Saturday, January 13, 2007
The story of ‘Akpet’… the king of all
THERE are numerous kinds of alcoholic beverages being produced and sold in Ghana today, but all of them except one- “the king” are guzzled in significant quantities only after the appetites of potential patrons have been whetted through very intensive and endless print and electronic media advertisements, the promotion of special raffles and the erection of gigantic billboards at vantage points in cities, towns, villages and along highways, to catch peoples’ attention.
But without any sales promotion gimmicks advanced by anyone, “Ogogoro”, “V.C. 10”, “Kill-me-quick”, “Anfere w’ase”, “akpet”, “Never-say-die”, “Concord”, “Sodabbi”, “Yebudidi”, “Kemikal”, “Original Kasapreko” “Mollah”, “Homeboy” ….., are but a few of the accolades by which the “king of drink” is known across the length and breadth of this country.
The archives of the Department of Co-operatives reveal that the technique of distilling the ubiquitous and popular. Local gin was introduced into the Gold Coast (in the early 1900s) by two West Indians who came here to seek greener pastures; they were watch repairers. Realising that gin production would fetch them more money than watch-repairing, they moved to the Volta Region- then Known as Trans- Volta Togoland- and settled at Logba near Hohoe, and began production.
It did not take long for the people in some of the villages around Logba to pick up the techniques of distillation and enter into the bourgeoning new trade. But then the colonial government realizing that the new drink had drastically reduced the demand for the European alcoholic beverages and hence had lowered the revenue of the expatriate traders, legislation was quickly passed to ban the distillation and sale of the local gin, which then, had no specific name.
As happens to all popular consumer items, the declaration of the local gin as contraband good drove its production, sale and consumption; and due to constant police harassment, the indigenous distillers set up their crude distilleries deep in the jungle; and they never stayed at any place for long in order to outwit the police.
These moves of the distillers caused the contraband technology to spread very fast throughout the country. Heavy penalties were nevertheless imposed on all offenders caught, but in spite of the severe punishments, the rural people continued to distil under cover in response to the great demand for the drink.
Later, Mr. Adjei Ogbojo, a citizen of Peduase near Accra, who had become a master distiller, introduced the production and distribution of the local gin to the people of Accra. Being a daring entrepreneur, Adjei Ogbojo built a number of mini distilleries at obscure locations at Kweiman, Peduase and other places around Accra. From these hideouts Adjei Ogbojo and his people produced and distributed large quantities of the fiery drink to his customers.
It was at this time that the distillers at Peduase “baptized” and “christened” the local gin with the name ‘akpeteshie’ – a Ga word, which means ‘hiding place’. The name stuck and spread quickly to all places where the drink was sold; of course it was a reflection of the fact that the drink was being distilled and distributed secretly.
In 1950, the Accra distillation business came under the administration of a name called Nii Okle Otoo. As by then the agitation for self- government was gaining momentum resulting in a lessening of the police harassments, Nii Okle Otoo got all the distillers together into a well- structured group, which adopted the name. “The Accra Plains Distillers Association” and had its headquarters at Oyibi-Buade near Accra. The association then sent petitions to the then colonial governor requesting to be given official recognition and permission to operate openly.
The government responded favourably and instructed the then Minister of Commerce and Industry to study the petition and take appropriate action. After much deliberation, the Minister of Commerce and Industry decided to invite an alcohol production expert, called MacDonald, from England to come to the Gold Coast and conduct feasibility tests on the local gin and give his recommendations. Mr. McDonalds duly arrived and was conducted round the Accra Plain Distillers Association by Mr. Okle Otoo (the President) and Mr. D. A K. Sowah (the Secretary)
After his inspection, MacDonald’s strongly recommended that the “Akpeteshie” distillers association should rather be transformed into a properly constituted co-operative group and give proper education and training in the production of wholesome “Akpeteshie”, in order for them to avoid producing ‘killer’ gin.
MacDonalds’s recommendations, however, could not be implemented before the British were sacked from this country. But immediately after independence, the CPP government, in response to election promises made to the members of the Accra Plains Distillers Association to gain their support, as well as the acceptance of the MacDonalds report, which favoured the boosting up of the local distillery industry; and also the government’s own commitment to cranking up local entrepreneurship, lifted the embargo placed on the distillation of Akpeteshie.
Subsequently, the Minister of Commerce and Industry met all the well-known distillers, spear-headed by Mr. D.A.K. Sowah, to discuss the means by which, the local gin distillers/sellers could be formed into a nationwide non-profit-making organization, along the same lines as the Convention Peoples Party (CPP).
After sufficient nationwide education had been carried out, distillers/sellers of the local gin agreed to form a union; thus, paving the way for an umbrella group called The Ghana Alcohol Distilleries Association to be set up on April 7, 1959. With the backing of the Department of Co-operatives, The Ghana Alcohol Distillers Association grew so strong and operated so successfully that it induced the CPP Government to establish the State Distilleries Corporation in 1960, which was mandated to process the akpeteshie produced by the association into internationally accepted brands of alcoholic beverages.
In August 1960, The Ghana Alcohol Distillers Association supplied its first consignment of twenty thousand (20,000) gallons i.e. ninety thousand (90,000) litres of raw akpeteshie to the State Distilleries Corporation to commence its operations.
Thus, akpeteshie resolutely faced all odds, refused to be annihilated, endeared itself to the masses and eventually gave birth to the giant State Distillery (afterwards called GIHOC Distilleries) and a very vibrant nationwide co-operative organization.
Post Script: The East African Local gin has been killing the people in that region. The authorities there can take a cue from the successful way and manners the Department of Co-operative of Ghana has handled the problem here, and so get their indigenous distillers to stop producing their killer stuff.
TIMES WEEKEND - Saturday, January 13, 2007 Page: 13