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Celebrating Ghana's Tourism Industry - a Memoir

30/12/2012 14:56

Ghana's tourism industry is undoubtedly a booming one, especially with a steady and peaceful democracy, in spite of all the odds in the West African region, indeed, sub-Saharan Africa. The country, which hosted the first-ever World Tourism Day in sub-Saharan Africa is no doubt re-inventing the tourism sector to become a major goldmine.


I visited Accra, the country's capital sometime in 2009, and wrote this piece, which was published in Broad Street Journal, in November of that year, to celebrate and highlight the prominent role which Ghana's tourism industry has come to symbolize on the African continent:


Kwameh Nkrumah


Ghana's New Money Pot


It used to be referred to as the Gold Coast, basically because it was a major source of gold for Europeans and foreigners alike. But recently writers, journalists and tourists from Europe, the United States, US, the United Kingdom, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Holland and Spain besieged Accra, Ghana, to celebrate this year’s World Tourism Day, an indication that Ghana may have evolved as a tourism destination of note. This much was attested to by Nii Armah Ashitey, minister of Ghana’s Greater Accra region, during the celebration. According to him, Ghana’s treasury was boosted by the tourism industry, contributing 6.2 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product. “All over the world, it is a known fact that the tourism industry has become an essential contributor to economic growth and development, and currently in Ghana, the tourism industry is the fourth highest foreign exchange earner having earned an estimated $1.4 billion,” he said.


It was the first time the United Nations World Tourism Organization, UNWTO, would be celebrating the World Tourism Day in sub-Saharan Africa. The choice, Taleb Rifai, secretary general, UNWTO, said was basically to highlight the contributions that the tourism sector could make in achieving the millennium development goals of the United Nations, UN. “There is increasing awareness of tourism’s role as a productive activity and its undisputed potential to generate employment, income, and other benefits whether directly or through induced effects in the economy,” he said.


Indeed, according to Julian Azumah-Mensah, Ghana’s minister of tourism, there has been a steady increase in the number of visitors and tourists coming into the country, which equally carries along with it an attendant flow of cash. “As the years go by, more visitors are expected to come in to visit various tourist sites in the country, and our primary objective is to attract one million visitors into the country by the middle of 2012,” she said. The Panafest and Emancipation Day celebrations, which though designed as a pilgrimage journey for Africans in diaspora also provided a platform to boost the country’s economy, Azumah-Mensah explained that the information technology age has also been of help as Google, a world-renowned search engine, assists in “marketing” Ghana as a tourist destination.


Ghana’s thriving tourism industry was further boosted recently, when the South-Korean government made donations to the country’s ministry of tourism. Fifteen new laptops were donated by Lee Shang Hak, ambassador of Korea to Ghana, with the Korean government promising to assist in upgrading and modernizing Kumasi, Takoradi and Sunyani airports. Acknowledging the thriving tourism industry, he noted that: “the tourism industry has become the largest employer and fastest growing market in the world with around 200 million employees and one billion travellers all over the world, consisting 12 per cent of world’s gross domestic product.”


Segun Ogunjimi, a Nigerian, who works at the Highgate Hotel, in Accra as a porter, attests to the increase in the number of tourists to Ghana. “To be sincere, the environment in Ghana is very conducive, there is constant power supply and many cultural and tourists sites to be visited,” he said. There are also a number of traders both Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians, who make a living, selling African artworks and wears. Wofa Yaw owns a stall at the Arts Market in Accra, and deals in adinkra cloths, linen and batik shirts, kente bags and cloths, wood carvings and general cultural goods, attested to the growing demand for traditional Ghanaian products by insight into the idea behind its design. It has a total surface area of about 5.3acres. Dedicated to Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president whose relentless campaign saw to the proclamation of independence from colonial rule on March 6, 1957, is located directly opposite the old Parliament house. There is a bronze statue of Nkrumah erected at the exact spot, where Evanson said he proclaimed independence from Britain. The park used to be the Old Polo Club of the British colonial masters. For a price of about $7, a tourist is guaranteed a tour of the site.


On entering the park from the main gate, there are two reflective pools, which lead to his bronze statue. The pools are fed by two rows of statues of seven-bare-chested flute blowers. “The sound of the water gushing out from the flutes is hypothetically carried by the south-west trade wind coming from the Atlantic, and at the point which one passes the last fountain, the sound recedes and you are left in silence and intimacy with Nkrumah’s statue,” he explained. The distance from the main gate to the point where the statue is erected is measured at a hundred steps. But, apart from the bronze statue, which tourists delight in taking photographs with, the park also includes the Nkrumah mausoleum, a museum that provides an insight into Nkrumah’s life, as well as plants, fountains and a preserved Cadillac, which Evanson said Nkrumah used. In the small museum, painted in white and given an Egyptian façade, such personal effects, like his presidential table and phone, photographs, his doctoral thesis, the overcoat he wore at the UN General Assembly in 1961, a “sese” stool given him by his grandmother, his personal mirror and bed used while a student at the Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, US, are preserved in pristine conditions.


