Last Thursday evening, I travelled out of Ghana through Kotoka Airport’s swanky Terminal 3 to a location somewhere on the globe which shall remain coded for now.
Long before my travel, I did proclaim on Facebook that the project was a beautiful one, judging from the photographs that were being bandied about on social media, and I paid glowing tribute to former President John Mahama, to the amusement of those who know me as a rabid political elephant who is allergic to political umbrellas.
Of course, I was careful to issue a disclaimer that this was by no means an endorsement of his rule or of his intended return in 2020, an idea I find thoroughly amusing.
Others have raised the issue of the price tag of the project, but I think that is another conversation.
My views on the new Terminal 3 were reinforced when I had a ‘fiili-fiili’ experience last Thursday evening. There were a few moments I was suspended in the belief that I was in another airport on another continent. The place looked shiny and modern and spacious and felt airy. Check-in was smooth.
Suddenly, Terminals 1 and 2, on the other side of the airport, induced images of a dusty, backwater rural airport, and it was almost unbelievable that as a nation that screams that it is the ‘Gateway to Africa’, we had to put up with it for many years.
I have only two minor criticisms of the new terminal. First, the food court upstairs ?? near the check-in area is rather sparse and offers little choice and variety by way of something to eat and drink.
But this criticism is tempered by the fact that the terminal has just opened and I noted there were units waiting to be occupied.
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'I hope these will be taken up soon and the place will eventually become a beehive of activity, with aromas wafting through the air and one spoilt for choice, from fufu and groundnut soup to spaghetti Napolitano with meatballs all the way to a toasted panini with turkey escalope and cheddar cheese.
The food court could also do with much better modernist furniture than the plastic fare that one sees at social functions in our beloved republic.
As we cruised across the inky skies above the Sahara Desert to our destination and I savoured a bottle of South African red sauvignon wine ahead of my flight meal, I realised that despite the sweet taste the airport had left in my mouth, the teeny weeny cynic in me would not rest, and I kept thinking.
I may be wrong, but I am sure if a New Patriotic Party (NPP) President had dared to build Terminal 3, he would have been met with screams from a section of Ghanaians that it was unnecessary and a waste of money at a time when Ghanaians were suffering from poverty, poor sanitation, schools under trees, poor health care etc., and that Kotoka as it stood then was just fine.
We would have been told ad nauseum that this was an elitist project which only a tiny proportion of Ghanaians would ever enjoy, and that this was not surprising, given that the NPP is an elitist party.
After all, what is a swanky new airport terminal to a peasant farmer at Ejura, Atebubu, Enchi or Jukwa? We have been there with the Jubilee House.
I insist that this claim of an elitist project under an NPP government would have found some anchor among many Ghanaians for two reasons.
First, it is the case that only very few Ghanaians of a certain social and income bracket are truly likely to use it in their lifetime.
The average palm wine tapper in my holy Ankaase is probably never going to hold a passport in his hands in his lifetime, never mind travelling abroad, and the same applies to many citizens of this country.
For many rural-based citizens, even a trip to Accra is a huge dream way beyond their comprehension.
Attacks of elitism
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the NPP has long been vulnerable to attacks of elitism, and so it makes it easy to slap that label on it. Slick NDC political operators are not oblivious to this and exploit it at the least opportunity for political mileage points.
A cursory examination of the party’s political ancestors, the UGCC, reveals that it was made up principally of members of the intelligentsia and the merchant class, and hardly any ‘common’ people.
Indeed, when Nkrumah broke away from the party and set up the CPP in Saltpond in June 1949, the party sneered at the UGCC for being elitist, conservative, detached and reactionary, and projected the CPP as the party of ordinary people, invariably described as the ‘verandah’ boys and girls.
And this juxtaposition was crucial in the canvassing of the CPP’s mass support and its eventual ascension to political power.
The elitist image of the UP tradition to which the NPP belongs has stuck since those early days.
It is a fact that the NPP does well electorally in urban areas and particularly on university campuses, which is an interesting reinforcement.
It is also said that the party enjoys wide support among the professional classes.
Ironically, though, the NPP is on record as the party that has introduced major pro-poor policies and social interventions such as the National Health Insurance policy, the School Feeding Programme, the Free SHS programme and many others, with strong criticisms from the Social Democrats.
And yet, somehow, the narrative still seems to be that the NPP is elitist.
Strange, yes. Unfair, certainly. But in politics, perception does matter, and once you are branded and pigeon-holed, it becomes difficult to escape.
And that is why I insist that the NDC seemed to have ‘gotten away’ with building a new airport terminal with only allegations of inflated cost to contend with, whilst the NPP would have been slammed with the concept in the first place.
This would have made take-off somewhat difficult, but I am confident that a determined NPP President, convinced that Terminal 3 was a good idea, would have ridden out the turbulent noise and navigated the political skies with skill and dexterity as President Kufuor did with the Jubilee House, once described as fit for conversion to a poultry farm.
I return home this weekend, and I cannot wait to be dazzled again at the arrival hall of John Mahama’s excellent Terminal 3. At the moment, I am condemned to sandwiches, pasta, hot dogs and other strange foods in this mega city. And it is driving me crazy.
But I have made some calls, and I know just where to go for my fufu and light soup, with ground ginger and okro, washed down with my favourite Club Beer. I need to get on the subway quickly and do some deft navigation in order to restore my gastronomic sanity.
OK, I am in Trumpland. New York City, to be precise. I have said it.