Inside the bustling capital of West Africa’s Gold Coast

Ghana has for the past few years opened its skies to many of its allies including East African Community (EAC) countries, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a few others in the region. But I hardly believed this until I had to experience it myself.
Inside one of the local shops. Accra has a number of shops that sell African fabrics. / Julius Bizimungu
Inside one of the local shops. Accra has a number of shops that sell African fabrics. / Julius Bizimungu

Ghana has for the past few years opened its skies to many of its allies including East African Community (EAC) countries, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a few others in the region. But I hardly believed this until I had to experience it myself.

When I received a study offer to travel to Ghana, one thing that came to my mind was the same old tiring visa processing that one has to go through when preparing a trip to different countries.

I had already gone through this tedious process when I was processing a Nigerian Visa. First of all, the whole process makes one feel scared of the situations in these countries that limit their fellow African folks to move freely.

The visa processes are so strenuous that at some point you want to give up. See, going to the embassy to find out what kind of specific requirements you need to qualify for a visa, going to the bank and struggling in the long queues to pay, but also that money you pay just to be able to visit another African country which you won’t even spend a month in, is quite frankly unnecessary.

Well, all these are some of the things that always scare me when I am about to travel on the continent, and these are the same things that got me doubting whether I would make it to Ghana.

The author standing in front of the Kwame Nkrumah monument.

But here is the reality; Ghana is the perfect example of what African countries must do to promote free movement of Africans.

I arrived at Kotoka International Airport on a beautiful evening, 3’oclock, a time at which hundreds of passengers from different parts of the world were landing at the same airport.

Still, I was not sure whether I was going to be able allowed entry since I had run into some problems and was not sure I would be able to pay for a visa on arrival. But getting at the check-in point, officers politely ushered me in when I told them I was from Rwanda.

I went straight to next immigration desk, presented my Rwandan passport, the officer quickly stamped it with a smile.

By this time, my heart was already getting back to normal and started feeling the beauty of Ghana, the Gold Coast as it is called by many Ghanaians.

One of the locals told me that some of the elderly people call it the Gold Coast because they still think the people of Ghana haven’t changed much after colonialism, but also others use it just to be reminded of the gold resources which they still enjoy.

In fact, some prefer calling it Kwame Nkrumah Ghana.

Kwame Nkrumah's grave inside the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial in Accra. / Julius Bizimungu

My final destination was Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast. I was invited by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for a study trip which was going to take about five days, but the study trip went beyond what FAO had scheduled for me and other invitees.

I had to explore and learn more about this country whose people have made some unique history in the continent.

I was staying at Mensvic Hotel, a modern and stylish hotel located in Greater Accra Region. From my room on the third floor, I was able to enjoy the greatness of the city.

The hotel is in a good location for business people and tourists. It is just less than 30-minute drive from Kotoka International Airport and a short drive from University of Ghana.

The hotel is within walking distance of the Accra Mall and is also near the Makola Market that offers visiting guests a wide array of shopping options.

The place is also situated in a neighbourhood where you could easily get a chance to meet some of Ghana’s leading politicians and other famous people.

Here, you may also be able to meet Abedi Ayew Pele, one of Ghana’s famous football players, because his house is just a five minute walk from the hotel.

Greater Accra Region

Greater Accra Region is the same place that the hotel facility I was lodging in is located. This is one of Ghana’s 10 administrative regions and one of the busy areas in Accra.

But the whole Accra capital is vibrant with many bustling streets that get you everything that you would need if you are staying around. The city is not an expensive city like the ones I have previously visited.

While the schedule of my study trip was quite tight, during some days I had a chance to experience what this particular city has to offer to African visitors. On the third day, I made sure that I moved from the comfort of my training workshop and took a trip to Accra Mall.

Together with a group of people we took a cab to the mall and the idea was to only take a look at why many people recommend visiting the mall. But we found ourselves lost in the magnificence of this mall.

Food business in Accra

At least from the nearly three hours we spent touring this mall, we were able to see some of the retail giants that the mall houses like Shoprite, game stores, Pizza In and Chicken in chains, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), just to name a few.

Some of these food stores can actually be found in other parts of the city. This makes it easier for people to access them. For instance, KFC has a number of branches in the city and I was dying to enjoy some of the specialities that they offer.

One evening, I went to the nearest KFC branch after training and I ordered streetwise three fries accompanied with rice and a cold drink, but in less than five minutes my order was ready. The kind of speed at which these food chains operate is what makes it standout and is driving pop culture.

The food business in Accra capital is one of the biggest businesses. There are hundreds of food stalls along the streets giving options to all kinds of people; even for those who earn as little as 5 cedi (Rwf900) or 100 cedi (Rwf1800).

While there is an increasing food business, Ghanaians are still so much obsessed with their local food. For you to understand, whether it is a five star hotel or a small lodge, you will always find local food.

I made sure I enjoyed as much Ghanaian food and beverages as possible. Jollof Rice, Palaver sauce, Fufu, and Banku are some of the commonly consumed food. I was taken by these dishes, specifically Banku, a Ghanaian dish cooked locally by a proportionate mixture of fermented corn and cassava dough in hot water into a smooth, whitish consistent paste. It is normally served with tilapia fish.

Interestingly most of the food in Ghana, just like many other West African countries, is always spiced.

Ghana is also aggressive when it comes to promoting locally produced beverages. The country produces different alcoholic beverages like Origin, Club, and Star, among others. These drinks are massively consumed.

Roaming through the bustling streets of Accra, you realise that Accra has much bigger things to offer than food. Every step you make you will be able to see a bank branch. Banking is another big activity not just in the country but also in the Western African region.

When we were going to Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum, we made several stops in the city but one thing that struck me was how big the banking sector is. We made a stop at one area (Airport city) which is Accra’s Financial Centre, an area with several banks.

Ghana has more than 30 banks operating in the country and the country officials were predicting to have 37 banks by the end of this year. This would literally make the country one of the biggest financial hubs on the continent.

Nkrumah Mausoleum

It is another thing that you cannot leave without exploring if you are in the city. However, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and memorial park is a must visit place. It is located in downtown Accra and is one of the most visited places, this is because it has some of the history that Ghana as a country was built on.

Kwame Nkrumah statue.
Inside the Nkrumah Memorial Park. The park is surrounded by water which is a symbol of life. / Julius Bizimungu

Upon arriving at the mausoleum, we were given a history of Kwame Nkrumah who the mausoleum was dedicated to. Our site guide took us on a tour of the different places including the memorial where his body is resting, and the main museum which comprises photographs depicting Nkrumah’s various historical moments.

The memorial is a resting place for Nkrumah and his wife Fathia Nkrumah. Kwame Nkrumah is a key figure in not just Ghana’s history but also the African history. This because he wanted to turn his country into a modern industrialized economy and unify Africa.