Updated: Mar 31
E.M and I go way back. 12 years to be exact.
We have sporadically kept in connect throughout the years. The last time we sat from across each other, was in 2012. Ekow was completing his Bachelor's at Clark in Worcester at the time and I was on holiday in Hartford for the week. Just about a month ago, we meet up in Accra, Ghana to catch up. Somehow it had taken me until this year to realize that E.M and I had soo much common ground even now as adults. Here we were talking about climate & environmental injustice, circular economy, waste management, neocolonialism, Ghana's political & social climate, and sustainability. I hadn’t known until then, that he had completed his masters in Environmental Studies and Sustainability science or that he had moved back home, to the motherland, just over a year ago and had been working as a business consultant to develop and advice businesses. Some of which were NGOs & entrepreneurs working towards Sustainable development, waste management solutions, and promote local agriculture. I was impressed by not only his endurance & “work at it until it changes” spirit, but those of the people we had worked with.
I often find when you see so much of the world, specifically the realities (current state) and mentalities. It can feel impossible and overbearing to work towards simply showing a thought-provoking seed. You might be thinking, “especially in a place like Africa”. The truth though is this. “Africa” isn’t a place. It's a continent. If you look at any continent in the world, things can seem impossible. Even looking at a country in all its historical, political and religious complexities can feel overbearing. The same goes for Ghana. However, just like Ekow & the people he has worked with, I feel our people are capable of much more & there is still many things worth fighting for.
On a personal level, Ekow putting his thoughts, emotions & experiences to paper to tell our stories.
In a way we, our culture and experiences aren’t often justly written about. In his ongoing novel, “the days before the world ended.”, Ekow describes contrasting but very co-existing backdrops of a metropolitan Accra as well as the mountain terrain of Babaso. Exploring the way in which these places and the people that belong to its soil will be impacted by 2033.
It is no secret to you by now, that I have a deep love and infinity for Ghana. Or that I have and will continue to share the impact of unbalanced consumerist behavior on it. But this interview is probably the most personal one I will ever conduct. For two reasons. The first I am sure you can come up with just by the first sentence of this paragraph. The second is a hope that creative outlets will prevail in sowing that seed I mentioned before. That afternoon conversation with E.M, left me thinking about the current environmentally impact seesaw on a place like home (Ghana) , the importance of the written word & the need for sustainable solutions and change. I was left with this burning urge to share what I had heard in conversation with him, with you.
Akwaba (welcome in twi) Ekow!
I can't believe I didn’t know you did your masters at Lund in Sweden, or that you even had a masters in this field. For people who aren’t familiar with your master's degree, could you give us some insight into what Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science is?
Yeh, I know, a lot of people are kind of surprised when I tell them where I was and what I was doing. Seemed to a lot of people to be such an odd place to go for a Masters, but for anyone who knows about Sweden’s strides toward building a more sustainable society, they will know my decision was no oddity.
The Masters’ in Environmental studies and Sustainability Science might sound like, and is a mouthful, but at its core, what it is, is a generalised science. What that means is that, instead of diving head deep into a particular sub-field of sustainability you take everything more holistically. You recognise how the parts influence each other, and you are trained to think as a systems thinker. Sustainability is fundamentally the relation between nature and society (which in itself has so many problematic assumptions). Society consists of three spheres; political, economic, cultural. Between those spheres we studied how they were interlinked with our environment and how each one of them could be used to as a mechanism for impacting change.
How long did you live in the USA and Sweden for?
- I was in the USA for four years in Worcester Massachusetts, as you know, since you came to visit me. Sweden, I was there for two years, in Lund, which is close to Malmo in the southern part of Sweden.
How and Why did you return to Ghana? Had things changed and how?
Well Ghana is home, and everything I do is for my homeland. And though I might not look like a typical Ghanaian, my heart, mind and soul is for this country, and when I say country, I truly mean not just Ghana, but this geographic sub region of West Africa. But if we are also being a little honest, my student visa expired so I HAD to come back :) .
Things in Ghana had changed but it was say in a very superficial level. You know things that people looking in would say are markers for ‘development.’ New tall luxury apartments, a burger king, etc. But these amenities are very much a service to a very narrow idea of development. In this case neo-liberal, because when you ask about who they serve, what they bring, how they manifested, you begin to realise how much of the countries resources, are unknowingly being packaged for international purchase and use.
I touched a bit on your day job. Could you talk about some of the projects you’ve been involved in?
