Martin Banner is a graduate of Wayne State University with a BA in Communications (Journalism). You can learn more about his own research on his own blog: www.theafricanpress.wordpress.com
The African Democracy Project is by far the best program on the Wayne State University campus, and possibly the whole country when considering its depth of exploration and its intense focus on democracy, from developing it’s concepts to the processes and institutions that shape and maintain its exercise. I found out about the program on academica Wayne State’s student web portal, and was pleasantly surprised when one of my close friends Chris told me he had participated last year in the program and how enlightening it was, not to mention all the fun he had. So when the African Democracy Project program announced it was going to Ghana in 2016, I made sure I was amongst the first group of students to get an application. I was so happy when I found out I was chosen to participate, little did I know how life changing and rewarding this experience would be. First of all it would not have been possible without the vision of President Reid, who left no stoned unturned, making sure every student was involved and helping to plan the most impactful and rewarding trip imaginable. One of the best and most profound decisions Pres. Reid made was choosing Dr. Hart to lead this program, she is not only knowledgeable and best in her field, but she is approachable, relatable and very inciteful, the bottom line is she knows her stuff. Dr. Hart also cares for the student as well as the study.
I signed up for the class because I knew that the country of Ghana would be electing its president around the same time we in the U.S. would be holding our presidential election, giving me the opportunity to study the democratic process unfold in another country. When eight of sixteen presidential contenders were disqualified the candidates ended up in the Supreme Court, it gave an added dimension to our study of democracy in Ghana. The program started off with weekly readings and a chance to actually quiz and ask questions in Skype interviews as well as in class visits of the authors of the books we had been assigned to read. These weekly readings really helped to make the trip more than a get-away, it challenged us, made us ask questions and really gave us a solid background in what we were embarking upon. I, like many students, didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in Ghana, I had never been to Africa and wasn’t sure what to expect. The night before we were to leave I could not sleep. When we arrived in Ghana it was everything I had hoped and more; it reminded me of a mix between the red dirt of Georgia and the hustle and bustle of New York City. The Roots Hotel we stayed in was only a block away from Oxford Street which was filled with people and excitement, it also was one of the books we had read which prepared us for the experience. I can’t say enough for President Reid and Dr. Hart and how the readings really gave us a leg up and the meetings that they planned once we were in Accra really touched every facet of democracy and life in Ghana.
We visited the slave dungeons, met with former Presidents, a Supreme Court justice, had dinner with a member of the Ambassador’s team, we were treated to African dance, saw an outdoor concert, watched beads get made and bought real kente cloth from the sewers themselves. My focus was on journalism and how politicians used the media to help them to engage with the constituents. I was interested to know if they were only using newspapers, television, and radio, or were they using some of the new media available like twitter, facebook, and youtube. I found out they were using a combination of platforms, but that the newspaper was still king and was used as the base and as an aggregator for other platforms. The trip reinforced the importance of democracy and the vote. I was happy and proud to see the common Ghanaian engaged in the process. I can’t say enough about the fellow students on the trip whom I consider family, we learned so much together and really grew as students. Another unsung member of our team was Andrew, who was Dr. Hart’s teaching assistant, he was not only a calm re-assuring stabilizing force, but was always there to help you gain perspective and focus on the task. I learned so much about journalism and how it works in Ghana, I fell in love with the people, and I’m praying this will not be my last trip home.