Bulubisa Meina Yeri (BMY): Initiation, Aims, Challenges und Future
Interview with Winston Atigsi-badek Afoko aka Slim Badek Exet
Interviewers: Franz Kröger and Yaw Akumasi
Editor: Ghanatta Ayaric
Winston Atigsi-badek Afoko
It is a warm evening in May, 2012. Winston Atigsi-badek Afoko, initiator of Bulubisa Meina Yeri (BMY), a Bulsa social network initiated on Facebook, Yaw Akumasi from Wiaga and Franz Kröger (one of the two editors of BULUK, Journal of Bulsa Culture and Society) are sitting at a relatively quiet place in the garden of the Beach Hotel in Accra, Ghana. Winston, a television producer by profession, talks about BMY; how the group started, its mission and challenges.
BULUK: As a discussion group on Facebook, BMY has been a much frequented website for the past three years. How did the group start?
Winston: Some years ago a German lady, who worked for an NGO, I forgot her name, started a group called Ti maa chaab [which in the Buli language means, “we help each other”], but after some time the group did not function well, it was dormant for one year. I tried to contact the lady but all my attempts in that regard failed. I could not get her.
Having been considering a similar idea myself for some time, I thought I should start sharing bits and pieces of Bulsa history on Facebook with interested Bulsa and people interested in Bulsa society, in fact anything of relevance and interest on Bulsa that I could lay hands on. That is basically how BMY started, three years ago, in 2009.
BULUK: Which other people were among the first to join the group or were even its co-initiators?
Winston: One of the first people with whom I talked about the group was Adaawen Anamnya, a Bulsa, friend and someone in my age group, who is currently pursuing a PHD programme in Development Studies at the University of Bonn, Germany. He was doing his Masters in Norway then, and he was very keen about the idea. I also discussed the idea with Evans Akangyelewon Atuick, a research fellow at the University of Development Studies in Navrongo, and he immediately expressed his interest and willingness to come on board. With time, quite a number of people showed interest in the idea and it eventually crystalized into BMY. So basically I can say: it was me, Evans and Adaawen who started the group.
BULUK: What was the original aim of the group?
Winston: The original idea was to encourage and arouse interest among Bulsa for Bulsa history and society in general. By sharing the bits we know and can get from other sources, we hoped to throw some spotlight on our cultural heritage in the first place. Through that we also hoped to be able to identify some of the challenges facing us as a people, and, where possible, propose measures to deal with them. This thinking on the part of the initiators of the group was not without its reasons. Personally, I’ve met Bulsa people in Accra who know nothing about Bulsa society. Some of them have never been in Bulsaland and, in addition, don’t speak a word of Buli. And there are those Bulsa who, even though they grew up in Bulsaland, know very little about Bulsa history, society and culture and are either unaware that their limited knowledge is a disadvantage in the one or other respect or, in the case where they are aware of the limitation and may want to know more, they have no access to sources of information on the subject. BMY does not profess to have absolute knowledge on the subject, but it can help collect some of the needed information by providing a forum which fosters active discussions and exchange in that connection.
BULUK: How did BMY develop to become a group of nearly 2000 members?
Winston: Having started putting bits and pieces of the history of Buluk together, we realized the need to go beyond just sharing information on Bulsa history and mobilize our youth and indeed Bulsa people in general for collective self-help development in Bulsaland. We cannot afford to be passive in the face of the many problems afflicting most parts of rural Ghana, Northern Ghana in particular and the Bulsa district in the given case here: poverty, disease, ignorance, illiteracy…. We have an active role to play if an economically and a socially disadvantaged area like Bulsaland is to have equitable access to improved health care, education and opportunities for economic and social welfare. It was then that we decided to start convening regular meetings of concerned Bulsa to put heads together and find ways of tackling that challenge. The first of these meetings took place in August 2011 at the club house of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in Accra.
BULUK: What do you like and dislike about the present status and function of BMY?
Winston: My personal observation so far is that most members do more talking than actually engaging themselves actively in BMY’s activities. They like to talk and suggest this or that but when it comes to concrete action one hears nothing from them. Sometimes this attitude drives me mad. I often get the feeling that some members are out to seek some personal advantage, but BMY is about mobilizing a collective effort to assist communities like ours – Bulsa – which are disadvantaged in terms of development. It is disheartening to think that Bulsa has many sons and daughters who are in influential positions in society and could help more but nothing of the sort comes from them. It is a fact that BMY cannot operate without funds, yet we get no support from those Bulsa who are better placed financially to help the group. The experience we made during the 2011 Feok festival clearly underlines the point I’m trying to make here. Some events we planned could not take place simply because we did not have the financial means to pull them through. The experience brought me to the realization that we cannot rely on big numbers to have things done. It is wiser to concentrate on the contributions of the few committed members that have proven that they can and are willing to walk the talk.
