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Opinions Fri, 31 May 2019

At large on the GIMPA campus

GIMPA – Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration in the recent past has been touted a lot in Ghanaian circles.

But those who have seen better days and much wider life exposure have always been much more restrained and circumspect in their acclaim.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, during the African Curriculum Association conference at GIMPA, Accra, I decided to put some of GIMPA’s much publicised credentials to the test.

Within the main conference venue (GIMPA Executive Conference Centre or GECC), I could not get food to buy at midday because the food was for conference participants only.

I was directed by a waiter to the Bush Canteen. It was a dangerously lonely stony narrow footpath leading downhill into the surrounding forest, with foliage just over my head and closing in on every side, so I returned.

I was not ready for any movie escapades and after all anti snake serum is very hard to come by.

The only option was to lobby my way into the middle level staff eaterie where I bought a plate of jollof rice (rice boiled in tomato sauce) for eight Cedis (just under USD2). The only other option was banku (tied in plastic bags as usual) with okro sauce.

“Don’t you have a metal fork?” I asked the affable young lady waiter when she handed me a plastic spoon.

With some shock about my demands, the lady waiter went and brought a metal fork.

Earlier, I had asked for some tomato sauce to be added to the rice and been told that I could only get shito (fried and blackened pepper sauce). I politely declined.

Shortly, after I began eating, I started having hiccups.

I called frantically for water and soon I was served a plastic sachet of “pure-water” for which payment was required.

I was soon joined by the middle level staff, several of whom I interviewed. The staff in charge of coupons told me the eaterie serves about 90 workers on weekdays; they do not work on weekends.

“So, if someone comes here on weekends, where does he get food to buy?” I kept asking, but answers were difficult to obtain.

I was made to understand that I was fortunate the waiters decided to sell to me because the food was for staff only and school was on vacation so the student’s main eaterie was also not in active business.

I noticed that most of the workers opted for banku with okro sauce and ate with their fingers.

But the lady in charge of the caterers explained to me that she wraps the banku in clear plastic sheets/bags because even with the doors closed, houseflies still enter the room.

“I’m a journalist and I need you specifically to answer this question,” I told a lady eating banku with her fingers, breaking my interview with the coupon supplier. “What do you think of your male colleague eating his banku with a plastic spoon?”

“I think he just feels like using the spoon,” she opined. “In fact, this guy, ?kyere neho kakra”, she added, meaning this guy is a little bit of a “show off”.

“That is what you think,” the male banku eater butted in. “I can just leave this food and go when I get a call.”

He added several good reasons for opting for the spoon.

It became clear that though they often sat together during lunch the gentleman had kept that practice with no one asking him about it.

Curiously, virtually everyone held a smartphone in the left hand as they ate (their banku) with the other, and kept looking at their phones as though they were taking selfies.

“So, if I don’t have cash, how do I make transactions here?” I turned back to my main interviewee, the coupon supplier. I had explained to him that some foreign guests could not use their Mastercards and Visa Cards.

“Cash is the main means of transaction here,” the gentleman explained. Having schooled at GIMPA for several years and now an officer, he kept repeating every time I asked, “Cash is the main means of transaction here”.

The previous day at the main conference centre (GECC), some guests I had sat at table with from Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe wanted coffee to buy – but there was none.

On the second day, the situation was the same. They could only get sachets of Nescafe served exclusively during snack time. They spent three full days at the African Curriculum Association conference venue (and some arrived two days before the three day conference, without getting coffee to buy).

The Kenyan guest, JMW who stayed at Mensvic Hotel in Accra, said there was no coffee at the hotel either.

When I told a Ghanaian colleague that I was writing a story about the coffee matter, she challenged me that it was no news.

So on Wednesday, I arranged a debate between her and JMW who explained to her that coffee is brewed – it is totally different from Nescafe in sachets.

“But you can get coffee in town, this is a university campus,” my Ghanaian colleague argued.

I then jumped in, “But this is the best part of town, the whole of Accra is flooded”.

“Besides, coffee machines are not expensive either,” JMW added.

He made her understand that this was an international conference.

It was not good enough that Ethiopians [especially since they discovered Arabica coffee], some Kenyans and Europeans who liked coffee could not get coffee at an international conference.

My Ghanaian colleague abandoned the coffee debate and left with a poor excuse. Worse still all of us had to buy everything with cash.

Dr X from Zimbabwe regretted the daily inconvenience. He had to find a ride to University of Ghana campus, some three kilometers away, to withdraw cash from Ecobank. The MC’s announcements about Mastercard and Visa card payment procedures were no help.

“My bank has placed a daily limit of USD500 on withdrawals but card payments are not accepted at this conference,” he lamented. “I have to register for myself and three others. I have to book a room for myself and three others. I have withdrawn ten thousand six hundred Cedis cash (USD2120). That is my plight in Ghana.”

As if his ordeal was not enough, I prodded him further, “But why did you choose to come to Ghana?”.

“Everybody knows Kwame Nkrumah because of his Pan Africanist stance. So I had always wanted to come to Ghana because of him,” he responded. “This conference was the opportunity.”

On the final day, a Ghanaian event organizer, announced that all those who wanted to join the African Curriculum Association should take advantage of the event and register with cash.

“It’s only USD50 to join the association,” she announced. “If you register online you will pay transaction charges.”

The foreign participants from at least 28 sub Saharan African countries, as well as their Ghanaian counterparts some of whom had also attended school at Gimpa, complained that there were no points of sale (POS) devices on GIMPA Campus.

What else is a boy to do than to recall my mentor’s words, “It is what it is……….. ”.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah