Janet Adu, "Mrs. President"
Moina Fauchier-Delavigne

ACCRA — Ghana has two presidents. The first was elected last December, and is named Nana Akufo-Addo, a 73-year-old British-educated son of a former head of state. The other is Janet Adu, 57, who never studied abroad and has always lived far from the luxuries of the official presidential palace. But she too was elected by popular vote to her mandate of "leader of communities' of the slums in Ghana.

"I was not candidate, but the people insisted," Adu recalls of her election in 2012.

Since taking up the position, the daily life of Mrs. President has been turned a bit upside down. The only ritual "Auntie" — as everyone calls her — hasn't disturbed is the Morning Prayer, at 5 a.m., said with her two youngest nephews, Nyarkou and Bright, 10 and 13 years old. The children then go straight to the collective showers, before heading to school by 7 a.m., after which Auntie can move on and start her day.

Adu lives in Ashaiman, one of the 256 slums in and around the Ghanian capital of Accra. Located some 20 kilometers outside the city center, this area made of residences of sheet-metal roofs expanded through the 1960's alongside the construction of the nearby port of Tema, where some 70% of the country's commercial trade now passes. Over the years, the slum was filled with people from the countryside looking for work. Renting a room in Ashaiman, where there is still no running water and an archaic sewage system, costs around 40 cédis ($9) a month. A room near the port goes for around 200 cédis ($45).

Arriving in 1987 from a small village in eastern Ghana, Janet and her husband came looking for "greener pastures," as she explains. He would become a taxi driver, she would open a a small business. Thirty years later, the couple still lives in the same place, but she was risen to lead the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GHAFUP), part of Slum Dwellers International (SDI), an Indian NGO that has created a network of inhabitants of slums and shantytowns in 34 countries around the world.

"Twenty years ago, informal neighborhoods were ignored by the authorities and were not part of the development plans." explains Joseph Muturi, SDI coordinator for East and West Africa, who is based in the biggest slum of Kenya. "We had to give them visibility, gather information and put them on a map in order to be taken into account." This innovative process has allowed inhabitants of these marginalized neighborhoods to negotiate with local authorities and establish partnerships to decide priorities of development in terms of energy, potable water, education, and other key services.

The local initiatives always spring up from small groups who organize themselves and gather funds, and then define together the needs of a specific area. In Ghana, most of the 20,000 members of SDI are women. And at the top, coordinating 334 different groups around the country, there is President Adu.

Like the other residents, she has no toilet in her home.

Since her election, "Auntie" is too busy to run her coal business, which has been turned over to her sister-in-law. Presidential title notwithstanding, Adu is like any other inhabitant of Ashaiman, which includes not having toilets at home. But she does manage to pay for the nursing studies of her daughter and the school fees of her nephews. She also was able to expand her house and develop her business.

She's also no longer renting the shack of wood and sheet metal she was renting when she arrived. Over the years, the volunteer leader and her husband have built two other rooms and a container to stock the coal. To gather the 4000 cédis ($900) she needed for the construction, she sought two loans through the federation she now heads.

A former British colony, Ghana is more stable and more democratic than neighboring countries of East Africa. The poverty rate has dropped from 52% in 1992 to 21% in 2013. Still, authorities have not successfully managed the rapid urbanization. Between 1984 and 2013, the urban population tripled and the urbanization rates rose from 31% to 51%. In the cities, access to basic services such as drinkable water or a sewage system has declined. A UN-Habitat report in 2011 noted that 85% of the households couldn't afford to have a formal accommodation. The housing shortage is getting worse.

Learning from an Indian example

According to the Ghanaian NGO People's Dialogue, 60% of the urban population in the Accra region is currently living in slums. The same proportion can be observed is other big cities on the African continent. But Farouk Braimah, director of People's Dialogue, notices an encouraging signal: at the beginning of 2017, Ghana created an official government ministry dedicated to the question of slums.

Since she was elected, some things about Janet Adu have changed. She's now one of the few women her age in Ashaiman to speak in English. "Before, I was shy" she adds. "But now, I have no fear to talk to authorities to defend our rights." She had traveled a lot through Ghana as well as to Kenya, Uganda, China, Colombia, and Brazil. For SDI, it is essential to learn from the experience of others and try to adapt the solutions imagined elsewhere.

Slum on outskirts of Accra, Ghana — Photo: Frans Lanting/Mint Images/ZUMA

In 2011, SDI set out to reproduce an Indian example at Ashaiman, with the inauguration of a building in the Amui Dzor area, the first of the kind in Ghana. Some 30 families are living there. On the ground floor, there are shops, toilets and public showers. The idea came to life after a trip Adu took to Mumbai, and the United Nations Human Settlements Program and the Ghanaian Housing Ministry co-financed the $400,000 necessary for the construction.

Soon people living in the building will become owners, organized in cooperatives. For now, the property hosts a weekly meeting about personal finances, of which Adu is part. Today, they are discussing "mobile money" and banking services by text messages. Adu reassures several older people that they can find younger people to help with the tech.

Back at home, Nyarkou, Adu's niece has turned the courtyard into a kitchen. The young woman would like to be a doctor, but for now, she's helping her aunt to cook soup and the traditional "banku" dish made with horn and manioc. "Tonight, we won't have dinner since we are having a good lunch," Adu says.

After the Evening Prayer, the children go to bed — a simple mat on the floor — and the president of Ghana's slums listens to the radio waiting for her husband to come back home. "He usually has dinner by himself, but sometimes, he wakes me up to serve him," Adu explains.

Plans are underway for a second building to be built in Amui Dzor, but they still need to find the financing. If they manage, Mrs. President will have running water, toilets and a shower. At home.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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