At 4 AM, it’s still dark outside Inspector Darko Dawson’s house at number 10 Nim Tree Road in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Darko is still asleep, but life in the city has already begun to stir. At intervals, a commercial truck rumbles past, diesel engine rattling and wheezing. From the bakery next door comes the murmur of voices as street vendors arrive to pick up their allotments. Later on, all day long, they will walk up and down the lanes of jammed traffic, trying to sell loaves of bread to drivers and passengers resigned to the unmoving state of their vehicles.
By eight o’clock in the morning, the inertia of Accra’s traffic has established itself, and the sun has already begun to blaze down relentlessly on the land and its twenty-three million inhabitants. Undoubtedly, with global climate change, Ghana’s weather has become hotter and drier over the last twenty years. Water levels at the hydroelectric dam at Akosombo have fallen dangerously low.
That is but only one of many factors working against Ghana’s growth rate of between six and eight percent in 2007. Another, of course, is the worldwide economic calamity that struck in 2008. It is sure to hurt the country in some way, but it will not be the first time Ghana’s enterprising and resilient people have faced adversity.
Wars plagued the ancient empire of Ghana as it began to decline in the 13th century. Then came the slave trade of the 15th through 19th centuries, during which time Europeans captured tens of millions of Africans and held them in coastal forts to await the arrival of the slave ships. The Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, Swedes and the British all occupied Ghana, which at the time was known as the Gold Coast for its large reserves of the precious metal. The British ultimately prevailed and maintained their colonial rule from the 19th through the 20th century.
Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence in 1957. That momentous event was gradually overshadowed by turmoil in President Kwame Nkrumah’s regime, which ended in 1966 when he was overthrown by a military coup. Following that was a series of more coups that left Ghana an economic and political wreck.
From that hopelessness, though, Ghana has risen again. With two free, clear and mostly flawless democratic elections now under its belt, Ghana has emerged as a major democratic force in Africa with a peaceful citizenry and a relatively free media with vigorous political discussions in the papers and on numerous radio talk shows.
Now there’s oil – significant offshore reserves of the black gold that will begin pumping in 2010. Good for the whole country? Yes, but only if Ghana doesn’t go the way of other oil-rich African states like Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. In those countries, corruption, mass exploitation of the local people, and grossly unequal distribution of oil wealth has resulted in ruinous political mayhem. To be sure, Ghana needs the money to build its fledgling national health plan and to construct the infrastructure that will be needed for business to flourish.
Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) lives and works in Accra, an increasingly exciting and booming metropolis. At the same time, though, violent crime has increased, necessitating the creation of a small Homicide Division to which he has been assigned. One notorious murderer was Charles Quansah, Ghana’s only known serial killer, who was convicted in 2002 of the strangulation deaths of nine women over several years. Another infamous killing took place on a night in June 2007, when a gang of armed men shot and killed a prominent banker in his home. These are the dark side of Accra, a city of noise and chaos that Darko loves nevertheless.