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Coming to the Garden City

botchway May 10, 2019


Ebo Quansah in Kumasi               .

The first time I visited Kumasi, I did so in fear and panic. I had arrived in the Garden City to watch Asante Kotoko play Accra Great Olympics in what turned out to be an epic African Club Championship semi-final second leg clash at the then Kumasi Sports Stadium.

That was in November 1971, certainly long before the stadium was re-named after Baba Yara, the king of West African right wingers, who died following a spinal injury suffered in an accident with the now defunct Real Republikan Football Club on the Kpeve Hills in the Volta Region on March 24, 1963. Yara died on May 5, 1969.

The death of Robert Mensah of Kotoko, Africa’s Number One goalkeeper at the time, who was killed in strange circumstances at a drinking bar in Tema just before the first leg in Accra, created so much tension around the match.

Some uninformed followers of Kotoko pointed accusing fingers at Great Olympics Football Club and its followers for the goalkeeper’s untimely death, although police had confirmed earlier that the best goalkeeper ever to come out of Ghana died as a result of a beer bar brawl with his own pal. Tension surrounding the match reached fever pitch after the first leg in Accra ended 1-1.

On top of the tension surrounding the match, what created fear and panic in me, and many other travelling fans to Kumasi at the time, had absolutely nothing to do with the beautiful game. Kumasi, and indeed the whole of Ashanti, was mourning the departure of the then Monarch, Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, to the village. There was so much anxiety in the air that before leaving for Kumasi, I was warned never to book into a hotel. It was unsafe, I was told.

When I arrived in the city on board the express train from Accra, I wandered through town, heading towards Kejetia, Adum, Asafo, etc, and ended up at the Oforikrom Police Station. I passed the night sleeping on a bench at the station, with the officers on duty, and the general public coming to lodge complaints, making their way in and out of the station.

Though the match was played in a charged atmosphere, there were no major incidents. Kotoko won the match1-0 to complete a 2-1 aggregate victory to advance to the finals of the 1971 African Clubs Championship against Cannon Club of Yaounde.

It told much about the strange nature of governing the African Club Championships that though Kotoko won the first leg final game in Kumasi 3-0 and lost the second leg 0-2, they were made to lose the championship.

A strange rule promulgated only for the 1971 championship finals, directed that every win carried three points, and that the goals aggregate did not matter. It happened that after Kokoto had won 3-0 in Kumasi and lost 0-2 in Yaounde, the Confederation of African Football ordered a replay in Yaounde within 48 hours of the first game. The host club led 1-0, when Kotoko equalised from a perfectly taken corner kick.

Instead of the goal Kotoko players and their travelling army were expecting, the referee ruled the goal out, claiming it was scored from an off-side position. Kotoko walked out in protest.  Cannon were declared champions, and Kotoko banned from all continental assignments for three seasons.

That is by the way. What is important here is that immediately after the Kotoko-Olympics semi-final clash in Kumasi, I dashed to the railway station to board the sleeper train back to Accra. Those were the days when rail travel was an incentive for internal tourism.

It is a shame that rail travel is virtually unknown to the large mass of the Ghanaian population at the moment, as a result of the collapse of the popular means of travel in most advanced countries.

One hopes that the attempt to revive the rail sector is successful. I understand Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, our hard working Head of State, has approved US$230 million for the purchase of coaches for the revival of the Ghanaian railway network.

It is a good idea, but I want to see the lines re-built before toasting to the return of train service in Ghana. These days, Kumasi could only be reached from Accra by air, which is priced way beyond the pockets of most of us, meaning that we, the wretched of the earth, have only one option – road transport What is interesting about the road journey to the Garden City, is that the return of State Transport’s Inter City Service is giving the VIP, hitherto with a monopoly, a very stiff challenge.

On Sunday, I arrived in Kumasi at the invitation of Manhyia to attend the Special Thanksgiving Service at the St. Cyprian Anglican Cathedral the next day to mark the 69th Birthday anniversary of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene. I used State Transport. It is reliable. The operators do not compromise on safety.

