Feature Article of Thursday, 23 August 2012
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
16th August 2012
Wow! How Accra is gradually transforming to become a beautiful world class city! It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for me to spend the last 5 weeks in Ghana from 5th July to 10th August 2012. At 8.p.m on that Thursday, 5th July, our Air Namibia 737 Airbus plane touched down at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) from Lusaka, after a brief 2 hour stopover in Windhoek. After disembarking, I heaved a sigh of relief, highly charged with nostalgic feelings, having spent two years away from my family and my beloved country, Ghana. We went through immigration and airport formalities without a hassle. There were no long queues, no queries and the Ghanaian officials were professional and genial. However, I became apprehensive when the official perusing my passport asked me to look into a camera for my photo to be captured into the computer system. Perhaps, part of the ongoing biometric registration exercise. Earlier on, at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) in Lusaka, all my fingerprints had similarly been captured on computer. I began questioning myself whether I was a wanted criminal. Far be it from that. As I wheeled my luggage out and meandered my way through the crowd at the arrival hall, I could see many broad grinning faces, as if saying to me silently in the proverbial Ghanaian hospitality manner of greeting, ‘Akwaaba’ (welcome back home). I asked for a foreign exchange bureau and changed the few dollars I had on me. It was intriguing holding on to the new Ghana Cedi, whose value is said to be depreciating very fast with consummate alacrity. As an economist, I understand that to be purely due to the inexorable laws of demand and supply. Ghanaians’ insatiable demand for foreign travel and foreign goods explains it all. Until the time that we begin to value our own country, and start putting premium on our own institutions, we shall continue chasing the wind and a mirage. We need to cherish our own foodstuffs and our own God-given, beautiful country.
Outside the KIA at the arrival lobby, I spotted my wife and daughter outside, waiting expectantly, with a cab driver in attendance. I hugged them both and soon we were heading for Winneba, through the George Bush Highway. My heart nearly leapt into my mouth as I took in the breathtaking sight of a very modern highway with bright floodlights on either side of the road. I think this is what they call an autobahn in Germany, if I am not mistaken. The road is wide and a masterpiece of civil engineering. However, even at night, I saw that the usual road signs of white place names and directional arrows on a green background were conspicuously lacking on this modern highway. No wonder accidents are not infrequent on this Airport – Abeka La Paz – Mallam getaway thoroughfare. There is no doubt that this motorway has tremendously changed the face of Accra and added a new dimension to the skyline of Accra from the air. George Bush Highway stretches for 14.1km. This highway has about a dozen overhead bridges which are sadly located in less densely populated areas, hence they are hardly used now. Perhaps, with time, they will be much utilized. Many pedestrians are put under much risk trying to cross the road from one side to the other. Despite the pedestrian traffic light crossings, there are still a lot of accidents. Perhaps, underground passageways could be more appropriate along sections of the highway. These could be well lit with security cameras, as well as having police patrols. It took us less than 2 hours for us to get to Winneba. Before, we would have wound our way towards the 37 Military Hospital area, through the Obasanjo Highway to Ako Adjei Interchange, to Circle, in a winding and circuitous fashion. Accra is therefore heavily decongested and there are fewer traffic lockjams these days. Later, when I came back to Accra, I discovered the new Beach Road through Korle Bu/Korle Gonno to Accra Central Post Office area. At another time, I paid a visit to a friend at the Fan Milk Junction area, past Odorkor, Odorgonno Secondary School and I saw the massive road construction works being undertaken by a Chinese Contractor. This stretch of road is more than 20 kilometres and when completed, it will rival the George Bush Highway. This particular road faces a lot of operational challenges such as damming many marshes and streams, pulling down buildings which have been found to have encroached on the usually allowed space, among others. This road runs at right angles to the George Bush Highway. Still on the issue of transport, the Kufuor Bus or mass transit/metro buses are a delight to travel on as they are cheap, reliable, safe and convenient. They are on time and they ply all the major towns of Ghana. I would suggest having a second company to be formed to complement and compete with them. This mass transit company has led to the private transport providers being sidelined by the travelling public, especially long distance travelers. The Kufuor buses are simply ubiquitous and galore. From Accra to Winneba, a distance of 50 kilometers, it will cost you only GHC1.50, less than one dollar. Kudos to ex-President Kufuor for this legacy bequeathed to Ghana. In general, the streets of Accra are looking spick and span. I went round the CBD of the Accra General Post Office area and I was surprised by the relative marked improved sanitary standards. The drainages are properly done and there is less traffic of hawkers and vendors. I doff off my hat to Mayor Dr Alfred Oko Vanderpuije of the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) and his able lieutenants, who have worked assiduously to bring up the image of Accra. In a recent UN Report published in the early part of this year, it was recorded that Accra is among the best cities in the world. I think the Zoom Lion workers are also to be commended for their waste management efforts. However, the issue of draining the stinking Korle Lagoon remains unresolved.
