Alhassan in Front of His Studio with Children, Tamale, Ghana
Originally uploaded by Daniel Kerkhoff
In July, I went on a three week trip. I started out by taking the bus from Kumasi to Tamale. Tamale is the third largest city in Ghana and the gateway to northern Ghana. I stayed in Tamale with an artist, Alhassan, a brother of Sumaila, the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport when I first arrived. Alhassan does commercial art/sign painting as well as traditional village-style art. He apprenticed when he was younger, then studied journalism for awhile, and then decided he wanted to do art as a career. He works from his apartment which he set up nicely with a big sign. He is also working on getting a shop going with another artist across from the Alhassan Hotel and next to the Decency Spot. You can see his work at www.flickr.com and search Alassart.
The sign Alhassan is painting is for a barber shop. This is a common style for painting for sign painters/commercial artists. Many small businesses advertize by employing sign painters.
While I was in Tamale, President Obama was visiting Ghana. Alhassan and I watched a lot of his visit at his friend Muda's house. We saw him get off the plane on Friday evening and enjoy the cultural greeting (music and dancers) he received. Then, the next day, we saw his speech to the Ministers of Parliament. From people I've talked to, his speech went over very well.
It was Obamamania leading up to his arrival. People were talking about it a lot, his books were out on the streets, people were wearing t-shirts. People were excited and there was a feeling like he was coming home. The Daily Graphic, Ghana's major newspaper devoted most of it's articles to the Obama visit on the days leading up to him coming. The question was: What does this mean for Ghana and what will it mean for Ghana? People seemed to want the world to know that Ghana was open for business and were proud that he chose Ghana over Kenya and all the other sub-saharan African countries.
People would ask me where I was from and then right away say "Obama!" and would look at me to see how I'd react and I'd give them a smile. When his speech was over, I would ask, "What did you think of Obama's speech." One man said that the only U.S. President that could give a speech like that would have been Obama. It would not have gone over well if any of the previous presidents had done so. Then, the question was how much were Ghanaians or Africans relying on Pres. Obama to be some kind of savior. Pres. Obama seemed to realize this and down played his ability to change Africa by himself emphasizing it will be Africans who will change Africa for the better.
In the Daily Graphic, they showed one text message that was circulating Africa during the U.S. presidential elections. Many of you have already heard this. It went like this:
"Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could march, Martin Luther King marched so that Obama could run and Obama ran so that our children could fly."
This seems to be the mood about Obama here as in so many other places.
The two major political parties in Ghana are the NDC (the National Democratic Congress) and the NPP (the New Patriotic Party) The NDC just won the election last December and are in power for four years before the next election. The NPP were in office for the previous eight years, and before that the NDC.
Jerry John Rawlings who was in power from 1982 to 2000. A new constitution and a multi-party system were formed in 1991, and J.J. Rawlings ran on the NDC party. He won in 1992 and in 1996. John Kufour of the NPP party won the next election against John Atta-Mills and was in office from 2000 to 2008. Then, John Evans Atta-Mills (NDC Party) won a very close election against Nana Akufo-Addo (NPP). Because the election was so close, they had to have a run-off election at the end of December. There was a lot of tension and some skirmishes. I had bought my plane ticket a couple days before this run-off and I was a bit nervous as were many people. What happened in Kenya was fresh in people's minds, a supposedly stable, African country. But by and large, the transfer of power went smoothly and peaceably and it was lauded around the world. Hence, Obama's choice to come to Ghana instead of his father's native land of Kenya.
From what I've gathered the NDC is somewhat similar to the U.S.'s Democratic Party and the NPP is somewhat similar to the U.S.'s Republican Party in their philosophies regarding government's responsibility, social services, and business. Also, the red state, blue state phenomenon in the U.S seems to be the case as well in Ghana. The Ashanti region heavily favors the NPP and northern Ghana seems to be strongly NDC. But, I did see many NPP signs when I was traveling north. The NDC is perceived to be strong in Accra and the coastal regions, but I was told that is just a perception because J.J. Rawlings is from Accra.
Inflation has risen sharply in the past few months and many people are blaming the current government. I explain that in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, there are also recent economic problems. Talk radios seem similar here as in the U.S., very loud with lots of political opinions flying about.
On my return from Burkina Faso, I stopped back into Tamale for a couple nights. A family invited me to stay with them. They lived in the nurses quarters, the mother was a nurse. The daughters liked to watch professional wrestling on satellite television. We also watched Akon music videos and Michael Jackson videos. I also relaxed in their courtyard.
Eating yams, beans and pepper stew,
Three year old Bridget drawing,
A flat stone in the courtyard.
"A Tamale Courtyard"
for Glen Gould
In the corner, a rusty oil drum
A low wooden bench, weathered,
Against a wall,
a darkened metal pot on a
blackened grill, old charcoal,
a mortar, a pestle.
Flies and ants
scour and forage
concrete, cracks, and crevices.
Torpid, hardened, aged surfaces,
textured and layered,
a scarred, infertile landscape,
rain pounded and foot pressed,
solar molested with persistent,
unrelenting sun gropes and other
courted weights, patiently waiting
for the night.
And inside of this,
a solid walled space of sound visits,
gentle meetings of various engines and
human voices, of bird songs and floating
televisions, winded leaves and waning
branches, vital movements of metals
pounding surfaces and other
waves of outside activities,
a goat's call, a schoolyard cadence,
a dove's coo, a fly's buzz.
They introduce themselves,
pass by unintruding,
an interweaving solitude,
orchestral and symphonic.