Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ghana's Deputy Commissioner: Anna Bossman (Edit Three)

After waiting in front of the computer for a few minutes I click the video-call button on Skype and wait for Anna Bossman to pick up the call. I’m greeted with a hello as her wide smile shines through the computer screen. It’s been about two months since I’ve last seen and spoken to her; the last time being an intimate dinner with her daughter and she. Also, my good friend Maria Bossman-Damiba, we sit in a dim lit restaurant in the Financial District as we enjoy the last few weeks of summer vacation. This time around, her busy schedule did not permit us to personally meet. Virtually, she looks the same from the last time I saw her despite the images being pixilated every so often. Her dark skin shines on screen; it’s probably due to the hotel light reflecting on her. But one thing I noticed that was different is her tired face. She is not one to break any commitments because she is merely tired. So she tries her best to cover it up. This week she has returned to New York City to take part in Fordham University’s International Law Week.

Ms. Bossman serves as Ghana’s Deputy Commissioner of Legal and Investigative for the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), but she is also a mother. Like all mothers she is concerned about my current state. We spend about five minutes playing catch-up. She asks me questions similar to the last time I had seen her. Her round face takes up about two-thirds of the video screen. “I’m still not used to this new technology stuff,” Ms. Bossman laughs. She moves from left to right trying to find the right position, not realizing that she’s probably sitting up too close to the computer. She motions her hand in a way to say “whatever,” and calmly sits in the hotel room’s chair.

As deputy commissioner Ms. Bossman, 53, is a prominent human rights advocate. She has been serving as deputy commissioner for eight years now. In the last five years she was active chair commissioner (the current chair commissioner was away in Arusha on a committee dealing with national reconciliation and reparation for Rwanda). But before becoming deputy commissioner, Ms. Bossman spent some time in different occupations and fields.

She began her career in Ghana’s Ministry of Justice as a prosecutor for the state attorney, spent some time in corporate law firm as a lawyer, and then worked in Gabon, a state in west central Africa for a small oil company. In 1997, she returned to Ghana and started her own consulting law firm, Bossman Consultancy Limited, BCL, taking on different types of clients from business companies, entrepreneurs, and solitary clients. Her consultancy would manage and represent their legal work through cases that concerned business frauds and embezzlements to human rights. With the work she was doing with her consultancy, she gained recognition from the government and was appointed by then-President John Agyekum Kuffuor as deputy commissioner (she chose to close her consultancy to focus on her newly appointed position).

As a result of her extensive work in human rights and administrative justice, Fordham University has invited her to International Law Week, an intensive two-day event.Ms. Bossman gave a lecture entitled “Protecting Human Rights through National Commission: The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice of Ghana.” The lecture focuses on the commission and how they investigates complaints of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms in both public and private sectors. “Due to [Ghana]’s poverty, women’s rights and children’s rights are not being seen as issues and I wanted to create awareness within the public,” Ms. Bossman states.

Ms. Bossman comments that she enjoys lecturing and traveling. “Taking part in lectures gives me the opportunity to speak about human rights and administrative justice with students and other professionals," Ms. Bossman states, "and the traveling gives me a slight break from the office.”

Most importantly, it gives her a chance to visit her daughter, Maria Bossman-Damida who she rarely sees. Her only daughter from her first marriage to Burkina Faso’s former prime minister candidate Pierre Claver Damiba, Bossman-Damiba, 20, is currently a culture and media student at Eugene Lang College. During our conversation, Bossman-Damiba was sitting not to far from me and at some moments Ms. Bossman would break into French, speaking directly to her daughter.

Bossman-Damiba didn't really find any interest in her mother's work until she attended one of her lectures at the University of Ghana a few years ago. "I knew my mother was committed to her work as she spends so much time at the office,” Bossman-Damiba said, “but after seeing her on stage speaking about her concerns for human rights, it really comes through and I can't help to think how amazing of a woman she is."

Ms. Bossman is unsure where she’ll be in the near future. "I still see myself in human rights, possibly opening my consulting firm again in the future," Ms. Bossman said.“ But I have a long way to go and there’s so many opportunities to try new things, I don’t know what I’ll do next.”

For now, Ms. Bossman will continue her advocacy for Ghana's human rights and administrative justice. Recently, she was invited by the governor of Ghana to take part in a panel about the development of oil and gas in the country. But with so much work to do and not enough hands to do it all, "you must have a passion and commitment for it," Ms. Bossman adds. And what Ms. Bossman talks about, she definitely has.

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