We hope AMA will engage the Dutch, Chinese, Japanese and others in resolving this seemingly insurmountable debacle. Dr Kwegyir Aggrey of blessed memory once remarked. ‘Only the best is good enough for Africa.” I will paraphrase it to read, “Only the best services befit Accra and AMA.” The Accra Airport City area is brimming over with huge and elegant edifices, some of which are high rise hotels and head offices of MNCs such as Tullow Oil. Some of the new 5 star hotels in town are, Movenpick, Radisson, Sofitel, Hotel Royale, among others. I met a Nigerian lady student of public administration at the airport, and she confessed to me that Accra is really beautiful, perhaps relative to Lagos. Of course, I do not know Abuja, even though I lived in Nigeria for more than a decade. I am told an authority that Abuja is far much more beautiful. The Nigerian lady however downplayed our food, which she said lacked variety, that our stews were saturated with garlic etc. I do concur with her partially because she spent only two nights in Ghana, staying in a hotel. However, on this subject, I want to take issue with our lady caterers who these days saturate stews with tinned tomato paste, thus spoiling their cooking and spoiling the image of our traditional culinary prowess. I think they had better avoid the artificial glutamates or sodium monosodium and such artificial food sweeteners. I myself detest such foods or cooking as they are not healthy. Besides, they are unAfrican. It is better to stick to our homegrown recipes and traditional natural cooking and foods.
The rate at which building construction is going up in all parts of Ghana is stupendous. If these building materials are imported, then there is much strain on the value of our Cedi. The face of Accra in particular and Ghana in general is changing with rapacious rapidity and alacrity. My wife confessed to me that the Cedi only has value if you invest it in building materials, and I tended to agree with her because the velocity at which the Cedi changes hands is too fast. Our Ghanaian economy is too import-dependent, what with imports ranging from building materials, textiles, equipment, food items to vehicles and machinery. I was surprised to find some inferior tinned sardines from Indonesia and some tasteless frozen chicken imports. Where are our standard bearers and quality control gatekeepers? As I travelled a bit around, I noticed that there were a lot of staple foods on sale by the road side, including plantains, cassava, yams, bananas, pineapples, water melons, mangoes and oranges. I think we need to export some of these items to generate extra foreign exchange and to find a better market for our farmers. As I travelled from Agona Swedru through Kwanyako to Bawjiase, Adeiso to Nsawam, I noticed the deplorable state of the road, which had old tarmac dating to the early independence days. I wonder who the MPs are for those areas and what they are doing to upgrade transportation in their constituencies. If you are not resident in Ghana, healthcare is a tricky and dicey issue because you may not be covered by the NHIS. Some chemists in Accra play by the rules and they may not sell you prescribed drugs. I will therefore advise travelers to Ghana to carry some of their own basic medicines or medication, as medicines are relatively expensive. Besides, sometimes you fail to find some of the drugs as most Ghanaians now rely mainly on local herbal mahogany bark, soursop, moringa, bitterleaf, among others. When it comes to other items apart from medicines, everything is available in Ghana so do not carry coal to Newcastle. I must say here that I was much disappointed with the horrible congestion in Agona Swedru, with their very narrow streets and unsightly, rusted, corrugated iron roofs in the oldest part of town. I think the Municipal Assembly there needs to wake up to find ways of decongesting the roads and giving this commercial town a facelift. This goes for all the towns I passed through from Swedru to Nsawam. However, I found Nsawam superb. Agona Swedru has deteriorated from how it looked like in the late 70s, when I was a graduate teacher at Swesco, (Swedru Ssecondary School.) I think there is need for a master plan for most of the towns in the Central Region, because towns in the Ashanti, Eastern and Brong Ahafo Regions look much modern. I found the weather in Ghana very congenial as it was neither too sunny nor too cold. Nights were cool and refreshing throughout July and August, and cloud cover was pretty high, especially before and after the death of our late President, Prof John Atta Mills (MHSRIP). It drizzled in parts of the country. The airwaves are really busy and sometimes jazzy or too noisy. Some of the radio presenters carry themselves