I have just returned from a trip to Ghana in which I have had the opportunity to travel back and fourth between Ghana’s two major cities, Accra and Kumasi. This was my second visit this year, and as such I feel I have been given a good overview of the place in order to share my experiences of Ghana’s metropolitan landscapes and its potential, and also our shared similarities. I was fortunate to have had excellent local hosts and partners who not only welcomed us warmly to their country but took time to show us around their great nation and provide us with insight about their country which would normally not be found in our school history books.
As a general overview, Ghana has about 20 million people and the above two cities hold 8 million in population between them, with Accra accounting for 5 million. Ghana is well-known for its gold mines (formally called Gold Coast, after its gold wealth), found mostly around the Kumasi area, which is the land of the Great Ashanti, or Asante people, well-known for their heroic history and wealth of their kingdoms. Recently in 2010, Ghana started pumping out its massive oil reserves on the coast off Accra, making it one of the newest arrivals to the world of oil wealth.
Ghana has had its share of political turmoil which saw one of its most celebrated historic leader, and indeed African icon, toppled by a coup. Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana’s first leader to lay Ghana’s national foundations which still to this day resonate throughout most of Africa. He was recently voted BBC’s “Man of the Millennium” years after his passing, beating Nelson Mandela to the top. Nkrumah’s vision and foresight is what excited me most as I was showed some of his successful projects.
One of Nkrumah’s most revealing ambitions was his industrialisation plan which he often referred to as the “great transformation” or the ‘big push’. The accelerated investment in stable national infrastructure was key to Ghana’s early economics’ first steps and most of the infrastructure laid out by Nkrumah ambitions is still to date living and working monuments. Nkrumah established development cooperations (The Development Cooperation and Ghana Industrial Holding Corporation – (GIHOC)) as far back as 1947 and 1965.
The Akosombo Dam on the Volta River, completed in 1966, was a key part of his vision for self reliance and supply of basic needs such as energy and electricity to the nation. The Akosombo hydraulic dam, which I had the pleasure of touring, is still intact to date and produces about 80% of power to Ghana’s 20million population. Nkrumah believed in industrial independency and reasoned that Ghana could escape the colonial reliance by developing trade systems that reduce dependence on foreign capital, technology, and material goods.
Nkrumah laid out an education system with infrastructure still perhaps unparallel in Africa to date. As far back as 1961, Nkurumah determined to make education accessible to as many Ghanaian children as possible, introduced an Education Act. The act allowed private education institutions to coexist with government schools in efforts to fast track educating the nation. Education was made compulsory and school infrastructure was laid out to complement the grand idea, with the University of Ghana as the corner stone of this.
Nkrumah also set up the government housing cooperation (GHC) in 1956 to; ‘build houses for the people, especially those in towns’. Rural housing schemes were also initiated while the First Ghana Building Society – a semi-government institution – was set up to assist individuals through a mortgage scheme to own houses. By 1960 Ghana developed its first dual-carriage roads, street lights and new architectural designs which were to give Accra a sense of identity. Many other grand initiatives were imitated in other areas such as mining, farming, health, and governance.
Nkrumah’s critics are known to pin his down fall on his grand plans and their effect on the economy at the time, which saw Ghana accumulate debt with his efforts to fulfil his industrialization goals. Looking back at this infrastructure through foreign eyes, although some of it is now dilapidated, Nkrumah in my opinion was far ahead of his time and probably still remains so to most of our current African leaders.
As for Botswana, there is a lot to learn from Nkrumah’s 1960’s visionary ideals. Botswana still is mostly dependent on other countries for almost all its basic infrastructure from power, food, to soon even water. This is despite the country’s 44 years of self rule and mineral wealth. Current national projects that attempt to append these such as Mmamabula Power Stations, BIUST, BIH and many others need a bold leadership and implementation commitment to take the country to true INDEPENDENCE. The ideals of Vision 2016 seem more further from ever being realised and there are lessons to be learnt from Nkrumah’s Ghana, both from the successes and failures of his ambitions.
H. Killion Mokwete, ARB, RIBA Chartered Architect
Lecturer at University of Botswana, Department of Architecture and Planning
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