Andrea Kambergs, a German, wondered through the black and white photos, hung delicately on the walls in the museum, impressed. “It’s a relatively small museum, but it’s worth travelling down there to see one of Africa’s great men who many have described as founder of modern Ghana,” she said. The photos show Nkrumah with world leaders such as Fidel Castro, Queen Elizabeth II of England, Pope Pius XII, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, John E. Kennedy, President Nasser of Egypt, among others.


The mausoleum, in which the body of Nkrumah is laid, beside Fathia, his Egyptian wife, was designed by Don Arthur, a Ghanaian architect. It was designed like a stump of a tree, with a solid trunk, but the branches are chopped off. Evanson explained that Arthur developed the designs based on the Taj Mahal in India, the Eiffel Tower in France, the Alexander Tower, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Pyramids of Egypt. “It’s amazing as an African, to behold the rest place of one of Africa’s best,” Moumoni Agali from Niger Republic enthused.


The Kakum National Park, a well preserved forest, is yet another site, which tourists like John Bullard from the US are eager to pay with as much as $10 to have a feel of. The park, which some tourists described as a treasure for plants and animals, provides a haven for eco-tourists, botanists, animal watchers and fun lovers too. The site has an estimated 550 butterfly species, more than 200 bird species that include hornbills, kingfishers, bee-eaters, parrots and blue plantain eaters, and several species of reptiles and amphibians, explained Irene Mensah, a tour guide at the park. The dense vegetation, according to her, also provides cover for globally endangered species such as the leopard, bongo, monkeys, antelopes and elephants.


Apart from the chance of viewing wildlife, there are the canopy walkways, which Bullard considers major attractions. The walkways, which comprise seven suspended bridges, interconnected and wound round the tall trees in the dense forest, have made some tourists like Fatouma Ouattara, from Burkina Faso, to describe it as a “forest of seven bridges”. It is 350 meters above the ground, and 40 meters in length. The walkways, arranged in a heptagonal fashion, were designed by two Canadians and six Ghanaians. “The ropes and planks are well-maintained, and since 1995, when the canopy walkways were opened, there have never been any casualties, but we warn people who have phobia for heights to just enjoy the wildlife view instead,” Mensah said. During peak periods like the summer holidays, Richard Amankwah, technical assistant at the park explained that an average of 2,000 tourists visit the 360 square kilometers, tropical forest in a week. “It is usually a marvelous period because the whole park becomes full of tourists,” he said.


President Barack Obama who visited Ghana in July joined the growing list of African-American visitors to the Cape Coast Castle. Located about 30 kilometers from the Kakum National Park, the castle, along with the Elmina Castle, and various forts in the country are listed as World Heritage Monuments by the United Nations Scientific, Cultural and Educational Organization. Tourists in their hundreds visit the castle to behold relics of the slave trade, which have now been turned to well-maintained museums, serving not only to educate, but to also torment.


Walter Kudzodzi once worked as a tour guide at the castle. Although now involved in public relations affairs, he knows the architecture and history of the castles like the back of his hand. The castle, according to him, encapsulates not only the history of Ghana and other West African countries, but also Europe, the US and South America. Covered with a coat of white paint, it overlooks the waves lapping the rocks along the Atlantic shorelines. “It was initially a booming trade in gold, gold and more gold, because you could go to the shore and pick gold, before slave trade surreptitiously crept in,” he explained. Taking some tourists through the then governor’s private living room, through the dark and dingy male and female dungeons, and the infamous door of no return, which Kudzodzi revealed draws out the fears from African-American tourists. “The Cape Coast castle like other castles and forts are a major revenue source, because many African-Americans come here often as a way of reconnecting to their ancestors and they don’t joke with the history of this castle,” he said.


Seestah Imahkus, an African-American, who runs the “One Africa Tours and Specialty Services Limited”, visited the castle in 1987 as a tourist, but was enraged by what she saw at that time. She has, however, turned her rage into a positive tool, and is now among the more than 7,000 African-Americans, who have resettled in Ghana and are now investing in the country. “The number is increasing daily, because there are great possibilities here and many African-Americans returning to the land of our ancestors are thrilled by what they see,” she said. Her “One Africa” resort, strategically located at the Iture Village, Elmina overlooking the ocean, was adjudged Guest House of the Year in 2007.

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