Personally, I think travel is supposed to be fun. I therefore also don’t think you have to have a ‘sensible’ reason to go anywhere. Surely what you choose do in your free time should simply be, as you choose it to be? For example, I’ve always wanted to go to Sri Lanka cos there’s a city called Kandy. I found it spinning a globe for fun as a kid and it caught my attention and imagination. Spelled with a K admittedly, but a city that sounds like a sweet shop sounds like my kinda place! I haven’t gotten there yet but it’s totes on my list. I pick places to visit for the randomest of reasons as my DC to DC road trip notes will confirm for you. As will my unrestrainable excitement ahead of visiting Haiti. So with no further ado, here’s a list of reasons why I think Ghana in West Africa would make for a fabulous holiday destination!
1) It has an image of being the mother of the motherland. For those of us who were raised on, retrospectively, somewhat essentialist fixed notions of ‘Africa’ as our pre-Caribbean homes, Ghana is what they were mostly talking about. ‘The place from where our enslaved ancestors were taken’? Sites like Elmina’s Castle, the final stop for the enslaved before boarding are must-see. The Africa where we were kings and queens? The legendary almost-mythical kingdom of Asante or Ashanti was on their minds. There were others and far earlier, but the Asante/Ashanti were particularly powerful when the Europeans invaded the west coast of Africa back in the 17th century, at least as I understand it. Thus ’twas the stories of the powerful Asante/Ashanti kingdoms that were passed down through the enslaved populations in the new world, until the present day, when a popular African-American R’n’B singer would use it as a stage name.
2) Ghana’s place in recent history is no less legendary. When it declared its independence in 1957, the former Gold Coast colony was the first colonised country in Africa to be decolonised. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president, was a strident Pan-Africanist who believed the freedom of all black peoples was intimately linked to the freedom of the African continent. One of the most memorable lines in Nkrumah’s independence speech was the declaration that ‘Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.’ CLR James himself remarked two decades later that the young anti-colonial activists of the 1930s and 1940s had not envisioned European political control of their African colonies being ceded so quickly. Of course, we now understand that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Or country.
But I digress.
3) The ‘special relationship’ between West Africa and the Caribbean. (Aside from the forced transportation of millions of people from the former to the latter). In 1945, Kwame Nkrumah was a co-organiser of that momentous historical occasion, the Fifth Pan-African Conference co-organised by the George Padmore. Padmore, a Trinidadian described by contemporaries as ‘the most famous black man in the world’ would later go to Ghana at Nkrumah’s request to help him construct the new-but-old nation.
The Caribbean connection to Ghana in recent times goes even deeper. In the centre of the Ghanaian flag is a black star, hence the name of the national football team. For the less cool among us, we know that the Black Star was probably placed there in reference to – if not in honour of – one of the earliest and most influential pan-Africanists, one Marcus Garvey, Jamaican National Hero, passionate advocate of recognition of black people as equally human at the height of eugenics-mania and founder of UNIA, (at whose annual convention a certain Malcolm X’s parents met) and the Black Star shipping line, whose vessel aimed to physically connect black people living in the Americas to Africa. The red, green and gold of the Ghanaian flag is just too obvious to mention…
4) Afrochic. This is the name of a shop I was oh-so-vaguely obsessed with a while back. Their trademark is traditional African print fabrics woven into beautiful fitted pieces to show off a fuller and/or curvier frame at high street prices. According to a Ghanaian mate, Afrochic is just one of hundreds of Ghanaian clothing lines doing the same thing, and often better. But for me, it symbolises so much of what I know about Ghana: A country where old and new mesh creatively into something contemporary, original, hip and unmistakeably African.
5) Ghana is just cool. It always seems relevant. The famed dashikis worn at the height of the ‘black is beautiful’ moment were often kente cloth, inspired by the likes of Nkrumah. It’s the country where Malcolm X and Maya Angelou met for the first time. Where Malcolm convinced Maya she was needed at ‘home’ and she duly returned. Where WEB DuBois lived out his final years after renouncing his US citizenship. Ghana is home to Divine Chocolate, a fairtrade chocolate brand owned by a cooperative of cocoa farmers, in a successful, innovative attempt to control the final product as well as the production and manufacturing of a raw material. Considering Ghana produces something crazy like 90% of the world’s cocoa, but Belgium and Switzerland manage to be famous for chocolate production, this is Important Innovation. Speaking of food, I love Jellof rice. A country that produces hot pepper soup and Jellof by way of national dishes gets my vote! What can I say? Ghana just has a special place in my heart.
En plus! Who can forget the arrival of the Black Stars at the 2010 world cup? Exciting to watch, skilled and stylish…with African panache. Any African country that called their football team the Black Stars was always going to get a cheer from me, but they could play football too! And it wasn’t just me, it felt like everyone in London was a Ghanaian that world cup! Who wasn’t outraged when Suarez’s handball kept them out of the semi-finals in 2010? Nor disappointed that they didn’t go further in Brazil?
And I will not tell you how long I took to feel comfortable doing the Azonto, the dance all the cool kids in London were doing a few years back, straight out of Ghana.
But maybe I’ve just got too many Ghanaian friends who are too patriotic and have too much of a good time when they go ‘home’. That I have a number of good friends who are Ghanaians, is perhaps also an indicator that it might just be my kinda place. Of course, It’s possible that Ghana is just a regular West African country and over-exposure to aggressive Nigerian patriotism led to me picking a side in the everlasting Ghana vs. Nigeria debate. Nigerians were always trying to convince you Nigeria was better, Ghanaians would simply show you.