The Accra-Kumasi Highway has always held a special attraction to me especially. During the eight-year administration of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), so much column inches in the print space, and space in the electronic media were used discussing the lack of commitment towards the construction of the Teacher-Mante-Suhum-Apedwa stretch of the highway.

The good news is that the contractors are on site turning the single lane road into a dual carriageway. There are intensive activities on that stretch of the highway, and everything being equal, commuters will enjoy a comfortable ride to Apedwa on a dual carriageway very soon.

The Suhum Bridge, adjacent the back entrance to Suhum Sec. Tech, is still not commissioned. The last time I had audience with Road and Highway Minister, Akwasi Amoako Atta, he told me that visibility on the bridge was poor, and that lights were being fixed, after which the new bridge would be commissioned,

I have waited for nearly one year without action. When I used the road on my way to and from Kumasi at the weekend, I got the impression that Mr. Amoako-Atta’s Ministry wants to link the opening of the bridge to the inauguration of the dual carriage way. One hopes and prays that we do not wait forever.

Lest I forget, I saw the hurriedly constructed route to the Omenako Drone site on my way to Kumasi on Sunday. Television cameras captured the dropping of the first blood sample to the Tafo Government Hospital from the Omenako site. I am told it took 18 minutes to drop the sample, which enabled doctors to save the life of an accident victim.

My worry is why does the state need to set up that site? I thought the drones could be sent from anywhere to any targeted health centre. I do not think from Omenako to Tafo is a million miles away. I bet the roof-tops butterfly advertisements that went with the sending of that blood sample could cost more than the blood samples sent from the site so far. The news in that episode is that it represents progress in health delivery in this country.

There are intensive activities too once the commuter gets to Ejisu. The round-about where the statue of legendary Yaa Asantewaa stood, is giving way to a new design. From Ejisu, where the Sunday market scenario had conspired to create traffic congestion, with its narrow entrance to roundabouts all the way to Kumasi, there is a major facelift underway.

Kumasi itself has a new model of road network taking shape. The Kejetia rehabilitation project has injected modernity into the age-old road network. Now the heavy traffic has given way to a relatively smoother ride at the entrance to the centre of the city. There is a major talking point though. It is about the huge statue of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II at the entrance.

I understand it was constructed by students of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to honour the Chancellor of the University. What is creating all the buzz in town is people’s perception that the effigy on display may not resemble the Chancellor the students and their supervisors wanted to portray.

The church service at the St. Cyprian Church was a rich repertoire of the culture of Asante in religious rendition. The clergy in attendance could well make the number of the congregation at the Ebenezer Society of the Methodist Church in my holy village, Ekumfi Ekrawfo.

Those officially listed were 14. There were others who could not be officially cited in the brochure. The world of Ghana politics was also heavily represented. There was Vice-President Dr. Muhamudu Bawumia, Chief of Staff Mrs Akosua Frema Osei-Opare, Minister of Trade Alan Kyerematen, Ashanti Regional Minister Simon Osei Mensah, the Chief Executive of the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly, and many more.

Royalty assembled the crème-de-la-crème. Besides Otumfuo himself and his cortege, including the Mamponghene, Osei Bonsu II, Offinsohene Nana Wiafe Akenten, and other sub-chiefs and Abrempong, there was Juabenhene Otuo Serebour, who is also Chairman of the Council of State and, Special Guest Nana Kwesi Mbrah, Omanhen of the Oguaa Traditional Area. The world of sports was also heavily represented.

I met with Opoku Afriyie, three times top scorer in the national football league in the 1970s and 80s. For those who may not know, Opoku Afriyie scored both goals in Black Stars’ 2-0 victory over the Cranes of Uganda in the finals of the 1978 African Cup of Nations Championship in Accra, that won the Abedel Aziz Trophy for supremacy in African football for good.

Coming to Kumasi at the weekend was a rich experience for me. There are signs that Kumasi is beginning to recapture its niche as the Garden City of West Africa. There are a number of lessons there for other cities and towns at the centre of the earth.

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