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Opinions of Thursday, 18 November 2004

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Osu Castle: The Trophy

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong ponders the main prize of the impending Ghanaian general elections, the Osu Castle, the seat of government, and says it reflects all the troubles Ghana has gone through in its almost 50 years existence in her journey for democratic stability and development

All said and done the impending elections in Ghana on December 7 is a race to the Osu Castle, it is the main trophy, raising emotions, all sorts of dreams and in relation to the Ghanaian culture, all sorts of prophetic predictions, despite sometimes the abysmal outcome of the predictions. The late Victor Owusu (1923 - 2000), foreign minister from 1969 to 1971 under Dr. Kofi Busia?s almost two-year-old Progress Party (PP) regime, who was said to have been told by his near-psychic mother that he will be president of Ghana one day, was a presidential candidate of the now ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) in the 1979 elections of which he lost to Dr. Hilla Liman, became so distraught after loosing the presidential election that he virtually lost his bearing in life, leading him to allegedly make attempts to topple the brutal Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings military Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), his failure of which led to his arrest, imprisonment, torture and disgrace, and getting stroke, and his eventual death in 2000. That is the Osu Castle mystery at work.

Most Ghanaian heads of state who have occupied the Osu Castle will tell you that they were told by Ghana?s booming prophets, spiritualists, juju-marabou mediums and other native medicine mediums that they will occupy the Osu Castle. The root to occupy the Castle is normally not explained by the spiritual mediums, leading many to an undemocratic race to occupy the Castle, with coups here and there. The Osu Castle has seen more undemocratic occupation than democratic means in Ghana?s almost 50-year existence (The only exception where there were civilian administrations are the years 1957-1966, 1969-72, 1979-81, and 1993 to present). This is not surprising since most have been military adventurers who have schemed their way to the Osu Castle, most times to their own disaster. The Osu Castle saw in 1948 Kwame Nkrumah and the executive members (the ?Big Six?) of United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) detained following disturbances in Gold Coast (now Ghana). The Osu Castle turned both Gen. Kutu Acheampong and Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings into rabid juju-marabou dabblers, with all sorts of horrible juju-marabou stories. Rawlings and Acheampong brought marijuana smoking into the Osu Castle. The Osu Castle made Liman and Acheampong near-alcoholics. The Osu Castle made Liman, Acheampng and Rawlings heavy smokers. The Osu Castle made Rawlings more violent, arrogant and disrespectful. Despite making him humble, the Osu Castle made Liman, a gifted deep thinker, a fool and disoriented person. The Osu Castle saw the execution by firing squad of Generals Akwesi Afrifa, Acheampong, and F.W.K Akuffo, and some of their cohorts. The Osu Castle saw the early death of Nkrumah, Head of State Gen. Joseph Ankrah, Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Busia, and Liman.

As the seat of government, the Castle, as the Osu Castle is fondly called, has been the main attractor and the final settler of all the rough and tumble of Ghanaian politics, military adventurism and dark spiritual practices. From the first regime of Nkrumah in 1957 to the start of military regimes in 1966, the Castle has become some sort of talismanic charm, attracting all sorts of forces both good and evil. Because of the Castle there has seen political accidents and deaths, dreams dashed and dreams achieved, families disarrayed and families created, tribalism, stupidity, hatred, civil strife, emergence of all sorts of personality types (Rawlings, highly emotional, whose violent/crude talks contradict that of Busia, even tempered, more refined talks), evil, coup detats, deadly intrigues, bloody attempts to topple regimes, executions, firing squads, scuffles (Rawlings? beatings and roughing government officials including his Vice President Kow Nkensen Arkaah), ritual murders (more during the military occupiers), terrible cries and agonies (Rawlings is said to have said he heard some strange voices in his ears), instabilities, insecurities, suicides (especially during the colonial regimes and the slave trade dealings), chronic lies (almost all the coups in Ghana were propelled by lies, exaggerations and crass propaganda), poverty, and the raising of spiritualists and juju-marabou mediums to national prominence, an attitude the deepened the already superstitious culture. The castle has been simultaneously a center of rational and irrational behaviour (the notorious Castle haircut under the Rawlings regimes).

Like the other 31 colonially built castles in Ghana, the 17th-century Christiansborg Castle, which is the actual real name of the Osu Castle, located at southeastern Accra, which became the capital city of Ghana in 1877 when the colonial administration was removed from Cape Coast in the central region of Ghana, is on the colonially and slave trade battered Gulf of Guinea. With various accounts of when it was built: some say in 1640 by the Portuguese as Urso (that?s Osu) lodge and after changing hands on numerous occasions it was finally sold to the British in 1850; yet others say the Castle was built in 1659 and named after King Christian V of Denmark. The Castle has been the seat of government since the early 1920s and not open to the public and, like most oracles/shrines, photographing it is illegal. Like the controversy surrounding its building and the painful events leading to the impending December 7 general elections such as the bloody Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings June 4 1979 uprising, the Castle, throughout its history, has changed hands among colonial governors several times, in either bloody battles or by treaty, until the early 1920's.

The Castle has served as the official residence of colonial governors and visiting foreign dignitaries before becoming the official seat of the government of Ghana. Still, like most of the unpleasant events in present day Ghana leading to the main figures that occupied the Castle, the dungeons within are ?dank and horrible, with the scratchings of desperate slaves still visible on the walls,? as are other castles in Ghana, which date back to the 15th century and were built and occupied at different times by the European traders and adventurers from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Britain to safeguard trading posts.

