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Accra Advances

One in ten Ghanaians live in Accra, a sprawling city of over 2 million pressed up against the Gulf of Guinea on Africa’s southwestern Atlantic coast. The populous site dates back to a 17th-century collection of ethnic Ga villages, with the modern city of Accra established in 1877 when the British ruled this part of West Africa.

Today, Ghana’s capital is a thriving center of commercial activity, manufacturing and communications, and the focus of the economy’s service sector. It’s also the gateway to Ghana’s resource-rich interior, with an international airport and the hub of the country’s railroad system.

Accra is a city of contrasts, with a blend of modern architecture and shopping malls that give way to shanty towns and frenetic markets. Shopping ranges from the intensity of Makola Market to the refined (and blessedly air conditioned) atmosphere of shopping malls such as Marina and West Hills. It’s a city of contrasts; you are as likely to find yourself haggling with a street vendor as you are eyeing high-end luxuries, all in the same day.

Cuisine in Accra runs the gamut. The street food culture is legendary, with traditional fare served up on plantain leaves on almost every corner. Conversely, you may choose five-course meals in a number of exclusive establishments, or indulge in some fresh sushi or inexpensive, but savory Indian curry.

Well-traveled veterans of West Africa will tell you that Accra’s traffic has become almost Lagos-like in its congestion. The city’s fleet of multi-colored taxis are plentiful, but un-metered, so be sure to negotiate your fare before you ride. As with the street merchants, haggling is expected – and carried out good-naturedly, not belligerently. One other word of caution: Taxi drivers rely heavily on landmarks, so you’d be wise to get clear directions to your destination before embarking on trips around the city.

Much of the city’s rambling layout is an artifact of its history; parts of Accra were carefully plotted by European colonial officials, while the rest was left to sprout up virtually without rhyme or reason. When Ghana achieved its independence on March 6, 1957, the country’s first prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah, set about devising a city plan that reflected Ghana’s national pride. The result was long on symbolism and short on order.

Modern Times

Nkrumah’s rule lasted into the 1960s, but as with so many newly independent countries, the changes that followed the end of colonialism resulted in a protracted period of instability. The unrest settled down in the 1990s and, since the turn of the Millennium, Ghana has proudly enjoyed peace and stability with consecutive free and fair elections, entrenching its position as one of the most successful democracies in West Africa.

Today, Ghana is a well-administered country by regional standards, often seen as a model for political and economic reform in Africa. With stability came prosperity, and in the past decade Ghana has seen impressive economic growth against a backdrop of falling inflation – 2010 saw the official inflation rate fall to a 20-year-low of 8.6 percent.

Much of Ghana’s prosperity is derived from nature. It’s the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa behind the Ivory Coast. But it’s Ghana’s extensive gold reserves that have long been the country’s economic anchor, producing three million ounces per year, the continent’s biggest gold miner after South Africa. Recently another newfound natural resource, ‘black gold’ – oil, that is – joins the real stuff as a major pillar of Ghana’s thriving economy.

While gold – both the shiny metal and the black liquid variety – are staples of the Ghanaian economy, the country is working hard to diversify. The state-sponsored Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) facilitates investment across the country’s economy, with a special focus on the manufacturing and services sectors.

But recently the global outlook has soured. Ghana’s economy has slowed, owing to the downturn in oil prices, unsustainable domestic and external debt burdens, and deteriorated macroeconomic and financial imbalances.

GDP figures issued by Ghana Statistical Services suggest that the economy expanded by 4.2 percent in 2014, less than the growth of 7.3 percent recorded in 2013. The drivers of growth continue to be the service sectors, which constitute over half the economy, followed by industry and agriculture at 28.4 percent and 19.9 percent respectively.

In 2016 the economy is expected to recover, registering a projected growth of around 6 percent, bolstered by an increase in oil and gas production, private sector investment, improved public infrastructure and the country’s political stability. Nonetheless, the prevailing low international oil prices could slow the pace of economic growth.

Getting Here, Staying Here

Accra’s Kotoka International Airport is a small airport, but a functional one, with passport control and baggage claim well managed, despite not being exceptionally big spaces. Kotoka International has an open-air front concourse with seating and a coffee shop or two, and taxi pick-up takes place to the right, through a short passage, as you exit the terminal.

There’s also a user-friendly drop-off zone, making the start of one’s departure fairly seamless. Once you’re checked in, you’ll find security, gift shops, duty free and lounges upstairs.

As far as lounges go, the Adinkra and Akwaaba lounges are on the airside in the international departures terminal, with the latter closer to Gate 1. The Akwaaba lounge is charming, with a great view of the departing planes on the tarmac, comfortable seating, coffee tables and plenty of power points. It also has a bar in the corner, plenty of newspapers, a fridge with cold alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, coffee, snacks, clean and convenient restrooms, and most important, a speedy WiFi connection.

Accra’s hotel scene has been promising in recent years, but slower to deliver than travelers had hoped. However with the promise of economic recovery, things may at last be looking up.

The 5-star Mövenpick Ambassador opened in mid-2011 and until the opening of the new Kempinski had been the gold standard for international business travelers. Located in Accra’s downtown business district, the Mövenpick has all the amenities business travelers need, including a 24-hour business center and complimentary wireless Internet. The hotel has multiple dining locations, as well as 24-hour room service.

Also located downtown and in close proximity to the State House, Accra International Conference Centre, and the National Theatre, Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City opened Nov. 1 with 269 rooms, including 22 luxury suites. It also has an extensive food and beverage offering, including its Papillon Restaurant, Lobby Lounge, Gallery Bar, and Cedar Garden. Additional facilities include a Resense Spa, health club, outdoor swimming pool, tennis court and a 19,000-square-foot conference center.

Downtown also has a Novotel and the Alisa Hotel in North Ridge. Accra’s only other 5-star hotel, Legacy’s Labadi Beach Hotel, offers something quite different from the Kempinski and Mövenpick. While it is located on the beach, it is within a short, but not always quick, drive of the city and airport. The hotel has a business center, conference facilities, and WiFi in the common areas. A few hundred yards up from Labadi Beach Hotel you’ll find La-Palm Royal Beach.

The Golden Tulip Accra is located five minutes from Kotoka International and is one of a host of hotels in the area. Others include Preferred Hotel Group’s Fiesta Royale, the Holiday Inn Accra Airport, the Best Western Premier Accra Airport, the African Regent Hotel, and a delightful boutique property called Villa Monticello.

The most recent opening was that of the Fiesta Residences Boutique Hotel & Serviced Apartments, a Preferred property created for guests who are planning an extended stay.

That covers the three main areas of Accra – the beach, downtown, and the airport – and because traffic can be a problem, it’s best to select a hotel that’s convenient to your meeting(s).