Ghana on The Amazing Race

Ghana on the Amazing Race:

The last two episodes of the US TV show the Amazing Race have been in Ghana, mostly in Accra.  Last weeks show, aired on the 3rd of September, which very hastily showcased some of the interesting areas of Accra including the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, Makola Market, June 4th area of Teshie, and Kaneshie market.  It was great to see some of these places on tv and it really brought back some of the memories of a city that I lived in for 8 months and dearly miss.  I do think it is a shame that these people were rushing through the area so quickly and just barking orders at people to get to where they needed to be without being able to enjoy the slower pace of this African city.  Accra is a very fast paced city (compared to more rural Ghanaian areas) but it still runs on Africa time and to get the full experience you must slow down and enjoy the exchanges with people, and the slower life style.  The whole meaning of the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum was not told to the participants and was also not conveyed to the watcher, Makola market was hardly even ventured into, and the importance of the intricate carved coffins in Teshie was lost, even the name of the June 4th area was skipped over in its importance.  But if you are reading this blog obviously your interest goes deeper than a TV show geared toward the dwindling attention span that a number of us in the west, are accustomed to.  Below I will explain the deeper meaning and importance of the areas visited on the show and what I found interesting about these areas.

You can watch the full eppisodes here for the first one and here for the second


Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum:

Kwame Nkrumah was the first president of Ghana, prime minister and founding member of the Organization for African Unity.  Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African country to receive independence.  In this case Ghana received independence from England on March 6, 1957.  Kwame Nkrumah was elected first as prime minister out of a prison cell where he was held for political dissidence against the English.  In 1960 he formed a new constitution making Ghana a republic, and held an election where he was elected president.  He is probably know best to this day for being one of the biggest supporters of Pan-Africanism which is the movement for uniting Africa into one federal system, knocking down the artificial borders created by colonialism.

As a newly independent country in the 1950s and early 60’s (height of the cold war) there were some tough choices to be made as a leader, should you align yourself and country with the west which includes those nations which were just the colonial rulers of your nation and neighbor’s, or align with the east which did not play a big role in the era of colonialism but were ready to help newly developed countries.  Like many of the later independent countries in Africa, Nkrumah chose to look to the east for a number of reasons.  First of all Nkrumah felt that traditional African societies in structure and daily living were much more similar to socialism than many of the systems in the west.  As a result of which, he was a scholar of Marxism, and communism of the soviet system, and procured arms and funding from Russia.  Kwame did see problems with the soviet system and even Marxism as a whole and he stove to develop his own African-Socialism and what he called a scientific socialism.  He saw Neo-Colonialism as a real risk and the pressures from the west to give away resources and power were to strong to be considered lightly.  And then of course there was the whole grudge against England as Ghana’s formal colonial master.

“We know that the traditional African society was founded on principles of egalitarianism. In its actual workings, however, it had various shortcomings. Its humanist impulse, nevertheless, is something that continues to urge us towards our all-African socialist reconstruction. We postulate each man to be an end in himself, not merely a means; and we accept the necessity of guaranteeing each man equal opportunities for his development. The implications of this for socio-political practice have to be worked out scientifically, and the necessary social and economic policies pursued with resolution. Any meaningful humanism must begin from egalitarianism and must lead to objectively chosen policies for safeguarding and sustaining egalitarianism. Hence, socialism. Hence, also, scientific socialism.” Kwame Nkrumah

Efforts to create an egalitarian society were fought by elitists in the country, along with those who had the most potential for wealth which were those involved in mining and cocoa production.  There were also those that were already aligned with the west and had already fallen down the hole of Neo-colonialism.  He was quick to silence and arrest his critics and was seen as a very paranoid leader probably as a result of the many threats to his government (there was a bomb assassination attempt) from within and from the western world.  In 1966 he was overthrown by some of these critics with help from the American CIA, and British MI6.  After which Ghana has been picked apart and sucked dry by numerous corrupt governments, and military dictatorships.  He died in exile from skin cancer in 1972 at age 62.

They say hindsight is 20/20 and I am sure many Ghanaians will attest to this.  Today Kwame Nkrumah is seen as a champion of the people in Africa and some of his surviving projects are those that Ghana is still highly reliant on like the Volta dam.  The Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum is a monument to this great leader and sacrifice the country has made.  Beyond the spectacular bronze statues and sovietesk architecture of the monument there is a museum with a number of books and artifacts that were associated with this great leader.  He is not actually buried here, he is buried in his home village in the western region of Ghana.


