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Opinions of Saturday, 16 July 2016

Columnist: A.R. Gomda

Developing the Gold Coast

The massive transformation of the Gold Coast could not have taken place without the actuation of the dreams of Governor Gordon Guggisberg, a Brigadier in the British Army’s Corps of Engineers.

He saw his mission in the Gold Coast as one intended to bring changes which would enhance the lot of the natives of this part of the world.

Sir Robert McAlpine’s firm completed the Takoradi Harbour in 1928 having been awarded the contract earlier.

Sadly when the harbor was being commissioned a year after Guggisberg’s departure from the Gold Coast, he was not even invited to witness the actualization of his dream.

Another area which captures Guggisberg’s success was the initiation and development of the railway system which in his estimation would not only cut down on transport costs in the Gold Coast but enhance the colony’s competitiveness in the sale of her cocoa and other exports.

In his annual message in 1923, he is reported to have said that “not only are railways required, but they are required now, as soon as it is possible to build them. Nothing is to be gained, everything is to be lost by deferring their construction until competition becomes intense.”

The passion with which the gentleman considered Gold Coast’s development is worth emulating by indigenous Ghanaians who today regard projects as means of siphoning public funds.

His efforts saw the completion of the Kumasi to Sekondi line in 1926 project which entailed the straightening and re-routing of parts of the line. He is also credited with the completion of the Kumasi to Accra line which under Governor Clifford covered only a distance of twenty-six miles from Tafo. Work on the Kade to Huni Valley line started at the end of 1923.

The extension of the railway line to the Northern Territories which is still being toyed by contemporary politicians was a dream of Governor Guggisberg who is reported to have notified the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs about his intention of extending the line from Kumasi to Gambaga which was then the seat of the British authority, a Gold Coast Constabulary unit being at the place.

From 1926 three alternative routes to the Northern Territories or NTs as these places were known, were considered.

In his report during his West African tour of 1926 the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, Ormesby Gore approved of the project but same was shelved by Guggisberg’s successors.

But for the movement of Guggisberg from the Gold Coast, the railway system would have been extended to the NTs.

In the area of road construction, Governor Guggisberg did a lot for the Gold Coast having constructed a total of 3,338 miles of new roads out of which 260 were given metal and tar treatment to ensure durability. He was also the first governor to visit most towns in the Gold Coast, the improved road network facilitating the venture. He made it to Tamale from Kumasi in twelve hours in those days the distance being 240 miles.


In the area of health too he carved a name for himself, the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital standing as a living testimony.

The population of the Gold Coast at the period under review was small and a Governor is reported to have told a delegation of Zongo elders who called on him at the Government House in 1909 to encourage more migrants to come and settle here.

Guggisberg lamented that the relative smallness of the population did not augur well for the exploitation of the Gold Coast’s vast natural resources.

His dream was to establish a medical delivery system that would reduce the rather high child mortality rate of between 250 and 300 to a 1000 births in Accra to the 77 per 1000 as obtained in England at the time.

To achieve this, he thought about improving sanitation through the training of sanitary officers and inspectors alongside the provision of pipe-borne water and the construction of hospitals.

In 1912, the health sector sapped ten percent of the annual budget to the tune of one hundred and twenty thousand pounds, a manifestation of his seriousness with the subject.

The Gold Coast colony was spending more on health care delivery than the other countries in West Africa. Until 1922-23, only Accra and Sekondi had access to pipe-borne water. A year later, the facility was extended to Winneba and plans to do same for Cape Coast was subsequently considered.

The construction of hospitals was a major feature of Guggisberg’s health policy.

First hospital structure

The first attempt at establishing a hospital in the Gold Coast colony was when in 1878 when Dr. Jeans opened a makeshift hospital consisting of a wooden hut at a site behind the Jamestown Prison where troops of the Imperial and Government Forces were treated. The facility was transferred to Ussher Town in 1881 or 1882 at a place called Old Lutterodt’s House.

In the same year, Governor Rowe laid the foundation stone for the Old Colonial Hospital at the site of the present High Court Buildings which was completed in 1883. It consisted of a one-storey building with a European ward of four beds and a native ward of 12 beds on the upper floor, a dispensary and nurses’ quarters on the ground floor.

There was a growing demand for health facilities in the colony and to address this, a Principal Medical Officer, one Dr. T.E. Rice made a proposal to the then Governor Hugh Clifford, Guggisberg’s predecessor. In October 1916 Clifford’s government acquired a site at Korle-Bu with the intention of constructing a native hospital.

Dr. C.V. Le Fanu made the designs of the proposed hospital which was subjected to a detailed elaboration in 1917 by Mr. Harrison, an architect with the PWD. In November 1919, a month after the arrival of Guggisberg, he submitted a new set of revised drawing of the hospital to England.

In 192O it was returned with a list of recommendations, modifications and suggestions. In the same month tenders were called for and in August 1920 contract for the construction was awarded to Messrs.

Thomas & Edge, West Africa Limited. Guggisberg laid the foundation stone in January 1921 and the opening ceremony was performed on 9th October 1923. One of the highlights of the opening was the investiture of Dr. B.W. Quartey-Papafio as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Mr. Van Hien.

The opening day also marked the start of business but full operation commenced the following year.

Betweeen 1919 and 1923, Guggisberg had built 8 hospitals and dispensaries in the colony, Ashanti and the Northern Territories. His dream was to have many Africans involved in the medical delivery system as he once said “it is not solely on European medical officers that I have my hopes for the future.

There is a vast field for the employment of Africans though at present medical service vacancies exist for more.”

It was his wish for African doctors to receive part of their training locally and the rest abroad because according to him the racial discrimination prevalent at the time in Europe did not augur well for the acquisition of the necessary knowledge.

Full training abroad he added contributed to the development of bad attitudes.

In 1924, Guggisberg announced plans for the establishment of a medical school where African doctors would be trained for a period of six years before proceeding to England to complete the remaining two years.

The final decision was shot down by his successor, Governor A.R. Slater who saw the project, as he put it, as superfluous. In 1962, however, a Ghanaian government saw the need for a medical school and proceeded to establish it.