I was in Takoradi two weeks ago for work. The National Petroleum Authority (NPA), where I work in the Policy Coordination Department, celebrated its Consumer Week with a durbar at Sakondi-Takoradi, the twin city. The platform offered the NPA the opportunity to continue with its sensitization of the Cylinder Recirculation Model, which is to discontinue the current model of selling gas at the retail stations. It was well received.
Kofi Kinaata, a national treasure, agreed to spice the event with some of his songs. The guy is a gift from the region. I love that side of town. My journalism career got a major lift in that part of town, with SkyPower FM. Then a student at the University of Cape Coast, I spent a whole summer holiday with the station, learning under my friend and editor, Philip Nyarkpo and his team of reporters. I later reported for them for a while.
Sekondi-Takoradi is a fascinating town with great people. On the back of the oil find, I was commissioned by British and American news agencies to assess the potential impact of the discovery, and the hopes of the people. I spent close to three months, trawling through villages and towns in Axim, Kwesimintim, Essikado-Ketan and more, speaking to people and how much they thought the oil find was going to change their lives.
I must admit their hopes were high. The story today is different from the reality; hopes have given in to despair. This situation has fuelled the desire of most of the young people to seek greener pastures abroad, mostly using visiting vessels from Europe and North America, or traveling through the desert to Libya, enroute to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
Post oil find again, and that was in 2009, I was part of a BBC Panorama team that interviewed some young people who were about to embark on a similar journey. We had a lead from a book written by a British journalist friend of mine and the main character, a young man then in his teenage years from Effiakuma, suburb of Takoradi, who embarked on a similar journey and almost lost his life, had come from.
I first went to the community to look for relatives of the young man. I made contacts with some of his friends who knew about him. I got a bit of the story as to why most of the young people there wanted to embark on such an adventure.
Poverty, one of them explained to the team that later visited the place to speak to them. Most of them we spoke to said they were eager to get a slice of Europe and if crossing the Mediterranean Sea, with all the associated dangers, will help them get there, then so be it. For somebody like me who partly grew up in a fishing port like the Tema Harbor, it wasn’t strange to me the things I was hearing from them. The tales of sea men are pleasing to the ears of a desperate man looking for a way out of poverty and economic stagnation. I have my own story, but I will save it for another time.
These folks who live around the seaport hear the good tales as told by the sea men on these vessels and get the opportunity to travel abroad. They also had friends who made the journey through the desert to Europe and are now living well. If you stay here (Ghana) you will die, and if you make the journey too, you will one day die, one of them told us. We met an elderly man whose son was about to embark on that journey. He had already lost a son to the sea, and the thought of another making a similar trip was weighing heavily on his mind.
But the said son was determined to go ahead with his plan, he told us. He said his fate will not be same as that of the late brother. He said he wouldn’t want to live a life of regret. His old man, wearing a woven hat and sipping tea with friends, did not speak much afterwards. He buried his face in his palms for some seconds.
Allah, he explained, had plans for everyone. I love my son, I can’t control his destiny, he said. That was loaded. On our way back to Accra from Sekondi-Takoradi, we passed through Effiakuma. And as if by design, the next song on the bus driver’s catalogue was Effiakuma Love, the lovers rock classic by Kofi Kinaata. It brought back so much memories of that encounter.