Accra, Ghana. Early Morning. Breakfast was the same. One Cedi of Koko (Corn Pap), two of Kwose (Akara). As a regular customer at the popular roadside restaurant at Dome Pillar 2, the woman gave me one extra akara. I thanked her. I enjoyed the food. The pap was hot and thick while the well spiced Akara was a delight to the palate. The food danced briefly on my tongue before cascading merrily into the warm embrace of my stomach. Breakfast over, I got ready for Circle, where I would catch my ride to Kumasi.
Suddenly, the peace and quiet of the early morning was broken. The wind sighed and hissed, the clouds flew as the heavens opened and it started to rain. Fast, furious and ferocious; it was one of those tropical storms that Accra is noted for. From slanting arrows, the rain soon turned into bucketful of water that cascaded down the sky as the roadside gutters quickly filled up with brownish flood water.
For a moment, I was worried. Just the previous week, a central part of the city had been flooded by a similar storm. After being ensconced in Accra for about three months, I considered it expedient for me to explore the rest of Ghana. I was therefore looking forward to going to Kumasi where a friend had invited me for a weekend. I was still contemplating what to do when the storm suddenly abated. Its exit was as sudden as its arrival.
It was still drizzling when the big ‘Yutong’ Luxury bus belonging to the VIP Jeoun Transport Company departed the Accra Bus Garage at Circle at about 8.40 on that overcast morning. After spending about an hour in the Accra traffic gridlock, the sleek, air conditioned and comfortable bus finally broke free and went into a galloping run on the Accra-Kumasi expressway for the 240-kilometer, 50 Cedi trip to Kumasi.
We were more than a hundred in the capacious tubular cocoon, all in different forms of engagement. While some read newspapers and books, others were glued to their phones, an addiction of the current age.
In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were to remain masked throughout the length of the journey. We therefore continued our journey anonymously behind our facemasks, hundred plus masquerades, breathing noisily like bellows at the iron smiths as the bus sped along the winding and undulating motorway dodging the occasional bad patches and pot holes.
From my vantage front seat position, I gazed through the large windscreen of the bus at the endless and serpentine road ahead. Meanwhile from the side windows, a kaleidoscope of images of green foliage, streams and rivers as well as sleepy streets of towns and villages peopled by an array of happy and busy people flashed by as the cityscape of Accra turned more into remote farmlands. Adoagyiri, Samson Panpanso, Kyekewere, the Amafa and Kua Rivers on to Asuboi, Amanase and Apeatu, we sped along. At Okroase, the road diverged. We took the left one that led to Kumasi leaving the right one that went on to Suhum.
Thirty minutes later, we stopped at Lindador Hotel, obviously a popular watering hole for travelers judging from the large number of buses that we met on the capacious grounds of the hotel. While some passengers used the opportunity of the break to use the washrooms, others removed their face masks to breathe normally for a while as well as exercise their hitherto stiff jaws. I followed some of the passengers to one of the eateries on the grounds to lubricate my patched throat.
Moments later, we continued our trip as more bucolic towns and villages flew past the bus window. Osino, Kwabena, Anyinam, on to Enyiresi. At Akyim Sekere, we chanced upon a rich and beautiful display of pottery and sculpture works before going on to New Jejeti, Abossey Okai and Ejisu among other towns and villages.
Obviously sedated by their recently consumed meals, many of the passengers had gone to sleep while the rest of us watched a movie which was projected on large screens visible to the passengers. The movie ‘Carpenter Love’ by David Yeboah was an interesting 2014 Media Promotions production that depicted a tale of love, hope and treachery.
At Nkawkaw junction, some passengers departed the bus which continued on to Juaso, Hebron and Kononga among other towns.
Meanwhile, the young driver who was right in front of me was obviously enjoying himself. In between shifting the gears and marching on the throttle and the brakes, he was also singing and swaying to the melodious music that oozed out of the bus loud speakers. It was a familiar music…that of the popular Nigerian musician, P Square. When I joined in the singing, the surprised driver looked back briefly and then gave me a thumbs up sign.
It was in this merry mood that we entered Kumasi, the ancient and historic Ashanti town. The city, which is the second largest city in Ghana, after the capital, rose to prominence in 1695 when it became capital of the Ashanti Confederacy due to the activities of its ruler Osei Tutu. Queen Elizabeth 11 of England was said to have given Kumasi the name ‘Garden City of Africa’ when she visited the area in the 1960s because of the varied plant life in the area.