with decorum and they know their onions. Others are pretentious and they exaggerate issues, playing to the gallery to please their audiences. Some of them deliberately poison the political chalice by making false claims, counter claims and a whole lot of dribble not worth listening to. However, I was very much charmed and impressed by a lady presenter on City FM called Jessica Opare Sarforo. Wow, she really has command over the Queen’s language. Other radio stations which I found factual, entertaining and professional are Adom FM, Radio Peace, Radio Windy Bay, Happy FM and partially, Asempa FM. To me, still the best is GBC/GBTV. They are, vintage and very professional. I liked Kwame Nkrumah Atikese with her lady presenter on Adom FM. These are veritable linguists who deserve honorary doctorate degrees for their erudition in the Akan languages. There is also Abeeku Santana. I think these presenters are giving our illiterate Akan listeners value for their money. I will highly recommend them as role models for other presenters with other radio stations. My wife preferred watching TV3 News, which I detested because they sidetrack the news with unnecessary documentaries and irrelevant diversions. I think some of their young lady newscasters are inaudible and they lack proper enunciation, because they tend to mumble their words. Nana Ama Anamoah, though talkative, is excellent. TV3 should however, be commended for their live coverage of events in parliament and the funeral of the late president. I was pleased with the high quality entertainment content on Metro TV. However, they should feature some Ghanaian artistes as they show too much Nigerian content. Many Ghanaians are now watching quality TV through Multi TV and DSTV.
I was saddened one morning to hear that a prominent businesswoman in Winneba, my hometown, had been murdered in cold blood the night before by armed robbers who had trailed her to her house after she had gone shopping in Accra, to restock her shop at the Winneba market. She was popularly known as Pennywise. May her soul rest in peace. I hope the Winneba Police will dig deep into this dastardly murder and bring the perpetrators to book. Ghana is literarily infested with tourists as tourist arrivals have reached all time record high. They are mostly from the USA. Thanks to airlines such as Delta, KLM, Iberia, Lufthansa, Air Portugal, Turkish Air, Air France, Air India, British Airways, SAA, Kenya Airways, Ethiopia Airways, Virgin Air, Emirates, among many others. I met many undergrads, post graduates and high school pupils with their teachers or chaperones. There are lots of exchange programmes going on between Ghanaian universities and foreign universities. Many investors, adventurers, casual visitors and researchers are making their way to Ghana every day. Some of the visitors come to work with NGOs such as Challenging Heights at Sankor, near Winneba. This NGO rescues child trafficking victims and put them in boarding schools. I think I was happy to note that the Ghana Airport Company has plans to upgrade their facilities to bring them up to international standards. Some of the toilets need fixing and the pre-departure area needs some seats. They are also going to fix some leaking roofs. The airport ticketing staff are very friendly and helpful. However, I noticed some unfortunate and nasty incidents from those who checked in at the Air Namibia station. One male staff entered into a heated verbal argument with a Ghanaiain lady traveler, who ostensibly had annoyed him. However, he flew off the handle and started a tirade of verbal assault on her, in the process, stopping his work of serving us on the queue, which included some white travelers who looked on baffled. I think some of the staff at the airport need to realise they are not at the village square or market in their respective areas. The scene, to say the least, was horrible, unbearable and a bit of a let down on professionalism. Another lady official at the last check-in point kept shouting at us, ‘Air Namibia’, Air Namibia’, as if she was peddling ‘kelewele’ at Makola market in Accra central. One white guy had the effrontery to tell her off to stop shouting at travelers. Another white lady gave it to her by asking her not to shout at her. I think some staff at KIA need to be counseled, properly schooled and exposed to proper codes of behaviour expected at a gateway such as KIA. All in all, life in Ghana is great and I will recommend to all Ghanaian diasporeans to visit home regularly to keep abreast with developments. But remember to have your yellow fever vaccination before you depart from Ghana. It is done at the airport and it will take you less than 10 minutes to have it, and it will cost you ten or fifteen cedis.