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Three chapters of West African immersion: The Kufuor Scholars tour of Togo, Benin, and Nigeria By Salome Odei / Kufuor Scholars Program Class of 2024

Settling into the African Regent Hotel at 4:00 am on the 14th of September 2023 with anxiety’s silence sandwiched between the dawn, we sleepy-eyed Kufuor Scholars, alumni, and associates were oblivious of the intricacies of the journey ahead. We were about to travel to Togo, Benin, and Nigeria on an experiential tour. There were about 44 of us.


Upon the arrival of the bus at 5:00 a.m., we quickly packed our luggage, bodies, expectant minds, and rather few anxious hearts into the air-conditioned bus. The journey to the Aflao border was quite familiar, with the regular sceneries of Ghanaian communities.

On arrival at the Aflao border, our passports were taken and each of us was interviewed. A few minutes before noon, we entered Togo. Togo was beautiful. We were flanked to our right by the everlastingly long, very clean, and picturesque beach with classic ornamental palms quietly arranged in rows as far as my eyes could see. Not only was Togo beautiful, but it was also different. With French words and phrases boldly plastered all over vivid advertisement boards, car number plates looking so different from what I was used to, motor vehicles having an entirely separate road to themselves and their riders religiously wearing helmets, Togo indeed was different.


We continued all the way to Benin. Environmentally, there wasn’t a stark difference between the two bordering nations. Cotonou, though was peculiar, in that there were huge historical monuments sprinkled around the city, parceling out a taste of the rich history of Benin. Nothing beats the beauty parented by masterly sculpturing of earth metal and deep-rooted history of a beautiful people – exactly what those statues represented.

In Benin, we visited the Ghana Embassy where we were welcomed by Mrs. Abena Agyeiwaa Kumi who is the Head of Chancery (HOC) at the embassy. We enjoyed a dinner of fried vermicelli rice with options of fried turkey or fried fish at the embassy after which we were addressed by Her Excellency Christine Churcher, the Ghanaian Ambassador to Benin. Her Excellency gave us very motherly advice, emphasized not missing opportunities, and wished us a wonderful stay.

In Benin, we visited the Leader’s International School, the only bilingual school in Benin that uses the Ghanaian educational curriculum, to interact with the pupils there. The students stood at the sides of the roads waving flags of Ghana and Benin and welcoming us with smiles so genuine, missing milk teeth couldn’t even flaw them. Later, we assembled with the students who greeted us with the Akwaaba song and surprisingly, all three stanzas of the Ghana National Anthem and the Benin National Anthem. We spoke to them about confidence building, academic excellence, morality, independence, respect, and cooperation.


Visit to Nigeria

We drove across the Benin – Nigeria border and visited Badagry in the Lagos State. The journey to Badagry was remarkable. The road was sprinkled with about 49 man-made checkpoints. Just an empty gallon, a stick, and a little shed pass for a security checkpoint.


We visited the Akran of Badagry Kingdom. We saw the first church building in Nigeria which is situated in Badagry, and we were taught how to greet the King of Badagry, His Majesty “De Wheno Aholu Menu Toyi 1,” OFFR, LLD, DUTT, JF. He is also the Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt. In greeting, men are to lie prostrate three times while saying ” Aweee” with each turn. Women kneel and bow three times while saying” Aweee” with each turn. Women with scarves are required to take them off before they greet.


We also learned about the Badagry Diaspora Festival. It’s celebrated to commemorate the era of slavery and slave trade while highlighting the diversity of African cultures and the fruitful cultural interactions sparked by history in the diaspora. If a new Oba (King) is to be installed following the death of the previous one, this is when it happens.


We subsequently visited the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON). At ASCON, we were hosted by Mr. Emmanuel Kakpo who spoke very passionately to us about the true meaning of leadership. He said leadership isn’t about seeing problems but finding solutions. He said leadership begins with the management of oneself and entails immense sacrifice and consistent discipline. His speech spoke to our hearts and his passion urged us on in our journey of leadership.


After a few other visits in Nigeria, we settled into the bus at 7:00 p.m. and went through those same 49 barriers, back to Benin. The next day, we visited the Songhai Farms in Benin. We were joined by some University of Education Winneba students who are studying abroad in Benin. Surprisingly, the chairman of Songhai Farms and founder of the Songhai Farms project, Father Godfrey Nzamujo, was present that day. He was so enthused that he opted to give us a virtual tour of the farms whilst we waited for the rain to subside. The Songhai Farm Project is a zero waste and organic farm project where there’s primary, secondary, and tertiary production of agricultural goods and services. He was inspired by a drought in northern Nigeria back in the 1980s to start this farm in Benin. He said one of the greatest challenges in Africa is deconstructing the African mind and making Africans ambitious for change in their community. This encouraged him to set up a Leadership Academy to nurture and train African minds.

After the rain subsided, we went through the Songhai Farm in – person, where for the first time I saw albino tilapias, African grapes, and ostriches. There were water hyacinths, huge papaws, all sorts of other fruits and livestock. There were many biogas digestors there to aid in recycling the waste. There was a bottling plant and a mart on the premises. The mart sold foods like yogurt, juice, bread, and biscuits that had been made purely from produce on the farm. The farm has been patronized by many world leaders including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. They went there to learn about zero-waste farming and energy preservation.


We subsequently visited the Amazon Statue in Cotonou City. We saw the stunning 30-meter-high statue that was built in honour of the women warriors of Dahomey. Then we visited the beautiful and colourful graffiti murals on the long stretch of wall to the right of the monument. The paintings depicted the unfiltered and true culture of the Beninois people and some political messages. We finally ended the day with a visit to the beach, which was impressively clean and quiet. We had a good time at the beach, our feet kissing the sand and breathless sea waves with our hearts melting away with so much peace and goodwill.


After the long day, we assembled in the long room to debrief. Deputy CEO of the John A. Kufuor Foundation Dr. Nana Ama Oppong – Duah showed us Asake’s ‘Basquiat’ music video, in which he sang in an uncommon Nigeria dialect, with his locked hair and interesting-looking slugs on his teeth. We quietly in our own minds considered his boldness and pride for his roots. Coordinator of the Kufuor Scholars Program Dr Pascal Brenya also spoke to us about professionalism. He additionally urged us to pursue non-academic skills like speaking French, swimming, and doing other sports.


Alas, the final day of our trip had come, a bit too fast I would say. We left Benin back for Ghana, grateful for the new networks we’ve made and reflective on the actions we need to take to make Ghana better. We were grateful for the relaxing break from all the highs and lows of Ghanaian life. We parted with our friends, but not their friendship, and said farewell to Benin, but not our African roots. We were back as better people for our own selves and for our country. An unforgettable journey it truly was.