Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Best of the B.A.D: Kotoka International Airport enters the 20th Century

Kotoka International Airport, Accra
Some of us are old enough to remember Kotoka International Airport (KIA) back in the 1980s. Although quite young, I have a vivid memory of mid-'80s KIA being akin to a marketplace. My mind's eye tells me there was a lot of confusion, a never-ending stream of officials in plain-clothes opening our bags on arrival and there may have been some goats about. Actually, I think the goats were probably inserted into the memory from my imagination - we do like our goats in Ghana though. But I digress.....we were talking about KIA. Mid-'90s KIA was not very different from mid-'80s KIA. Outside the airport however, it was a different ball game. In the mid-'90s, Ghana was well into its triumphant return to multi-party democracy and that meant there was much more freedom. Freedom meant that outside KIA one was greeted by mobs of well-dressed youth who clutched on to your bags on arrival and offered assistance. I do remember some of them demanding "just a One pound coin" for basically touching your bag. Not sure why these young men assumed that every passenger was arriving from a place where pounds were legal tender. Besides, how does one change a one pound coin anyway? 
It always struck me as surprising that for a country that prides itself as being the 'Gateway to Africa', KIA changed very little over the years. Perhaps I exaggerate but as time went on, KIA to me was starting to look more like the gateway to war-torn Africa. You know, like the airport in a Hollywood production set in a fictional civil war-torn African country where everyone is gathered in a panic? 

Speaking of African airports, history and Hollywood, did you know that around 4 July 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Entebbe International Airport to mark the 40th anniversary of the (in)famous Operation Entebbe? Childhood exposure to some age-inappropriate films meant I learnt all about the raid on Entebbe Airport from the 70s film Operation Thunderbolt. Quick recap: in June 1976, a group of terrorists hijacked a Paris-bound plane that had left Tel Aviv. To cut a long story short, the plane was taken to Entebbe Airport in Uganda where the hostages were to be hosted by one of Africa's most regrettable sons: Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada.  This historical plot was literally the stuff of fiction and it culminates in an elite squad of Israeli soldiers storming the airport. The commandos were led by the charismatic, young and good-looking 
Poster for the film Operation Thunderbolt (1977)
Source: Wikipedia
Lt. Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu. *Spoiler alert* The end of the film left me bawling as a child since the hero Yonatan dies during the daring rescue. Interestingly, it was only decades later that I found out that Lt Col. Yonatan Netanyahu was the older brother of the current Israeli PM. I did not see that plot twist coming. Apparently, the death of his brother may account for some of Bibi's hardline views.
But seriously I digress, this was about KIA and Ghana. Over the years, as the airport hubs in other African countries expanded, Ghana's airport remained the same but somehow went from market-place to sheer embarrassment. So fast-forward to my arrival in Accra on 31 July 2016. I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed back to a newly-renovated KIA. I swore I heard Osibisa's Welcome Home playing as the plane landed. Well, maybe that was another one from my imagination but wouldn't that have been great?

Mind you, Kotoka is not Bole International, Jomo Kenyatta International or Oliver Tambo International but it is getting there....slowly. It is finally entering the late 20th Century and somewhere down the line, I see the 21 Century. I was equally impressed by the efficient immigration lines. I would have taken pictures to document the swanky new renovations but alas, one policy remains unchanged: no pictures in the airport. What a shame.

Great to fly SAA for the first time in over 15 years
P.S. Post Number 300! 


Paa Kwasi Otchere said...

Nice Write-up

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I was coming from Nigeria and it had just been opened. I was so surprised that I secretly recorded a short video and sent it to a friend. I agree, it's not there yet but the change is huge.

Abena Serwaa said...

@Paa Kwasi, Thanks :)

Abena Serwaa said...

@Nana Fredua, Wow! Really impressed you managed to record a video. Small, small Ghana is getting there.