BULUK: What are your ideas about the future development of BMY?
Winston: Initially I thought it was possible to function with the active support of the group’s members. That way, there would be no need to register it as an NGO. But from the look of things, registering BMY as an NGO is inevitable. That way we can seek financial support (both internally and externally) to be able to carry out some of our projects, for example, in the field of education (assisting pupils and students in Bulsa) and health care (planning a regular medical outreach programme in various villages). That notwithstanding we have been able to carry out the one or other project with the support of a few committed members: We were able to provide materials for the roofing of a school in Kanjarga which had its roof ripped off in a storm two years ago, as well as present books and footballs to Bachonsa primary school. In December 2011 we were able to feed about 500 people during the Feok festival, and also donate items to the Horizons Children’s Centre in Sandema. BMY would be able to do more if it had more money at its disposal, and this means the group has to find ways of getting it. Fortunately, there are a few members who contribute money regularly for the group to be able to carry out some of its humble projects. But it is obvious that in the long run, these contributions will not be enough to allow BMY execute its projects. So in the next months a constitution will be written as a first step to having the group registered as an NGO. [In the meantime it has been published in Facebook]. That way, BMY can seek help, for example, from pharmaceutical companies in the form of medications and equipment for its medical outreach programme. The contributions of the few members that I have talked about will then go into taking care of the logistics of the programme.
BMY would wait in vain for its members to contribute money to support its projects if the group does not look for alternative sources of funding. The idea of registering it as an NGO is therefore more a matter of expediency. It would be ideal if the group could sustain itself financially through member contributions.
BULUK: At the moment BMY is a very loosely organized group. Should the organization become stricter in your opinion?
Winston: In the past few weeks Sofo Ali-Akpajiak and I have discussed and drafted the possible contents of a constitution for the group, copies of which were read and commented on by Ghanatta and Adaawen in their capacity as group administrators and active members. We were also helped in the drafting of the constitution by a former member of parliament who is well-versed in the technicalities of drafting a constitution, having worked in that area during his tenure of office as a parliamentarian. Copies of the draft have been made available to other members and when it takes form, it will be published on BMY’s Facebook wall for more comments from members. As a registered group, BMY will have registered dues-paying members (with a voice in the decision-making process of the group), members who are committed and ready to go the extra mile, unlike the many nominal members who take part in discussions on BMY’s wall, and only on topics which interest them, but recoil when it comes to more serious matters and the concrete activities, objectives and projects of the group.
BULUK: I have observed that some subjects are not desirable as topics of discussion in BMY, e.g. party politics, confessions and religion. Is that true?
Winston: Discussing issues from the perspective of one’s political affiliation can be very divisive because BMY is not homogeneous in these respects. Members have various political backgrounds and where these conflict with each other, and they are bound to, the predominant issue of UNITY and ONE BULSA will be threatened and even abandoned.
Unless we are united, we can’t do anything. That is why we discourage partisan political discussions because they tend to divide rather than unite us.
I have personally been accused of showing preference for the NDC. I have been told I am a special assistant of a parliamentary candidate just because I was seen in his company. Now, such biased judgmental claims tend to undermine our efforts at unity and collective initiative. That is why the administrators of the group try to prevent political opposing in the discussions that take place on our Facebook wall. I think some time in the future we will be able to look beyond our partisan political and religious affiliations and focus on our main objective: UNITY and ONE BULSA!
On religion: I think religion has not been as problematic as politics. We have not really had cases where somebody tries to condemn another religion, or tries to use the forum to propagate a particular religion. People can always do that on their personal Facebook walls, but not on the group wall. If we allow people to go about talking about their religion, it might disturb the balance of the group in the one or other way.
BULUK: Let me ask you a more personal question. I am one of the very few people in BMY who is not Bulsa. Should there be any restrictions of membership as concerns nationality or tribe? Or should there be any restrictions if you have the feeling “This person is not good for our group, because his behaviour or his way of discussion is not liked?"
Winston: I have removed about two people from the group before because their comments tended to attack and insult other members in a personal way, with less regard for real issues. BMY is concerned about issues. It is not for us to judge other people’s characters on the basis of what others say about them. So long as members stick to issues and leave out character it is all right. What we need is what the person is saying. Is it relevant within the context of BMY’s objectives?
I personally don’t see why a Chinese, German, Arab or whoever, who has interest in Bulubisa Meina cannot be a member. Everybody is welcome as long as he has interest in Buluk and as long as he does not attack other people in an indecent and insulting way.
BULUK: I think this will do for the moment. I thank you very much for this interview.
Ku miena la.