‘Is teti days ok wit you (is 30 days ok with you)?” he asked me. “Give me 60,” I said. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. He changed stamps smoothly, stamped my passport and handed it back. “Welcome to Ghana and have a good evenin’.”
I had rocked up to Immigration without a visa. The only question asked was how long I wanted to hang around. This was a dizzying departure from the usual questions and hostility at many airports that I have passed through. I think this is perhaps my friendliest experience at Immigration.
Ghana is an amazing place, not as good as Kenya, of course, but a close second. There are many things to admire about this West African country. First, it’s a wealthy country. Where our wealth comes from services and trading, theirs comes from oil, gold and cocoa. The capital city, Accra, is so innocent compared to the hustle and bustle of Nairobi. It’s a city without the usual African crowds.
Traffic is not the nightmare I endure in my daily commute. They drive largely newish machines, lots of huge cars and not nearly as many used Japanese hand-me-downs as you will see on our roads. They drive on the right, strange for a former British colony.
They use Mercedes Sprinter vans for matatu; battered but still Mercedes. Of course they don’t have that gangster matatu culture peculiar to our streets.
Another high point about Ghana is of course the food. They eat pretty much the same food we do — rice, plantains, chicken, goat, fish and so on — but they cook it very well. As a matter of fact, Ghanaian food is delicious — spicy as hell but tasty.
The state is efficient and the people are diligent and obedient to authority. This is clearly seen in the way they have handled Covid-19.
Rather than locking down, which by the way is often times necessary, they slowed down the spread by restricting entrance at the borders. You must have a negative Covid-19 test when you arrive and then you must undergo a Covid-19 test at the airport before you are allowed in.
The mechanics of Covid surveillance at the airport show an efficient state. You pay online and in advance for the test, then you are processed smoothly through a series of booths culminating in sample collection and you collect your results just after the baggage carousel. You can check online the progress of your results.
Kotoka International Airport is, of course, a modern facility with automatic, walk-through baggage screening and is in every respect very impressive. One gets the sense that this is a place where they pay money for their infrastructure and get value for it.
I could see hints of cronyism peering from under the robes of this country, but this is a place where corruption is, compared to the rest of Africa, controlled.
The political leadership of the country has credibility, they don’t preach one thing to their people and drive on the wrong side of the road. They don’t ask their citizens to pay taxes and exempt themselves. So the people listen to the government and obey.
A far cry from Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and the coups and executions of 40 years ago. The Kenyans who live here told me elections don’t shut down the country. People hardly ever talk politics and campaign seasons are short and low key. There is no cyclical meltdown every five years and villagers don’t slaughter each other, incited by blood-thirty politicians.
The clientele I saw at the hotel strongly reminded me of Kenya before the good people of Somalia started bombing us: Lots of African Americans, foreigners, diaspora types and locals. This is a nation with very healthy tourism, untouched by terrorism.
Vicious greed for power
However, the cost of living here is very high. Accra is easily a more expensive place than Nairobi to hang out. And service in the hotels is non-existent, it is so bad. The hotels are US$200 a night, expensively built but the workmanship is a bit wishy-washy and the cleaning, presentation and warmth is probably two-star by Kenyan standards.
The skills levels are okay, but not exemplary: There are many Kenyans running airlines and hotels in Accra, which is nothing unusual, you will find the same thing in Dubai.
Outside of the capital, the infrastructure, as in many places in Africa, is poor and a lot of road building is still needed.
In my own personal opinion, Ghana is one of those lucky countries, which have sorted out the political risks that plague most of Africa: The vicious greed for power and public resources of the elite and created an open and progressive state, which is good for investment.
The integration of traditional rulers in the modern state is good. Traditional authority still has the power to moderate behaviour in Africa.
Next year  being an election year, do you think Kenyans will have the good sense to overcome their tribalism and their addiction to bad political decisions and elect someone who will put the country on the path to the kind of place where Ghana is?
By all means hold your breath.