WHILE the Eastern neighbor that is (ironically) referred to as the "Giant of Africa" lurches along, taking 2 steps forward and 10 steps backward, scaring citizens and foreigners alike away from a land of immense potentials, the Republic of Ghana, continues to attract goodwill and progress to her shores, thanks to a stable, credible governing process and a thriving tourist industry.
And now that US President Barack Obama has stopped-by to big-up the country (I mean Ghana, please!), the country's stocks has risen even higher than it already did. You won't have to look too hard to see many more of the kind of pieces as the one below, published in the New York Times, talking positively about the work in progress that is an emerging Ghana and her friendly peoples.
TRAVEL The Two Faces of Ghana By LABAN CARRICK HILL Published: August 9, 2009 | LINK
Olivier Asselin for The New York Times On the Gulf of Guinea in Cape Coast, Ghana, where slave ships once set sail for the Americas.
AT midday, the heat was so palpable that it had its own color, a pulsing, iridescent yellow. I paused at a tiny market stall and bought a peeled and sliced half pineapple - sweet and juicy, not like the tart pineapples in the markets at home in Vermont. Then I stopped a young woman carrying a tray of hard-boiled eggs on her head. She took the tray down, knelt and, with a plastic bag over her hand, peeled and salted the egg for me. To complete my meal, I bought a tiny sachet of filtered water from a small boy carrying a bucket of them on his head.
I was in the Kotokuruba Market in Cape Coast, a city of about 82,000 people in the West African nation of Ghana, on a Wednesday morning last summer. The market rocked with music, from hip-hop, pulsing from loudspeakers, to tribal drumming. Honking taxis fought pedestrians for space. The stalls seemed to sell just about anything - machetes and huge cast-iron cooking pots, pirated DVDs and homemade slingshots. A blacksmith worked a piece of iron over an open-air hearth; I picked up one of his earlier creations: a gangkogui, which is an elongated cowbell, the kind used as percussive accompaniment in drumming ceremonies. Its forged and hammered metal had been wrought into elegant, almost arabesque, curves.
At every turn I was met with a friendly "Akwaaba!" which means "welcome." Small children shouted, "How are you, Obruni?" In Fante, the local language, obruni is the word for "white person." In one of the market aisles, a woman dressed in a colorful batik dress with an infant tied to her back offered mortars and pestles for making fufu, an African staple of pounded cassava and unripe plantain. The mortar was a deep wooden bowl about two feet in diameter, the pestle a tree trunk five feet tall, requiring two hands to maneuver. When I stopped and inquired about the price, the woman laughed and teased, "Obruni, you make fufu?"
Ghana, whose population was estimated to be about 18.5 million in 2000, was propelled into the limelight last month when President Obama chose to visit at the end of a weeklong trip that also took him to Russia and Italy. Ghana has been known to many people in the West primarily for its tragic role as a major shipping point for Africans who were taken away to the Americas as slaves, a history that Mr. Obama emphasized to his daughters, Malia and Sasha, as they accompanied him and Michelle Obama on that trip.
But as one of the few African nations with a history of smooth transitions of power in free elections, Ghana was also a logical platform for a presidential speech urging all Africans to embrace democracy. And as an English-speaking country with abundant natural gifts and an appealing culture, Ghana today draws international tourists who not only want to explore the slave trade's dark past, but also desire a joyous African experience.
The Ghanaian city best known to foreigners is Accra, the capital, a sometimes interesting but densely populated and often cacophonous city of some 1.6 million on the Gulf of Guinea. But a compelling and memorable trip can be found in Cape Coast to the southwest and in the region nearby - an area of stunning sunsets and sunrises, 400-year-old fishing traditions and the best preserved of the historic forts that spawned so many tears. And everywhere, the friendliness that Ghanaians take pride in.
I was in Ghana for five months last year, organizing a creative writing program at the University of Cape Coast and starting the Ghana Poetry Project, a nonprofit organization that encourages and supports contemporary African literature through activities that include readings and workshops. The more I explored, the more I was seduced by Ghana's bright colors, spicy foods and intense rhythms. This is a country in love with music and dance - a preoccupation that shows not only on special occasions like the Oguaa Fetu Afehye, a festival that draws foreign visitors in September, but every day.
Though I could spend hours shopping, my goal as I walked through the market in Cape Coast that morning last August lay beyond the shops and stalls. I was on my way to the Cape Coast Castle, the last stop in Africa for countless, perhaps millions of slaves, a number we can never really know.
As I left the market behind, the traffic and crowds died off, and the closer I came to the castle, the more somber the mood felt. Ahead of me, visitors clustered close together and slowed their steps almost to a shuffle. Even the young men who had gathered at the castle gate to solicit donations for fictitious youth soccer teams spoke in hushed tones. I realized that I had just walked the same path through town that the captives took, force-marched and traded to the British for guns, liquor and other goods, and then funneled into ships.
After his visit to Cape Coast Castle last month, President Obama said that he was reminded of the Buchenwald concentration camp. It's an analogy many have made; I have been to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and I, too, felt the similarity. As I walked through the arched gate into the long corridor leading to the castle courtyard, I was confronting the physical evidence of tangible evil.
The castle, an imposing stone fortress of ramps, stairs, parapets and holding pens, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and draws not only a steady stream of tour groups but also many visitors, including large numbers of African-Americans, traveling on their own. The castle boggles the mind with the businesslike efficiency of its neatly laid out spaces: the dark caverns of the men's and women's dungeons located deep within; the bright, airy residence halls on the upper floors for the administrators and paid workers; the high ramparts lined with enough cannons to repel an armada. Kidnapped Africans were held for months at a time in the most hellish conditions. Many died in dungeons so crowded that they could not lie down.
i was in Accra a few months ago and it really is a beautiful and neat city, well planned and sane, but lacking the vibrancy and lifeblood of a city like Lagos.
if Fashola continues along the path he has embarked on, i see Lagos competing with just about any city in the third world, but in terms of national infrastructures like power supply and road networks, well, that one na anoda story.