No Man’s Land
Many people born and raised in Accra have parents who migrated from their respective towns and villages to settle in Accra in search of an opportunity to make it in life. “No man’s land,” a phrase I’ve heard many a time, depicting the fact that Accra is home to people from different walks of life. It is one of the most diverse cities on the continent in terms of ethnicity. Ghana rarely experiences the tension that plagues other multiethnic countries. The country owes this to the fact that the different ethnicities within coexist peacefully among themselves. Most Ghanaians who live in Accra who do not know their roots tend to choose Accra as their hometown.
Accra is seen by some as a city with an array of endless possibilities and opportunities provided one is hardworking.
Accra, one of the biggest cities in Ghana, and the capital as well, has a growing population of over four million people and is the most populated city in the country. Also, it is home to the seat of government and plays host to hundreds of embassies and high commissions.
Born and raised in Ghana, I’ve had firsthand experience of living in this city. The joys, challenges and daily hustle. Accra is seen by some as a city with an array of endless possibilities and opportunities provided one is hardworking. Keyword here…hardworking. Others see Accra as a city full of disappointment and dashed hopes. Personally, I believe living in Accra is a daily hustle. Either you play along or get left behind. There is too much competition, and most people are pretty much doing the same thing. This city is quite expensive to live in and comes with a lot of challenges. Also, Accra has a multilingual population. ‘Ga’ is the ethnic tongue of the city, but ‘Twi’ can easily be described as the dominant language spoken by all. Majority of individuals living in Accra can speak at least two local languages together with English, which is the official language of the country.
Theresa Gaisey moved to Accra twenty-three years ago to join her husband who was already residing in the city.
“I was pregnant with my second child,” she recounted. “At that time, I was a pupil teacher in Besease, a village in the central region of the country. My husband was already working here and the pressure from coming to the village every weekend to see me and my child was too much, so I decided to join him in Accra. Finding accommodation was difficult in the city, so my husband and I had to make do with living in Mallam, a suburb of Accra. At that time, vehicles were not in abundance like today; and to catch the only available bus, one had to wake up really early to form long queues before getting access to a bus for work.
Now Accra has evolved and one can find public transport to almost any point within the city. Whether the mass transit popularly known as ‘trotro’ or a taxi or motorcycles, which have now become one of the quickest means of transportation. Moving around Accra is definitely easier now.”
Today, Theresa does not regret her decision to move to the capital. Though she never had her big break, she’s satisfied with her life now. Careerwise, she’s been able to further her education and is very proud of that. “I had no intentions of furthering my education then. I just wanted to work hard and earn enough money to take care of myself and my family,” she said. Little did she know, her decision would be reconsidered.
She recalls one of her colleagues at work always trying to make her feel inferior since he was a graduate teacher and she wasn’t. It was a blessing in disguise, though, since that was what fuelled her decision to further her education against all odds. “It’s one of the best decisions I ever took,” she exclaimed smiling.
She also talked about the educational system, how good and flexible it is in Accra. Living in the city has taught her the essence and importance of being educated and is glad to have been able to educate all three of her children to the highest level. Theresa talks about her children with so much pride and tells me of how proud she was watching her daughter recently graduate from one of the top Universities in Ghana. “The illiteracy level in Ghana is still high, and the problems this creates within the city is disheartening,” she pointed out. She also notes, “I’m just happy my children won’t suffer the same fate.”
She concludes that indeed living in Accra is not easy. “It has hardened me,” she said with a short laugh. “Life here hasn’t been easy at all, and if I had isolated myself, I don’t think I would have made it this far. You have to socialize and make friends to help you stand firm when you’re crashing. You have to be tough to withstand city life. From fights with co-tenants, financial constraints, coupled with high utility bills and water scarcity, living in Accra can break you if you don’t toughen up.”
She emphasized on living with co-tenants as being a nightmare in many situations. She told me of one tenant who used to wake up early to use the shared bathroom, after which he remained shouting for his brothers to come take their bath. This individual would not leave until his brothers had woken up and entered the bathroom. “Mind you, he had four brothers! So, you would have to wait till all of them finished bathing before you could also use the place,” she said.
“The rest of us had to wake up extra early just to avoid running late while waiting for these brothers. In the end, living in Accra as a whole has its challenges, but there’s also the fun part where you can go to parties and luncheons. Call that the silver lining in the cloud.”
My Life is Accra
Meet Kwasi Awuah! Kwasi was born and raised here in Accra. He is a graduate from the University of Ghana and is currently a content creator. He has lived in several neighbourhoods in the capital including Bubiashie, Gbawe, Sakumono, Mallam, Ofankor, Akweteyman, and Legon.
