Monday, March 5, 2007
A journey to Bolga
By: RAYMOND TUVI
I’ve just had the opportunity of a tour of the country, from Accra to Bolga and back, in two weeks – an exciting experience.
My trip first took me westward to Cape Coast – the former capital of Ghana and home to the historic Cape Coast Castle.
Having spent seven years in one of the celebrated secondary schools in the town, I hardly ever consider Cape Coast a new place to my eyes, upon later visits. Development in the Fante flagship town is, however, slower than what many would wish to see.
Yet, the town never ceases to enchant. Though a relaxed municipality with some “old school” infrastructure in most parts, Oguaa maintains an unmistakable identity of colonial tradition and self-esteem. Depicting this notion in a concrete sense is a famous landmark in the town – The London Bridge.
A far cry from the original, Cape Coast’s London Bridge is barely 20 metres long: it is essentially a short length of road crossing an open storm drain.
But, regularly rehabilitated and decorated with banners, bunting and paint, since its construction in the 19th century, The London Bridge remains a popular point of attraction for locals and tourists alike.
“Aseikrom” was my next stop. The journey from Cape Coast to Kumasi was rather uneventful; this is largely due to the relatively smooth ride.
The few interesting scenes on the way were the bridge crossing the River Pra at Assin Praso, the unassuming Assin Fosu Township and the Trans-Atlantic slave Trade Memorial at Assin Manso. Through Assin Manso flows the “Nnonkuo Nsuo” or The Slave River, said to be the last bathing place for the slaves before they were locked up in the coastal castles to await their journey to the “New World”.
The more consistent feature along the route, however, was of people trading and going about their normal activities without, seemingly, much of a care for Accra. One may count several thriving markets dotting the distance. The most popular is at Fumso, in the general AngloGold Ashanti goldfields areas. In this area is also located the Obuasi Mine, one of the richest in the world.
That Kumasi – in an African context – is an impressive city is obvious to many in many ways. The sprawling Capital” of Ghana, has a throbbing pulse of industry and independence. The city has been built and driven over the decades mainly by the resourcefulness and traditional creativity of the Ashanti.
In Kumasi can be found the Manhia Palace, the official residence of the Asantehene. The Manyia Palace’s large courtyard holds statues of past great kings and queens of the Ashanti Kingdom. Also present in Ghana’s second city is the Komfo Anokye Sword.
The “unmovable” Sword of Komfo Anokye – the mystical medicine man who, together with King Osei Tutu I, founded the Ashanti State in the late 17th century – remains in the grounds of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, where he planted it.
Kumasi has also been the hotbed of Ghanaian politics since the pre-independence era. Even the last general election generated a hot pace of publicity, movement and talk. The sleepy, southern suburb of Santasi, where I lodged, was, however, spared much of the heat.
Yet, my daily forays into town and to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology campus for the relevant contacts, were hustle-free and memorable.
My trip around much of the country was under the auspices of UNICEP I was undertaking a review of projects in the fields of Guinea Worm eradication, Polio Eradication, Birth Registration, Girls’ Education, and Iodated Salt Consumption.
In Kumasi, I was to identity the factors that had made the Ashanti Region the best in iodated salt distribution and consumption – 90 per cent – among the 10 Regions of Ghana.
The Regional Nutrition Officer was generous and precise with revealing information on the subject matter and other public health concerns.
Earlier in Cape Coast – “The Cradle of Ghanaian Education” – I had had a comprehensive briefing and discussion with the Central Regional Girls’ Education Officer, on girls’ education interventions, the progressive in the Central Region.
I then paid a visit to St. Augustine’s College – my alma mater – which is only separated from the shores of the Atlantic Coast by the original Cape Coast-Elmina Castle road.
After Kumasi, my next point of call on my northward journey was Bole, some 700 kilometres northwest of Accra.
In Bole, I was to identify the interventions that had made that district free of the Guinea worm decease.
As of September last year, the Bole District had no new local cases of the disease. Three U.S. Peace Corps volunteers – Adam, Anna and Steve – who are part of the Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Programme technical team of over 15 key officials are based in Tamale but work in the project districts.
