Ghana Life: The Garden City

Ashantis sometimes claim that their ancient capital Kumasi is the biggest city in Ghana with a population of a million people. Official figures almost halve the population, making Kumasi second to Accra. Whoever is right, it is only Kumasi that has been given the title of The Garden City.

Visitors to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) with its vast green campus and flowering trees may feel they are in a garden, but those who plunge into the centre of the city to its famous Kejetia market or press on to its equally well-known informal industrial complex at Suame Magazine will find little of botanical interest. No, it is the suburb of Nhyiasu that won Kumasi its enviable description. It is the summer of 1994 and Kwame Mainu meets his estranged wife, Comfort, in her newly acquired mansion in Nhyiasu.

Nhyiasu was the most beautiful part of Kumasi. In colonial time it was where the British administrators built their houses and their golf course. Off wide tree-lined streets with tree-lined drives these large colonial residences enjoyed the cool breezes and dark shade that Europeans found essential in the days before air-conditioning. Now the foreign administrators were long gone save for the managers of the Kumasi branches of Barclays and Standard Chartered banks and the managing directors of Kumasi’s two breweries. Most of the houses were occupied by the more successful Ghanaian and Lebanese businessmen and a few big women traders, transport operators and hoteliers. Comfort had certainly come a long way in the past six years to have joined this affluent community.

Kwame knocked on the front door of the house still not entirely sure that he wanted Comfort to be in. She wasn’t. A maid informed him that Madam had not returned from the market but she was expected soon and he could wait if he wished. He was left seated in a large comfortable armchair with the obligatory glass of water, feeling that he needed something stronger.

The crunch of tyres on the gravel drive brought him to the window in time to observe the arrival of a BMW saloon car. The driver got out and quickly opened the rear door. With rather less agility but perhaps a little more dignity than he remembered, a rather larger Comfort emerged from the air-conditioned cubicle of the car to hurry into the air-conditioned expanses of her mansion. Kwame stood transfixed. It was not the sight of his long lost wife that astonished him; it was the identity of her driver. Comfort was being chauffeured by her old friend, the albino linguist, Kofi Adjare.

Having already seen the Land Rover in the drive Comfort expressed no surprise at finding Kwame in her lounge. The greetings were rather cool and awkward. Kwame was forced to turn down the offer of a Star beer on the grounds of his stomach ulcer so Comfort told her maid to bring tea. She expressed her concern for Kwame’s ill health and hoped that it would not recur. Kwame asked how she was keeping and she replied that health-wise she was fine but these days she had to watch her weight. Kwame said that her enhanced stature suited her status as a market queen but he saw at once that he had touched on a raw nerve. They sipped tea in silence for what seemed like a long time. “You’ve certainly got the big house you always wanted,” he said at last.
“Yes, this is a nice place. Would you like me to show you around?”
“Lead on,” he said, putting down his cup.

House tours did not usually interest Kwame but he trailed around trying to make the right remarks in an attempt to break the ice and steer the conversation round to more serious matters. It was a large and comfortable house in a large and well manicured garden and he felt that it must fulfil every part of even Comfort’s exacting expectations. He wondered how it was that Comfort had succeeded where his mother had failed. “It’s a lot bigger and more elaborate than the little house we were building at Old Ahensan,” he said. “Yes, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Let’s sit in the garden for a while and discuss it.”

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