Yes, so I will talk about two very contrasting projects I have been working on, which have actually gone a long way to fleshing out some of my ideas I write out in my fiction. The first one is the development of a utility scale waste-to-energy plant, which would take up to half of Accra’s waste and incinerate it, and turn it into steam which would then be transformed into electrical energy to serve to the grid. Now, this project is being developed in the context of a city which currently has no legitimate way of disposing of its waste. Our two landfills are over capacitated. But due to a lack of options, trucks keep dumping and dumping. The Dutch government has a bunch of initiatives in Ghana, and this was going to be one they had put down 10 million euros as a grant. So the government of Ghana would literally not have to lift too much weight toward solving an impending waste crisis. However, I have been disheartened to find out that it really doesn’t matter how good or relevant the idea is, it comes down to money. So that project is still very far away from being construction ready.
The other project was almost in polar opposition. A Japanese company came to us asking if we could sell these small solar home systems (pico solar) to Ghanaians. They had been previously targeting people in Accra, but that wasn’t working out since Accra and all the other major cities are pretty much electrified. So we changed their approach, and instead focused on selling it to the rurality, the villages out in the Eastern and Volta region. We employed multiple agents who would act as the sales people, and we would let the customer pay for the product over time. This project sent us to so many different corners of the country and I got to see how people were living their lives without any access to electricity. It was only then that I saw that our project was in its way, a clean way of electrification.
There have been other small projects here and there, mostly not very profitable. But for me, I am in it for the long game. So I know these losses are going to turn into big wins soon. And if not monetarily (which isn’t how I rate success anyway) I do feel satisfied that at least they will form part of my vision of the futures I write.
What do you think is the most pending environmental issues in Ghana?
Ha! There isn’t one pending environmental issue. There are many, intertwined ones. They are so interlinked with other issues, that sometimes it is even hard labelling it as an environmental issue. I guess a lot of people at first thought would say Climate Change, which is true to an extent. People in urban Ghana might say the pollution, and that is true to an extent. But there are the forces of change that are happening beyond the eye that are actually very worrying as well. Ghana’s media actually did a good job in highlighting one, which was the illegal gold mining happening in the countryside. That was contributing to horrible polluting of the water bodies, and also land degradation and deforestation. But there is also the issue of deforestation itself for timber. And generally, land-use change which is seeing vast virgin forests being cleared in the name of development, and that is really the pending environmental issue. The pressing question being ‘can we marry development with sustainability?’ With our current model, the answer is no.
I know there are a ton of entrepreneurs, NGOs & businesses constantly arising in Ghana. I saw and hear it for myself when I visited in May.
Could you mention a few of the noteworthy players?
I am going to mention the ones I am involved with to give them more rep:
EZOV Environmental Services (plastic recycler)
Koliko Wear (upcycling materials into clothes and shoe wear)
Hive Earth (using alternative building materials to reduce use of concrete and rather use local)
KITA (educational institute training entrepreneurs looking to start green businesses)
GCIC (Ghana Climate Innovation Center - an innovation fund for green businesses)
There are a lot of other players, doing things on a small scale, providing options for people to live more sustainability.
Do you think there is a growing awareness among Ghanaians (across classes) when it comes to the environment and our habits, especially in this pivotal point in our existence? And if so, why do you think this is happening.
There is a growing awareness across classes I would say, but at the same time there is a growing neglect. It is difficult to gauge to be honest, because for me I am surrounded by people who are cognisant of the issues on a certain level. But because of my studies, what I see, I am very pessimistic about what people think that right habits are. I don’t think we have fully grasped entirely where we are in history and that is why I write. To show what will happen if we do not pick up serious steam in turning the tide. As of now the tide is heading in one direction.
Why this is happening? Education is one thing, and the people who are in the know, are very far from positions of influence. And let me just say that our democracy is not helping matters, because all initiatives toward dealing with sustainability require long term projecting. And what is the one thing you can’t do in a democracy? Long term plan.
You are quite active in agricultural development. It is such a conundrum to me how Ghana imports produce that we have and can farm locally even when the product is being sold at 2-5 times the local price. When do you think we shifted from self-sustaining to such a demand for foreign produce?
