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General News of Thursday, 24 April 2014

Source: Today Newspaper

Brit fights Ghana Gov’t over 300-year-old Fort at Dixcove

Controversy is brewing over the future of Fort Metal Cross, a 300-year-old castle in the Western region, as a British developer is fighting the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board over the ownership of the colonial edifice.

Situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the fishing port of Dixcove, the fortress was built by the Royal African Company in 1698 to serve as a warehouse for timber and gold dust, and was later renovated to hold slaves.

When the British left the Gold Coast in 1957, Fort Metal Cross was ceded to the Government of Ghana, but the paper can confirm that it [Fort Metal Cross] is once again in British hands—this time the lease is held by a developer from Surrey, named Robert Fidler.

Our investigations uncovered that Mr. Fidler first visited Dixcove in 1996 and was struck by the majesty of Fort Metal Cross.

He quickly made plans to turn the castle into a resort and applied for a 20-year lease on the building.

In 2001, the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board approved his application enabling Fidler to take up residence in the former District Officer’s room of the fort and began remodelling the castle and its surrounding area.

Mr. Fidler, the paper’s findings established, has spent more than £20,000 renovating Fort Metal Cross, but the Monuments Board is now saying he has violated the terms of his lease.

Additionally, his actions have angered some local residents, who claim that Fidler made changes to the castle without paying adequate fees to local chiefs.

Moreover, the presence of a white man in a former slave fort is raising eyebrows to some tourists who see the fort as a memorial to the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade.

The struggle over Fort Metal Cross reveals just how contentious the heritage of the former slave forts of West Africa can be.

To Europeans, the slave forts of Africa are likened to other monuments of oppression, such as Nazi concentration camps. To African Americans, they are testaments to the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. But to many Ghanaians, they are significant only as relics that can draw tourists to coastal towns.

Fort Metal Cross embodies all of these meanings. It served the British, primarily as a fort for holding, trading goods and slaves, but after the slave trade was abolished in 1808, it was used variously as a police station, a post office and a telephone exchange.

In 1983, the Ghanaian government turned it into a museum and a guest house, which suited local traditional elites because the proceeds from visitor fees, though modest, were shared with the local chiefs.

Mr. Fidler, Today gathered, understands that Fort Metal Cross represents different things to different people.

However, his goal has always been to enhance the site for tourists who want to visit a “British castle in West Africa”— complete with a restaurant, a conference centre, a swimming pool, a classical garden and chalets modelled along the architectural motifs of the fort.

To realise this vision, he had to clear the land around the building, which meant relocating local residents to 150 new homes on a nearby hillside. Additionally, Fidler graded the road to nearby Busua and built a bridge across the Busua River.

With the help of some friends from the UK, he also constructed a school for children near the fort. All of this, Fidler insists, was done with his own money, and always with the blessing of local chiefs.

But while Mr. Fidler’s efforts to redevelop Fort Metal Cross have satisfied some people in Dixcove, others are miffed about what he has done.

Some villagers who spoke to the paper indicated that Mr. Fidler used a slingshot to hurl stones at people defecating at the shoreline of the castle, despite the fact that there are few toilets available in that neighborhood.

The fishermen of Dixcove have registered complaints about the way Mr. Fidler enclosed the site with fences and a rock wall. They claim that, in 2011, the rock wall obstructed attempts to save five fishermen whose boats capsized in the harbour.

The sub-chiefs of Upper Dixcove have also noted that Fidler refused to open Fort Metal Cross for a full day during the annual Kundum Festival. But most importantly, the locals feel that they are not benefiting financially from the development of the castle site.

Fidler is saddened to hear that he has become a scapegoat for the demise of fishermen at sea. He personally witnessed two of the fisherman drown during the storm and is adamant that his sea defenses did not impede rescue efforts. And as for the fences, Fidler has stated that he built a wall around the castle only to prevent people from defecating on his land.

Moreover, he has noted that there is currently no chief in Dixcove and that the priests and chiefs have not observed the Kundum Festival for years.

Today found out that Mr. Fidler also has another set of grievances to contend with from his leasors. Mr. Barth Acheampong, Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, has stated plainly that Fidler has violated the historic integrity of Fort Metal Cross. For instance, on March 6, Independence Day in 2007, there was a public outcry on a local radio station when Fidler raised the Union Jack above the fort.

When the Monuments Board heard about it, they ordered Fidler to lower the flag, asserting that it was inappropriate to raise a colonial symbol on Ghanaian government land.

The Monuments Board was also angered when Fidler allowed the African Gateway Chapel to worship in the fort, in violation of his lease agreement. But most significantly, the Monuments Board argues that Fidler’s renovations have damaged the archeological ‘buffer zone’ around the castle.

Mr. Fidler, however, disputes these claims. He has stated that he raised the Union Jack because Fort Metal Cross was built by the British, and that he always raised the Ghanaian flag to accompany it. Though he describes himself as a “keen Christian,” he has stated that the presence of the African Gateway Chapel in the fort was only temporary.

And as for new construction around the fort, Fidler states that he is astonished to hear that he violated his agreement because the blueprints for the project were approved by the Cape Coast office of the Monuments Board.

Some tourists are also concerned with what is happening at Fort Metal Cross. The fact that a white man is living in the castle is distasteful for some, as is the way that Fidler has modeled the hotel chalets on the crenellated ramparts of a former slave fort. But Fidler asserts that if he had not taken steps to preserve Fort Metal Cross it would have become “another ruined monument,” and that tourists who visit the fort appreciate what he is doing.

Nonetheless, Mr. Fidler’s hold on the lease of Fort Metal Cross is tenuous. Currently, the Monuments Board is refusing to accept his monthly payments. The stage is now set for a potential legal battle, as Mr. Fidler has vowed to fight any attempt to nullify his lease.

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