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The Goodness of Ghana

Arthur Christopher

Being a tourist in Ghana is all about guiltless inactivity. There is, in fact, very little to see in Ghana for those Lonely Planet devotees determined to tick off as many boxes on their list as possible before collapsing exhausted and numb into the homeward-bound plane. You could count the main attractions in the Ghanaian capital Accra on one hand, and quite easily visit all of them in a single day. For many, this lack of forced activity is a little too demanding. But for a rising amount of foreigners, 600 000 in 2005 to be precise, it is heaven. And so it was for me.

That is not to say that Ghana is boring. The richness of the culture itself, the warmth and generosity of the people and physical beauty of what was once called the Gold Coast are all factors which can be slowly soaked in while you meander through the overcrowded city streets. It is also quite possible to spend a day in the markets and other central areas in Accra without seeing another foreigner. And even if you do, it won’t be a sandal-wearing Texan hoping to skin himself a lion, or a ruffled European college graduate gazing half-stoned at a world which he can’t wait to leave so that he can return home and be the guy who went to Africa. If these types are in Ghana, they will invariably be sipping Daiquiris at one of Accra’s luxurious beach lodges, making them far easier to avoid than in some of the continent’s more popular tourist destinations.

One of the aspects of Ghanaian culture which will resonate most for many tourists is the remarkable warmth of the people. The typical greeting in Ghana is ‘Akwaaba’, which, translated directly, means ‘You are welcome’. And indeed you are welcome in Ghana; you won’t be treated as an outsider, regardless of your appearance. This culture of acceptance of difference and celebration of cultural identity was in many ways created by the country’s post-independence founding father Kwame Nkrumah, who remains Ghana’s national treasure more than 20 years after his death. Nkrumah was one of the founders of Pan-Africanism and a fierce proponent of African unity, an ideal which is represented by the black star in the centre of the Ghanaian flag.

Ghanaians love many things, but foremost on the list are football and food. If you have a penchant for either, you will find your fix in Ghana. Without prior knowledge, you could be excused for thinking that Ghana’s national football captain Michael Essien, who currently plies his trade with great success for Chelsea FC in the UK, is the country’s President. The lesser known President John Kufuor seems content to be overshadowed. Ghana will host the African Cup of Nations in February next year and the hype in the air is tangible, especially following the recent Golden Jubilee celebrations, marking 50 years of independence from colonial rule, which rocked the country.

On the culinary front, there are two major requirements for any traditional Ghanaian dish. Firstly, it must be spicy. I was handed Tabasco sauce with my croissant without as much as a flinch of uncertainty from the waiter. Secondly, you may not use utensils. Not unless you want to stick out like George Bush at a peace rally that is. However, if I may proffer a single suggestion, it is to approach the national delicacy of ‘grasscutter’ with particular caution. A quick Google Image search of this animal (yes, it is an animal) reveals it to be little more than a glorified rodent, something akin to a South African Dassie, or a Venetian river rat. I don’t recommend it. In general, it can be said that Ghana’s food speaks volumes about its people: rich, hearty, spicy and unique.

Despite my initial outcry, this wouldn’t be much of a travel piece without suggestions as to some of Ghana’s main attractions. In Accra, a historical guided tour of the old town is a must, as is a visit to the coastal slave fortresses and the cities bustling street markets. The Kwame Nkrumah Park, which is home to his mausoleum, should be visited, if not out of pure interest than out of deference to the man who made it possible to visit the country without entering a war zone. To the north of the country there are several nature reserves with an abundance of wildlife, most of which have enjoyed unprecedented safety from poaching due to Ghana’s political stability since 1957. The beaches along the south coast of the country are magnificent and it is common to find locals hiring out horses for day trips at very reasonable prices. However, at some times of the year, the air is so humid in Ghana that it seems the only way to breathe is to chew chunks of oxygen out of the sky and gulp them down ravenously. For this reason, I’d recommend visiting between July and November.

Ghana is also the natural point of entry for more intrepid travellers looking to explore the West African region. It’s a mere six hour drive through Togo and Benin from Accra to the madness of Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos. To the west are Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Gambia and Senegal – all countries which have been largely inaccessible for the past half century due to their respective conflicts and civil wars.

Increasingly, international tourists are looking beyond Paris and Disneyworld and attempting to find unique destinations which offer their neighbours a far more enthralling photo display upon returning home. Ghana offers precisely this and does so without trying to be anything else. It’s a refreshing approach and one which is paying off in typically Ghanaian style: slowly.

Check out: www.ghanatourism.gov

 

 

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