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25.07.2004 Travel & Tourism

Plea for a new start II: On tourism

By Sakyim, Yamfo

The saying goes that if you want to catch fish, you have to put a worm on the hook. If Ghana really wants to become a travel destination, she will not do it hands down. She will have to use a lot of imagination and heavily invest a lot of other resources into the endeavour. Lip-service alone will not do the trick. I am not sure if our policymakers are really aware of what it takes to make a country a real success story. The successful ones to date have been those that did their homework, those that gave their countries a rallying point and the will to forge ahead as a people. This explains why success does not always involve the availability of plenty of money. It's mainly about brains not brawn. To date, Ghana has applied neither, but rather committed all the blunders that are humanly possible. Basil Davidson, an eminent British historian, once commenting on Ghana said that it is a country that loves to inflict pain on itself. How right! We have not learned to be self-reliant, we keep squandering our birthright, we do not believe in involving our own people in maters close to their heart, we have no national consensus, we have no development plan. In fact, we have not even begun to provide simple answers to simple questions like what where we really want to go as a country and how we want to get there. We have belittled our culture, and have refused to simply grow up as a nation.

Therefore, before we can talk of achieving anything at all, we will have to forge that unity and single-mindedness, without which nothing can go on. If our politicians were really clever, they would first tackle this problem. They would not even have to look abroad for inspiration. Over two hundred years ago, a clever Ghanaian, Adjei Frimpong, commonly known as Okomfo Anokye, showed how such a thing can be done. Together with his friend King Osei Tutu, they created the powerful state of Asante. How? With lots of wit and cleverness. Together, they gave Asante a sense of purpose, a constitution and a rallying point. Only then did strong Asante go out to do what made it strong. Today's Ghana, ruled by a bona fide Asante, does not want to learn the most simple lesson out of that. I therefore appeal to President Kufour to please repeat that Asante experience in a modern, Ghanaian context! I ask the President to call that big national conference of chiefs, parliamentarians and notables of the Akans, Mole-Dagbanis, Ewes, Gas etc. and produce that symbol of unity, to which we could all swear an oath of allegiance. At that holy spot, we could create a huge national memorial to serve as a rallying point. For example, we could construct a Memorial to the Slave Trade built with contributions from all the regions. At the beginning of every legislative period, all our leaders could assemble there for a national durbar, drink a sacred potion together and swear unity and loyalty to Ghana. Mr. President, it is only after this that we could begin to talk about all other problems. It is only then that we could take a pause to see what worm the government has got to put on its small hook of tourism.

The sole aim of increasing tourist traffic is to earn good money for Ghana. If so, what are Government's concrete plans? Before rushing to press to announce the advent of money-laden tourists in the nearest future, Government should be showing us how it intends to transport them here, receive them, feed them, entertain them and also how we plan to legally empty their pockets. As things look, they are rather counting on God's help, again hoping that some foreign benefactor will come to accomplish these tasks for us. Why has it taken Government so long to do nothing for Ghana Airways? If it is such an insurmountable problem, why is the administration still throwing good money at the moribund outfit? But if it does make sense to have a national carrier, what are they waiting for before putting in the required investments? It is at this juncture that we see the emptiness of a lot of the official pronouncements. For, if they really believed their own plans, they should have been the first to come out with preparations for the expected boom. Securing genuine loans for promising ventures has never been a problem. Or could it be that they don't really believe that one million tourists are coming in the next three years? Meanwhile, KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways charge us like crazy and continue to wonder at our foolishness.

A country expecting to host a million tourists has got one of the most complicated visa application formalities in the world. You first fill four forms, (whether one knows English or not, it must be done in English!), paste four pictures on the forms (if you don't, your application will not be attended to), put cash into the envelope (no cheques please), add a self-addressed and stamped envelope and post the whole stuff to an often haughty embassy staff. The way the whole visa regime is managed is so antiquated and ashaming that one wonders whether anybody out there is thinking at all. Now let us imagine one million prospective guests really sending their applications to our overworked, often haughty Embassy officials and guess what would happen.

If you say this is too far off, let us get back to the home front. Who has tried cashing travelers cheques or paying with a credit card in Ghana before? Our newspapers are full of news about globalisation etc., but our banks still remain in the boondocks. Cashing a cheque in Ghana can easily cost you an hour or two. No joke. Our banks even have chairs and benches for customers and are even proud of it. They call it customer-friendliness. But what it really shows is their inability to deliver. Instead of making customers cool their feet at their premises while fat clerks shuffle up and down, asking busy travelers to sign papers upon papers and issue document upon document before cash can be paid it, they should have been investing in computers and trained personnel. And if the problem is within the system, then why doesn't Ghana simply reform her obsolete banking practices in God's name?

What happened to the Gateway concept? The much touted Airport City, a good idea begun by the last administration, is at the moment a sorry site. Why don't we finish it quickly so that we can use the casinos, malls and posh hotels to generate welcome money for further investment? After all, money has to be earned first, before it can be spent. The same Ministry announcing the flood of tourists is also responsible for the modernisation of the capital city. Isn't it a funny, empty name? Mr. Minister, forget about modernisation. We would be glad if we just got a clean city. We would even boast with that. And mind you, Accra will be automatically modern when things really start running: buses, telephones, tarred streets, street lights, a sewerage system, good hotels, malls, civilized taxidrivers in proper taxis etc. But Alas. Accra is like the slut that went to town looking for customers but without having taken her bath. Nobody person with self-respect sleeps with such a person.

Who has seen any official attempt to promote our country abroad or in our own West African sub-region? Have you seen any books, maps and films on Ghana that would make you want to visit Ghana? We do not even admit that our neighbouring countries exist at all or have money to spend. What lies closer than tapping the West African tourist market? I bet, if the price and service were right, we could as well earn good money shuttling people between Lagos, Abuja, Abidjan, Dakar etc. Our colonial minds tell us not to be interested in Nairas or CFA. Have we made a survey to investigate how many millionaires are living between Dakar and Yaunde? Our sick minds tell us that Dollars and Pounds and Euros are real money, nothing else. So we let all those rich but stressed people in our war-torn region fly in foreign planes at cut-throat prices to Europe and the US, while our airline goes to the dogs and we wallow in mediocrity.

I no dey talk finish. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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