All of French West Africa shares a common currency, the CFA, tied at 50:1 to the French Franc. In Paris you can convert unlimited amounts of Francs to CFA and back, thus giving these countries a hard currency, and French colonials a place where they can still do business as always.
The Anglophone countries (Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia) all have their own currencies, with a corresponding rate of inflation, but (it seems) very serviceable. All countries have exchangeable currencies, with Bureau de Change at every street corner and ‘change money?’ a part of the greeting exchange with tourists.
We crossed Benin into Togo - the end of the first segment of our trip - some people left the truck here and another group arrived. Togo is only 50 miles across - and we stayed in the capital, Lome, on the Ghana border to the west for about a week.
Having picked up our new passengers, and now with a full truck (20 passengers - on the first half we only had 16) we set off for Ghana and Accra. At this point I left the truck, and went to look up my friend Victor, whom I found without much trouble. The others went for a few days up to Kumasi, the Ashanti region of Ghana.
Victor lives in a housing estate in Accra with his wife and three of his six children. I got the best bed - his - which I shared with him. His wife slept with the children - cooked, did laundry, but as with all of Africa, felt that it was not her place to talk to me other than short polite replies to questions.
Male / female relations in Africa are not like ours - except in very unusual situations people do not marry for romantic love - it is a support arrangement. Really. Its the truth. I think that is why it was impossible for me to meet or talk to any women other than prostitutes. What a shame.
Ghana has a national lottery, with a drawing every week. I watched the draw on television - usual thing with big wheels counter-rotating, trapping numbered ping-pong balls. There was a jet of air that blew balls up into a funnel from which they could be picked and read. However, in Ghana there are about 4 Lotto newspapers, with news on the lotto, systems for predicting the results, headlines like ‘34 and 56 GOOD BETS FOR THIS WEEK’, and the entire paper filled with previous lotto results, results from last year, same phase of the moon, new methods of drawing squares of numbers, putting lines though them to select - in short a huge industry. In the market there were no less than three people with their chalkboards explaining how simple it was to win if you used their system, with crowds of people standing around taking notes and tossing money into his hat.
After the others got back (they were two days late, and I was getting seriously worried!) we went down to two of the coastal slaving forts in Ghana - collection points for the slaves before being shipped to the New World. Here the slaves were kept in dungeons from 6 to 12 weeks - no light, impossibly cramped conditions, fight for food - and if they survived that (which many didn’t) then they were strong enough to make the Atlantic passage. At the museum at the fort they had engineering drawings of the ships and their cargo - the slaves lying head to toe to better utilise the space. However, in practice the ships might be overloaded by up to 50%, not giving them enough room to stretch out. The male slaves were chained together in pairs to make it more difficult for them to cause trouble - the female slaves were not. There is still six inches of dried human excrement on the floor.
While we were in Ghana the West Africa football cup was being played in Dakar and televised all over - and we watched Ghana make it into the finals! the other finalist was Ivory Coast - next door. We drove over the border the Sunday morning of the day of the final. The game was messy, running into extra time and then, when there was still no score, penalties. The Ivory Coast goalkeeper had a little routine before every shot - which naturally everyone accused them of being black magic which is why they won. So Ivory Coast had a national two day holiday, which meant that Abidjan was closed, banks were closed, so we pressed on up north.
Ivory Coast has one of the old men of Africa still in power since independence - Felix Houphouet-Boigny. He has by and large kept good relations with France, and it has been a stable country with a relatively strong economy. People come from neighbouring CFA countries to earn money and send it home.
Felix made his birthplace, the village of Yamoussoukro, the capital of the country, built a 5 star hotel, wide boulevards and street lamps, his palace with its own crocodile pool. He built his own private replica of St Peters of Rome, which estimates put at $300 million. Built from Italian marble with foreign workers, it is magnificent. Stunning African-theme stained glass, one ton doors that open with a finger, 6 elevators to the viewing galleries, a mansion in the gardens for the Pope when he came to open it.
Ivory Coast has prosperity, paved roads, cars, electricity, water, but seems to be missing a lot of the joy of life. Other countries seem to smile and laugh and have time - Ivory Coast is learning the western way of life - hurry hurry and think only of yourself. Burkina Faso (you are checking your atlas? Try Upper Volta) is an extremely poor country to the north of Ivory Coast, where able-bodied men cross the border to work on the farms in Ivory Coast and send the money back. But what a difference in the people! They seem happier.
We stopped off in Bobo Dioulasso, where I spent a pleasant afternoon playing Owali with an old, voluble, polio-stricken parking attendant who couldn’t believe I beat him the first game. He beat me the rest, but I gave him a run for his money. This was a fairly common pattern - they were over- confident the first game and bucked down after that. Lots of polio all over Africa.