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Notes on the Geography of Ghana: Accra 3: Institutional Landscapes

Few colonial governors have been as influential as Gordon Guggisberg, a surveyor by training. Here we look primarily at two of his accomplishments--a hospital and a school, both in Accra. Near the end of his tenure, in 1927, he described the changes that he had helped make in the Gold Coast: "As this year will see the end for me of nearly twenty-five years in West Africa, perhaps I may legitimately ask Honourable Members to pardon a few words of a personal nature. What wonderful changes in the Gold Coast there have been in that time! THEN, a country of foot-paths, winding tortuously through the hills, swamps, and streams of a dense tropical forest; no motor roads and about forty to fifty miles of railway open to traffic; no breakwaters at the ports; a trade of less than two million pounds; a revenue of less than half a million; no water supplies; no electric lighting; a few public buildings; public health and education in their merest infancy; a people recovering--but still restless--from many years of war; and NOW what a contrast all that makes to the Gold Coast of today" (The Gold Coast: A Review of the Events of 1920-26 , 1927, p. 258).

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The entrance to the Korle Bu Hospital, Accra. Of it Guggisberg wrote, "The Gold Coast Hospital is certainly the largest of all the works which Government has undertaken and completed during the last seven years.... The site... had been chosen in 1917 and plans had been prepared.... The war, however, prevented any work being started.... It was obvious that government, in view of the many directions in which development work was demanded, could not afford for many years to build more than one hospital on a grand scale; and that if we were going to build a big hospital we should spare neither pains nor money in making it a really efficient headquarters of medicine and surgery, and moreover a centre capable of indefinite expansion.... The Administrative Buildings and the first block of Wards were completed and formally opened by me on the 9th October, 1923.... Sufficient land has been obtained by the Government for the construction of the future Medical School... [that] will be that for all the British West African Colonies" (The Gold Coast: A Review..., pp. 125-6).

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The hospital is still a source of pride.

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It was designed in blocks providing plenty of ventilation and overhangs to shade the rooms.

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It's still well-maintained.

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Guggisberg's personnel policies are less visible but perhaps even more impressive than the bricks and mortar. He remembered one episode with particular vehemence: "The appointment of Dr. E Tagoe (DPH, University of London, 1924) to supervise the small hospital at Dunkwa led to petitions from the local Europeans. A question was asked of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who replied, 'It is the policy of His Majesty's Government that native West Africans who are qualified medical men and otherwise suitable for public employment should be employed in Government service in West Africa... I cannot see my way to interfere with the Governor's exercise of his discretion in matters of this kind.'" Guggisberg didn't leave it at that. "It is difficult to deal in measured language with this Dunkwa petition. I do not see how... personal likes or dislikes can possibly be allowed to dictate Government's action in carrying out a settled and approved policy, the grant of equal opportunities to Africans and Europeans of equal qualifications.... Dr. Tagoe has proved himself so far to be the equal of the European in his professional qualifications and his personal character, and he is therefore going to remain at Dunkwa. If any member of the European community there objects to being attended by him, there is a European doctor at Obuasi, 230 miles away by rail, and at Tarkwa, 60 miles away by rail, either of whom I am sure would be delighted to attend the patient.... There is only one word that describes the action of the non-official members of the European community at Dunkwa, namely, deplorable" (The Gold Coast: A Review..., pp. 186-8).

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The hospital today, alas, though well-maintained is terrifically overburdened.

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What have we here? A few miles north of Accra, these are the gates of a side entrance to Guggisberg's other most spectacular accomplishment in Accra, the Prince of Wales School, opened in 1928 and now called from its location simply the Achimota School.

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Emblem on the gate.

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Where there's a will, there's a way... an easy one, it turns out.

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Tut, tut.

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Guggisberg wrote: "The construction of the Prince of Wales's School and the Prince of Wales's College at Achimota is by far the largest work ever undertaken by the Public Works Department in this country.... The formation of this great educational centre is the most important step ever taken by the Government to assist the progress of the people of the Gold Coast" Achimota was planned for 230 students in a school and 540 in a college. All boys.

