ACCRA – Ghana has the fastest-growing economy in Africa and with that boom has come Westernization. The country's first American-style shopping mall in the capital, Accra is drawing big Sunday crowds and changing the way Ghanaians spend their free time.
The scene could be from a shopping mall anywhere in the U.S. or Europe: Boys in skinny jeans and girls wearing hot pink lipstick eat pizza at the food court inside the mall. Little kids scamper on a blue blow-up moonwalk close-by. But we’re in Accra, where the first and only mall was built in 2007. Since then, it has become the epicentre of a new, more Western Accra.
The shopping mall represents a modern, indoor version of the traditional marketplace. It features a large parking area for a suburban clientele. Like many malls, the Accra mall has a cinema complex, a food court, a children’s play area, and several banks among corridors of clothing and gift shops. It also has a grocery store.
In the food court, student Vida Sunkari, 26, wears big silver dangly earrings and her stylish black t-shirt hangs over one shoulder. Her parents are farmers who grow maize and groundnuts in a dusty remote corner of the country called Wa. Vida says she doesn’t want to be a farmer like her parents. She is going to school so she can get a job in the city.
“I’m doing a secretarial course so maybe I can get employed in a company anywhere,” she explains.
Vida Sunkari is part of a generation of Ghanaians with meager means who long to make it into the country’s fast-growing middle and upper classes.
In 2011, the World Bank said Ghana’s economy grew at 14.4 percent - driven by new oil production and the construction sector.
According to a 2011 report from the African Development Bank, while not everyone has benefitted, the number of middle class Africans has tripled over the last 30 years to 313 million people, or more than 34 percent of the continent’s population. Affluence has brought about the growth of suburbs, gated communities and a demand for consumer goods.
The concept of the shopping mall originated in the United States, and the first suburban shopping centers, as we know them today, were built in the 1950s. But the mall concept has since spread around the world, with the largest ones located in China and Southeast Asia.
In Accra, manager Amo-Mensah, says this mall was modeled after those in the U.S. and Europe.
“And because of Accra mall the Ghanaian retail industry has been exposed to a mall concept," explains Amo-Mensah. "Other developers are trying to come up with malls or replicas of malls because they know what malls can do, and they are learning a lot from Accra mall. Very soon, within a year or two you will see a few other malls springing up, not just in Accra but in other regional capitals as well because they’ve come to appreciate what a mall can do for Ghanaians.”
He says there are four other malls being developed in Ghana now, and that the mall is replacing the beach as a place for Ghanaians to spend time on weekends.
Asante-Appaih, the owner of the most lucrative business at the mall - a pharmacy and dental clinic - agrees, adding that families come out to the mall in droves on Sundays after church.
"It’s become a good pastime for Ghanaians after church on Sunday. Our best trading day in the mall is Sunday and that is when families can come because people, the middle class work so hard," Asante-Appaih says. "So you can see them and their kids just walking in the corridors and having a good time just like all the other families in Europe or in America."
He says the mall also helps project an image of Ghana as a place to do business.
“And the thing is when people come to Ghana looking for business and somebody
tells you, meet me in the mall and let’s have coffee and you sit there and you see
what is going on in the mall, it tells you that whatever you want to do here will be successful,” Asante-Appaih says.
Soon, Accra will be a place where upper class people from other countries in the region come to shop, rather than going to Britain or South Africa, the successful store owner says.