A few meters away from Ghana’s international airport which has an insufficient number of conveyer belts stands a sprawling city. Called Airport City for apparent reasons, this space houses shopping malls, hotels, office spaces and very soon, a state of the art hospital. The lengths of this area is filled to the brim with skyscrapers competing with each other for breathing space and multinational companies.
Some tout Airport City as evidence of how far the nation has come. From a few high rising buildings dotted sparsely around Accra to this concentration of ornate buildings in a fashion probably modeled as a mini Manhattan, government apologists see this as a materialization of the “better Ghana” the immediate past president of Ghana promised.
The irony however is, the closeness of these buildings to the airport is of immense security concerns. It does not take any sophistication in aviation knowledge to know that when you have tall buildings in the path of airplanes landing or taking off, it does pose some hazard.
Access to the perimeters of Airport City is open to all. Whether you drive a Range Rover or get around Accra in a Trotro, you can enter this nascent city. Enjoying the trappings found there is another issue. With a few cedis, you can window shop at Marina Mall and buy yourself a “One piece” KFC meal. That is true for the working middle class whose definition is sketchy in Ghana. The story is different for the extremes on the economic well-being spectrum.
On Tuesday night, I hanged out with a friend from Yale who is in the country for an internship. After aimlessly walking around Osu’s famed Oxford Street, he had a call from a fellow Ivy Leaguer to meet up at Coco Lounge. Coco Lounge is one of the foreign owned businesses at Airport City. I had to accompany this friend to the lounge as he did not know his way around Accra. What I saw was a view from a Hollywood movie.
I might be exaggerating but picture a scene from a love movie in Hollywood where Ryan Gosling meets Megan Good on a blind date and the imagery would not be very far from what I am talking about. I am usually fully capable of reproducing what I see onto paper or the writing space of Microsoft Word but in this instance, I am short of words. Reason being that I could not stay in the restaurant for too long for fear of attracting the “what is this guy doing here looking like this” looks. I did not step out of the confines of campus thinking I was going to end up at a 6 star restaurant if there ever is such a thing.
It is a good thing that the trappings enjoyed by the upper class around the world can be experienced in some way right here in Accra. The upper class and one percent seems to be on the rise in the Ghana. But what is worrying is, just outside this exquisite restaurant where the Haves go for fine dining, the Might Never Haves were curled on the hard concrete slabs of the pedestrian pavements battling malaria carrying mosquitoes while trying to catch a sound sleep.
At the polar end of every country’s wellbeing/ welfare spectrum are the Have Nots. Those who struggle to come by a decent 3 square meal each day, see education as a luxury and self-medicate not out of volition, but because a visit to the doctor costs them a fortune. In the very space where the Haves live affluently and enjoy European living like shopping in a Saville Row shop, these people live indignantly.
The Have Nots are scattered all over the city. From the crowded streets of Makola where they carry backbreaking loads almost for free to the numerous slums in the city where they hustle for sleeping shelters at night. Their presence in these places draws no ire but when you see them in the very localities which are said to be emblematic of how far we have come as a nation, you do realize we have only made an infinitesimal step forward. The forward progress is only enjoyed by the families of sweet talking politicians with protruding stomachs and immigrants from the West and Middle East who we fancifully call expatriates.
Collectively, we are not better off. The working middle class which remains hazily defined does not see the huge growth associated with middle income countries. The unemployment rate amongst undergrads streaming out of the nation’s universities keeps growing at a wild pace. The number is so huge, an association has been formed to represent the interest of such people. Those already in the working class themselves do not have the much needed job security. Losing your job in a heartbeat is not news and if you find yourself draped in the wrong party colors, your situation is worsened.
If the working middle class has it that bad, then you can only imagine the raw deal in place for the Have Nots! On that night I was awakened to how far down below I was on the scale of wellbeing, I simultaneously realized how high up I was on it. Just in front of the many high rises in that vicinity was a boy barely 8 years trying to catch sleep. Wearing tattered clothes and exposed to the harshness of the night, he could barely respond to me in English and immediately asked for money for dinner after I communicated with him in broken Twi.
The fact that a boy the age of my little sister does not enjoy the comfort of a bed or a meal whenever he is hungry is very disheartening. The chance of him moving up the social ladder is as slim as that of me dating Gabrielle Union. In this milieu of ours where social mobility is largely predicated on academic credentials, these children who spend weekday mornings and afternoons begging and wiping glasses of cars are locked out. They probably might never have what they hear kids in Cantonments and Trassaco have.
Given the “zero to a hundred real quick” story of Abraham Attah, these kids probably have something to hope for. It might not be much to cling on as Cary Fukunaga most likely would not be scouring the streets of Accra for talents anytime soon but that dream still exists. However, we as a people should not make their dreams dependent on a white savior. This is our chance to show there was some foresight knowledge and truth when Nkrumah said “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs”.
In an interview 2Pac had some years back, he talked about how the have nots would eventually get tired of petty thievery and when the time comes, it would be “bloodshed”. It might sound apocalyptic, but the reason why a civil strife eventually gets out of hand and becomes a full blown-out conflict is exactly as he stated. Those prevented from getting their share of the cake see it as a ripe opportunity to take what belongs to them by any means necessary.
But no one is praying for a materialization of Beasts of no Nation. We love and cherish the peace we have. What we need to love equally or even more, is to see nobody left behind in our economic progress.