“Arguing against globalisation is like arguing against the laws of gravity,” stated Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, Nobel Peace Prize winner – and Ghanaian national. He could have easily been referring to Accra, an ever expanding city in a country with immigration levels only just below the expat-haven of Singapore.
Originally a handful of villages built around a port by the 15th century, Accra soon attracted the interest of European colonists keen to exploit the region’s gold deposits. By the end of the 17th century, the city had been home to the Portuguese, Swedish, British, Danish, Dutch and French, all of whom used the city as a trading post for gold and ivory.
In 1873 the British attacked Kumasi, and declared Ghana a British Crown Colony. Accra was captured the following year and in 1877 was named capital of the British Gold Coast. Eighty years later the British relinquished control of the region and an independent Ghana was born.
Modern day Accra has remained the capital of Ghana and is home to four million residents, comprising 100 different ethnicities and speaking 47 languages. With a sizeable expatriate population, Accra’s dusty streets are interspersed with leafy suburbs full of westerners and tourists looking to enjoy the city’s superb nightlife, and an excellent springboard from which to explore the rest of this African nation.
Accra’s National Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into Ghana’s past, such as the evolution of Ghanaian currency from shells and gold coins through to modern banknotes. It also documents the development of West African musical instruments, the symbolism of local textiles and the historical importance of fishing to the region.
To see how modern day Ghana works, visit Makola Market. This vast market – almost entirely run by women – sells everything from shoes, fabric, sunglasses, beaded jewellery, bags, hats, food and furniture. The market spills into Ussher Town from Victoriaborg and makes for an interesting, yet slightly chaotic day trip.
Residents of Accra, known locally as ‘Gas’, are also concerned with their future: visit the Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop in Teshie to discover what constitutes their perfect coffin. Nowhere near as morbid as it sounds, this workshop has been carving ‘design’ coffins since the 1950s which represent something important to the eventual inhabitant. This can be anything from onions, pineapples and fish to aircraft, tractors and mobile phones – each turned into a full size coffin in the shape of the chosen item. It may sound bizarre but examples of the coffins have been exhibited as far afield as the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Dining out in Accra is varied and offers everything from Ghanaian, Indian, Chinese, French and Italian cuisine. Restaurants can be found throughout the city but the more upmarket establishments tend to be centred around Osu, a suburb of Accra favoured by tourists.
Throughout Accra visitors can sample traditional Ghanaian food at the numerous chop bars; chop means ‘eat’ and these informal stands serve delicious tomato-based stews served with rice, yams and plantains or soups with corn dough and cassava chips.
Osu is also a popular nightlife destination and visitors can discover the city’s solitary Irish pub, karaoke and sports bars, radio café, trendy lounges, open air jazz spots and late-night dance clubs.
Three hours by bus and 160kms southwest of Accra is Cape Coast, the capital of the Central Ghana region. Captured by the British in 1664, the centre of the city is lined with neglected colonial buildings but the real highlight is the massive Cape Coast Castle. This whitewashed building, originally erected by the Swedish in 1653, has been rebuilt and restored several times by successive colonists and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The castle now houses a moving museum which depicts the city’s infamous history as West Africa’s slave-trading hub.
Thirty kms inland is Kakum National Park, 350 square kilometres of beautifully preserved tropical rainforest. Seven connected bridges suspended at 40 metres are known as the Canopy Walkway and allow visitors to view the animals – which include Forest Buffalo, Pygmy Elephants and Mona Meerkat – from a novel vantage point.