An Era of Great Expectations

I was filled with great anticipation as our flight touched down at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana on March 18, 2007. In addition to the celebration of Ghana’s 50 years of independence that put me in a festive mood, 27 of my HBS schoolmates and several of their partners had accompanied me to Ghana on this trek. During the week that we planned to stay in Ghana, I hoped to show them around various cities including Accra, Cape Coast, Elmina and Kumasi. For some of the trekkers, this was their first trip outside the United States; for others it was their first visit to the African continent.

After our long flight, we were transferred to the plush La Palm Hotel where we stayed during our time in Accra. As our bus meandered through the La and Osu streets, I realized how much the city had been beautified in celebration of the independence jubilee. After driving by Danquah Circle, the Independence Square, the National Theatre and other monuments, we visited the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, where a tour guide recounted the history and achievements of Dr. Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana who led the struggle for independence. As the sun went down we made our way to my parent’s house for dinner. Unfortunately, the electricity in our neighborhood went out by the time we arrived – a stark reminder of recent energy challenges facing the nation. However, we still enjoyed a wonderful dinner as many of my colleagues got their first taste of home-cooked Ghanaian cuisine.

Our second day in Accra was filled with meetings to give the group an understanding of the economic, business and political climate of the country. At the Ministry of Economic Reform, we met with Dr. Kwesi Nduom, a former Deloitte Consulting partner who headed several reform initiatives as the head of the ministry, and Rebecca Amoo-Aboagye, a senior official of the ministry. During the Q&A session, Dr. Nduom explained the economic milestones that the country had achieved over the last few years including a stabilized currency, declining inflation, and a de-regulated energy market. These indicators provided a very optimistic view of the economic future of Ghana.

Next, we visited the Du Bois residence, where the famous civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois lived, and then made our way to Ashesi University, a premier private university in Ghana, to meet with Mr. Patrick Awuah, the founder of the institution. As Mr. Awuah explained his “calling” to leave his lucrative career at Microsoft in the U.S. to pursue his inspiring mission of reforming tertiary education in Ghana. Ashesi’s goal is to develop the next generation of future Ghanaian leaders who can think outside of the box and help take the country to the next level.

Our last meeting was with representatives of Databank Group, Ghana’s premier investment bank, at their new office at Adabraka, Accra. Their world-class facility was only the beginning sign of excellence. Mr. Keli Gadzekpo, Executive Vice Chairman & Co-Founder, and Mr. Yofi Grant, Executive Director, provided us an overview of the history, achievements and future plans of the firm. They also discussed the Ghanaian economy, business opportunities, and interactions between the private and public sectors of the country. We could sense their enthusiasm on how far the company has come and the future visionary path they were blazing with growing presence in West Africa.

During our road trip to Cape Coast, our tour guide from Land Tours explained social life in the fishing villages as we drove through the coastal savannah. We lunched at the Hans Cottage Botel, enjoying the ambience of this restaurant built on a crocodile pond. At the Cape Coast Castle, the tour guide led us through the historical site that was central to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. A somber walk through the dungeons and the stories from our tour guide reminded us of the atrocities that took place at the site several centuries ago. I was struck by a plaque at the castle that admonished visitors to never again allow such atrocities to be carried out against humanity. At the Kakum National Park, we hiked up to the canopy walkway, one of the main attractions of the park. At a height of 40 meters, the 330-meter stretch of the walkway passing over seven bridges provides spectacular views of the forest below.

Many of us looked forward to our next stop in Obuasi, where we visited the gold mine of Anglogold Ashanti that was made famous by the Ashanti FIN2 case. Outfitted with mining gear of boots, overalls, and helmets, we followed our guides into the depths of the mine and about the operations there. After the tour we made our way to Kumasi, the second largest city after Accra, where we lodged for the night.

The following day was earmarked for cultural sightseeing since Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti people, one of the largest tribes in Ghana. We visited Bonwire, a village outside Kumasi, to see kente cloth weavers at work. Trips to other villages provided us opportunities to see how traditional Adinkra prints, carvings, and other traditional artwork are made. The rest of our time in Kumasi was spent visiting the Manhyia Palace (the residence of the paramount king of the Ashantis), the Okomfo Anokye sword site and the Kejetia market, the largest open market in the nation.

We completed our visit to Kumasi and returned to Accra, our starting point, with plans to enjoy some of the entertainment and nightlife in the city. After seeing a play at the University of Ghana based on the story of Yaa Asentewaa, an Ashanti queen mother who organized wars against the British during the 19th century, we visited a club in town to enjoy the remaining hours we had left, as it dawned on us that we had less than a day to spend in Ghana before returning to Boston. After a night’s rest, we woke up the following morning to enjoy our last day in Ghana. Most of us enjoyed the sun at the pool as we geared for the cold that awaited us in Boston while others did some final shopping.

Overall, I found our trip very meaningful. We had opportunities to explore Ghanaian culture (in both urban and rural areas), and to get perspectives on the economy, business and politics from experts in the country. I was impressed by the strides that the country has made since my last visit. While there is still much that Ghana must do to achieve the goal of becoming a middle-income country in the next few years, the dynamism, entrepreneurial spirit, forces of economic and political reform, and optimism that permeates the atmosphere provide hope for a brighter and better Ghana. Most of my colleagues returned to Boston with a very positive impression of the country and high expectations for Ghana’s future. For Ghana, it is an era of great expectations.

April 30, 2007
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