MA Student Alexander Owusu Reflects on Protest Culture in Ghana and the Joy of Being "Home"
By Alexander Owusu
One of my motivations for pursuing a master's in International Studies at Simon Fraser University is to gain the knowledge to be able to contribute meaningfully to the socio-economic transformation of Ghana (my home country) and Africa.
In the past decade, the West African sub-region has witnessed mass protests by young people, such as the #EndSARS in Nigeria and the #FreeSenegal. In August 2021, a spontaneous reaction by the youth of Ghana to the social and economic challenges facing the country saw thousands of young people take to the streets of Accra, the capital of Ghana, in a protest dubbed #fixthecountry. By its nature and form, the protest received wide coverage by local and international media, and for weeks, it dominated the news cycle as well as social media trends.
This protest is reminiscent of a similar one held in 2014 dubbed #OccupyFlagstaffHouse and having followed that closely as a media person at the time, I thought it would be interesting to embark on a qualitative research project to examine how Ghanaian youth perceive the successes or failures of these protests. Another goal was to get insights regarding how the youth perceive the potential for protests to spur change.
Thanks to the generous support from The Simons Foundation International Travel Grant, I traveled to Ghana in the summer of 2022 to collect primary data through individual in-person interviews with Ghanaians who had participated in the above protests. It was intriguing to sit face-to-face with some influential public figures (mostly youth) in Ghanaian society as they freely shared their experiences with me.
I sat with them in business offices, law chambers, homes, and restaurants. I listened to detailed and first-hand accounts of how they experienced the protests. These insightful conversations reveal the motivation for their actions and the well thought-through strategies they deployed before, during, and after the protests. It is also interesting how their experiences from the protests have shaped their civil actions and how they perceive the viability of protests in effecting political and economic change in Ghana.
I am humbled by the passion, courage, and exceptional love for the country that underpinned the actions of the interviewees. Their dedication to using legitimate and peaceful means to facilitate the economic and social transformation of the country is highly commendable. I am personally motivated by their courage and perseverance to continue to fight for the betterment of the country via legitimate and peaceful means, despite the security challenges associated with their actions.
In the context of my research, I could not have been in Ghana at a better time. My time in Ghana coincided with a two-day street protest that occurred on the 28th and 29th of June, as some citizens poured into the streets of Accra to demonstrate against the grave economic hardship facing the citizenry. Having first-hand experience with this protest provides extra context to my research.
Academic interests aside, it was refreshing to be back home. The beautiful weather, the aroma and taste of delicious Ghanaian meals, and the wonderful reception from family and friends, as well as former colleagues and schoolmates, contributed to an extraordinary experience. In August, just when I was wrapping up my data collection, I had the privilege of participating in some social and cultural activities such as the Homowo festival, celebrated by the Ga people in the capital city of Accra, which showcased a rich display of wonderful African culture and history. I was sure not to miss out on the Kpekple (a special traditional dish with historical significance prepared during the festival). It was also exciting to have witnessed the Chalewote 2022 contemporary street art festival, which had a great display of original Ghanaian art and culture.
It has been a wonderful and interesting experience. As a young researcher, this has been a great opportunity for me to gain primary data collection research skills and experience, which will serve as an ideal foundation for my goals of pursuing a Ph.D. and a career in social science research. The social networks I have built will also be vital for future collaborative work.
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