Makola Market:

Located in pretty much the center of downtown Accra, Makola is a premier and well known market in Ghana and West Africa run by very powerful market women.  It is known by most Ghanaians even outside of the capital and many west Africans, it is seen as a phoenix rising from the ashes numerous times from either burning or being destroyed by the PNDC government.  Just about anything can be found in Makola but primarily produce, clothing, cooking pots and implements, jewelry, bags, textiles, and numerous imports.  In the amazing race they were having participants sell sunglasses which are also a popular item for sale here.  Even though most things can be found here it is not the greatest place for tourists to shop for mementos because it is primarily where locals buy things for their day to day needs.  But this makes it a very interesting place to absorb the culture and check out how people live and what goods are important to them.  Like I said in the introduction though the participants stayed right along a main road and did not venture into the market hardly at all.  One of the reasons for this is how easy it would be to get lost in the labyrinth of stalls.  The first time that I stepped foot in Makola Market rather than just driving by was with a Ghanaian friend, he was going to get some clothes mainly of the western variety, like jeans and T-Shirts.  The clothing part of the market is deep “on the inside” with stalls that have piles and piles of clothes.  The deeper you get into it though it almost encloses you into a primitive shopping mall with each vendor having a little shop, some really take the time to hang up the cloths and present them just like they would in the west.  Many stalls specialize in a certain style of clothing.  Some even go the extra mile and tile the floors and use all kinds of different colored lighting.  It is like a line of discos with cloths hanging in them.  I returned myself another time to buy some clothes and it took me over an hour to find this part of the market, because the area is so vast and the lanes and avenues will consume you.  You can always ask for directions but often times they are not that great, for a small tip I am sure someone will show you where you need to go.

The clothes area was much more enjoyable than some other parts of the market.  One of the hardest parts to walk through is the meat market area.  Without refrigeration there is meat just laying out on tables in all different fashions, some cuts are fresh, others are smoked and dried.  There can be all kinds of different meat that you would never see in your grocery store also like dried and smoked bats, and “grass cutter” (a large bush rodent, very popular for its meat across West Africa) in addition there are a lot of other parts of animals that would typically not be on display in your grocery store.  With all of this just laying around under the hot sun it is not hard to imagine that this part of the market can smell quite foul.  I think a lot of the by products, blood and other things are just poured into the open gutter which does not help the situation either.  But if you can handle the smell it is a great spectacle to see what ends up on the cutting board.  If you have a weak stomach you can still have a great time at the market if you avoid this area.


June 4th:

In the Amazing race the show had the participant’s race off to what they called the June 4th area in Teshie, which is between Accra and Tema on the costal road.  I had not heard the area referred to as the June 4th area before but I do know the area and I am also aware of the significance of the date June 4th.  June 4th refers to the date of one of the most dramatic point in Ghana’s post colonial history.  This was the date that Jerry Rawlings was sprung from a military imprisonment in 1979, and the day that the military dictatorship which was running the country at that time was uprooted and overthrown.  Besides Kwame Nkrumah, Jerry Rawlings, aka JJ Rawlings or Junior Jesus, is probably one of the most well known characters in Ghanaian politics.  JJ Rawlings, was a junior flight officer in the Ghanaian air force who grew tired of seeing his officers and the military hierarchy run Ghana into the ground through their corrupt, tyrannical rule and the revolution was a demand for accountability.  With the help of other junior flight officers he attempted to overthrow this dictatorship on the 15th of May 1979, this plot was foiled, which resulted in him being placed in the brig and sentenced to death.  On June 4th just 19 days later is when the people of Ghana joined the movement along with other junior flight officers who were not arrested on the 15th of May to successfully overthrow the government, springing JJ out of prison to lead the movement.

As an outsider it would be easy to see this as a victory for the people but this is one of the most highly contested and argued points in Ghanaian history with the elites and intellectuals of Ghana today.  To some Ghanaians, JJ is seen as a savior and one that has helped Ghana to become a peaceful democratic country that it is today.  Others see him as a bloody coup maker that just replaced one military dictatorship for another.  What can not be argued is that June 4th changed Ghana’s history forever, and the events that took place afterward is where things get blurred, ask any Ghanaian and you will get a different story and impression of life after June 4th.  Even thought the coup was relatively bloodless there were still casualties, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (led by JJ) that took over after the coup put a number of the leading generals to death.  Makola market which was mentioned above was destroyed because it was believed that the powerful market politics contributed to the corruption of the prior government.  But were these bloodier acts what the angry people of Ghana were asking for?  There is some that say it was necessary for there to be cleansing of the prior corruption, others will say that the new regime was too brutal in their handling of the situation.  The same controversy exists, over if the years of curfew were also to much, or if they were necessary for settling the country and regaining rule of law. The house cleaning exercise mentioned above also allowed for the collection of a lot of money that was actually at one point property of the state, this allowed for inflation was stabilized.

