The black frontline

Esther Armah

COVID numbers. Testing positive, recovery, deaths. Numbers dominate the story of this pandemic. We have gathered around television screens to listen to President Akufo-Addo’s regular address, during which his ritual of revealing the numbers often drew sighs of relief that Ghana was nowhere near the devastating death tolls and cases of the UK and the USA. In those nations, their numbers are unimaginable nightmares, and continue to spiral upwards.

Numbers are a narrative. Data offers a way of engaging COVID.

Every number is a story – of a life, of dreams, of family, loved ones, a future. The deaths are of love being grieved, an empty chair at a dinner table, a funeral we were not able to go to – a mourning behind masks.

Our stories matter. For us traditionally, the story is a particular power – it is drum, clarion call, warning, it is rainbow. It tells of our future and the past, it wraps the present in a package that helps us better understand it, confront it and engage it.

So, it matters that we create paths to tell stories about COVID. Additionally, it matters that those stories serve a purpose beyond their simple, but crucial telling.

That’s why The Black Frontline project matters. It’s an oral history project that frames the pandemic through the lens, stories and experiences of 300 global Black doctors and nurses in three cities on three continents – Accra, London and New York. It’s a multi-year project, the stories are a tool and a strategy that connects to structural change. That change is about strengthening the healthcare systems and sector of each location, reducing inequity and better serving the Black doctors and nurses and patients.

In the USA and the UK, a disproportionate number of cases and deaths were within the Black community, igniting coverage and discussion about systemic inequity and its manifestation in healthcare systems. For us in Ghana, COVID further highlighted the long-standing fragility of our healthcare system, and the long-standing strength of our community system.

We think of the healthcare sectors as bricks and mortar buildings, with adequate, effective, high-tech equipment, sufficient beds, well-trained staff. COVID has taught us that a necessary and powerfully effective institution is also community, care, seeing the humanity of people and treating them accordingly.

The idea of wearing masks, socially distancing, following protocols that protect you and your neighbors, family and community are ideas from the science. In the US that became deeply politicized. Conspiracy theories thrived as a US leader abandoned their presidential pulpit to peddle theories that served individual power-hungry dreams, feeding the fears of those who cast science as hocus pokus, and turned a superpower into a super spreader. Here in Ghana, vigilance gave way to complacency. Our latest numbers reveal 13 of the 16 regions have COVID cases. There are spikes in Accra, beds in the intensive care units are full, and we face the imminent possibility of another lockdown.

COVID stories, analysis and focus will continue for time untold. Loss became the soundtrack of 2020 in nations where Ghanaians had family. Fraught and fighting on frontlines and faultiness of race and its multiple crises, we were a virtual world in a global village where the new drum was Zoom.

It is now the beginning of 2021. We are all tired of Zoom, but we will continue to be virtual as we replace vigilance for complacency and imagine COVID will somehow pass over our nation.

As you read this, the 46th president of the United States has been inaugurated, and the one term president who made chaos, division, fake news the new normal that terrorized and terrified millions is gone. Here, we have a President for a second term who also faced a contested political victory, and sparks of violence triggering painful memories of a past where the bullet replaced the ballot. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed, legal methods are being pursued, and there is a new normal in our Parliament where compromise between two major parties is now a must.

In his State of the Nation address, the President declared healthcare infrastructure and recruiting more doctors and nurses would be a major focus of his second term. For the doctors and nurses working on the COVID frontlines, a space to hear their stories and have those stories inform how we strengthen our health care sector is crucial.

The Black Frontline is an oral history project by The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice with COVID Black, endorsed by the Ghana Medical Association – Greater Accra Region. The project is currently gathering stories from 50 doctors and 50 nurses in Accra as a contribution to this global project.

Follow: @TheBlkFrontline..Full project details:-

An Open Letter to a Gender Champion President


Dear Mr. President,

Your second term has begun.

I would like to introduce you to the Vote4Women campaign with the hashtag #AppointMoreWomen. It’s a non-partisan political effort aimed at increasing the number of women in governance and leadership.  How powerful to witness the campaign that has lit up social media introducing us to women with powerhouse credentials. How sadly necessary to once again call on your office, your party to push for the kind of representation in our politics that reflects our nation, and brings fresh ideas, vision and leadership to a politics so often marred by outdated ideas that do not serve a nation’s progress and its citizen’s fullest realization of their skills and talents.

Numbers are instructive here. From 1992 to 2016, a total of 1,610 members were elected to Ghana’s Parliament. Out of this number, only 94 were women. Right now, 40 of the 275 MPs are women. Just 40. Women have always made up a cool 50% of our nation’s population.

This letter is not about making a case for gender. That too is the issue. Women are citizens; therefore our case has been made. We still need to say that women are citizens, and should have the fullest access to all areas of a nation, including governance and leadership.

So, here we stand. This becomes a question of your legacy, Mr. President.  The titles have been showered on your office, they have ignited initiatives. The ongoing call is for the kind of governance and leadership within politics that feeds the progress we claim we want.

Each of us has a role to play. Each of our roles is not the same, does not carry the same power or weight, but each is vital in contributing to improving the whole. So, this letter is to engage you to do your work, make action your path, leave the rhetoric in the first term, and turn the noise of politics to the increased numbers of women in governance, as well as Affirmative Action bill implementation. I have spent too many columns writing about the Affirmative Action legislation – a bill that has attracted ire, controversy, advocacy, activism, discussion, derision, campaign upon campaign – but remains unimplemented as we enter your second term.

The barriers to appointment have always been the same. The barrier is a belief system backed by unwritten but staunch policy and discriminatory practice, masquerading as culture. Women lead, no nation works unless they do. It is not a question of capability, but of willingness to do the hard work of confronting that element of our society that elevates women in spaces where they serve men, but chastises them if they seek spaces where they lead men. Power is not a gendered possession.

So, in conclusion, Term 2 here you come. Here we come too. One message, one call to action. Appoint more women.

Sincerely yours,

1 of the 50%


Esther Armah is Executive Director, The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice, a global institute implementing a visionary framework for racial and cultural healing. Headquartered in Ghana, it is also registered in the US and the U., The Institute does 3 things: Projects, Training, Thought Leadership. Website:

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