Ghana government called upon to save historical sites | Africa | DW | 28.03.2016
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Ghana government called upon to save historical sites

Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Ghana every year. But experts warn that revenue from tourism could suffer if attractions are neglected. Some sites are already crumbling and it may be too late to save them.

James Town in Ghana’s capital Accra is home to many historical edifices. Ghana’s first hotel, the Sea View Hotel, was built here. It hosted the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, during her historic visit in 1961 to the first country south of the Sahara to achieve independence. But there are more Ghanaian landmarks in this part of town. They include the Ussher Fort, one of the oldest in Ghana, as well as a lighthouse, the main fishing harbor of James Town and James Fort Prison.

Tour guide Nice-One knows his way around the tourist attractions in this community. Although happy about his job, he is saddened by the current state of decay of many of these historical sites. He says the disappearance of the Sea View Hotel to make way for the building of a charismatic church is downright shocking: "A few days ago the owners of the land just came and demolished it and sold the land to the church people."

A man walks past the walls of the old James Fort Prison

Fort James in Accra was built by the British as a trading post in 1673

Residents complain

The residents are unhappy too. One of them, Clinton Ofori, told DW that he never expected this to happen: "It is pitiful, because this was the first hotel in Ghana, and now the building has been demolished."

A lighthouse situated close to the sea, in an area notorious for slave trading in the past, is also being left to rot. The tower hasn’t seen any maintenance for years. The same goes for the Ussher Fort, which was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. Eventually it became a prison for Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah and other prominent freedom fighters, turning it into a site of great historical significance.

Tourism expert Nii Kwatey Boi Quatey is appalled by the neglect of these facilities because they are also important for tourism: "It is so unfortunate for us to see James Fort prison being neglected. There is no tourism here and things are not going well." Quatey calls on those in charge in Ghana to sit up and take notice.

Interior of the decayed Rex cinema with blue chairs

The historical Rex Cinema, built on the initiative of first President Kwame Nkrumah

Lights out at the Rex Cinema

Nearby is Rex Cinema, one of the oldest movie theaters in the country. It was established by Ghana’s first president after independence. It was meant to boost the national film industry. But such hopes have now faded and the younger generation may soon not even have the chance to see this dilapidated edifice. There is an ongoing campaign to save the building but its future is far from certain.

The country is hoping to rake in $8.3 billion (7.4 billion euros) yearly from tourism by 2027. This is based on an estimate of 4.3 million international tourist arrivals. But for the tourists to come, the attractions must be properly maintained.

Abigail Hagan of the University of Ghana Business School leads a team of researchers who study the tourism sector in Ghana. She says the government has to step in to save the collapsing buildings: "It’s like a gold mine for us as a nation. We must study what others have done and then try to emulate that. Government needs to come to the aid of the people," she says, noting that the historical buildings "can be a source of revenue for both the government and the inhabitants of this town."

Accra's red and white iconic light house

This colonial-era lighthouse in Accra

Ghana’s Museums and Monument Board, which is reportedly facing budget problems, stands accused of doing nothing to save the landmarks. The hope now lies with initiatives by the Ghanaians themselves to encourage their leaders to step in and save the monuments.

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