Wednesday, 26 August 2009

How thanks to Panafest, tourism lost out after Obama

By Osabutey ANNY

Truth is a bitter pill, they say. One such bitter truth is what is said of Ghanaians, that they are generally good at talking big; very big but slow to walk the talk.

It is believed that this is a subculture that has become difficult to beat down, and can be found in all Ghanaians, from the ruling class to the average person. There are many instances to point to this culture especially in the area of failed policy implementation.

Ahead of Barack Obama’s visit last July, there were many commentaries and statements about how Ghana can and would tap the benefits of the visit, including tourism and investment. There was talk, albeit sometimes by uninformed talkatives, about how the visit would open the floodgates for the country to enjoy unprecedented economic growth. It may sound an exaggeration but that was the hope most people carried on their chest.

Understandably, government officials were also excited and postulated how the visit will position the country in the international arena. The visit was a major plus especially when Ghana was chosen over Nigeria whose president is believed to have been elected into office through a flawed election.

Then the Kenya experience where an incumbent virtually walked away with the electoral papers in his pocket. Such experiences were different from Ghana’s and despite the near blood baths and tension-ridden campaigning; the wheel of democracy was raised to another level.

Such positive attributes are enough to lure investors and tourists into any country, but it is more enhanced when a US President, a historic and world-popular one, decides to visit. That is a major trump card for any serious nation ready to achieve middle income status within the next possible future.

Government wants to create employment and reduce the number of youths roaming the streets with no jobs. That is certainly a priority for this government and one of the key sectors targeted is tourism. And Obama’s visit and the choice of the Cape Coast Castle to many would put a shine on the country’s tourism sector.

At the moment the only places known to people as Ghana’s best tourism spots are the forts and castles, the kakum national park and, at best, the crocodile pond at Paga in the northern part of Ghana.

Fortunately Obama was here and the time to take advantage was now. As if by good omen the Pan African Festival or Panafest was some few weeks away from the visit. That was a good opportunity especially considering the number of people who came into the country from different parts of the world to catch a glimpse of the US President. Couldn’t something have been done to keep them from leaving Ghana too soon especially when Panafest was just around the corner? Just as Barack Obama’s charm brought them in, it swept them away as well.

Panafest has never been what it used to be more than a decade ago when it first started. Then a new project which was seen as a vehicle to lure Africans born in the west into the country, thousands of high profile stars and ordinary persons from Europe and the Americas came to Ghana.

Poets, musicians, academics and scholars all came to Ghana at the time. Among those musicians who came to Ghana were Stevie Wonder, the late Isaac Hayes, the Jamaican reggae group of Mutabaruka and Yellowman.

Several of those who came for the first time have today settled and are running businesses, generating employment and contributing to the growth of the economy. And the large number of visitors who used to come for Panafest and Emancipation Day came and spent on accommodation, food, transport, artifacts etc.

Today, the story of Panafest is nothing but awful and the decline has been felt in every celebration including the just ended one. Though organisers are quick to point to the recession as part of the reasons for the poor patronage of the festival this year, the fact is that they failed to correct the mistakes of the past and allowed it to happen.

For some years, the Ministry of Tourism has taken a back seat of a sort, with what can safely be said to be an ineffective and inefficient Foundation running the Festival. If there’s been any year when the Foundation has proven that it lacks both the foresight and capacity to manage the Festival, it is this year.

The festival had potential and still does have the potential of creating, even if temporary, employment to many young people within the environs of our tourist sites. Sadly, the tourists did not come. Even regulars like exhibitors who often showed up to sell to tourists failed to show up. The few who showed up were disappointed and complained bitterly of not only failing to make profit but incurred cost.

“It’s worthless to have been here in the first place,” Oko Adjetye whose hands were soiled with soup said. “I can confidently say most exhibitors are going home with cost, that’s the Panafest legacy.”

His sentiments were shared by others who believe exhibitors might be forced to stay away from the programme in 2011.

Beyond Obama, Ghana has been fortunate to have two sitting American presidents visit the country, and such visits were high profile. Bill Clinton was the first to come in 1998 and it was such a major boost for this country. Jerry Rawlings was within two years of living office and the visit was considered one of the important landmarks of his reign.

Barely ten yearslater George Bush also came to Ghana and his was the longest stay from the two. So for a period of eleven years three sitting presidents of the US had visited this country, and had all shined enough light on our country’s democratic credentials, which are themselves good for business.

After all no rational businessman would like to pump money into a country that could flame up on the slightest provocation. So Ghana really makes such a fine field for those genuine investors willing to push in their investments into such a place.
It’s therefore important for leadership to understand that thousands of US presidents will come and go and nothing will be achieved unless the country goes after them.

Another Panafest is up in 2011 and it’s fair for the ministry of tourism, the Ghana tourist board and the relevant agencies to begin working out the fine details before the time arrives. It’s important for tourists to know that Ghana’s tourism attraction is not limited to forts and castles, Kakum Park, Mole Park or whatever, and that there are vast areas such as shrines and other relics that could fetch the country the needed money.

And there is also the need to improve the various roads leading to such tourist spots so those who visit could be lured to come back as well as invite their friends and families.

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