Ghana is located on the coast of West Africa. Its southernmost tip, Cape Three Points, is closest to zero than any other world land mass in three aspects: zero latitude (Equator), zero longitude (Greenwich Meridian), and zero sea level.
In 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan country to gain its independence, from Britain. After topsy-turvy years of one ruinous, incompetent military regime after the next, Ghana transitioned to democratic rule in 1992 and has been a thriving democracy ever since. Besides that, the country is the world’s second-highest producer of cacao (from which we get chocolate), and has a wealth of natural resources such as gold and aluminum ore, not to mention sizable deposits of crude oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Guinea.
What Ghana does not have a lot of is crime fiction, but in sub-Saharan Africa, that isn’t a characteristic peculiar to Ghana alone. In her article African Crime Fiction: The World As It Is or the World As We Would Like It to Be, Karen Ferreira-Myers observes that crime fiction was for a long time not well received in Africa. Crime fiction in Francophone countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Senegal, Mali, etc., was not regarded as “true” literature and the African intelligentsia took it as “bourgeois entertainment.” Really? Nevertheless, crime fiction from French-speaking African writers such as Senegalese Abasse Ndione (La Vie en Spirale) and Malian Moussa Konate (Meurtre a Timbouctou) have been around now for decades.
According to Cheryl Dash, a reference in Ferreira-Myers’s article, the origin of the African crime novel in English can be found in Fella’s Choice (1974) by Nigerian Kole Omotoso, about the adventures of a James Bond-like character. Although southern Africa has been blazing the trail of crime fiction for some time now, West Africa may catch up at some point. The founding of Cassava Republic Press, a Nigerian publishing house with a crime division, is exciting. In Ghana, Afram Publishers is relatively new to crime fiction with the novella Death at the Voyager Hotel.
The Indiana African Crime Fiction Project lists four crime novelists of Ghanaian origin:
3. Peggy Oppong (The Lemon Suitcase) and The Shark. (The Lemon Suitcase could be out of print.)
4. Kwei Quartey (Wife of the Gods, Children of the Street, Murder at Cape Three Points, and coming up, Gold of the Fathers, Death by His Grace, and Off the Rails.)
True Crime in Ghana
The US Department of State lists Ghana as a “high” crime threat to visitors and residents alike. Most are crimes of opportunity, such as pickpocketing, petty theft, robbery and burglary. The word opportunity is key here: don’t make the opportunity available. Wearing flashy necklaces and bracelets, dangling a purse in clear view so it can be easily snatched, and wandering into dodgy areas of town without accompanying security are just a few examples of how to attract trouble. Almost all residences of any worth in Ghana are protected by a high wall with razor wire or electric fencing, at least in the larger towns and cities. Nocturnal travel on dark roads is a no-no and simply an invitation to armed robbers, who are not a pleasant bunch. Of note also are fraud and Internet scams, which of course extend far outside Ghana’s borders.
Intentional homicide rates for Ghana vary widely, depending on the website. Gunpolicy.org has a dated figure of 1.71 per 100,000 in 2011. United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) gives a 2012 figure of 6.1 per 100,000 population of Ghana, compared with 4.7 for USA, 0.2 for Singapore, 0.6 for Switzerland (which has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world) and 90.4 for Honduras. Caution must be exercised when comparing two or more countries because factors such as reliability of record-keeping and access to medical care in a particular country affect the numbers. For example, you are more likely to survive multiple stab wounds in the USA (where you might get to an ER in minutes) than you are in Ghana where EMS is not well developed, medical resources are often limited, etc.
According to GunPolicy.org, 2012 estimated firearm possession rate, both legal and illicit, is 2 per 100 Ghanaians, compared to 101 per 100 in the United States. Estimated rate of illicit firearm ownership is 0.6 per 100. Most illegal weapons in Ghana are made by local artisans who traditionally design firearms for hunting. They may be unreliable in operation. There is continued concern over increasing gun-related crimes in Ghana.
The kind of murders in the Darko Dawson series are probably a lot more creative than most that occur in Ghana in reality. However, art does sometimes imitate life in that regard. Just recently, in the death of a man ostensibly hit by a train, the police suspect foul play, which sounds to me like the opening chapter to a Darko murder mystery. Too late, mystery writers! I saw it first.