Kumasi is situated on the border between the dry and poor north and the richer, more developed, south of Ghana. The city is therefore some kind of gateway where all important roads from different places in the south converge and from where they diverge again and continue to the north. In this gentle almost crime-free city, traditional and modern worlds are said to coexist harmoniously.
I also learnt that some famous Kumasi sons included the likes of the late former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan; the former Ghanaian President, His Excellency, John Agyekum Kufuor; the former Leeds United and Ghana national football team footballer Tony Yeboah, as well as the professional wrestler Kofi Kingston among others.
As arranged, I was met at the gate of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) by my friend and host, Dr Babatunde Duduyemi, a Consultant Pathologist at the university. Tunde who had been with the university for the past seven years was also a pastor of one of the Pentecostal Churches in the city. Together with his wife Ayodele and three sons, I was heartily welcomed into their cozy bungalow in the staff quarters of the university which is popularly known as ‘Tech’ by locals.
Over a delicious dinner of Jollof rice, chicken and vegetables, Dr Duduyemi gave me an account of his stewardship in Ghana. As he regaled me with his interesting activities as a physician, pathologist and pastor, it was obvious that he had his hands full attending to both the dead and the living. It was after I had presented the family with some copies of my books that Mrs. Duduyemi recalled having read my 1987 novel Rainbows Are For Lovers (Spectrum Books, Nigeria) as a teenager.
My sight-seeing of the ancient and historic city commenced the following morning with a quick tour of the university campus beginning with the Faculty of Medicine where my host had his office in the Pathology Department. History has it that the university took off from the Kumasi College of Technology by an Act of Parliament on August 22, 1961. The university, which was named in honor of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister and later President of Ghana, had its name changed to the University of Science and Technology after the revolution of February 24, 1966. However, another act of Parliament changed the name back to its original version, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in 1998.
Although, a University of Technology, new faculties of Arts, Law and Business Studies among others in the humanities have since been added to the university. While this diversification in academic courses was welcomed by some educationists, some alumni of the university saw it as a negation of the dreams of the founding fathers of the Ghana University system who had designated different universities in the country for special professional courses.
As we continued the sightseeing, I recollected the encounter between KNUST and my university; the University of Ife, Nigeria, at the 1975 West African Universities Games in Accra where I had participated as a member of the Ife Hockey team. In addition, I was impressed with the beautiful and well-maintained buildings, lawns and roads which I was told was made possible by the two-yearly maintenance policy of the university authorities.
My next port of call was the Manhyia palace of the Asantehene of Asante and the Kumasehene of Kumasi, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu 11, which was located in the central part of Kumasi. Although it was a weekend, there were a lot of activities in the palace which is one of the city’s most spectacular sights. My host informed me that most of the visitors had come to visit the museum attached to the palace. I was informed that the Manhyia Palace Museum was first established in 1925 as a private residence for Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I and currently provides a lot of insight into the culture of Ashanti land and Ghana’s cultural legacy from before its colonization by Great Britain.
From the palace, we passed the Ahodwo Roundabout with its striking sculptor of a white stallion and made our way to the sports stadium of the famous Kumasi-based football club, Asante Kotoko. Now known as the Baba Yara Stadium (named after a famous Ghanaian football player), the stadium which was first built in 1959 had been renovated twice and now has a seating capacity of 40,000. As a sportsman and football bluff, I stood in awe as I gazed at the magnificent edifice as I recollected the wonderful achievements of the famous club especially in the African Cup of Nations competitions.
We were soon on the Osei Tutu 11 Boulevard, the major artery of Kumasi through which my host drove to the Kejetie Central Market which is reputed to rival Onitsha in Nigeria as West Africa’s largest open-air market. At the Bekwai Roundabout, we turned into the GRA (Government Reserved Area) with its exquisite and modern buildings including the Golden Tulip Hotel, the Ashanti Regional Coordinating Council, and the Golden Bean Hotel. Also in the neighborhood were the high- brow Nhyiaeso and Ridge communities where the rich and mighty were said to have properties.
Other important landmarks visited in the city were the 800-bed Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital for the training of medical students from KNUST, the Fante New Town residential area, the Bomso community near the university, the Aboabo – an area considered to be the poorest neighborhood in Kumasi, as well as the Zongo and Asokore Manpong communities with their large numbers of Hausa natives. I was later informed that a large proportion of the Hausa population in Kumasi had originally come from Northern Nigeria as itinerant Koranic teachers and traders.
The more I continued my sightseeing, the more I realized that I still had lots and lots of places to visit. That was when it became obvious that a weekend was too short a time for anyone to do justice to such a multilayered, culturally and economically important city as Kumasi.
I must return.