Salaga Slave Market: Potential tourist site nothing worth seeing in current state


Kelvin Bales puts it right that “slavery is theft – theft of life, theft of work, theft of any property or produce, theft even of the children a slave might have borne…”

The story of slavery and how it has robbed Ghana of its resources has been told in many history books.

The Cape Coast Castle, the Elmina Castle, the Anomabo Fort, the Ussher Fort and the Christiansburg Castle are some of the monuments that easily come to mind when slavery in Ghana is mentioned.

Almost all the regions in the country boast some slavery monuments or relics, which tell how pivotal Ghana was in the slave trade.

Salaga, an ancient town in the East Gonja Municipality of the Savannah Region, was one of the areas noted for the role it played during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

But the slave market there has been abandoned; the potential tourist site has been left in ruins, depriving the country of revenue.

Known for its rich slave history, Salaga became the biggest slave market where humans were sold in exchange for cowries.

The town boasts other slavery monuments and relics like the slave cemetery and drinking wells.

The popularity of the market motivated me to visit the town but just at the entrance, I saw the signpost crooked.

The remnants of the slave chains, iron shackles and spears have been reduced to nothing worth seeing.

“A lot of diasporans have heard stories about the Salaga Slave Market; so, they come here to trace their routes. But they come here to meet the place messed up,” a tour guard at the abandoned market, V.I. Bukari lamented.

The wells, dug by the slaves for drinking and bathing, and the cemetery have been abandoned and the lands almost sold out, with the market itself shredded by market stores.

The Salaga Market in Accra

I took a look at the Salaga Market in Accra, a place where most of the slaves from the main market in the Savannah Region were transported to.

It has two wells that have underground tunnels that connect to the sea, where it is believed the slaves were kept and later sold to their slave masters.

Through the underground tunnels, the slaves were said to have been sent to the Ussher Fort and then exported overseas.

But, just as the main slave market in the Savannah Region, the story of the Salaga Market in Accra is not different.

The market with an area size of 4.74 acres is engulfed in filth.

People cook in unhygienic settings, with the traders struggling to get enough space to sell due to the stalled redevelopment project under the Coastal Development Authority (CODA).

“Plans to renovate the market started from the Rawlings era but there is no significant progress over 25 years now,” the Acting Market Queen, Juliana Tettey said.

Another trader, Cynthia Quartey, added that “it’s been eight years already that we were promised a redevelopment; the reality is what you see here.”

GTA’s plans for site

Both markets, which could serve as tourist sites, have been abandoned.

“Over the years, attempts have been made to develop the market [Salaga Slave Market]. Governments come and go but nothing has been achieved. We just see overnight construction works and it ends there,” Bukari lamented.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), Akwasi Agyeman, says GTA has plans to redevelop the slave market.

“Current project is going on, starting from Salaga [where] we have the slave market being done [redeveloped]. We have the slave wells also being rehabilitated. What we are doing…is to start what we call the ‘Slave Routes Tour Package’ where people who come to Ghana and want to have an experience of what happened – as unfortunate as it was – during the slave trade will not just go to Cape Coast and Elmina which were more of the transit points but go to where it started,” he hinted.

In 2004, the construction of a tourist reception centre began in Salaga to serve as information centre to the historic town but that has yet to see the light of day.

Many communities around the world have gained so much revenue from their tourist monuments but the story is different about Ghana.

The Salaga Slave Market, the slave cemetery, the slave wells and other relics have been abandoned and reduced to nothing worth seeing.

This is rather depriving the state of a lot of revenue and the various opportunities the area presents to the local economy and the country at large.