At Bole and its environs, Uniiq FM (an Accra Regional FM Station) and GTV contemporary sounds and pictures were received loud and clear. My first night passed in the far away town could still have been at location in Accra.
I left Bole for Tamale at 5 a.m. the second morning. Ahead of our overloaded bus lay over 150km of rough and tortuous road between Sawla Junction, on the Bole – Wa road (i.e. the western Corridor), and Fufulso Junction, on the main Accra-Kumasi-Tamale road.
Three points of relief and tourist interest – in sprite of the bumpy road to Fufulso – include the legendary Mystic Stone. This three-foot high mushroom-shaped rock sits stubbornly in the middle of the old road on the winding approaches to Larabanga, from Bole.
Laranbanga sits on the edge of the Mole National Park, which is the largest and best equipped park offers a savannah and riverine forest landscape with more than 90 species of mammal and 300 species of birds/Larabanga is also famous for the 13th century Larabanga Mosque, which has an intriguing story, just as the Mystic Stone.
Further on at Damongo, the capital town of the West Gonja District, the brightly-coloured palace of the Yagbonwura, the Overlord of the Gonja State, draws many tired eyes to its beauty.
After a 20-minute rest at Fufulso Junction, where our route finally met the first-class road from Accra, our small and faithful Tata bus resumed its dogged dash for Tamale.
A rush of fulfillment went through me at the stroke of mid-day when I finally reached the largest town of the North, for the very first time.
The heat of Tamale at this time of year is steamy – it hits your square, even when sheltering in a shady place. The absence of enough tree cover in the metropolis does not make matters milder.
Another thing about Tamale that hits you immediately is the avalanche of white four wheel-drive vehicles – they mostly bear the name of one NGO or another. Lea Schumann, a German student on research in Ghana I spoke to at the Catholic Guest House, concurred: “Tamale seems to have more NGOs than other public or private institutions put together”!
After three days of meetings with Guinea Worm Eradication experts, UN officials and other stakeholders and beneficiaries of Girls’ Education Programmes (including several Islamic veil-wearing, bicycle-riding schoolgirls) in Tamale, I headed further north, to the Upper East Region.
The two-hour drive to Bolgatanga is on first-class road; this passes through some scenic landscapes, crossing the wide basin of the White Volta River at Pwalugu (an important tomato-growing area), more than halfway through the journey.
Midway between Pwalugu and Bolgatanga are the Tongo Hills. With a fantastic rocky panorama, the rocks give a loud whistling sound when strong winds blow through them.
Discovering Bolga is finding a large town at peace with itself. Its tempo is more relaxed and there’s enough from for everyone. A strong Christian (mainly Catholic) influence is very evident here, generally uncharacteristic of the entire North which is predominantly Moslem.
Interestingly, though closer to the Sahel, Bolga’s atmosphere is milder then Tamale’s. This cooler ambience enabled me to walk a good distance from the cosy Black Star Hotel to the Upper East Regional Health Administration.
At the health administration, I spoke to a Principal Community Health Nurse. Among other constraints, she lamented the high cost and irregular supply of Iodated Salt enhance the intelligence of growing children and reduces the incidence of goiter which is prevalent where there’s deficiency of seafood.
The perennial rural-urban gap was again highlighted when I later talked to and took pictures with a retailer of Annapurna and Abagna brands of iodated salt at the Bolga market: “People patronize the iodated salt very well. In fact, there are times I even run out of stock”, Elvis Vuu, the retailer, said with a smile of contentment breaking on his young face.
A similar smile lit up Caroline Den Dulk’s face as I handed her a tan leather handbag I had bought in Bolga Market. “I’m convinced you’ve been to Bolga”, Caroline, my supervisor of UNICEF Country Office said back in Accra. The colourful Bolga market is famous for its intricately designed straw baskets, hats, smokes and leatherwear. And such creatively has earned the northernmost regional capital of the former Gold Coast the patient accolade of “the handicrafts capital of Ghana”.
“TRAVEL and See”! Is the inscription on one or two ‘tro-tro’ buses in Accra? This statement has lately been proven true to me. Until then, I did not know that Ghana was that large – in relation to the size of Accra, and to miles upon miles of varied vegetation, all the way north.
Daily Graphic - Tuesday, August 7, 2007 Page: 9