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On a packed trotro (local mini bus transport) winding its way through central Accra, a Ghanaian film showing on the video screen of the minibus triggers regular bursts of laughter from the passengers.
The film is one of many Twi-language movies produced in Ghana, where demand is growing for local-language films.
“People see themselves and their own people telling their own stories, and it’s easier for them to understand than English [films],” says Asare Hackman, founder of the production company Hacky Films and head of the Film Producers Association of Ghana (FIPAG).
“If they can do it in Bollywood, then we can do it here.”
After decades in the doldrums, Ghana’s film industry is on the rise.
In March, Ghanaian director Akosua Adoma Owusu premiered her short film Kwaku Ananse at theBerlinale film festival.
Then in June, the country hosted the inaugural Accra International Film Festival, welcoming a mix of regional and international actors and directors to the capital for a series of talks and screenings.
Accra is also becoming a hotbed for guerrilla filming. Music videos and short clips are circulated on blogs and social networks from people with no formal training in film.
“The young ones are doing it. They are doing music videos whether they know what they’re doing or not … they are still trying,” says cinematographer and film lecturer Yahaya Alpha Suberu.
The opening of the Silverbird Cinema at Accra Mall in 2008 brought hope to filmmakers like Suberu.
In the past, they would have had to rent a pick-up truck, put speakers on it and sell their films on the street.
Although Silverbird shows some local productions, its programme is mainly filled with Hollywood and Bollywood films.
The state support for arts and culture that flowed during the euphoric heyday of a newly independent Ghana fell by the wayside after the overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah in a coup in 1966.
The state-owned Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) – set up under Nkrumah with the mandate to educate, entertain and provide equipment and support to filmmakers – managed to hold on and helped produce films such as Kwaw Ansah’s 1980 Love Brewed in the African Pot and the 1984 filmKukurantumi by King Ampaw.
Ghana has its own film school, the state-run National Film and Television Institute, which was founded in 1978 and welcomed a cohort of 60 new students in November 2012.
It plans to offer courses in acting, as well as in sound and music recording, in the 2014 academic year.
As Ghanaian film production slowed because of a lack of financing, in Nigeria filmmakers thrived, based on a combination of oil money and the transition from expensive and laborious celluloid to cheap and easy video cassettes.
The first Nollywood film was made in 1992.
Meanwhile, in Ghana, the government sold the GIFC to a Malaysian company in 1997 following the advice of the International Monetary Fund to privatise it.
It became TV3, a free channel, which was then sold to a private Ghanaian company in 2011.
Nollywood to Gollywood
In the past decade, as the distribution of Nigerian films has crossed over into Ghana, producers in both countries saw an opportunity to join forces.
“People started watching a lot of Nigerian films here, so the producers here started to think, ‘let me get a Nollywood star,'” says Suberu.
Ghanaian and Nigerian films have gone from including one actor from the other country to having crews and writers from both countries collaborating, he says.
“As filmmakers we need to position ourselves to let government know of the importance and contribution we can make to the country’s GDP growth,” Hackman points out.
Some estimates from FIPAG put the number of people working in film in Ghana’s Northern Region alone at 8,000.
“Imagine if you combine that with the middle belt and the south, how many people could we create jobs for?” he asks.
There are moves to start promoting Ghana as a location for international film sets, particularly due to its more than 40 forts and castles along the coast.
Until now, filmmakers have gone elsewhere.
There were hopes that the 1997 Steven Spielberg film Amistad, about a slaveship mutiny, might be filmed in Ghana but in the end it was filmed in Senegal.
“There are more and more people like myself who go abroad and study and work with the top-notch people in the industry, in the best of places, and you see what they do and realise what they do is not too different,” says Suberu, who studied in Singapore.
“They cook with the same water. So you come home and that confidence is there and you see the potential.” ●
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