According to Awuah, some of these neighbourhoods are slum areas, others are very high class, and all these combined give a very holistic experience within the city in which he has lived.
“As a child, I lived in Mallam with my family.” He told me, “I have three older brothers and tagged along wherever they went for years before I was left to myself after they moved on to high school. As a child among older ones, I came to understand how the city cared for children. My older brothers always received one form of training or the other on how to care for the little one they were journeying with from total strangers. I also got a scolding when I was being troublesome, also from total strangers. This taught me my very first lesson from Accra – you are raised by the city, not just your relatives.”
Ghanaians are noted for their hospitality and friendliness and open-arms approach to everything. Indeed, living in Accra, one is expected to get a scolding or two from total strangers. Your upbringing becomes everyone’s business, especially when one is going wayward. Most children who have lived in Accra can attest to the fact that when they were troublesome in town, they could get the beating or insult of their lives from complete strangers. Some will also go to the extent of marching you straight to your parents’ house and demanding you to be whipped some more.
Not So Perfect Systems
The systems that make up the city are numerous and are far from perfect. Thus, to live in Accra, one needs to learn about these flaws, and know how to go around it.
Left to go to school alone after his older brothers went on to high school, he tells of how he learnt about the flaws in Accra. “I learnt how to efficiently manage resources I was given. Learning how the neighbourhoods between my school and home were connected, and the nitty gritties involved in properly finding my way through them’ which people from which tribe lived in which part of Accra, where and when a person would encounter traffic, where to be alert, where to relax, what time of the day the lights were likely to go off, where and when a person would encounter traffic on the road, and many others.”
The list is endless, but like Theresa, living in Accra has made Awuah tough and has taught him how to maneuver his way around the challenges he is likely to face.
He sums up how living in Accra has shaped his life with a quote from Francis Bacon which says, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.”
No doubt that Accra is a third-world city with majority of citizens uneducated. The failed system and overall poverty creates a darkness within the city. A darkness most people spend their whole lives trying hard to escape. But, Awuah has learnt that escaping evil is a logical conclusion when one is alone, not when one has friends and family facing same.
In his concluding words, he said, “It becomes a never-ending struggle trying to get each loved one out. Instead, I have chosen to stay and fight the darkness. To be a light to also light up others so we can fight the darkness together. Not just to fight, but to achieve victory and eliminate poverty; and all within this city that we so much love.”
Land of Opportunity
Clement, though not born in the city, has lived here since the age of four, has something to say as well. He is an IT specialist at SCANAD GH.
“I Clement was born in Breman Essiam, a town in the central region of Ghana. “My father had a job in the city, so at age four, I relocated to the capital with my family and have remained here ever since,” he told me.
To him, Accra is a land of opportunity and in his very words, “There are so many opportunities one can get in Accra, provided one is smart.”
Living in Accra has helped him career wise because he has seen how the world is evolving and that has taught him to make smart decisions in his life. “When you are in other cities as compared to Accra, you tend to start one thing and not end it and start something else. The influx of startups and entrepreneurs in Accra has brought up a very competitive edge in the job market with people trying to outdo each other with innovative ideas,” he identified.
One challenge he stressed on is the horrendous vehicular traffic he has to endure every day. Going to work every day has become a headache because of the serious traffic jams. “One has to spend hours to get to a place which otherwise would have taken less than an hour to get to,” he lamented.
“Accra has struggled with the management of the mobility challenges and rising traffic congestion on almost all arterial routes to the Central Business District,” Lawrence Kumi, Director of Research, Statistics and Information Management at Ghana’s ministry of transportation admits in an email.
People go through so much stress to get to their offices, and this has potentially negative effects on productivity. Hour-long delays and commuter stress, combined with the unhealthy intake of polluted gases emanating from these vehicles go a long way, degrading an individual’s health in general.
“I enjoy Accra most when the sun sets. After all the hustling during the week, it’s only fair to blow off some steam,” Clement exclaims concerning nightlife in Accra. “Enjoying a quiet evening at a lounge with soft music or a serene atmosphere helps me unwind after a difficult day at work.”
Accra has a bustling nightlife and the fun is mainly found at Osu Oxford Street, which has fast become the hub of business and nightlife in Accra.
In all, Clement enjoys life in Accra, and the only nuisance, according to him, is having to put up with inflation and constant hikes in the prices goods and services.
Theresa, Kwasi, and Clement have several experiences of the city. Each individual identified various pros and cons about the city they call home, and with their conclusions, agreed that the pros outweigh the cons.
From the lessons gathered from these stories, lessons of struggles and perseverance when faced with them, Accra is a city that can best be described with the proverb, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”