Batten Student Returns to Ghana to Make a Difference

 

After returning to Ghana, the country he was born and raised in, fourth-year BA student Emmanuel Agyemang-Dua was frustrated by the state of his community. An attitude of passive acceptance had infiltrated both the people and government. Policy makers weren’t communicating with their constituents and the community didn’t have the power or the interest to hold them responsible for their actions. The area had problems and no one seemed to be doing anything to solve them. However, the enthusiasm and creativity of the community’s youth inspired Agyemang-Dua to take action.

Working with a team of colleagues, he established the 21st Century Citizens Initiative (21st CCI), whose aim it is to help Ghanaian youth embrace technology and become more involved in local policy issues and their creation. When they arrived in Ghana, the team got to work making partnerships and connecting with advisors in the community, gaining access the resources needed to make the project a success.

21st CCI assembled a group of 12 students at the University of Education in Winneba to join in creating a movement to reimagine youth citizenship in 21st century Ghana. Through workshops, debates, case studies and other activities, Agyemang-Dua used the knowledge he learned at Batten to help empower students to form opinions and apply decision making skills to address local issues.

Agyemang-Dua and his team aimed to take advantage of the rapid increase in the use of social media among youth in the last few years. One of the criterion for the selection of the students for the program was avid social media use, which acts as a space for discourse and an exchange of ideas.  

Through the use of these platforms, civic engagement can become a part of everyday life. The students were able to share thoughts with each other and develop their ideas as a group. In the program, they learned how to contribute to public policy debates in their community and how to make their ideas stand out. They tackled such real-life issues as access to affordable clean water, waste disposal, street conditions and lighting issues.

In the midst of the summer project, disaster hit: On June 3rd, the city of Accra flooded. The floodwaters combined with a leaking gas station to create an inferno of water and flames, killing over 200 people in the explosion. The combination of flooded roadways and clogged gutters exacerbated the flooding, preventing floodwaters from draining, decimating homes and businesses and trapping people in the city. The whole country was in national mourning after the disaster.

Many sought to blame the government, the gas company, anyone they could for the tragedy, ignoring the underlying policy issues that lay at fault.

Amidst the disaster, Agyemang-Dua saw an opportunity for learning. He used the mismanagement of resources and disaster planning to inspire public policy learning he passed on to youth through his 21st CCI project. The city of Accra floods regularly, and residents are used to it. This kind of acceptance of problems is exactly what bothers Agyemang-Dua, is exactly the kind of public policy issue he and his team are looking to address.

“We aimed to empower youth with the tools that we have learned at Batten, practical skills so they can challenge their local leaders and create a more sustainable environment,” Agyemang-Dua said.

Along with his team, he hopes to continue and develop the project. After graduation he plans to go into international law, hopefully expanding 21st Century Citizens Initiative into an NGO to sustain and create other efforts in Ghana and, with luck, the entirety of West Africa.

“Our hope is that our project will inspire a generation of civically conscious youth who will use the digital space to voice their perspectives, share creative ideas and collaborate to address local and national issues,” Agyemang-Dua concluded.

Garrett Hall at Sunset

Stay Up To Date with the Latest Batten News and Events