Case Study: Exploring Safeguarding in James Town, Accra, Ghana

Posted by Nii Kwartelai Quartey, James Town Community Theatre


Description of the work and the partners involved

Hidden Histories: The untold stories of slavery in James Town was one of the Antislavery Knowledge Network research projects conducted by a collaboration of three organisations, namely the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), James Town Community Theatre and James Town Walking Tours. The aim of the project was to use primarily arts-based methodologies to explore the realities of modern slavery in James Town and the links (if any) between modern and historic slavery in the area.

This year-long collaborative research project was divided into three phases. The first phase of the project featured in-depth interviews with community members with lived experience of modern slavery and those without any lived experience. This was done in James Town between November to December 2018.

The second phase occurred between March to June 2019 and it focused on using the narratives of participants with lived experience as source material for the development and sharing of performance in James Town. This performance also had an in-built post-drama dialogue that generated useful data for the research.

During the third phase that occurred between July to August 2019, historic sites associated with slavery were identified, out of which a virtual tour was created. The project is at the moment being reviewed for academic publication.

Safeguarding issues faced



During the Hidden Histories project, we identified James Town as a recruitment and destination point for modern slavery in three areas. These include boys being taken to work in the fishing industry on Lake Volta, girls being brought from villages for sex work and young, educated women leaving to work in the Gulf States as domestic slaves.

In each of these cases, our research revealed that individuals come or return to James Town without formal support or, in some cases, an acknowledgement of the trauma they have suffered. This has clear detrimental impacts on the individuals, but it also has a wider community impact as their experiences are not shared and so other potentially at-risk individuals are not forewarned.

In spite of government efforts at the national level, it remains unclear what formal and informal safeguarding structures are currently in place at the community level for survivors and/or at-risk groups of modern slavery.

Challenges and barriers


  • The disconnect between historic slavery (which is now linked more to large tourist sites in Ghana) and modern slavery, means that the issue of modern slavery is considered to be relatively minor.
  • The concept of child slavery is unclear within a Ghanaian culture that normalizes children working to support their family and thus puts children at risk of exploitation.
  • The translation of concepts from English into the local Ghanaian languages and vice versa can be problematic.
  • There is a conflict between the legalization of ‘’work’’ by the Ghanaian government in the Gulf States versus the reality of (slavery) working conditions in the Gulf States
  • The representation of stories and characters on stage to reflect reality, without re-traumatising survivors or audience members with lived experience of the issues being portrayed, is challenging.

Actions taken to overcome the challenges


  • Placing the narratives of historic slavery/tourism sites next to lived experiences of survivors of modern slavery; to tease out the parallels and the continuum between the two, and by so doing lifting the issue from the cold doldrums sites of tourism (highlighting the cruelties and perpetuities associated with these) to the highest citadel of everyday lives
  • Approaching the research from the point of view of the survivor/victim in lieu of societal definition of slavery concepts
  • Using Verbatim Theatre based on experiences of survivors and the provision of platform for post-drama dialogue; enabling deconstruction, reconstruction and construction of concepts of slavery on both the individual and communal level and thus bridging linguistic and communication barriers
  • Getting formal consent from participants that allows for their stories to be used as source material for play production and applying the theory of fair use during the creative process. Additionally, using mono/duo characters as receptacles through whom varieties of slavery stories are told.

Outcomes and impact


Hidden Histories: The untold stories of slavery in James Townplaced the voices of both the survivors and community members at the centre of the research, by not just recording them for academic purposes but sharing the stories via theatre with the community in a way that created a safe environment for the community to interrogate the different faces of slavery, and the presence or lack of safeguarding at both national and local levels. Consequently, the opportunity facilitated discussion among survivors as they were able to share the ordeal of their long-kept stories and be heard for the first time since returning.

On another level, the theatre opened up the festering wound of modern slavery so that ‘’like a boil, that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice [was] exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion’’ (-- Martin Luther King, Jr, 1963, ‘Letter from the Birmingham Jail’).

Additionally, the project facilitated the opportunity for at-risk groups, in-school and out-of-school, to identify personal risk factors, and to imagine freedom via assessing and exploring support systems available to them as well as envisioning the creation of safeguarding or support systems.

The stories generated tangible outputs, including a manuscript for play production which was not only performed on stage but recorded and edited for radio production. Another tangible output was the production of a virtual tour of slavery in James Town and an academic article, which is under review in the Journal of Modern Slavery.

Unresolved issues


Month-long wait before the transfer of research funds to Ghanaian partners. This situation arose because of the nature of international money transfers as well as the accounting systems and procedures of the various academic institutions (University of Liverpool and University of the West Scotland) involved.

What would have made the situation better for you / your organisation or project / survivors


On the organisational level, the transfer of money in tranches so that monies for both project activities and study participants will be ready. For instance, monies for transportation to the field and that of participants’ compensation will be at hand and not after some days after activities have been conducted.

On both personal and survivors’ level, the release of funds budgeted for survivors as well as field cost after signing of contract by implementing organisation and satisfaction by Principal Investigator.

Strengths or skills that helped

One of the clear strengths of the Hidden Histories project was the community engagement and strong community ties of the project partners. Additionally, the team possessed tremendous talent in forum theatre that was effectively deployed for data collection and community engagements. The team was also blessed with individuals with innovative research skills that aided research design, planning, analysis and dissemination, complemented by institutional support from UWS.

Lessons learned from listening to the perspectives of those directly affected

We learned that the use of arts-based approaches in research projects helps in the democratization and demystification of research among participants (especially those ostracised by an inability to read or write) and communities.

The sharing of research findings with study participants, not only in a language they speak but in a medium they can validate, critique and own, encourages full participation and ensures fairness.

Ultimately, we have learned that future research that includes participants sharing the ordeal of their lived experiences should include ‘’insiders’’ or ‘’locals’’ to facilitate safeguarding owing to their familiarity with participants, their understanding of the sensitive nature of narratives and their nuanced knowledge on what is socially and culturally accepted within a given society.