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Guggisberg wrote: "In October, 1919, Government adopted education as the chief plank in its main policy, the progress of the people of the Gold Coast.... On the fifth of that month [March, 1924] I laid the foundation stone.... Through all this, our aim must be not to denationalise them, but to graft skilfully on to their national characteristics the best attributes of modern civilisation. For without preserving his national characteristics and his sympathy and touch with the great illiterate mass of his own people no man can ever become a leader in progress, whatever other sort of leader he may become" (The Gold Coast: A Review..., p. 204).

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Plaque in the main building.

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Another.

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And another, the lower one of interest. Kwame Nkrumah in 1926 was working as a pupil-teacher at a school in Half Assini, a coastal village next to the Ivory Coast. In his autobiography he recalls: "In 1926 the Principal of the Government Training College in Accra visited the school and, when he saw the work I was doing, he was sufficiently impressed to recommend that I should go to his college to train as a teacher. This marks a turning point in my life... a raw youth bewildered at first by city life.... [I was] thoroughly homesick. Half Assini, with its roads of sand like tracks in the desert, seemed far preferable to the traffic, the crowded streets and the noise of Accra...." Nkrumah attended the opening ceremonies of the college: "The figure to whom all Africans looked that day was Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey, assistant vice-principal and the first African member of the staff... It was through him that my nationalism was first aroused. He was extremely proud of his color but was strongly opposed to racial segregation in any form.... He believed conditions should be such that the black and white races would work together.... But I could not, even at that time, accept this idea of Aggrey's... for I maintained that such harmony can only exist when the black race is treated as equal with the white race" (Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah, 1957, pp. 15-17). Nkrumah later attended university in the United States, and his travels there did nothing to change his mind.

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Here, too, donors get naming rights.

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A dormitory named for Aggrey. Nkrumah writes: "In Aggrey House our housemaster was just about as strict as it was possible to be and the words with which he slated us were like whiplashes.... I spent a lot of my spare time at Achimota weeding and gardening [as punishment for rule infractions or as a part-time job]. In fact I and my contemporaries were for the most part responsible for the appearance of the grounds as they are today" (Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah, 1957, pp. 19-20).

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The art school.

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After independence, Ghana built a university. The library, shown here, fuses Achimota with an Asian ambience.

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Compared to Korle Bu and Achimota, Ghana's government offices are very modest, perhaps appropriately so. Here, Food and Agriculture.

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No opulence here.

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Or here, unless you count luxuriant acronyms.

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The ministry has its own retail shop.

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Guggisberg had called for a new Law Courts building: "The construction of new Law Courts in Accra cannot, however, be long postponed." Eventually a court complex was built on the site of an old colonial hospital facing a polo ground.

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More recently, office space has invaded the Turf Club.

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Speaking of clubs, here's another, a shadow of its colonial self.

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Monuments get more attention, such as this one at Independence Square. Richard Wright wrote of Nkrumah telling a crowd, "We prefer self-government with danger to servitude in tranquillity!" The crowd responded: "Free--dooooooom! Free--doooooom!"

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Nowadays, the icon is put to commercial use.

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Nkrumah himself keeps walking, in this case away from his own monument.

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Eventually he was overthrown and this statue vandalized.

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Explanation.

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As ever, a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery is well kept-up.

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It contains a wealth of insignia, in this case for the Royal West African Frontier Force. The battalions were disbanded about 1960 to become the nuclei of several national armies, including Nigeria's and Ghana's, which is why this cemetery is guarded by active-duty Ghanaian soldiers.

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Though a bit porky by today's standards, Mercury is the logical choice for the signal corps.

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The Royal Engineers motto ("Honi soit qui mal y pense") means, roughly, "Shame on anyone who thinks ill of it." But who would?

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Can't beat the air force motto.

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The emblem of the Reconnaissance Corps, suggesting the tip of an arrow moving at lightning speed.

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The Sphinx in Wales? Not quite, but the unit was part of the force that drove Napoleon from Egypt.

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Better calligraphy you couldn't ask for.

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Nearby, there's a far more crowded civilian cemetery at Osu.

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A couple of residents enjoys some shade.


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