Dominika littering the Volta Lake with plastic bottled water.

Troubled Waters is a documentary about fishing activities in Africa, born out of a Cable News Network (CNN) Freedom Project. The project “travels to Ghana’s Lake Volta,” where it claims that “thousands of children are sold into slavery.” What emerges is a carefully crafted documentary that preys upon serious issues of child labor and child abuse—which problems must be eschewed—but which paints these issues in the light of the white savior trope for a tantalizing western consumption.

Why the need, one may ask, to paint every negative human condition in Africa as some sort of slavery? Is it perhaps to assuage the guilt of the west for the gross atrocities they have committed in Africa, or to divert attention from the extraction of wealth from Africa by European companies? Is this narrative perhaps to ease white people’s culpability for their mass kidnapping, and centuries-long enslavement of Africans in the Americas, upon which all their primary wealth in the west has been built? Why the need to paint every issue of abuse in Africa as some sort of slavery?

The documentary stars a white woman from Poland, Dominika Kulczyk, who claims that she is a human rights advocate, and George Achibra Jr., who works for PACODEP. George is the CEO of sorts for PACODEP, which is an NGO operating in Kete Krachi. George claims the following on his website:

“Children as young as five are sold to human traffickers and made to work as fishermen for up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are beaten. They are abused. They eat scraps off the table and sleep on the dirt. Many of these children drown when forced to dive under the water to untangle fishing nets. These forgotten children become yet another anonymous corpse, resting at the bottom of the lake. No one, it seems, grieves for them and no one is punished for enslaving and endangering them. The only loss is a financial one. The fisherman who bought the child had paid the price of a cow to turn him into a slave.”

It is to this end that a white woman from Poland, Dominika Kulczyk, arrived in Ghana to see for herself, and broadcast to the world the unique atrocities happening in Ghana. She asks George, on a trip to see children working on a boat: “This is slavery. Why are you not rescuing these children right now?,” while she litters the hands of a boy sitting in one of the boats with a plastic bottle of water to drink for the pictures. George replies that he is not law enforcement and that even if law enforcement rescued the children, his PACODEP could not house them, and the children would have to be returned to their respective families. George maintained that the children would be “trafficked” again by their parents.

What to do?

A so-called “enslaver” is quickly found and questioned as is the norm in western-styled questionnaires in an African ethnographic study. A man, who is identified as Gideon explains how he is able to bring several young boys to help him in his fishing occupation. He explains that he pays a price—the equivalent of between 250 dollars and 500 dollars—to acquire the services of boys from their parents for a maximum of three years. In fact, Gideon goes on to show that he maintains contact with the parents of the boys for hire, and when anything happens to a child, he and the parents of the child sit and discuss how to remedy the situation.

Gideon affirms—probably having been asked about a situation in which a child may have drowned—that because fishing on the Volta Lake is dangerous work, in an event that a child drowns, he sits with the child’s family and takes all the steps necessary for compensating the family and arranging for the funeral rites of the child.

In one instance, Dominika Kulczyk, asks Gideon how he felt about hiring children for work when his own children were busy with school work. “Are you sending your children to school?” She asks Gideon. Gideon replies “Yes, my children are in school.” Dominika Kulczyk, the white savior, continues, “I wonder, how you feel about putting in danger children who are not yours in order to buy food and pay for school for your children?” Gideon replies that: “This is a difficult question. I need to think carefully before I answer it.” Gideon pauses for a moment and recollects himself. “In order to live you need to find a way.” Gideon goes on to explain that the children’s parents understand that they need to live, and they understand that fishing is dangerous. These are difficult decisions for parents to make for their own children.

What becomes clear from the interview is corroborated by some fishermen as far as Ntoaboma. When I asked one fisherman in Forifori, Dawa, if he had seen the CNN documentary, he affirmed that his son had shown it to him and that he wasn’t particularly pleased. I pressed Dawa for his thoughts.

“I don’t know exactly what happens in Kete Krachi but I know how hiring boys on the lake works. Some of us need helping hands on our farms and fishing boats. Some of us have the money to pay for that help. Some parents neither have farms nor boats, and they too must make ends meet. Where we find a balance as a society in such difficult times is not an easy thing—it’s difficult for everyone. That means not all our children can go to school, some have to help their parents on the farm or on the fishing boat doing dangerous work. I had to help my father on the boat so that my younger sister and brother could go to school. Others have to work for those who have a little more to pay for their services. The fishermen who hire other hands pay for three years for a child’s services and when anything happens to the child they renegotiate the terms of that contract. It is not slavery. One may call it child labor depending on where one stands.”

