The sun wasn’t hot as usual, but it was hotter than a hot day in Monrovia. I did not get up as early as usual. We had been told the day before that we would visit the Art Center and the Accra Shopping Mall, the largest in West Africa, I was made to understand. I was not really impressed about going to the Art Center. I had been there before, in 2008, when Accra was jam parked, days ahead of the kickoff of the 2008 African Cup of Nations that was being hosted there.
I was much excited about going to the shopping mall, most especially when I learnt that it was the largest in West Africa. I was anxious to see it, and I immediately began comparing it, in my mind, with those I saw in the People’s Republic of China two years ago.
By 10:35 am, Saturday, April 24, 2010, we were already on the bus, as usual, throwing jokes at each others and relating it to our respective countries. All 14 of us (West African journalists) had gathered in Accra, Ghana, for a two-week training course on conflict sensitive reporting and resolution in the region, one of the hotspots for conflict in the world. The training was sponsored by the International Institute of Journalism/InWent of Germany. InWent is the German Government’s capacity building arm that continues to empower/ build the capacities of people of varying professions around the world. I have benefitted twice from its benevolence, and my office, my bosses and workmates, can attest to the changes these training courses have brought to my assignment.
The Art Center is one of the biggest objet d’art and textile markets in Accra.
Counted among the topmost tourist attractions in Accra the National Art Center is every shopper’s dream destination. It is more of a craft market and you will find various things including African mask, wood carvings and embroidered clothes with beads there. The National Art Center, Accra has a number of curios which are worth the money. If you are a collector of rare and exotic things then you will find the object of your choice in The National Art Center.
Apart from the craft market you will also find the artists at work in the National Art Center. You can watch the artists from close quarters and it will be a rare experience to see them making the lovely things before you. At the center, you will definitely find the souvenir of your choice and, interestingly, you can negotiate the price with the seller if something catches your attention.
It plays host to thousands of Ghanaian business people in the fine art industry, and sellers there are well organized in the face of high competition for potential customers that flock the area from many parts of the world. There, traders buy local and imported textile materials and turn them into beautiful finished products.
Most of the time the sellers are the artists themselves and you have to sit with them for a while so that you have the best deal. Some of the things that are popular among the souvenir collectors are the fertility figurines which are found in abundance at the Center. Some other interesting things included in the list of must-haves are the kente cloth, a cloth used by the local tribes and you will find various designs and shapes.
As the Ghanaian bus driver drove us towards the area, we began to admire the beauty of Accra, a city well layout and clean. My colleagues began comparing some of the streets and infrastructures in Accra to what they have in their respective countries. I was mute! Don’t ask me why. You know the reason. You are quite aware that Monrovia is far behind in terms of almost everything (sorry if I’m too harsh). But scores of Zinc shacks and dirty garages are visible in the capital. People roast and sell cassava and plantain in street corners and sidewalks. Those who enforce the law do so with sympathy or compromise. You want to argue this? Just walk down Johnson and Carey or Benson Streets. I have never seen these activities in the heart of Accra during my three visits there in the last two years. No, I haven’t.
As our colleagues went on with their debates and comparisons, I and my brother from Liberia, FrontPage Africa’s Moses Kowo, dare not talk. We didn’t want to lie or disgrace our city. But the fact is that we as Liberians need to work harder to transform Monrovia. After 163 years, Monrovia does not look like a capital city, and don’t blame the civil war either.
As we went on enjoying our conversation and the beauty of Accra, I hinted my colleagues about my experience at the Art Center in 2008 — how I nearly went back to my hotel room with an empty pocket. “They won’t force you to buy, but they will irresistibly entice you,” I told my friend, Moses Kowo.
In about 45 minutes, we were there. And before the bus engine stopped, it was already surrounded with traders of art and craft materials. We moved to a forex bureau to change our foreign currencies to Ghanaian Cedis. They guys were waiting for us out doors, and by the time we showed our faces outside, they were on our backs, on our sides and ahead of us — like throng of villagers welcoming a king into their village. Oh yes, we were king of course. We had the money they wanted dearly. “DK [the short form of my name] told us this and it is happening,” one of our group members said. I giggled, because I said it and it happened.
In the market, traders (sitting on their tables or selling compartments) ingeniously woo potential customers and any strange face they see in the area to buy their products at negotiated prices. The traders are organized so much to the extent that none of them goes after another person’s customer until transactions are concluded or fail. They sit on their respective tables, watching with eagle eyes and immediately jump down to engage any strange individual they see passing before their selling spots — whether the person is there to transact business or not.
My colleagues, bought, bought and bought until some of them ran out of money and credited from others, including me.
What I have observed (during my two visits to that center) is that most of the traders are trained before starting their businesses. They actually know how to talk to people and entice one to buy from them even if you don’t want to. Yes, they have the charisma and they almost not get annoyed even if you just ask, ask and ask with out buying.
“Thank you very much for not buying anything from me. I hope next time you will,” they say softly if they fail on you.
If you tell them, for example, that you don’t want to buy anything for yourself, they will persuade you to buy for your wife, sister, son, brother, father or any other relative of yours. “Look my friend,” one of them, Patt Addy, a bright beautiful girl (but not beautiful as mine) enticed me to buy a beautiful dress, “If you buy this for your partner she will highly appreciate it and love you…it is just 15 Ghana cedis [about US$12].”
I told her I could no longer buy anything, because my money was near finish. Actually I did not go to buy, but accompanied my colleagues as it was part of our extra curricular activities. So, she gave me her business card to call her whenever I go to Accra and want to buy from the Art Center. That’s what exactly most of them do — to establish customer relationship. And guess what?! I brought several of those cards home. Don’t even ask me. The next time I get to Accra and want to buy some of those beautifully Ghanaian-made African fabrics, I will definitely call some of them. After all, that’s why they gave me all those cards. I am now a potential customer and a doyen of the center.