Money can’t always open doors!

Border Crossed: Togo to Ghana
Border Crossed Date: 19 December 2014

I never seem to have an uneventful border crossing in West Africa.

Road in the Volta Region
Typical main road in the area around the Togo-Ghana border.

This time, though (cf my entry into Benin), this wasn’t anything to do with me, but rather with one of my fellow passengers on the bus, who had a literal stand-up argument with the Ghanaian border guards. It was all another indicator of just how unusual African border crossings can be.

There’s a frequent, if irregular, minibus service between Kpalimé and the Ghanaian town of Ho; I only ended up waiting two hours. It’s funny – when you have a fixed timetable, any delay either side I feel is frustrating and unnecessary, but if I’m waiting for a bus to leave when it’s ready, I’m far more inclined to mill around happily, no matter how long it takes.

By ‘minibus’ I of course mean ‘glorified van’; a 16-seater grubby metal shell with little in the way of suspension, and which consequently hit every bump on the road to the border. The route it took was largely similar to the one I’d taken yesterday to the waterfalls at Womé (indeed the incoming customs post was where we’d turned off), so I was already prepared to be thrown about; it didn’t make it any easier.

The bus to Ho
The minivan I crossed the border in. For clarification, the goat did not come with us…

After customs, the road if anything got worse, and even more rural – as international border crossings go, it wasn’t exactly well-used. The actual border post itself was a small farmer’s gate across the trail, in the middle of a wood – almost as if it was separating two landowners rather than two independent countries.

Before we got there, however, we had to pass through Togolese passport control – a small wooden hut by an opening in the road, reminiscent of the ticket booth for a small country park. I, naturally, headed straight for the hut to be stamped out. The other 15 people on board … didn’t; rather they just milled about by the side of the van, stretching their legs. From the corner of my eye I noticed, just like at the Benin-Togo border, money changing hands. Although the guards were reasonably efficient, I was stuck there for a couple of minutes and thus was the last to re-board.

The Ghanaian post was a little more formal – a small stone building, much more stereotypical inside with three or four smartly-dressed officials (white shirt, natch), bureaucratic paperwork, and a much more administrative ‘vibe’. And, unlike the guards on the Togo side, weren’t prepared for, or accepting of, a ‘casual’ approach to immigration.

While being stamped through, and asked the usual questions of how long I was staying, I heard raised voices coming from my left. A woman, probably in her 50s, was having an argument with two of the other guards. Although heavily accented, and predominantly in a local language (Ewe, I assume), I got the general gist – she didn’t have a passport or any kind of ‘official’ ID, but was still trying to cross the border on the grounds that it was something she’d always done without having any, while the guards were insisting that she needed a passport. After a few minutes of raised voices on either side, she stormed off in a huff.

I had a quick chat with the guards after she left; apparently this was quite a common occurrence – because the border between Ghana and Togo was an arbitrary one drawn in by the colonial powers, it had basically split the local community, thus people ended up having family and friends on both sides of the border. Since the majority of these locals were both quite poor and ‘indifferent’ to national politics, they’d never got passports (coupled also with Togo having been a dictatorship within living memory so passports may have been hard to get hold of anyway); while the guards in Togo (and presumably thus also in Benin) were more flexible in their approach – by choosing to turn a blind eye in return for ‘a small payment’ – the guards in Ghana were proud of being more responsible and less corruptible – their view being that while some people may be genuine Ghana citizens crossing having visited relatives in Togo, others were just ‘chancers’ trying to cross for their own ends. Your Mileage May Vary on which set of guards is morally right.

Regardless, yet again I was the last person to re-board the bus (which notably left the frontier still with its full complement of 16 people); it had parked 100m up a slight incline, and I could tell they were all getting a little restless waiting for me, so ended up jogging barefoot up the last of the gravel. From the border to the Ghanaian town of Ho was about two hours, all on comfortable tarmac roads. It’s relatively clear which side of the border has the more money.

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