Halt This Beach Nightmare

The country’s beaches are currently in the limelight for the wrong reasons.

Unlike in other jurisdictions where the beaches serve as entertainment centres, tourist attraction and sources of revenue generation, Ghana’s beaches appear to be far from that.

Rather strange to relate, the beaches, which continue to attract the headlines for having been turned into refuse dumps and privy, are now also death traps.

Beach parties by holidaymakers continue to be nightmares for Ghanaians to the extent that deaths and other distressing headlines have heralded such beach activities in recent memories.

“Ten drown in Accra”—Daily Graphic April 7, 1999.

“Seven bodies washed ashore after beach jam” Daily Graphic September 25, 2009.

“Two drown at Esiama during beach get-together” Daily Graphic, October 29, 2013

“Nine bodies washed ashore-Believed to be Easter revellers at beaches near Accra” Daily Graphic, April 24, 2014

These are heartbreaking headlines and the accompanying stories and pictures are so gory and saddening that many homes are thrown into mourning and wailing. These are indeed avoidable fatalities and they are acts of commissions and omissions which, as a nation, we should take collective responsibility for.

While these reports continue to dominate both the electronic and the print media, there has not been any official statement on the incidents expressing sympathy or condolence to the bereaved families. This is not applicable to only the latest incidents as similar occurrences in the past never elicited any sympathy not even from the Ministry of Tourism. The question that arises is: Are we not heartless to the extent that human deaths are recorded under such circumstances without anybody caring a hoot?

No wonder, this is fast becoming a ritual with virtually all holidays as if we are all satisfied with it as a people and as a nation. This is pitiful!

Let’s zoom this into our coast and it is mind boggling. Ghana, with a coastline measuring 539 km, has around the same or a longer coastline than many countries that are making it big in tourism.

At times, one wonders whether God made a mistake in putting us here. While others are taking advantage of such resources to create employment, we are busily polluting the coastlines with faeces and rubbish.

Which tourist or visitor to the country’s beaches will go and come back with the experience of witnessing human excreta being dumped in the sea and sea waves sweeping holidaymakers away? Don’t these beaches have life guards? Who ensures that they have them?

Is it not a pitiful sight having visitors, tourists, as well as residents being eyewitness to some of our compatriots openly defecating along our beaches in broad daylight with careless abandon? In a place as La, this despicable behaviour is being exhibited close to four or five star hotels being occupied by guests! Yes, unbelievable!

Then we the same people turn round and bemoan our inability to diversify our sources of generating foreign exchange for national development when we have these beaches to develop to promote tourism.

Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves of what Winston Churchill once said to enable us to rethink as a nation and people desirous of refocusing and redefining our developmental strategies and goals.

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” That’s Churchill. It is sad and indeed disheartening that as a nation, we appear incapable and unable to even assist certain individuals or ordinary citizens who, on their own initiative, try to earn some income by organising beach events during holidays and weekends.

Otherwise, why do we allow these events to be characterised by such acts of lawlessness? This also brings to mind the way we organise recreation as a whole: Common street jams on major roads create unending traffic with thugs openly attacking people with knives and robbing them of their valuables.

One area I can cite is the Sakumono-Tema portion of the main Accra-Tema beach road. Are officials of the Tema Metropolitan, La-Dadekotopon, as well as the Accra Metropolitan assemblies saying that they are unaware of what happens during holidays at Sakumono and La Pleasure Beach Hotel areas? What about the police?

Are we saying we are comfortable with the way the holidaymakers take over the busy major road from Accra to Tema on these two portions of that busy road?

My personal experience recently when I was travelling from Community Three, Tema to Sakumono Estates, was as nauseating as it was irritating and indeed smacks of sheer lack of negligence of duty on the part of the police.

It took me nearly two hours to traverse that short distance of less than two kilometres.

Narrating his own experience, a church member in his late 50s recounted how his mobile phone was forcibly taken away from him while sitting in a minibus that was held up in the traffic during one of such holidays.