Still, a further small bit of history of Ghana?s main political prize: starting as a Portuguese fortified house in 1550 and rebuilt as the Swedish lodge in 1652, it was used as a residence of the British Governor of Gold Coast (the former name of Ghana) from 1877-1957 and the residence of the Prime Minister of Ghana and renamed Government House, Osu in 1957 and became the official residence of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (President) 1960 and has since remained the seat of the Ghanaian governments. Like Ghana?s evolution, the Castle is frequently renovated with additions in recent year by various regimes.

Despite President John Kuffour?s recent renovations of the Castle, of which was found human blood at the basement, purportedly a ritual sacrifice, he has refused to stay there purely for spiritual reasons. Ghanaians say spiritualists indicate that there have been massive juju-marabou rituals and murders by both colonial and Ghanaian occupiers. Kuffour?s refusal not to stay at the Castle both emanates from the Ghanaian culture and history. Ghanaian accounts say at ?Cape Coast, the colonizers had replaced a shrine dedicated to one of the 77 tutelary gods, Nana Taabiri, with the imposing structure of the church that stands at the center of every slave castle. The church sat uncomfortably atop another shrine at Christianborg (now Osu Castle and the seat of state) in Accra and on still others at many other forts and castles. And in every case, the strategy had been the same: The church, backed by cannons and fortified by stone, was intended to obliterate the Africans' link to their gods, their ancestors and anything else that empowered them. After independence the shrines were re-established, in stone, on their original sites, where the people continue to pay their respects to their traditional deities today.?

The Castle has been controversial edifice since it?s construction to now, experiencing all the instabilities straddling Ghana from the colonial administrations to Gen. Joseph Ankrah military regime (that overthrew the President Nkrumah administration in1966) to Gen. Akwesi Afrifa military junta (that toppled the Ankrah regime in 1969) to Gen. Kutu Acheampong military regime (which overthrew the Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Busia/President Edward Akuffo-Addo administration in 1972) to Gen. F.W.K Akuffo military junta (that overthrew the Acheampong regime 1978) to the long-running Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings military regimes (that overthrew the Akuffo and Dr. Hilla Liman regimes in 1979 and 1981 respectively).

More originating from the Ghanaian/West African culture and reflecting the ghosts of slaves brutalized and killed there in their horrifying journeys to the Americas by the colonial officials, Ghanaians think a lot of negative incidents have taken place at the Castle. The overthrowers of the first president Nkrumah, Generals Emmanuel Kotoka and Akwesi Afrifa, and their supporters accused Nkrumah of turning the Castle into ghoulish juju-marabou shrine, with most of the rituals from Kankan, Guinea. Kotoka and Afrifa themselves were accused of bringing heavy juju-marabou into the Castle. While Prime Minister Busia?s almost two-year regime is said to have brought some light into the darkened Castle, Busia?s overthrower Gen. Kutu Acheampong is said to have virtually turned the Castle into a juju-marabou oracle with the reported infamous juju-marabou pot suspended in mid air (through juju-marabou means) and frequent visit by spiritual mediums from all over the world.

Acheampong, a womanizer, also turned the Castle into some sort of a brothel, with women flowing in and out for favours via sex and other romantic inducements a la President Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky affair at the White House, the seat of United States government.

Still, while Flt. Lt. Rawlings?s led Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) six months old regime was not known to have descended the Castle with any of the negative West African spiritual practices, they are said to have graced the Castle with violence, hot-headedness and bloodshed, a throwback to the colonial era of brutalities and murders at the Castle of not only slaves but ordinary Gold Coasters (Ghanaians). Like Busia, Liman?s almost two-year-old regime saw no marked dark incidents taking place at the Castle though his restless and quarrelsome circle of party big-wigs are known to have brought negative vibrations into the Castle. Rawlings second coming into the Ghanaian political scene, for almost twelve years, is said to be heavily juju-marabou and other Ghanaian/West African native spiritualism periods in the life of the Castle.

President Kuffour resistance of living at the Castle, as is the tradition with all Ghanaian heads of states, is said to be because, according to some spiritualists, of what is believed to have been done there in scary juju-marabou rituals. The base of the Castle is reported to be splashed with human blood. Kuffour, almost four years into his first term, resides in his own private house in Accra and drives to his offices at the Castle for state businesses. Kuffour is accused by opposition newspapers of bringing juju-marabou into the Castle.

The Castle, as the symbol of power, like almost all seats of government the world over, periodically experience demonstrations, sometimes violently, from section of Ghanaians who think they have certain grievances to air out to the powers that be. Despite recent demonstrations made up of students from Ghana?s public universities and other higher institutions that besieged the Castle to seek the intervention of Kufuor in getting the university fees for the present academic year reduced, more violent demonstrations at the Castle occurred during the colonial era, and the Acheampong and Rawlings regimes. The transfer of all these demonstrations of emotions and anger to the occupier of the Castle cannot be underestimated.

As usual, as Ghana?s democracy grows and larger political competitions play out, the ultimate prize, the Osu Castle, will be waiting at the seafront to welcome the winner on December 7, mirroring to him or her the troubles facing Ghana.


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.