Abelemkpe – A Tale of Two Cities within a City

Richard walks to a neighborhood soccer pitch with friends. Photograph by Francis Kokoroko

Francis Kokoroko

Abelemkpe, meaning ‘the last corn’ in local parlance, is one of Accra, Ghana’s rapidly developing suburbs. A sprawling township, it is surrounded by remnants of the lush forests from which it emerged.

Two main entrances lead into this community: One links Abelemkpe to the Olusegun Obasanjo highway – one of Accra’s most popular freeways and the route plied by residents, motorists and pedestrians headed for Accra’s central business district. The other entrance – a gateway to Western Accra – is the less busy of the two, but geographically the more important, for it leads to a central street that unintentionally has split Abelemkpe into two distinct halves.

New Abelemkpe to the north is home to the rich and famous. High rise buildings, hotels and flashy restaurants are the mainstay of this part of the city. High income earners snap up property in this area. Churches, elite schools, restaurants, malls and entertainment centers all dot this part of the city’s skyline.

As one progresses south into Old Abelemkpe, sharp changes occur. The roads are unusually wide, neatly tarred and well maintained in both old and new areas, but that is where the similarities end. Luxury high rise apartments are replaced by single or two room compound houses where several families live side by side. Kitchens and bathrooms are communal. Here in the valley, unlike up the hill, neighbors are seen outside chatting with each other. Small shops line the sidewalks, and in the evenings they play loud music and serve drinks creating an atmosphere of revelry.

The kids play freely. For the boys any flat open space is meant for football.

The Railway Park—situated between the towns’ two major railway lines—and the Abelenkpe Park are the two most prominent soccer fields. Naturally only the crème de la crème of local talent feature regularly on either pitch. Those less blessed with talent play for fewer minutes.

The Mainland Hotel has been in Old Abelemkpe for many years. It is where the young men after playing football all day watch European matches. Arguments over who is better: Ronaldo or MessiChelsea or ArsenalMadrid or Barcelona are constant. Most go to bed dreaming of becoming the next Messi or Ronaldo. How that will happen they do not know. But they are a praying bunch who believe in miracles.

The World is changing though, and so is Old Abelemkpe. Smart phones, the odd iPad, large flat screen televisions, the latest video games are seen more often. Elite restaurants are springing up. Developers are starting to build New Abelemkpe-type buildings in Old Abelemkpe. A number of older, poorer, residents accept hefty payouts from these developers and move on to other towns; others not swayed by money, cling stubbornly to their heritage.

The tale is often told of how the name common to both sides, Abelemkpe (the last corn), came to be. The first settler in the valley, Alhaji Sali, purchased a small portion of property from the government at the time. He wanted more land but lacked funds. Legend has it that rather than spend the little money he had on food, he subsisted entirely on ‘Abele’ (corn) he grew on his property. He eventually sold the extra lands he acquired for a tidy profit to the earliest settlers – the present day residents of Old Abelemkpe.

The ‘land of corn’ has flourished since. The contagious wave of development that began up the hill, north of Old Abelemkpe, is surging through the town, threatening to transform all that is old. The day whereby the names New and Old Abelemkpe, are discarded in favour of just plain Abelemkpe looms large.