“I was speaking by phone when suddenly somebody wielding a knife slashed my hand and like a Hollywood movie style I suddenly realised that my phone was gone with blood oozing from my hand.”

In an interview with some of the individuals who try to make a living from the beach activities by selling drinks and preparing meat and other consumables, they made it clear that police presence, apart from being inadequate during the day time, is conspicuously missing after 6pm.

“And when darkness dawns, it becomes as lawless as if we are in a jungle and people are attacked left, right, centre, including those of us who sell there. My brothers, it becomes scary and indeed bloody. I am not joking,” one of them recounted in tears.

These acts of thuggery and lawlessness which continue to deprive holidaymakers of the essence of going to our beaches to free their minds of the boredom to enable them to restrategise for their respective routine official undertakings, are not reported in the media.

Instead, what we only read about are the fatalities resulting from drowning.

Recreation is very critical and important and it is good that by that we are promoting domestic tourism. But our lukewarm approach coupled with the disinterest shown by officialdom – the Ministry of Tourism, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies – at a time that we are facing a foreign exchange crunch as a nation, is what beats my imagination. Today, our beaches are fast becoming drought-hit, barren, as if we are bereft of ideas.

What has happened to the Ghana Tourist Board’s sponsored “Meet me There” events that not only defined and generated interest in holiday activities but added value to our domestic tourism promotions in the past?

What about the rate at which minors openly take to hard liquor and excessive smoking openly at the beaches during these unregulated beach activities?

Are we saying that these beach events cannot be better organised and well supervised with our security agencies in absolute control?

The greeny coconut-trees, that dominated the coastline of Ghana that characterised the vegetative cover of our beaches are no more. This makes this writer weep for the country, having been an eyewitness to banana-tree laden beaches of Israel and the extent of commercialisation of all the Biblical places of importance in that country to generate foreign exchange for national development.

In Israel, the Mediterranean Sea has been pushed backwards and every available land close to the coastline cultivated with banana which is harvested and exported to the European Union and other markets abroad.
Tel Aviv example

In Tel Aviv, the beaches are pleasant and delightful, providing an atmosphere for serene weekend and holiday relaxation. As for the Biblical places of importance, such as the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth, Jericho, Bethlehem, Sea of Galilee to mention but a few, Israel is indeed a role model of how to generate income from such resources.

The revenue generated annually from tourism is unimaginable, yet this is a country which is at war with its neighbours with security on the alert.

It appears we are getting our priorities wrong as a nation, otherwise what are we doing to exploit all the available natural resources to our advantage as a nation?

Is it not a shame that Lake Bosomtwe, a great national asset for tourism promotion, lies deserted and underutilised? Donald Ato Dapatem of the Daily Graphic in a recent feature article wrote: “Due to the depraved human activity, the lake, which has, for the past 300 years, supported the people in the 30 communities around either as a source of their livelihood or as a place of recreation is under grave threat.

Hear him: “Rubbish and other waste that wash into the water tend to increase its turbidity.” Shameful indeed! What are the four district assemblies bordering the lake as well as Ministry of Tourism doing about this?

What about the Centre for National Culture in the Ashanti Region as well as the Ghana Tourist Board?

Time was when Lake Bosomtwe served as a centre of attraction and indeed a must-go entertainment centre during holidays and weekends.

Are the assemblies telling Ghanaians that they cannot take advantage of the lake’s rich potential to improve on their internally generated revenue?

I hope somebody is listening and will act on issues raised to halt the fatalities at our beaches and help transform all these rich resources into assets and not liabilities.

While admitting that there is no perfect human institution anywhere, it must be said that we all can stumble many times but it must be noted that there is nothing shameful about making amends when our shortcomings are brought to our knowledge.

We definitely must grow as a nation and need to remind ourselves and also reflect on Churchill’s admonition: “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind”.

God put us in this country for a purpose. At least for once, let this nation be serious.