Backpacking from Accra to Cape Coast: The Architecture
In Cape Coast, like most other places, the colonial architecture is as much a cultural symbol for a bygone era as it is a reservoir of wealth waiting to be tapped.
A quick early morning dawn visit to the beach to capture the sunrise had been completed in no more than half hour. The next half hour or so was spent strolling through the streets of Cape Coast near the castle and town centre. Historical cities and towns are often identified by their surviving architectural achievements and Cape coast was no exception. The style of design and method of construction of the structures I saw were unmistakably colonial British. These were well built structures that have stood the test of time especially given that they were still very much, in the main, in active use. I watched as folks came out of them, some with a tooth brush and a bowl of water in hand, to brush their teeth outside. Little kids were being bathed in the forecourts ready to be sent on their way to school.
One overriding thought kept coming to me though. Why weren’t there more tourists clamouring to see these buildings, some of which were centuries old. Why are Ghanaians not making such a big fuss of promoting these hidden gems in every tourist brochure going? Everywhere I travel to, the most valuable tourist attractions were always ones that revolved around aged and ancient physical structures.
In many African countries, colonial architecture reflected the constant engagement with European powers and unmistakably such architecture represent symbolically the political power of the ruling European elite at the time. Perhaps, I thought, resentment towards the colonialism and slave trading of the colonial ruling powers lay behind this nonchalant attitude towards showing off Cape Coast’s colonial architecture. Perhaps turning these buildings into listed and protected buildings could mean the forced re-housing of its current inhabitants – a policy that could prove too prohibitive to a country that had more pressing priorities.
I understood these pressures but, I also couldn’t help thinking that sooner or later when the voracious infrastructural development I had witnessed in Accra eventually hits other cities and towns like Cape Coast, these building will be torn down to make way for hyper modern ones. I have seen this happen to the old Accra suburb of Cantonments where wooden colonial buildings on stilts had been torn down to make way for swanky apartments and offices.
As I walked through Cape Coast city centre, it dawned on me that posterity could miss out on the architecture that speaks, more than any other physical entity, so forcefully about Ghana’s and Africa’s grapple with colonialism.