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Field Notes

Ford Nation making waves an ocean away

Grafftti depicting Ford on a wall seen in downtown Toronto earlier this year.

Graffiti depicting Ford on a wall seen in downtown Toronto earlier this year.

ACCRA – On a crammed minibus in downtown Accra, a radio announcer is reading a newscast in Twi, one of the local languages in Ghana, when the words “Toronto,” “Rob Ford,” and “cocaine” are broadcast through the speakers.

The driver smirks.

“She said he drank alcohol but he didn’t take any drugs,” says Adams Issaka. “Ford admitted that he drank alcohol but what he was smoking, it wasn’t cocaine, it was just a pipe.”

Issaka, who works at Ghana’s National Media Commission, is one of many people around the world weighing in on a saga evolving in a city an ocean away.

On Tuesday, Ford admitted at a news conference that he had indeed smoked crack cocaine – something he had denied for months.

That same afternoon, Nana Osei Anthony sat at a press club in Accra, the capital city of Ghana.

The third year student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism is well versed in the Ford coverage.

“I first heard of him on CNN and watched him on BBC. He strikes me as a confident man and even though there is a video out there, he is still confident in defending and standing his ground,” Osei Anthony said.

“He is defending his dignity. And he is defending who he is.”

If he could vote, Osei Anthony’s ballot would go to Ford.

And he’s not alone. Following the release of court documents and an announcement by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair saying he has seen the alleged crack video, Ford’s support rose by five percentage points to 44 per cent last Thursday.

“His popularity is increasing because he is showing he is a leader,” Osei Anthony said. “He is not chickening out. He is fighting on, and the more he is fighting on he is getting more people interested. And the more he is not backing down, the more journalists are parading with the news. That is why we are discussing about Rob Ford in West Africa.”

But Issaka said just because Ford’s popularity is increasing doesn’t mean the mayor is doing the right thing.

“If it went against the law of the land then it must be dealt with. We are equal before the law. If it doesn’t, then he is entitled to his privacy,” he said.

Issaka said while legal obligations are likely the same, reactions might have been different if the same confession had come from a Ghanaian politician.

“If it was to be in Ghana, it would depend where he stands in the political divide of the country,” he said. “If he’s one of the true leading party in the country than it’s going to cause a whole lot of uproar. But if he belongs to some of the smaller parties than the noise it would generate will not be as much as we expect in the NDC or NPP.”

The New Democratic Congress, the ruling party in Ghana, won a recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the results from a 2012 election where President John Dramani Mahama won by the slimmest of margins, beating out the New Patriotic Party by less than three per cent.

Ford won Toronto’s 2010 municipal election on a fiscally conservative platform. Mayoral candidates run independently of political parties but it is clear where Ford lies. His brother and Toronto city councillor Doug Ford is contemplating running provincially with the Conservative party.

Flaubert Emmanuel Gekounde, the president of the Ghana Journalist Association at the university, said no matter the country, politicians are held to a different standard than a typical citizen.

“So far as he is in the public domain, it is no longer a private life, but a public one,” he said. “I believe that if the laws say that he is somehow guilty, then he should be dealt with.”

As of Tuesday Ford had not been charged with any crime. He said he will continue to lead the city, despite losing support from most of his councillors.

“He is committing a crime, or presumably committing a crime. You must investigate it,” Issaka said. “These are some of the things the media need to be doing – especially in Africa – because the media is able to bring these issues to light.”

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