Accra is the capital city of Ghana and by far the largest city in the country with an estimated population of around 2 million people, taking into account the whole metropolitan area this number jumps up to 4 million. The city is bordered to the South by the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of Guinea. Some people feel that it is a very ugly busy city and one of the reasons for this is that the city planning did largely neglect the coastal area of the city, not taking advantage of any of the beautiful beaches. This is compounded by the lack of Architectural congruency, there is a real mix of crumbling colonial architecture, modern high rises, luxury hotels, concrete homes, buildings, and shanties.
The less than popular façade of Accra aside as; a city it has so much to offer. It has been said that anything can be bought or sold in Accra, and this is definitely true, you can find anything you want in Accra. Sitting right on the Prime Meridian and about 6 degrees above the equator it has historically been in the middle of things for a long time. Along the coast it has been visited by sea going traders for hundreds of years even before colonialism, it was also one of the terminuses of the Trans Saharan trade route. Today just about everything you could ever think of and some that you could never imagine can be found in Accra’s sprawling markets. This sort of diversity goes for the inhabitants also; Accra is a very international city with 44% of its inhabitants being migrants, usually from other parts of Ghana and West Africa. Dinning is a perfect example of the diversity it is possible to eat at restaurants owned by people from all over, Chinese, Lebanese, Western food (fast food), Argentinean, Libyan, Indian, European, Asian (sushi) and hundreds of different African cuisines.
Leif Ryman’s Personal Experiences:
Accra is where I lived both times I lived in Ghana and thus I have a very different view of the city than the casual visitor. The city may be lacking in some of the more tourist oriented activities with access limited for its forts, but as someone who experienced daily life here, the culture and the people are what make Accra. The city may seem large and chaotic but there is a saying that there are no secrets in Accra, and it is a testament to how quickly word, and news can spread in this city a reverence that the art of oral tradition is not dead.
Because Accra does not have a whole lot to offer in dedicated tourist attractions it probably is not the best place for a casual visitor to spend that much time. The best way to explore Accra is to do just that, wandering the streets and avenues is a great way to feel the diversity of the city and how different neighbourhoods are. It is also a great way to find the little hole in the wall eating and drinking establishments that Accra is full of. This may seem a little intimidating just walking and wondering an African city with all the negative media we receive in the west about the violence and danger in Africa, but Ghana is a safe country and that goes for Accra too. I think that you are much more likely to be robbed or assaulted in any city in the US. But like US cities there are some places in Accra that are more suited to casual exploration.
Some Notable Neighbourhoods in Accra
Medina is a superb on the road to Aburi past Legon. The only major attraction here is the market. As a student at the University of Ghana I became quite familiar with the market in Medina which has some appeal (Medina being the Arab word for Market this is no surprise). Maybe not so much for a tourist though. Currently there is a lot of construction and growth going on in the area with the construction of a highway and interchange in the area. The other attraction in the area is the University of Ghana botanical gardens that are between the University entrance and Medina, near Atomic Circle.
Known as 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 Western Ghana, 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.
If visiting in the rainy season during or after a good rain beware that this area tends to flood a bit, or have large puddles of standing water, which may make walking around in flip flops or sandals a little disgusting.
James Town Accra is said to be named after the very same James that James Town on the East Coast of the US is named after. It is also part of what is known as old Accra. The major attractions consist of narrow streets lined by colonial architecture, thronging with people, the fishing port and market, the lighthouse, Fort James and the Brazil House. It is located on a spit of land with the Korle lagoon to the West, and with sea to the south and east. Just north is the commercial downtown area of Accra and the teaming Makola Market.
James Town was pretty well developed by the end of the 19th Century and even more during the 20th. As it is right now it is mainly inhabited by Ga fishermen. To many casual visitors
it might seem very dirty, and like a shanty town with its crowded lanes and lack of garbage services but there are still some interesting places to visit.
Most notable of the sights in James town is the cluster of colonial buildings easily accessed by the main costal Accra road. It is easy to distinguish the colonial lighthouse that over looks the cape of land jetting into the sea. It is possible if the care taker is around to climb the spiral stair case to the top of the light house and see a great view of the surrounding area. Less obvious is the little lane that drops to the sea side from the main road to the east of the lighthouse. As you go down this lane Fort James comprises the Wall or what seems like a cliff on your left side with the ocean to your right. The Fort until recently was a prison, before that it was built in the 1600 by the Portuguese and switched hands and held a number of colonial purposes. At the bottom of the lane on the sea side is the fishing harbor of Accra. But probably unlike any fishing harbor you have ever seen, this one is very large and solely dedicated to fishing in the traditional African Canoes that are sometimes now fitted with two stroke engines. Early in the morning you can see the fishermen returning with their fresh catch. Throughout the day there is an active chaotic fishing market. In the evening there is sometimes quite the spectacle when fishermen are trying to get what they call pre-mix which is the fuel that is mixed with oil for two-stroke engines, there always seems to be a short supply of the pre-mix.
Down the beach to the West used to be a giant pile of rubbish that resembled a beach but now is home to Jay-Nii Beach and has been wonderfully cleaned up with some development of a few buildings and a bar. The people in charge of this are Nii and his wife Jay, who were given the land to help with their mission of supporting street children in James Town. Read more about it here. This would be a great place to go and have a few drinks or jump in and volunteer to help with the programs for the children. Be careful though it would be very easy to get attached to the bright little souls and not want to leave.
Between the Forts of Ussher and James lies the Brazil House which houses the Brazilian Embassy and a great example of the colonial architecture that used to be everywhere in old Accra. The Brazil House has become a monument and symbol to a largely untold story of the slave trade, a monument to the ancestors of slaves who were taken to Brazil and who have now returned to Ghana the land of their roots.
A great time to visit James Town or any of coastal Accra would be during the Ga festival of Homowa where drumming, dancing and celebrations take place everywhere on the street in the month of August.
Labadi Beach is probably the most well known beach in Accra with not a lot of pristine competition. Most of the beaches in Accra have been relatively ignored and are surrounded by residential and shanty towns rather than posh hotels. Labadi is the exception to this with a couple of hotels lining the daily manicured and cleaned beach including the Royal Palm Hotel and Labadi Hotel. Unfortunately they are both very expensive and foreign owned.
The beach is very popular on the weekend with most of the chairs filled at each of the bars along the way. It is also reasonably clean for swimming and relatively safe to do so between
the flags that mark the safe area. It is probably not advisable to swim after a heavy rain or when the lagoon near by is emptying into the ocean which can make the water and beach dirty. There is usually a small entry fee to the beach, once there you will have a choice of many different places to sit each belonging to a bar or restaurant. The food and drinks are a little more expensive but manageable.
Be warned that this being a popular place for tourists there is potential that working girls will approach you to peddle their services; there are also a number of musicians and kids doing tricks looking for pay outs. It is ok to politely decline all of these services, if you enjoy a performance or some drumming though feel free to compensate.
Some nights and on the weekends there are musical performances on a beach side stage here which creates a fun environment for meeting people and dancing.
Generally if you are looking for a good beach time it is suggested that you look outside Accra and further down the coast to the West. Within a day trip area of Accra there are a number of nice beaches, these include around Kokrobite, and Gomoa Fete.
The 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. 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 known 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.
Also known as Bobo beach is probably a good alternative to the busy Labadi beach and is located closer to the community of La. It has become a popular place for reggae jams and musical events. It is definitely quieter and more comfortable than the busy popular Labadi beach. The safety and cleanliness for swimming is unknown to us.