WHEN IN: Accra, Ghana with Akosua

By Ntombenhle Shezi (@NtombenhleShezi)

One thing I love about this city is the informal economy. The absence of wide spread formal markets, retailers and services means that almost everything you need can be bought on the street or at the nearest market. And I mean everything.  Accra is basically a city of millions of micro-enterprises.

Akousa Koranteng is from Accra, Ghana, but grew up in South Africa after her family immigrated to the county almost twenty years ago. Her love affair with Ghana was rekindled when in 2006 she visited the country for the first time since leaving.

During the 70s and 80s many Ghanaians left to seek better livelihoods elsewhere due to social and economic unrest caused by a series of coups in the country. Akousa’s family like many others, first settled in Nigeria and then left after the expulsion of Ghanaians from the country in the 1980s (a move from which the phrase, “Ghana Must Go”, comes). Her family then returned to Ghana, shortly after which her father settled in what was then the Transkei, South Africa. Later, when the homelands were reintegrated back into post-apartheid South Africa, her mother and siblings came and joined him in East London, Eastern Cape.

Currently Akousa works as a research analyst in the regional office of Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. She is passionate about the African continent, its history and wants to play an important role in the continent’s regenesis. She believes that as Africans, we will only truly reclaim our agency and our autonomy once we have fully understood the length and breadth of what it means to be African.

Akousa shared with us a few of her favourite spaces and places from her home city, Accra.

Where I get my hair done:

I had some lovely box braids done in Kaneshie, just above the main market. They’re super cheap and only cost about R100.

Akousa in Makola Market Photo Credit: Akousa Koranteng
Akousa in Makola Market
Photo Credit: Akousa Koranteng

The best place to listen to live music:

Alliance Francaise seems to be the driving force behind cultural events in Accra. They hosted two Hi Life concerts while I was here and although I didn’t make either of them, they were apparently amazing.

How I get around the city:

We’re lucky to have a personal vehicle that we use when we visit Ghana but on the days when it hasn’t been available we’ve taken a Trotro. Trotros are the equivalent of the mini bus taxi in South Africa and they are pretty reliable and go pretty much everywhere. Another plus is that Accra is pretty safe and trotros run late into the night making them ideal for late night travel.

There’s also a system of taxi cabs that wait at the trotro depots that you can use to travel directly to your destination. Transport is pretty cheap in Accra with the average trotro ride costing about R5 and taxi cab’s charging around R6 per person for drop-off’s.

My secret spot is:

Makola Market– Although not a secret to local Ghanaians, a visit to this part of town may elude most visitors. This crazy densely populated market is where you will find everything and anything you need to purchase in Ghana. From printed African fabrics to traditional Ghanaian food products, it’s definitely the place to do your shopping.

This market is not for the faint-hearted. To  avoid getting lost, falling into a gutter or being ripped off by the market and it’s traders, you should probably try get a local to take you around the first time.

Makola Market Photo Credit: Akousa Kornateng
Makola Market
Photo Credit: Akousa Koranteng

Everyone who visits my city has to walk around James Town, one of the oldest districts in Accra exhibiting remnants of the colonial era.  Check out the James Town lighthouse and have a look at the street art as well as landmarks like the James Fort which built in 1673 as a British trading post.

And if you’re around in August you might be lucky enough to catch the Chale Wote Street Art Festival in James Town run by local blogging and all round cool kid outfit, ACCRA[dot]ALT.

James Town Lighthouse Photo Credit: Akousa Koranteng
James Town Lighthouse
Photo Credit: Akousa Koranteng
Ussher Fort James Town- built by the Dutch in 1649 Photo Credit: Akousa Koranteng
Ussher Fort James Town- built by the Dutch in 1649
Photo Credit: Akousa Koranteng

One thing I love about this city is:

The informal economy. The absence of wide spread formal markets, retailers and services means that almost everything you need can be bought on the street or at the nearest market. And I mean everything.

Accra is basically a city of millions of micro-enterprises; millions of resilient self-starters exercising their economic agency without hand-outs from the government. I think it’s something we can learn from in South Africa.

What I miss about Accra when I am not there is: 

The energy. Accra is always buzzing with the activity of hawkers, trotros and proselytizers. It’s a city that truly never sleeps, with people walking around in the streets till the early hours of the morning. That’s something you don’t find in South Africa. I also miss the familiarity.

Having grown up as an immigrant in South Africa, I never realized the significance of being in a place where everyone looks like you and everywhere you go people are speaking your home language and eating the food you’ve always eaten at home.

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