There isn’t one point that we can say that this shift began. It has been a slow unfolding, well since Ghana re-entered the global economy in the early 90s, which I guess can be a point we point to. But as part of Ghana’s re-entry into the global economy, dominated by Neo-liberal politics, we were coerced to give up more of the states power toward privatisation, deregulating the economy, structural adjustment programs etc. So while that brought in a lot of capital to kick start Ghana’s economy, it also meant the gradual succession of the state’s responsibilities to private, mostly foreign, interests. Soon, it took on a life of itself, and we saw and have been seeing increasingly, lands in the countryside turning from subsistence to macro scale agriculture, owned by foreign companies, growing for export. Then you have the gradual decline in rural development as more of the states resources are focused on urban setting and that sparks a momentous shift in population dynamics, rural to urban being the general direction (Ghana just recently became an urbanised country, along with a lot of the World). Less people in the countryside really means less farmers, since most people in Ghana only know how to farm. So once again we are looking at things from a systems perspective, and I could probably go on and on about how we have moved from self-sustaining to foreign produce, change of diet being the other big one, but let me leave them as seeds I grow in my stories. If you want to know, you have to read my work ;)
“In sustainability science, we consider the three spheres society that is; government, economy, and culture (increasingly we look at technology) as the levers by which we can turn toward sustainability.” This is a quote from you. You go on to point out that the only way forward is via culture since the first two have failed us over and over again. We see a cultural shift in the west towards more sustainable and eco-conscious lifestyles and even a demand in our culture of policy change to affect on a larger scale. Do you think this a start towards real change?
It is definitely a start. But, as I mentioned, there is a momentum that has been building toward a certain direction (economic growth driven by tech advancement). To say that this is not what we should be doing but rather something drastically different, it will take an effort that I plainly do not see our current institutions being able to handle or steer. Well, even before handling and steering, simply acknowledging what actually needs to be done. Which is fundamentally changing the way we see ‘progress.’ And there are a lot of people invested in this form of ‘progress’ which has led us to this problem, including you and me, so it is a start, but time is not on our side.
I often tell people they cannot expect or compare from different places, people and or cultures. As much as we are all human, one shoe size doesn’t fit everyone, as much as one way of living or approach won't. Do you think this is true for Ghana as well?
For sure! That is actually a very important thing that Ghana, and West Africa must do. We must reclaim our traditions, not to the point of going ‘backward’ (not that I believe that looking at our traditions is in anyway backward). But to the point of realising that we had reached some sort of symbiosis with the natural world, and from there we must look to synthesise. Because ‘progress’ is actually realising that balance is the key to sustained existence of the human race.
What would you say is a reoccurring theme in your body of works?
On a macro level, climatic crises, the level below that, human development, societal adaptations or failure, and then last level, human-to-human relations in a changing socio-technological world, bereft of vital resources. Then the interplay between these levels.
When I was growing up, it was a popular culture in Ghana to underestimate the societal value of creatives. Especially artists. I have seen this begin to shift in our lifetime. What is your intent, when you write? And do you think the written word has an impact? If so in what way.
My writing is a political act. To condense our problems in a digestible and relatable way, but also for us to reclaim the narrative. To be honest I had all but given up writing when I came back to Ghana. But then Black Panther came out. I didn’t watch it, and will not watch it, because I saw it as the highest level of tokenism. Feeding off of the black movements and Africa rising symbolism. At the end of the day, Black Panther is just continuing the machinery of taking from Africa, our essence, packaging it and reselling it back to us, just like gold, cocoa (even though cocoa is not indigenous to Ghana lol) while others profit hugely from it. So, it was in that moment that I told myself that I would write our future, and one day, hopefully, it would be adapted to film for the world to see. A story written by us, told by us, and profited by us.
The written word has an impact that stretches beyond time and place. The words we write for others to read has the potential to change worlds, to shift perspectives, to burn in us a fire.
In high school if you took history or literature is was compulsory to study West African history & read classic West African novels. I remember how mind expanding it was for me to read about a pre-colonised Nigeria clan in “things fall apart” by Chinua Achebe or learn about the artisans of ancient Denkyira empire. I feel like until you know where you come from it's hard to really define yourself, pinpoint purpose and thus if you are a creative, express from a place of genuineness. Did you have a moment or experience in your life that encouraged you to find your voice in writing?
I think the moment is very much described in my answer above :) . Unfortunately for me, my school actually taught as very little in African history. We did read Things Fall Apart, but largely most of what we did was geared towards our British examinations (GCSE, IGCSE). I had to self-teach myself so much about African history, Ghanaian history, political thought, and philosophy. I am still reading on it, and actually read the sequel to Things Fall Apart, ‘No Longer at Ease’ which I would say was an even more tragic (Achebe is truly the king in writing tragedy) story and more relatable to our current circumstance.
Why do you think it is important for us to be the ones telling our own stories?
People are realising that in the World, there is no one truth, but rather intersubjective truths. If we do not tell our own stories, we are going to lose sight of what truth means for ourselves and that will truly be the end of our society. We must regain our grip on the steering wheel. We must take initiative. Or else…
To start off the month of September here on the blog, Ekow has joined us as our first contributing writer. You can now expect more from hes universe in new posts on the blog every now and then!
Help me welcome him to our family and don't forget to show him love and support on he’s Medium page: