Kumasi. An ancient town with a tome of ancient history. Its numerous hills and valleys bring Ibadan, Nigeria to mind. Whenever “Kumasi” is mentioned, four images come to mind. The Asantehene, The Golden stool, Gold and David Darko , my colleague in Lagos who comes from this town.
When we arrived here on Friday night, Kumasi, we reasoned, was the place to stop and make pictures. Its scenic, historical and cultural and artistic advantages spoke for it. As we made a whistle stop at a petrol filling station to print a detailed map from an internet café we spotted there, and enquire about where to lodge, two of us notice a vehicle that announced on its body “Anglican Hostel KNUST.” We enquire from the passengers about lodging at the hostel, one of them phones the place and they assure us of space and internet connection! We cannot believe our luck! A place to work and post our experiences within the secure precincts of the Kwame Nkrumah University, Kumasi. We make a dash for it, with thanksgiving.
Next day, as we discover the city, I keep wondering why David left this city for Lagos. Kumasi is the path of inter country journeying to Burkina Faso and beyond. Trailers, travelers and trade wind through its noticeably neat roads. Kumasi is cosmopolitan, with a rustic tinge; modern, but proudly cultural and down to earth. I observe a lot more people than I have ever noticed in Accra spotting their dramatically patterned authentic Kente or its print variety, draped across their chests. Perhaps it’s because today is Sunday? Or because, as we were to discover quite by serendipity, it is the 60th birthday anniversary of the Asantehene? Amaize, Unoma and I are in luck today; we get a chance to enter the Manhyia Place Museum grounds, venue of the lavish birthday ceremonies full of pomp and ceremony on our way from visiting the Almighty God. We drink in the environment. The palace grounds are throbbing with drumbeats and every imaginable colour of kente. A prominent Asante chief is paying homeage to the King in a dignified procession redolent with umbrellas, pageantry and a dramatic peacock headdress. Our spirits lift at the vibrancy of culture. We bow to the makers of great traditions. We frame the moments in pictures…
Manhyia was right after our Bankufest in a little but decent ‘eatery’ and ‘drinkery’ in the Baba Yara Stadium area. Banku is the foofoo of the Ghanaians. It is made from cornmeal, salted, and eaten with a salad of tomatoes, onions, peppers and shinto sauce, and served with fried fish- in Accra, and Cape coast, but with delicious okro soup in Kumasi. In terms of the culinary arts, Kumasi’s fare seems more suited to our Nigerian palate than anything else we have tasted so far. Perhaps we haven’t been lucky to reach the food ‘hotspots’ of other places passed? We eat the Banku and freshly made “okra stew” with relish and second helpings. It is delicious and fiery with a dash of hot, blended peppers that we West Africans appreciate in our cooking. We are upbeat. Time to shoot the images! We decide to split into smaller groups and and head in different directions, the better to diversify the subjects our images.
Chidinma, Lucy and Chris head for an old motor park in the inner city that we discovered in Kumasi during our Nov 2009 trip to Bamako. Dan, Emeka, Uche, and Charlie Opo explore the stadium area, Amaize, Unoma and I go in search of Almighty God in Suane. Almighty God Workshop is across the road to the Suane Police Station. He is dark, tall and dressed today in a black and white lace fabric, the utilitarian type that doesn’t get in the way. His creations overlook the street in their sundry hues and textures. Others are hung around the workshop, many are finished, and some are in progress. Many bear messages that reinforce the concepts. There are a number of them warning people off smoking- the “ If I smoke , I will die” series. The eye is also recurring image in a number of the works, depicting inner sight, foresight, wisdom, and value. There is the mixed media image of Socrates. Obama stares at you with unnerving details in his eyes, and the Ashatehene sits under a shade, next to Obama in regal glory. Almighty God says, “The Billionaire”, a work in progress, will be the definitive work ever created. We gaze at it in wonder and ponder how it will evolve. The first question I ask is: Why did he name his workshop and gallery “Almighty God Art Works”? He used to be called Tony Artworks he said, but when he moved to Suane, another workshop named King Anthony Artworks was already in the vicinity who didn’t take kindly to the name conflict. So he simply changed the name to Almighty God Artworks. A simple route to dramatic name.
The Artist-in-Chief and Proprietor ironically called “Almighty God” for short, is Kwame Akoto who says has been painting for over 30 years. His tutelage was under two masters and he has himself trained over 600 artists. His three daughters Stephanie, Mary and little Beatrice are budding painters too. They show us their effort with pride. We have of course been clicking cameras, recording the effort of this man who is able to cross the invisible border of the mind to create works of artistic beauty. Shortly after, take our leave and hook up with our team near the Baba Yara stadium.
We head off to ‘the Anglican “our hostel. Some of us elect to stay around the university and create some work on the way. We are already impressed by the decent offer of accommodation to students as we have seen in our hostel and we are expecting to see more even commendable things during the drive-around. We reach a hostel that declares itself as Unity Hall. It is ensconced by an ancient tree with a network of roots hanging from the top to the bottom a beautiful piece of natural art. We click cameras to record it. The kaleidoscope of colors from clothes hanging from the balconies attracts Unoma. As she moves to click the beautiful display of colours, an eruption of voices gather from the several balconies and congregate in the courtyard, grumbling. She beats a retreat. “What’s wrong?’ We enquire, as she walks away from the courtyard towards us. ‘They seem suspicious” she says. What is there to suspect in making images of clothes hanging in beautiful array from balconies? Or of the wooded environment or of the striking Vodafone advert on display on the wall? We are still pondering this when a student lacking in social graces rudely beckons to one us with a flippant summon of fingers, accompanied by Ghanaian accented English,“cam”- this from a distance of about 25yards. She gives him a look over and asks him to ‘cam” also.
Unthinking aggression and brainless brawn then breaks from its leash, barking, charging, opening its eyes, widely, speaking threateningly about smashing cameras. ‘You tink you ken jest cam here end teik peples pictaz”? And why would we want to take your picture? Was the camera ever pointed at you or anybody in particular? Our cameras remain unimpressed and unintimidated and one of us makes that clear to him in succinct words. Next followed noise, bedlam, aggression from other members of his lounging-under-the-tree supporters club, threats and one of the greatest acts of unfriendliness, and rowdiness we have so far witnessed in Ghana. Soon, security officials from KNUST arrive and escort us to the University’s Security Post, in the company of students Gyan Yeboah and Twamasi, both members of the University’s judicial committee, who have also arrived the scene. There, we explain our innocuous mission, hand them our branded postcards and posters, refer them to our blogspot and get educated that it has become something of a high crime to take pictures of even KNUST’s public spaces without a written request to the Vice chancellor. It turns out that, unbeknownst to us, the students and its guardians have become highly suspicious of journalists having recently received “bad air play” from one of the local stations about a collapsed building which never collapsed. Even if we were Ghanaians, they said, we could have gotten locked up for breaching the regulations. They show us a 2008 circular that allocates charges for photography within KNUST – even during weddings ceremonies.
Clearly, we and our cameras had crossed an invisible border in the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi – a university established by the great Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, to foster Pan African ethos. It was however quite ironic that such vibrant disunity should have taken place right in the front yard of Unity Hall.
The security officials at KNUST (a lady and three gentlemen) are efficient yet civil. One of them narrates the incident to their big boss over the phone, and we are asked to leave our particulars- names and phone numbers, which we do. For good measure, we include our blogspot address. The big boss commands over the phone that we should be told to leave the premises immediately. We are glad to do so. We drop off Twamasi at Unity Hall, and the good mannered Gyan Yeboah at the Republic Hall, with thanks, as we head back to base. Gyan, Twamasi and a number of other students, who made genuine efforts to make peace, rather than escalate tension, are for us, the true champions of PanAfricanism at KNUST.