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General News of Saturday, 21 February 2004

Source: Godfrey Ikhemuemhe for Vanguard (Nigeria)

Travelogue:Accra, West Africa?s upcoming destination city

Conspicuously displayed on the entrance to the newsroom of Ghana?s premier newspaper, Graphics, is a large framed picture showing the infamous evacuation of Ghanaians from Nigeria in 1982. The picture shows thousands of Ghanaians packed into a weather beaten ship with hundreds of them barely having space for a foothold. That episode which played out over many months was referred to as ?Ghana-must-go?.

That picture is a personification of the hard times that Ghana found itself in the seventies and eighties. The Ghanaian economy was run aground, its citizens were pathetically impoverished, while the political leadership was riddled with corruption.

This situation led to an exodus of Ghanaians from their country in the thousand. The destination was Nigeria which at that time was blossoming from the fortunes of oil. That was 20 years ago. But it is different picture of Ghana that Nigerians are presented with today. After some 20 years of political engineering, Ghana has been able to deliver itself from the shackles of poverty and catapulted itself to the front burner as the most favoured country in the West African sub-region. Accra the capital city of Ghana is a good representation of the new image of Ghana. From a decrepit city in the eighties, Accra has turned out to be the preferred destination in West Africa, for international organizations, conferences organizers and tourists.

In an average week, Accra hosts not less than four international conferences in its different hotels. On the week of our visit to Accra for instance, the city hosted amongst others, the following international conferences: a UNDP workshop on HIV for West Africa, another workshop organized for journalists in West Africa by the International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) in Germany, and a marketing training workshop for all Nestle plants in West Africa. The following week activities were already gearing up for another international ICT conference in the capital. Most of the international agencies in the region are also locating their offices in Ghana in recent times. While in Ghana, the German government funded Kofi Anan Peace Institute which is expected to train peace keepers in the sub-region was opened. It is cited in Accra.

Even for foreign governments, Accra appears to be the attraction in the sub-region. In the past two weeks the list of foreign dignitaries that visited Ghana is impressive and adds to its profile as a preferred destination city. The German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder was there to commission the Kofi Anan Peace Institute. Jimmy Carter, former US president was also there on his Guinea worm eradication crusade. So also were Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, the Director General of the WHO and Kul Guatam, the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. Also in Accra was the chief of World Tourism himself, Mr. Birger Buckman. He was there to grace the Ghana Association of Travel and Tourist Agents (GATTA) Awards which held in Accra. Before he left, Buckman praised the efforts of the Ghanaian government in promoting tourism. He said that the efforts of President John Agyekum Kufuor towards achieving peace would go a long way to promote tourism in Ghana. stressing that Ghana had great tourism potentials, which could be tapped for the benefit of the country. Mr Buckman mentioned the beautiful beaches as well as forests as some of the assets.

Indeed current estimates indicate that the number of foreign tourists to Ghana is expected to increase from 500,000 to one million by 2007, under a five-year Strategic Action Plan spanning 2003 to 2007. It is part of a plan designed by the Ministry of Tourism and Modernization of the Capital City which is expected to make Ghana the tourism hub of West Africa. With the increase in tourist traffic the country hopes to reap ??1.5 billion dollars per annum as revenue.

Apart from being a tourism hub, Ghana is also becoming the preferred destination for foreign investments. On the trip to Ghana, the interest of Ghana to foreign investors was discernable. German companies, British companies and American companies are showing a lot of interest in the Accra. ACS is an American out-source company in Accra which established offices there some few years back. The company processes data for American companies using the cheap labour available in Ghana. It employs about 1,700 young Ghanaians. This testimony by the country manager of ACS indicates why Ghana is attractive to Americans: Do you know that the president of the country calls me here sometimes to ask me how we are faring; I also get calls from MPs (Members of Parliament) who want to know whether we are encountering problems on a weekly basis. Even though we have not had a cause to complain to the president, the fact that he calls is a source of encouragement to us.?

Mr. Douglas J. Kerr the Director of British Consultants and Construction Bureau (BCCB), also had this to say about Ghana on a visit last week: ?Ghana offers an attractive destination for doing business?

Mr. Kerr, who led a seven-member delegation of BCCB on trade and investment opportunities in the country made this declaration after a meeting with the Trade and Commerce section of the British High Commission last Monday. With this type of positive image for Ghana, international donors are falling over themselves seeking relevance in Africa?s destination centre. Only last week, the Japanese government signed a ??365,423,000 grant with the Zuo Development Committee, a community based organization in the Tamale Municipality of the Northern Region. The grant, under the Japanese Government Grassroots Human Security project is for the construction of a Nutrition centre for the people of Zuo, a suburb of Tamale

In the same week, the German Embassy provided the people of Awadiwoe Kome (Island) in the North Tongu District of the Volta Region with solar electricity. Ten communities in the Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abrem (KEEA) District in the Central Region of Ghana also benefited from the World Bank support programme dubbed, ?Community Based Nutrition and Food Security (CBNFSP)?, during the week.

Now what makes Accra so much loved, many Nigerians are wont to ask? That was the same question we posed to organisers of seminars and workshops as well as tourists in the ancient city.

Mr Egert who organised the IIJ workshop for the German institute said it had to do with the peace and tranquility that reigns in Ghana. There are no cases of riots or armed robbery and the political terrain is calm. There are few African cities that can provide the type of atmosphere that accra presents, he contended. Indeed in the hotel where we stayed, some of the conferees, even ladies, could take a stroll into the city as late as 11.00pm and get back well after 12 mid night. There is no fear of armed robbery attacks.

Apart from this, a Nigerian visitor to Accra would easily observe the cleanliness of the city. No refuse dumps everywhere; no street traders on every street corner; no beggars assaulting your face at every turn; no snarling traffic jams; no loud blaring music shops on every street; no life threatening siren blowing bullion vans on every street; and above all, no area boys to assault you on the streets.

However, not everything glitters in Accra as can be readily testified to by Okey Kanu, the Thisday reporter who was on our trip to Accra. We stayed at La Palm Beach Hotel, most probably Ghana?s best. On day two after our arrival at the hotel, Okey Kanu, had gone to his room to refresh midway into our workshop which was holding in the hotel premises.

He had observed that the zip of his bag had been tampered with somewhat. He checked the bag to see what had been removed but nothing appeared to be missing. He confided in me but decided that he would do a thorough search once he got back to the room. On the second day, Kanu was to report that his GSM handset had been removed from the bag; in a five star hotel! Unisa Mansaray, a Sierra Leonian another participant and Ramata Diaoure also had some brushes with the finger itching staff of the hotel.