For the next ten days, I am going to be calling myself a Berliner. The German capital is a beautiful city. I love it. It’s well laid out, quite green in many areas even though there is a lot of construction going on.
I came in here from Frankfurt, where I connected from Accra.
One of the first things that struck me when I got out of the airport was the fact that they use some of the latest Mercedes Benz models as taxis here. All the cabs outside the airport were Mercedes Benz models. This will never happen where I come from.
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With me in the taxi on the short journey from the airport to the elegant Park Inn Hotel, were two bloggers from Nigeria and Hungary. I doubt if I heard correctly but I think the Nigerian said something to the effect that Berlin looks like Accra. “Really? How?” I asked – without uttering the words because I wasn’t so sure what I heard and I wasn’t in the mood for an argument with a man I had just met. I was too tired for that.
In the coming days, the subject might come up again and if it does, I will tell my new Nigerian friend that I don’t see any rubbish ‘mountains’, rickety ‘trotros’, haphazard developments or chaotic traffic to make Berlin remind me of the big slum called Accra.
One thing my Nigerian friend wouldn’t argue with me about though is the hotel we are staying in – the Park Inn Hotel. It’s beautiful and the rooms are very tastefully done, even though I find them to be too small. After entering the room, I just slumped on the bed and slept.
I woke up a few hours later and went out to meet the other bloggers.
There is Emlan, an intelligent, impressive and courageous Saudi Arabian woman who tackles taboo subjects in her conservative society. There is Mahmood, a middle-aged, well-dressed entrepreneur from Bahrain who sells broadcast equipment but can’t open his own broadcast company because the government will not issue private licences.
There are others from Costa Rica, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Russia and Switzerland.
But the one I engaged with the most is from Singapore. His name is Andrew – a thoughtful man who can’t wait to see the media in his country liberalised. Over dinner, we spoke at length about former Singaporean Premier, Lee Kwan Yew.
“A lot of young people don’t like him,” Andrew told me.
I understand why. I recently watched a documentary on LKY and he’s very easy to hate. But with his vision, drive and single-minded determination, he brought development to his people. Andrew agree with me on that but he still wants to see a freer media in Singapore. That seems like a far-off dream for as long as 86-year-old LKY remains “minister-mentor” in Singapore.
Andrew seems to like the idea that Ghana has so many private newspapers and radio/TV stations. That’s not bad, is it? But it doesn’t necessarily amount to press freedom, does it? I told Andrew that if Singaporeans came to us in Ghana with an offer to give them our free press (or whatever it means to have so many radio stations and newspapers) in exchange for their development, most Ghanaians wouldn’t mind giving up press freedom.
I wouldn’t let go of my freedom without a fight. I don’t want us to go back to the era of the ‘culture of silence’. But then, what’s the point in having a free press when water doesn’t flow, electricity is epileptic, children are studying under trees and pregnant women are sleeping on floors in hospital?
That’s question over which I am going to scratch my chin for a while as I spend my first night in beautiful Berlin.