March 25th

There has been some kind of national initiative to pour glue into all the computer keyboards in Ghana. Even the new ones stick. I have tested this idea on a number of people, and they agree there may be some kind of conspiracy.

I interviewed some university professors today at the University of Science and Technology, a branch of the national university in Kumasi. The last was the most interesting. Kwame came back from the UK after taking his master’s degree in art appraisal, so that he can market African design abroad, and never thought about staying there permanently because he is so intent on working on Ghana’s needs. He is volunteering teaching at his church while he waits for a lecturer position to open up at the university. He feels young people in Ghana aren’t getting a fair chance due to lack of investment in education and health, and is volunteering to give them the benefit of his overseas training. In Britain he acquired what he calls a ‘green mindset’, and is now preoccupied with climate change and not letting Africa make the mistakes the rich countries have made as it develops. He wants to persuade the leaders in Ghana to seek out green technologies as people increasingly want to buy air conditioning, fridges and cars, so the country can skip the polluting stage and find itself ahead of richer nations when green regulations one day become more widespread. He’s also the only Ghanaian I’ve met who would consider standing for office one day – the rest are too cynical about their political system.

Kumasi is smaller than Accra, and a little higher up, so it’s less hot. It’s also a little more characterful, with older buildings in the town centre and fewer huge highways running through it. But the taxi drivers still don’t know where anything is. My driver got me home after stopping to ask the way four times, then asked me for 50% extra on the fare because he hadn’t known it would be so far. I pointed out that it wasn’t my fault he didn’t know where he was going, but he didn’t see the logic.

I went to Kejeta market after the last of the interviews. It’s the biggest market in West Africa, which doesn’t begin to convey what it’s like to be in the middle of it. Filled with alternating scents of spices and sewage, it sprawls across about a fifth of the city. You can walk through the packed stalls for half an hour without seeing the sun, since there are only a few feet of space between them. At one point I found myself walking down train tracks – the main railway runs through the middle of the market. The train isn’t running, the service is on strike. This is not too different from when it’s running, since it reputedly works like a taxi and can be hailed by passersby who fancy a lift, and tends to take upwards of 20 hours to cover the 150 km from Takoradi to Kumasi. It has been known to take 50.

Kejetia Market

Talking to store keepers, I met a huge variety of people. The women selling food are mostly local, but there are bead traders from all over West Africa. I met one from the Gambia, a Muslim, who told me that when the Europeans passed laws against slavery, and the news reached the slave ships off the coast here, they dumped their cargo of trading beads, supposed to pay for the slaves they could no longer load up, and headed off to find new cargoes. The beads can still be found at low tide, and fetch huge prices on Ebay.

I saw the first sign of really extreme urban poverty today: a man sprawled across the road that leads in to the market, using the central divide as a pillow and wetting his face from a small bag of water. He was naked, thin as a rake, his legs covered in open sores. The traffic drove around him, just missing him. It was an unusual sight in a country where people seem to go home to their villages to die.

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