The facts are that after the dust settled Rawlings allowed the already scheduled elections to proceed and handed over power to a newly elect president Limann.  But this was not the end of the story for JJ Rawlings.  In December of 1981 just two years after Limann took power, Rawlings struck again taking over the country and government.  Once again it was the corruption of the government that got Rawlings fired up and telling the people of Ghana that they had the right to demand accountability from their government.  This was the start of the NDC party which is now in the presidential seat of Ghana.  After this second coup a committee by the name PNDC took over the affairs of government with Rawlings as the leader.  In the 1990s pressure from a rival political group (which allied themselves ideologically, and also in some cases were of close relation, to those who overthrew Nkrumah, some might call them Neo-Colonialists) led to the PNDC slowly making progress towards civilian rule once again.  Rawlings wrote and had a constitution ratified by popular vote then held elections which he won.  He held the maximum of two year in office from 1992 to 2000, when by popular vote the NPP won the presidential election and power was handed over to J. A. Kufor.  Kufor went on to hold two terms in office also and then the NDC government with Mills as president came into power in 2008.

Was Rawlings just a violent trouble maker or was he the bringer of democracy to Ghana?  This is the question that is still argued today, it really depends on what party your affiliations belong to for there to be an answer to this question it would seem.  June 4th is an un-official celebration each year which was actually deemed to be illegal to celebrate under the NPP government in 2001.  Rawlings has said he has given up politics but is still a very active speaker about Ghanaian politics and is constantly in the news.  His wife on the other hand could be moving herself into a position to run for president in the future.

The June 4th area of Teshie which was visited in the Amazing Race is probably named that due to the proximity to the Teshi shooting range where the executions for the house cleaning exercise took place on June 4th.  Today it is along the coastal road between La and Teshi.  When taking this road you will see an open air two story structure where some of the most amazing coffins in the world are on display.  Funerals are big business in Ghana, they probably would seem more like a party than a funeral to westerns.  The coffins are formed to display some aspect of the persons living life.  A soldier would have a gun, a photographer may have a camera, a fisherman a fish, and so on.  If you find your self in Accra it may be a good time to go check out these coffins and see which one fits.


Kaneshie Market:

As the show states this is one of the biggest markets in West Africa.  There is no real distinguishing factor about this market other than its size and being so busy and seemingly chaotic.  But like Makola and other markets in Ghana there is a method to the madness which I like to call Organized Chaos.  I have not spent a lot of time in this market but I have been a few times.  This market is the gateway to the a number of the products coming from western Ghana, as is Kasoa market about 30 minutes down the road to the west.  It is also the gateway to ground transportation to the west, this is where you would catch tro-tros and other busses to Cape Coast, the central region and the western region.  Transportation is what normally brought me to this market.  The area is also notable for surrounding the Palace of the Ga (tribe of people who inhabited the Accra area before the city grew into it) Mantse who is the royal leader of the Ga people.


The Village of Dodowa:

The Sunday October 2nd episode ended at Kaneshie Market the next episode on the 9th started with the participants racing to Dodowa, which is a village North East of Aburi, almost directly between, Aburi, and Shai Hills Reserve about 12 miles North of Accra.  This township first started as a market area for a nearby community to trade its wares to surrounding communities.  Over time it has developed in the modern township that it is today.  It was also known in history for where a fierce war/battle took place between the Ga people and the Ashanti people in 1826 where the Ashanti’s were defeated with great relief to many of the costal communities.  The Ashanti’s had a force of 40,000 while the costal communities only had 11,000, what even the odds was the armament supplied by the Dutch, which included guns, and cannons.  Some of the warriors at the end of this battle emptied the remaining bullets from their guns into a baobab tree that is today located at the entrance to the Dodowa Forest (a sacred grove, thought to inhabit gods and spirits, and is forbidden to all except for chiefs and priests) and is a tourist attraction today.

The market notoriety of Dodowa was lost in the 20th century as other communities in the area developed larger markets.  Today it is mainly known for its haunted forbidden forest, mango trees, and interesting rock formations.

The highlights of this episode were the contestants carting supplies for a orphanage school.  Then most of them failed miserably at a geography lesson when they were asked where Ghana was.  How embarrassing would that be to be in a country in front of a class of children who are labeling all the countries of Africa, and you cant even point out where Ghana is.  There they had the choice of working with African symbols or playing children’s games.  The next day they are to help construct a new school building to help give back to the community.  I hope this is done at a slower more concise pace to actually help create a quality product.

Interesting information on Dodowa:

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