Dispatches from the Gold Coast

March 23, 2012 By Mark Green

Final Thoughts from the Gold Coast

Reports from Ambassador Mark Green during his trip to Ghana last week


While it isn’t comparable to the world-renowned parks of Tanzania and southern Africa, the Kakum National Park several hours south of Obuasi in northern Ghana has its own unique feel. While we didn’t have long to spend there, we did manage a short hike into the rainforest and a brief canopy tour. The tour consisted of seven plank bridges between trees and across modest gorges.  What was most impressive was that we saw several busloads of students in the park – it’s great to know that the schools try to create a bond between students and the forests.

Our final stop before Accra was the Cape Coast Castle, one of three castles in Ghana that were part of the terrible Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  According to our guide, Cape Coast Castle was originally built as a trading post in the early 1600s for ivory, gold and other commodities. It was subsequently enlarged into a fort and used as such by various European powers. In 1664, it was finally conquered by the British and became the center of the British administration in what was then called the Gold Coast.

As the guide literature states, “Slaves were kept at Cape Coast Castle in dungeons while awaiting transport to the new world. Around 1000 male slaves and 500 female slaves occupied the castle at any one time in separate dungeons. Each slave would be locked up for 6 to 12 weeks, waiting for their turn to board one of the ships. The dungeons must have been unbearable with hundreds of slaves crammed in together and no toilet facilities.  There were only a few windows to let in fresh air, and a channel down the middle to carry away urine and feces which completely covered the floor of the dungeons.” Man’s inhumanity toward man. Evil, pure and simple.

It’s impossible to adequately describe or depict the feeling of walking through the underground dungeons.  It’s no easier to capture the emotions that arise as you look out from the fortifications, over the vast Atlantic Ocean, toward the shores of America. . .eastward to where so many slaves were taken. Lives ended, futures stolen.

As we drove through the southern part of the country towards Accra, we saw dozens of men trying to sell bush meat. When I asked our driver what one of the creatures was (hard to tell from the dried carcasses they were hawking, he said, “Grass cutter. It is very good meat, but a little expensive.” What in the world is a grass cutter? Here’s an excerpt from the entry at Wikipedia:  “The genus Thryonomys, also known as cane rats, grass cutters, or cutting grass, is a genus of rodent found throughout Africa south of the Sahara . . . Cane rats range in body length from 35 to 60 centimetres. They commonly weigh 6-7 kilograms in captivity, and can obtain weights up to 10 kilograms in the wild. . . . They are heavily-built rodents, with bristly brown fur speckled with yellow or grey. They live in marshy areas and along river and lake banks, and are herbivores, feeding on aquatic grasses in the wild.”  Apparently, some have proposed creating a grass cutter farming industry. I’m going to suggest to my in-laws, who farm corn and soybeans, that they stick with that.

As we entered Accra, we did soon the George Walker Bush Motorway. The road was part of the transportation projects made possible by the US agency known as the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  It felt good to see that sign. President Bush’s signature development programs – PEPFAR (the AIDS initiative), PMI (Malaria) and the MCC have done so much in places like Ghana. These programs are tools that help to lift lives and strengthen communities, and they help reinforce important friendships between the US and democratic governments.

Just another reason I’m proud to be an American.

And in case you missed it this morning on Fox News, my fellow traveler, Martha MacCallum, gave a little glimpse of what it was like on the trip.  She’ll be doing a larger piece in the coming weeks further detailing the remarkable work America is doing in Africa on the Gold Coast.