute and current Chairman of NITA Board, took personal interest in the training course to ensure the success of the programme despite some technical challenges at the venue. Mr. William Tevie, Director-General, NITA, Mr. Eric Akumiah, GODI Project Coordinator and others under the auspices of the Ministry of Communications played pivotal roles to place Ghana on the world map of Data Journalism.

Road Safety Technology  
The object of this piece is to share with the general public the highlights of one of the award winning group project works. The Group, simply referred to as Safety Group took a quick look at the socio-economic havoc road accidents had caused and continues to cause the nation for the ten year period 2000 – 2010.

This pie chat shows Greater Accra with the highest rate of accidents (44.6%)
The project itself was dubbed Nanty Yie meaning safe journey. With  reliable data sourced from the National Road Safety Commission, the Police and the Ghana National Fire Service, the journalists in the group wrote a story while  the IT technicians  used geospatial technology to provide graphical illustrations indicating accident-prone stops along various  roads  on the map of Ghana.

Research showed that in 2001, Ghana was rated as the second highest road traffic accident-prone nation among six West African countries, with 73 deaths per 1000 accidents. Over 11,291 road accidents occurred in 2001 with 1,660 fatalities. This figure slightly decreased to 10, 715 in 2002 with 1,665 fatalities. Though road accidents further declined to 10,644 in 2003, fatalities shot up to 11, 7 15 over the period under review.
Ghana records about 10,000 fatal road traffic accidents, every year, out of which 1,600 people perished while 15,000, were seriously injured, robbing the nation of critical human resource. Some accident victims die or become incapacitated, to the detriment of national development.
Further, Ghana loses an amount of GH¢165,000, representing 1.6% of its GDP yearly, in solving problems such as medical expenses of victims, damage to vehicles and insurance cost among others.  The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s records show that Ghana lost about 2% of her GDP annually due to road accidents.
In 2009 Greater Accra with the highest vehicle population in the country, saw the highest trend in road accident fatalities. Some of the accident prone Towns in the region include Accra, Akuse Junction, Ayimensa, Sege, Oyarifa, Ada and Madina.
 The Upper West Region also with the least vehicle population,  in 2000 recorded the lowest road accidents with a few hot spots like Goli, Nadoko and Lawara.

This graph shows the trends of fatalities in various regions over the years.

Research indicates that the Ashanti Region has its own peculiar problems when it comes to road accidents. Being the second largest city with large number of vehicles, it stands  next to the Greater Accra with total road accidents of 12,299 in 2009.
Some accident prone towns in the Region are  Juaso, Asankare, Ohene Nkwanta, Mampong and Tepa Junction. Brong Ahafo Region on the other hand, has only Tanoso near  Sunyani as an accident prone area.
The Central Region is another geographical area in the country where towns like Komanda Junction, Shama Junction and Yamoransa Junction are notoriously noted for road accidents. In 2000, for instance, the region recorded road accident deaths of 509 which increased to 1,026 in 2004.
But one worrying phenomenon observed about Ghana is that some of the worse traffic accidents were recorded on some of the good roads, especially in the Greater Accra region. A typical example is the US $547 million Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) funded 14.1km N1 Highway commissioned by the late President John Evans Atta Mills and former President John Agyakum Kufuor in February this year. Fifteen (15) accidents with huge losses of life and property were recorded on the George Bush Motorway within the first of month of its commissioning .

Road Alert Application
In order to supplement the efforts of the National Road Safety Commission and other stake holders in road safety activities in the country, the Safety Group at the Data Journalism bootcamp came up with an innovative application known as App for Road Alert.
The Group developed the NANTI- YIE Application, downloadable on any smart phone, Android device that alerts motorists when approaching accident prone-areas by means of the GEO location. The philosophy is prevention is better than cure.

The red spots in this map indicate accident prone areas..

   The safety Application is also intended to fire a call message to emergency services like the Police, the Fire Service, and the Ambulance services along a particular road where accident may occur etc. The Safety Group has also developed a web App and mobile web for the benefit of the travelling public.
It is expected that the Road Safety authorities will explore this innovative technology to help prevent accidents on our roads.  There is a Ghanaian traditional adage which says: “He who brings you roads brings you life.” Thus, it is the view of the Safety Group that if roads are supposed to bring life then the same roads must not be allowed to lead to death.
The writer is Deputy Director/Head of IT at the Information Services Department, Accra