I pressed Dawa to expatiate more on what he meant by “It is not slavery. One may call it child labor depending on where one stands.”

“If you wake up early morning in the city of New York, or Chicago, or wherever that Dominika crawled from, where all the African slave boys that the US Army uses as mercenaries have been massacred in Afghanistan, or Libya, in order to assure that your daughter can drive out a brand new Mercedes Benz anytime she wants, then sure, to you, this is child abuse in Kete Krachi. What you can’t call it is slavery. We don’t kidnap the children, we don’t put chains around their necks, and we don’t send them to distant lands to go and die; we certainly don’t give them different names; they don’t work for us forever or do they work for free; we don’t lynch them, nor do we force them to bear us more children into slavery as was done in the United States for four centuries and on. As a matter of fact, why is CNN not making documentaries about Saudi Arabia and about Israel and their human rights violations? Why is CNN not making documentaries about the Mass Incarceration of Black men in America? Why is CNN not investigating the New Jim Crow, in which a population of only 5 percent of the world incarcerates more than 25 percent of the world’s prison population?”

However, since CNN was bent on describing what is transpiring in some fishing communities along the Volta Lake in Ghana as slavery at all costs, the enlistment of George came in handy. After all George is the Ghanaian confidant who comes along to stop what he called “Child Trafficking” and “Slavery.” George manages to convince one fishermen along the lake to opt rather for farming. At least so he claimed in the documentary. The whole idea would be a simple joke had Geroge not stated his logic rather plainly for doing so: “We have managed to convince the fisherman (“Gideon”) to release the children to their parents. Giving him fishing nets, or fishing tools would only make him go and get more children. But giving him tools for grounds work, that is farming, he would no longer need children to do the work (Paraphrased).”

George’s reasoning is fascinating: Fishing is more involved than farming? And that’s when you know the man has never fished or has never farmed, else he would have quickly realized that farm work is just as involved as fishing. Perhaps one can argue that farming is less dangerous, but not any easier. We are made to believe that this CNN help, together with Dominika, a white savior of sorts, have resolved the situation as simple as that in this fishing community by giving this man “Gideon” farming incentives instead of fishing incentives.

What’s more troubling is that George himself reveals that even when these children return to their homes, the parents simply do not have the means to afford them and end up giving the same children up for hire again to other fishermen and farmers. In one school where CNN claims has been built as a sanctuary for the village for trafficked children, one quickly realizes that the school is private. A private community grade school by PACODEP, where other children receive their education as well.

What results in the conclusion shots of this documentary is the sudden re-appearance of Dominika Kulczyk interviewing one mother who had collected a sum for her son to help a fisherman on the lake. When she was asked why she did it, her answer was simple: Poverty. Which brings back the issue of the socioeconomic construction of poverty by western nations in Africa. The entire French nation is a welfare state dependent on French Africa for every need. The model can be generalized across the west’s relationship to Africa. The forces of colonization and neoimperialism in Africa continue to extract the wealth and they artificially create such socioeconomic centers of gross poverty in places like Kete Krachi. It is not that a mother would ask her young son to go out and work for money, but the necessity of the wealth extraction from Africa by Europeans remains the one major factor.

What she cannot be said to be doing is selling her son. She never sold her son as the CNN documentary, as the parroting Polish girl, Dominika Kulczyk, and her friend George would like the world to believe. She asked a son, too young to work, to go out and bring in money. This is harsh, this is troubling, in the same way that the extraction of African wealth from the continent by Europeans without direct compensation is harsh. One cannot stop one before the other. Both must stop. But I doubt CNN dares make a documentary about European extraction of African wealth from Ghana. I doubt it.

