Political Safari: Jarreth Merz on Making 'An African Election'

My first memory about politics in Africa began with the execution of former heads of state in Ghana, live on television in 1979. I remember the dimly lit shack, a flickering black and white television, which my friends and I were glued to and the sound of the shots as the bodies went limp.

Thirty-three years later, I'm still searching for the footage, and not very successfully, since the archives have burnt down and all the material have been destroyed, or so I am told. All I am left with are these memories, snapshots of a time when corruption was rampant among the military leadership and a young Lt. Jerry Rawlings was about to rewrite Ghana’s political history. Rawlings, a charismatic lieutenant was instrumental in the uprising against the leadership and its overthrow.

Time flies, and it's four years since I began filming An African Election, a feature documentary about the 2008 presidential elections in Ghana. Here I am sitting on a plane from Los Angeles to Ghana, where I am planning to take An African Election back on the road with a truck and a movie screen to show this film to my fellow Ghanaians.

I never thought I would end up doing this—a political safari, a mobile cinema outreach campaign to support Africans in democracy building. Was I completely out of my mind?! This kind of work was for the various organizations that flood Africa, claiming they can save it! But save it from whom? A friend once said to me he felt Africa was the cemetery of NGOs. So why on earth did I think Africa was waiting for another project like mine? If in all these years there had been so little development, comparatively speaking, why should I dare believe that I, with my film, would make a difference?

On March 4 of this year, we held the Ghana premier of An African Election in a theater in the capital city of Accra with a thousand people watching their 2008 presidential elections through MY eyes. The audience was charged as they compared their recollection of the events with what was unfolding on the screen. At times you could hear a pin drop and then suddenly, a thunder of voices would comment in disbelief or excitement.

We had touched a nerve. We had captured footage that revealed the behind-the-scenes intrigue of electioneering, the intensity of the vote counting process, and the political battle. This was something no cameras had ever been able to do in Africa. Yes, I documented events that almost brought down our country. But, it also showed how we were able to steer Ghana through this political storm. For the audience to see this clearly portrayed - this was the most powerful example of democracy.

Given the recent tragic death of president Atta Mills the country is facing a new reshuffling of power, which might threaten democratic stability and may adversely affect the upcoming presidential elections in December 2012.

Now, more than ever, it is time to take An African Election back home to Ghana so I can share the story of an election that made history. In an age where we have seen too many failures, this project exemplifies an African success story. Help us take this story on the road by supporting our Political Safari Kickstarter campaign. If we can raise enough money and support, we will be touring the entire country, including the remotest places, for two solid months, bringing the film in 5 local languages to inspire and support Africans in democracy building.

Please join us.


Jarreth Merz is an award-winning director, producer and actor. He grew up in Ghana, Germany, and Switzerland, and speaks five languages fluently.


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