Some are on their phones chatting on WhatsApp with friends. Others are watching videos on their mobile devices or listening to radio. While others are entertaining themselves with draught (a board game in Ghana) or engaged in heated argument about the upcoming polls in December. Ordinarily, you won’t see these, but, yes, that is the situation which greets you when you enter the once vibrant Arts Centre in Accra.
The ever-bustling yard, always filled predominantly with tourists from around the world who want to buy something indigenous from Ghana to take back home, is now completely desolate. From the anecdotal evidence picked up by the B&FT when our reporter visited the place, about 95 percent of the shops have remained closed since the lock down in April this year.
The traders say revenue has plunged by almost 100 percent, as nothing is going on due to the closure of borders which has prevented tourists from coming in. Out of more than 400 shops that exist in the yard, less than 20 open for business.
And even those who open for business, Kwadwo Obeng, father of two and a kente (a traditional woven fabric) seller at the Arts Centre, says they only come there just to while away time and be away from the house so that their wives and children will not think of them as jobless or lazy family heads. He further said that, some of the shop owners come to the yard alright, but do not even bother to open their shops since no one comes in to buy anything. In fact, the industry is completely ruined by the destructive power of the coronavirus pandemic.
For an industry that has its main customers as expatriates and foreigners visiting the country, any hope of a return to normal seems remote as the pandemic has discouraged traveling more than any other activity. In fact, the industries that are hardest hit by the pandemic are the airline, hospitality, and tourism – the very sectors on which the arts industry in Ghana’s buoyancy is heavily reliant on.
It is estimated that Ghana raked in about US$2 billion form tourism in 2019, largely catapulted by the Year of Return. The sector is said to contribute more than 5 percent to the country’s GDP. However, the Ghana Tourism Authority has projected that the tourism sector will lose revenue of more than US$170 million in the next few months due to the impact of the COVID-19 disease.
This essentially means that, the arts and craft industry, which is estimated to rake in millions of dollars for the economy every year, will no longer be case, at least, for this year, as its profitability depends solely on the tourism sector.
This is why Vice President for the National Association for Handicraft Exporters, Fulera Seidu, said it is important, more than ever, for government to implement policies and the structures set to promote the arts and craft industry for it to recover quickly from the shock created by the pandemic.
“We need structures in place to revamp the craft industry. So I think the way forward is to have a conversation with the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA) which has been our key partner to help us market our products. When it comes to policy, there are many policies for the arts industry, but the problem we have is enforcement. Once, we are able to implement and enforce these policies, things will be fine.
The pandemic’s impact has been so huge for the craft sector. We don’t expect anybody to come and buy craft at this time to decorate their homes or offices. Everyone seems to be afraid and so no one is coming here to buy. If look around, you can see people are just sitting idle and that is not easy for us at all. I would say sales is down by more than 90 percent,” she told the B&FT in an interview.
For the acting Director, Centre for National Culture- Accra, Alice Alima Kala, her only prayer is for this whole pandemic thing to be over so that the restrictions on travel will be lifted for the tourism sector to be reactivated so that business will come back to normal – especially, for the arts industry where she plies her trade. Business, she said, has never been same since the Year of Return initiated by government last year.
“After the year of return, the sellers are no longer coming for the fear that they may contract the disease. We are just waiting for this pandemic to be over to see if business will come back to normal,” she said in an interview with the B&FT.