50 COMMENTS

  1. Like you said in one of your articles one needs to buy more than two news papers to Know the truth. Can you imagine THIS lazy so called journalism.
    The annoying part is that almost no one is talking about this misrepresentation of our beloved country. Kudos Narmer

  2. There are Ghanaian collaborating cabals in high places. I am tempted to believe they might be the children of the very people who profited from slavery or ignorant fools suffering from PTSDs.
    Imagine this coming from a Poland, a country that’s yet to recognize their Afro-polish communities, having the gall to do this. We would have to deal with these collaborators sooner or later if we want all these nonsense

  3. Thank you very much for this eloquent and articulate write-up that addresses this issue in such an erudite and nuanced manner.
    I, too, hate the word SLAVERY. SLAVERY meant black men and women, black girls and boys being killed for daring to learn to read and write.
    It meant death in the most brutal manners at the hands of white masters. SLAVERY meant never knowing your parents or relatives. SLAVERY meant or means many many horrible things.
    I happen to live currently in the USA, where SLAVERY has done almost irreparable damage to some of our African-American people. I cringe and suffer a quiet angst anytime I see the word SLAVERY. Sometimes I wonder if some of our White brothers and sisters – no matter how well-meaning – are trying unconsciously to demean and degrade the word SLAVERY to lessen the angst and outrage we must exercise over 400 years of man’s inhumanity to man, especially as the ugly vestiges of SLAVERY and RACISM continue to emerge with the various video images of unarmed black brothers (and sisters) are shot by American cops with impunity.
    Yes, every Ghanaian child must be in school. No Ghanaian should be caught up in what someone could easily describe as “child slavery.” But there is a palpable falsehood in the un-nuanced description of “child labour” or “indentured child labour” in Ghana, as SLAVERY.
    Thank you for your excellent write-up on this matter. We are not condoning child labour that keeps children out of school but we must condemn this self-serving portrayal of a societal challenge as something it is not. Thank you.

  4. Fair analysis.
    Again, I am not a fan of our complaining as if we must cont on the good in others.
    When are we shooting the documentary on them too?
    When are we putting a Kete-Krachian on a cab to visit and shoot a documentary on race-based exploitation elsewhere?

  5. The cultural context of the narrative is disturbing.
    The narrative is westernized so our interpretation of what they view as slavery is not heard.Until we begin to construct and deconstruct our narratives….sorry for us.

  6. But Komlar Dumor said it best ” until the lion learns to tell it’s side of the story the narrative will always favor the Hunter”

  7. Excellent observations Narmer. Child labour is bad but slavery is evil. What was shown by CNN is not slavery at all. See, some NGOs local and international paint such pictures of issues to attract more funding. Sad part is we have not had any response from the nation Ghana either by civil society or government.

  8. I have never been sold on this “white saviour” incidents that are constantly imposed on us. CNN has more pressing things to deal with in their own environment

  9. When a child is used to act movies…sometimes serious stunts …. They do not called that SLAVERY…..
    You see how some sportsmen take their little kids through Strenuous training…. And they cheer that….
    Very soon all these diabolic journalism will be exposed.
    Thank u.

  10. Amenuti, well done. You have dispassionately discussed the issue. CNN has stoked a fire they pretty do not understand. But it is good it came forth for such revelation.

  11. Razak Cofie, I watched it this morning. It isn’t only this time that I have watched and heard such slavery. We never want to admit the truth.let admit it is a crafted documentary to paint us black and we will never get rid of what pull us back. Aba Anowa Essuman, you can throw more light on this because you have done some work on this

  12. Narmer Amenuti, you know, even the little you have done will open the eyes of those who can see what it means to have one’s own narratives. We need balanced minds like yourself to give the balanced view of what transpires in our country. CNN and all the NGOs have created an atmosphere of painting Africa as a jungle needing white saviors. That narrative ends here. We must pain the picture of a Europe, and an entire west groveling in the riches of the people they claim they want to save. European & American salvation of Africa is more of the same since the arrival of the Christian Missionaries: Loot Africa. The more looting the better the salvation. This is the sum of western activity in Africa.

  13. I watched it and was disturbed that journalism was no longer about telling the real truth.
    I am moved by why the western media or CNN does not see toung Africans dying in unnecessary wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria etc as bad and slavery nor do they see the raping of African mines over the 400 years of colonialism as bad.
    Worae still is how some of us have sold our conscience to perpetuate such erroneous and criminal ventures.

  14. I happened to have bumped into a lady on the train in Amsterdam about child slavery.
    I told her the matter is complicated and not that simple and that I doubt if any parent would sell their child

  15. Long thoughts but worth reading. As an Akan adage will say it ” you have slapped me but forbid me to cry”. This is what they want us to do.

  16. Our leaders must be honest and accept the fact that child slavery is a reality on the Volta lake. Our leaders must bow their heads in shame for not fighting this canker.

