Travel Diary: Ghana Market Adventures

When I think of shopping in West Africa, markets immediately come to mind - boisterous, colourful chaotic places where a person can find  a dizzying assortment of goods. During my recent visit,  the markets in Accra matched this profile (to varying degrees of intensity). The Accra Arts Centre is on the mild end with Makola and  Kaneshie  being on the more intense end of the spectrum. With that said, if you are new to African markets, I suggest easing your way in gently...Well, as gently as possible.

You may want to first visit the Accra Arts Centre, which caters primarily to tourists. There you can practise your bargaining/negotiating skills, obtain a feel for the local market etiquette and gather many souvenirs for yourself and others. The Arts Centre is aptly named considering that it houses a plethora of arts and crafts/ hand made goods. As you peruse the stalls, you will find piles of fabric including Ghana’s iconic kente cloth, sculptures, masks, beads galore, drums, brass wares - both modern and antique and many other items. I could be wrong but from my observation,  compared to the other venues, the Arts Centre has the best selection of arts and crafts in Accra. (I don’t think I took enough photographs  to give you a good idea of what the place is like. Hopefully, next time I can make up for that.)

As I mentioned previously, relative to places like Makola and Kaneshie, the atmosphere at the Arts Centre is mildly tempered. The vendors are generally polite and professional, happy to offer their best service but not in an overly aggressive manner. You may even experience that if a vendor you’re visiting doesn’t have an item you would like, he/she may run off to find a neighbour who has it. I witnessed this several times and each time I found the sense of community refreshing. Of course, each person was intent on making  sales but I had the impression that the overarching belief was that the success of one was the success of all. Most vendors also seemed pleased to have someone from another part of the African Diaspora patronise their businesses. Several of them confided in me that they felt a special connection to their AfroCaribbean and African American guests. In such a positive environment, it was no surprise that I ended up befriending a few of the vendors.

Another pleasant aspect of the Accra Arts Centre is that there are several coconut vendors on the premises. Whenever you feel drained from shopping or from the heat, you can rejuvenate yourself with fresh coconut water. Should you want something besides coconut to eat or drink, there is also a small restaurant/ cafe at the market’s entrance. Although I only purchased some coffee and a pastry from this spot, one of my new friends, Emmanuel informed me that the business also serves local Ghanaian dishes and on certain nights, live music or a dj's selection.  

Oooh! One more cool thing to note about the Arts Centre Market is that it’s located walking distance from the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum. For those who may not know, Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana's first Prime Minister and a PanAfrican hero. The mausoleum is the site where he was laid to rest. It may be a good idea to stop at the Mausoleum first to pay your respects before your hands are filled from shopping. Another option though is that you can stop by the market to note prices, take a break at the mausoleum and return to the market after. That way, you will not be impulsively buying and you will thus, limit the possibility of buyer’s remorse or paying too much for an item.

This post was focused on the Arts Centre Market but I do intend to do separate posts on some other Ghanaian markets in the future. Below are some suggestions should you plan to visit. Please feel free to ask me questions regarding anything I did not cover.

Tips and Things to Note

*Negotiate prices with vendors. Offer to pay ⅓ of the price announced  and work from there.

*You will quite likely be charged more (the ubiquitous tourist fee) if it’s apparent that you aren’t a local.

*Do not show interest in an item if you aren’t prepared to pay for it.

*Browse around the market and compare prices before purchasing anything.

*Should you find an item you like at one vendor but not in a colour you would like for eg., and you find the same item in the desired colour elsewhere but for a higher price, politely explain that you saw it for less at a different stall. The vendor may be willing to reduce the price. There is no quarantee of course but it doesn’t hurt to politely try.

*Although the vendors at Accra’s markets aren’t as aggressive as those in Marrakech for eg. (my opinion), be prepared for some persistence or a bit of pushiness on a slow business day. With that said, don’t be pressured into buying anything you aren’t comfortable buying.

*Most vendors speak English fluently since it is commonly spoken in Accra (Ghana’s capital). This differs in remote areas, such as the villages to the North. However, you may even find some vendors at Kaneshie or  Makola market who don’t speak formal English fluently, but maybe Ghanaian pidgin, which is a deeply colloquial dialect of English. I would be impressed if you understood or could speak pidgin.

*Most vendors accept US dollars, English pounds and Euros. However, I think that using  Ghanaian cedis is better  because you may not receive the best rate if you use foreign currency. Plus, I suspect that the person selling you may be less inclined to inflate the price. I could be wrong though.

*Last but not least, use your manners. As in most places in the world, saying thank you carries you far. The English words for this is fine but the vendors love when you practise a Ghanaian language and the most widely spoken is Twi. So, start with Meda w’ase or Medasi (meh-dah-see) - Twi for thank you.

Photography Credit: Photos of me by Kwame Prosper
All other photos by me.

Post a Comment