Chaotic, frenzied, congested, and colorful are words that best describe Accra, a city always in flux. Apart from a few fixtures, the Accra of Kwame Nkrumah fifty years ago is completely different than the one of today. Even someone who knew Accra well ten years ago might need directions navigating this evolving African city.
Of course these changes have come with their share of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Let's start with the good. The roads!!! The major roads have finally taken shape and projects that started years ago that seemed to be going nowhere have seen completion. Part of a major highway that links Accra with Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city, used to be a dust-filled route that flooded every time the Odaw River (think of this as Accra's East River) overflowed its banks. Now one gets quite a scenic view of Accra and the flooding will hopefully be reduced when the rainy season is in session. There's still lots of work to be done, especially on the smaller roads, which might ease the city's traffic problem, and nicely segues into a disadvantage of Accra's fast developing pace.
Even at two in the afternoon Accra is choked with traffic. When you expect people to be sitting comfortably in their offices or in the markets seriously bargaining, there is still traffic. It makes one wonder where everyone is going. In some neighborhoods, to get to and from work, many people have to make arrangements to leave their homes or offices two hours ahead of time to get to their destinations. On traffic-free days their journeys would take less than fifteen minutes.
Maybe if people had to deal just with being bumper-to-bumper for a couple of hours they wouldn't mind it so much. But they have to deal with taxi drivers and trotro (minivans - the main mode of public transportation) drivers who have mastered the art of cutting corners and turning single-lane roads into three lanes. Driving in Accra has never been for the faint-hearted.
Young people seem to be making their mark in Accra in ways that were missing before. In the music scene especially, many young musicians are releasing albums, collaborating with each other, and older established artists. Conscious music, art, and poetry seem to be catching on; this is most evident at the weekly open mics and music events at Hypnotiq in Osu, which allows people to showcase their work. Lots of private businesses spearheaded by young people are springing up - advertising agencies, magazines, consultancy firms, media companies, clothing lines. These young people clock long hours at work and party just as hard at the clubs that change from season to season. The names Cinderella's, Tantra, and Monte Carlo will be completely unheard of to club goers who partied in Accra four years ago.
While the young party, the older residents of Accra complain and wonder about the money fueling the partying habits of the young. "Drugs," most are quick to say. A recent drug-related shooting outside of a club only fueled their suspicions. But hold upÃ¢Â¦ shooting, drugs? Accra used to be the safest city! Cell phones have been snatched; people have been robbed at gunpoint in their own homes. The rise in armed robberies hasn't deterred many from going out but they have adopted survival techniques - driving really fast at night or using detours if they think they are being followed. One wonders what the police are doing.
Yet with so much violence, the number of churches in the city has grown and people remain as religious as ever. This can be due to the growing faith in religion when their safety is threatened. The churches range from small, store-front types to colossal mega-churches with several branches across the city. On a Sunday morning, standing in one place, one is regaled by music, preachings, and loud microphone exhortations from so many corners.
Some things remain the same though. Kiosks that people put up anywhere they please are even more ubiquitous, coming in their various colors, names - "God is Great," and uses - hair salons, communication centers and drinking spots. Hawkers on the street still sell their puppies, chewing gum and plastic bags of water.
People seem more content though, and almost everywhere someone was donning a Ghana T-shirt or an outfit made of "Ghana @ 50" print, made to celebrate 50 years of independence. Hopefully with Ghana hosting the African Cup of Nations in 2008, more improvements will be made.