    • CNN’S “CHILD SLAVERY” DOCUMENTARY AND MATTERS ARISING … This write-up is very important. “SLAVERY” is a horrible word that evokes angst, horror, anguish, pain, abuse, rape, and death. At what point does “child labour,” “child abuse,” or “indentured child labour” get described as “SLAVERY”?

      Still, all Ghanaian parents, all relevant Ghanaian NGOs, the MPs, and public officials plus the media in Ghana, must everything possible to ensure that EVERY GHANAIAN CHILD IS IN SCHOOL, and not in a situation that can be described loosely as “SLAVERY.” (Thank you Narmer Amenuti.)

  17. Our jounalusts should wake up and counter these stories.our governments should wake up and counter this stories. It needs counter measures or proactive measures
    These stories prepare the ground for our abuse because then it can be said we don’t care for our own there is no slavery in Ghana

  18. If you seriously DECONSTRUCT the documentary bit by bit and in relationship to other NGO documentaries; it will instantly dawn on you that this is all part of Social Engineering and Cultural Engineering to brainwash their own people and to downgrade the Africans. Obviously with the complicity of the local governments. You can’t do a documentary like this in any white country for African consumption. Why?

  19. This is a great analysis of the CNN documentary. There are major cultural differences between how children are raised in European cultures and Ghanaian culture. Even in America, children who live in rural areas work on farms or support their families’ livelihoods. They might even take a job as a farm-hand on a neighbors’ farm during harvest season. Yet in America CNN doesn’t call it “slavery.” When I saw advertisements on CNN for this “special” it immediately occurred to me that CNN won’t even let Africa’s success story (Ghana) exist without claiming that slavery is “a major issue” affecting “more than 15,000 children.” Ideally, these children would be in school and not fishing, but until the conditions (which you laid out above) exist then the root causes of poverty will exist that prevent these children from accessing schools. Would CNN prefer that the children stay home with their single mothers who face challenges in caring for them? Perhaps the parents of these children think they are learning skills by working with fishers on a seasonal basis? None of these issues are explored, and CNN shows people saying things that they are not saying. “Master” is a word that people use for their manager or supervisor in Ghana, even in shops in Osu. CNN wants people to think of the American south/slavery and associate these children with American slaves. It is really terrible journalism and Ghana should make a statement against this kind of insulting portrayal of Ghanaian culture.

    • Kwadjo Douglas Amankwah-La Rose are you saying those fishermen allow these boys to go to school? When can we be true to ourselves?

    • Kwabena Adade no I am not saying that. Their situation is not a good one, but it is too much to use the word “slavery” and have CNN turn it into a global spectacle

    • Kwadjo Douglas Amankwah-La Rose, many of us from the coastal areas make a living by assisting the fishermen and still be able to attend school. Some became fishermen after completing their elementary schools.

    • One is “Child Labor” and the other is “Slavery,” if the two were the same, they wouldn’t have different names in the same language. Is that clearer?

    • Now you’ve made a categorical statement ( Child Labor < or = Slavery). The explanation of which falls on you. Let's hear.

    • This is not the first time I have seen a documentary about how small boys are being used by these fishermen. When a child is denied education, daily supply of food and his basic childhood needs, but only subjected to maltreatment, whiles he works hours unend, to me is a pure form of slavery. This is a reality that we need to accept no matter who and how it is reported.

    • Your opinion. Mine differs. Slavery is a lose term, nonetheless I cannot regard child labor as slavery in the same way that capital punishment or murder, are not forms of slavery. However, you are entitled to your opinion.

    • I don’t think fighting over the word “slavery ” should be the issue for us to contend with, but rather the issue. Why should such a situation be allowed to be going on until someone else coming to talk about it before we write long essays to fight over an adjective? Aren’t we ashamed of the fact that innocent boys are being denied of the future, just because some irresponsible adult wants to catch some fish? Please, let accept the fact that this is a disgraceful thing happening to innocent small boys who deserve a better future. Playing with adjectives with long writeups is not the solution.

