Accra, the capital city of Ghana, was host to U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Africa, during which he pushed developing countries to strive to build prosperity and progress.
Although Accra continues to have problems with its sewage system, among other things, it is modernizing at a relatively quick rate. Ghana as a whole maintains an 11 percent unemployment rate and a 28 1/2 percent poverty rate, both comparatively lower than many of the country’s neighbors.
Ethan Zuckerman of the blog My heart’s in Accra visited Accra and compares the city now to the city he saw during a trip more than a decade earlier.
Visiting Accra feels like time travelling. […]
I feel as if I could recreate the past by layering a thin film on top of the current reality – a scrim that covers that new four-story shopping plaza with the disused concrete and rebar hulk that stood there a decade before. Add some burning plastic and we’d be able to take me back to a past I remember, if I squint a little bit. It’s the same place, just gentrified, in a particularly Ghanaian fashion. My friend Amos met me for lunch at Asanka Local, a deservedly popular chop bar that’s new since my last visit, and mentioned that he was looking for a house in the area to use as an office. He figured he’d need to spend at least 100,000 cedis, or about $67,000. Makes me wish I’d bought the apartment building I used to live in.
When I visited the Accra Mall on Sunday, there was no amount of squinting that could have convinced me that I was in a country I knew and understood. Ten minutes past the airport, the mall features two supermarkets, a cinema, several high-end boutiques and an excellent bookshop. It’s beautiful, as nice as its counterparts in Nairobi and Cape Town, and it’s got a steady buzz of people, tourist, Filipino overseas workers, Lebanese traders and lots of middle-class Ghanaians.
The bookshop left me babbling. In 1993, the only bookstores we had in Accra were the university shop in Legon, which featured required reading texts, Akan-English dictionaries, and the occasional heavily used Mario Puzo novel, for $5.
[…] And then there’s the grocery store. When I first came to Accra, I asked the bartender at the hotel where I was staying where I should shop for food. “All the obruni go to Danquah Circle. You can get anything you imagine there.” I walked around for a couple of hours, visiting the handful of western-style food shops and discovering that my imagination now needed to be limited to canned corned beef, canned mackerel, dried beans and pasta. Add in the amazing fruits and vegetables on sale on almost every corner, and we had a perfectly servicable diet, but one light on the comfort food that everyone needs now and again. My family and friends ended up feeling like they were supplying a prisoner, sending me letters that included packets of dried orange cheese mix so I could buy pasta, oil and a little milk and make macaroni and cheese. A letter from Rachel included sheets of nori, which led to a sushi party, using soy sauce bought from one of the Chinese restaurants in town. I almost got into a fistfight with a housemate about his incursions into my most prized posession – a jar of Skippy peanut butter.
And now there’s a supermarket, and it has cheese. A whole cold case full of it. Apples aren’t luxury items sold for a dollar a piece by roadside hawkers – you can buy them by the kilo. I looked like a madman, walking through Shoprite with my camera, snapping photos of remarkable, miraculous sights – chickens, already gutted and plucked, frozen and in bags! – that looked completely ordinary to everyone around me.
I don’t know that one could come to Accra and pretend that it’s 1994 anymore. If the mobile phones don’t give it away – with phonecard sellers, repair shops and charging stations on every corner – the architecture does. […]
My friends who support the NDC – the party that regained control in the most recent election – tell me that NDC won because people felt like eight years of NPP government had resulted in a lot of developments that looked like Citizen Kofi and not much improvement of schools or infrastructure. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair – driving throughout the city, I saw roads I knew to be almost impassible that are now paved and smooth. I ask about whether a particular neighborhood is still plagued by traffic jams and learn that a two-lane road has been replaced with a six-lane carriageway with two flyovers.
Is this just benefitting the comparatively wealthy who are lucky enough to live in the capital city? No idea – I was there for 51 hours, and I didn’t get outside Greater Accra. And I know it’s a mistake to characterize the direction of a country based on half a dozen long walks and conversations with a dozen old friends. But I felt like I was catching glimpses of a future Accra, the stylish capital of a middle-income nation.
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