    • Kwabena Adade, “Child Labor” & “Slavery” are not adjectives. They are Nouns. Again, you conflate issues of great concern with issues of ideological, geopolitical interpretations. That said, you still have the right to the opinion that I should stop writing my views on the matter. Only I will not stop. I cannot stop. What issue you’ve raised, has been heard. I hear you. My problem is not about English nouns and what one defines them as such. My issue is deeper, more expansive than you can appreciate. It is about American-English Imperial Geopolitical Obfuscations about slavery, Africa, and Chattel Slavery. You claim it has all to do with Child Labor, I insist that it does not. We differ. The issue ends there since we have an understanding.

  20. Twist and turns.. I am a social worker for 30 years and child labour has been one issues I have done so much on for twenty five.
    Poverty is what we should collectively look at. Slavery is still common in Africa and the developed countries are the worst slave masters.

  21. Th Art of the false narrative – reinventing slavery to salve their past atrocities. White savior NG0’s who profit from selling misrepresentations.

  22. Your article affirms the position taken by the CNN reporter. Call it child labour or slavery, the law of contract does not allow under age children to enter into contract for a good reason. When you contract with the children’s parents to expose these innocent children to dangers on the Lake, you are indulging in nothing other than slavery. The child has no say in the contract but obligated to fulfil the terms of the contract. When you have no say in labour and does not benefit directly from the labour, that is slavery. Antislavery international gives a distinction between child slavery and child labour: “Child slavery is often confused with child labour, but is much worse. Whilst child labour is harmful for children and hinders their education and development, child slavery occurs when a child’s labour is exploited for someone else’s gain.”

    Why is the child’s parent not engaged on these dangerous expeditions? Why do we engage children in such barbaric expedition at their tender age when they should be in school learning? Basic school is free and so is SHS. So what excuse does parents have for not allowing the children to go to school but exposed to these dangerous expedition?
    I salute the CNN report for shedding light on this evil exploitation for the world to see. However you frame it, the truth is the truth and our children on the Volta Lake are under slavery. Let their parents dive into the Lake to entangle nets for the fishermen. They signed the contract not the children.

    • “The child has no say in the contract but obligated to fulfil the terms of the contract. When you have no say in labour and does not benefit directly from the labour, that is slavery.”

      By your definition, Christian children (either in Sunday School or the Kingdom Hall helping their parents spread the gospel; or being Servers in the Anglican/Catholic Churches)) are slaves working for the Church (for free; some even pay the Church) in a contract they never signed themselves.

    • Your analogy is flawed! You can’t compare Apples with Tomotoes. Do you endorse the practice on the Volta Lake? Have a nice life pal

    • You gave your definition. All I did was to provide you with a counter narrative to your definition to test it. This is called the scientific method: You make a claim, I test it. If you don’t like the test (my answer), what you need to do is revise your definition. That’s all. No need to get emotional pal.

  23. Whatever is said in reaction to the documentary, these kids are too little to working for anyone – let alone doing such a dangerous job, they should be at school with help from the government.

  24. You should all read this piece. This is amazing. If for nothing, for the way the author crafted his argument. Please do well to read the comments as well.

    And to CNN, he who lives in a glass house should always be afraid of throwing a stone. You have met your match.

  25. This is quite lenghty but makes an interesting read. Exposes both the hypocrisy of the west and the lack of understanding of the African culture, laced with a bit of disingenuous intent. Read on….

  26. I watched the idiocy of the so-called documentary by CNN and I must say I’m appalled but not surprised. I am tempted to think there is a more sinister motive behind this docustupid than Narmer explains.

  27. I was at a shelter for rescued children last week (starting some work with an anti-trafficking org) yes its complicated but children are being sold and they are being trafficked whether on the lakes, in marijuana farms etc and if cnn has come to shed that light then we need to look into the issues instead of the national defensive position that we are taking as a people (not referring to you personally)

    p.s i saw children with large festering holes in their bodies from long hours in water. Those who work in this area are constantly under death threats-we obviously live on another planet

    • Sista. This is not panpaa… the author doesn’t say he condones what is going on in some of the communities on the lake. What the author is saying is that it cannot be called “slavery,” whatever and however severe you think the situation truly is.

      Please, it will be nice if we could all keep anecdotal evidence to ourselves in matters of national concern. See? At least the MP for Afram Plains North Constituency, Hon Betty N E Krosbi Mensah, got into contact with some people to also address the CNN documentary on the supposed “child slavery.”

      Here’s the Al Jazeera retort from Betty Mensah & Samuel Okyere.

      https://www.aljazeera.com/…/cnn-reported-child-slaves-ensla…

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