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2001-01-04 07:28:04

Kufuor to clean Castle By An Accra Mail Report

Even before J.A. Kufuor has been sworn in as president, he is facing a major decision that could set the tone for his presidency: to move to the Osu Castle or not to move to the Osu Castle. The Christianborg Castle at Osu was built by the Danes in the 17th Century and went through the hands of successive European colonists until it finally ended as the seat of British colonial administration in the 19th Century.

When the Gold Coast attained independence on March 6, 1957, it was retained as the seat of government, and has been so since then. The Osu Castle over the years has become one of the unfriendly buildings in Ghana. During the colonial and immediate post independence eras, it had an aura of aloofness, tinged with airs of forbidden power.

As Ghana progressed from its colonial past into its fully-fledged political independence status, so did the Castle also assume the ominous reputation of a Castle Dracula. The Castle?s final decline into infamy started in 1972, when the late General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong?s government took residence there. >From then on, the Castle became synonymous with blatant corruption, misuse of public office and mediocre attempts at governance.

Though he run his government from the Castle, he refused to live there, preferring to keep his official residence at the heart of Arakan Barracks in the heart of Burma Camp. Acheampong himself was overthrown in 1978 and the Castle passed on briefly to his military successors of SMC II and to the government of Hilla Limann. Dr. Limann?s government took residence there from September 1979 until it was overthrown twenty-three months later on December 31, 1981, by ex-Flt. Lt. Rawlings. The ex-Flt. Lt.?s government, called the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) set up temporary headquarters at Gondar Barracks in Burma Camp, relocating to the Castle a few months later. For the past two decades the Castle has therefore been home to the ex-Flt. Lieutenant and his PNDC which in 1992, changed to NDC.

If Acheampong?s government started the final decline of the Osu Castle, the ex-Flt. Lt.?s provided the final coup de grace. It was not only the venue for the wicked decisions of Ghana?s post colonial period; it also descended so low that it doubled as a prison and torture chamber. Ghanaians were shocked and scandalised during the height of the Djentuh affair last year, when it was discovered that a former male companion of the ex-Flt. Lt.?s daughter had been tortured in the Castle and shaved because of a falling out with the young lady.

Though this act of torture was condemned roundly by many citizens and human rights groups, the ex-Flt. Lt.?s wife justified it. Today, Ghanaians associate the Osu Castle with nothing but oppression. It is neither loved, nor respected. It is feared. It lacks the dignity of Buckingham Palace, the pride of The White House or the rich history of the Kremlin. In fact, the Osu Castle has become an anachronism and ready for retirement into a self-sustaining public admitting museum.

Public opinion is in favour of the "millennium administration" starting on a clean slate and therefore not rushing headlong to occupy the Castle. People interviewed by The Accra Mail have suggested the State House, the Peduase Lodge, the Flagstaff House or even the "Sultan?s Lodge" off Switchback Road in Accra. These are all existing structures and will not have to be constructed from scratch. More imaginative minds have suggested that if Kufuor has to move to the Osu Castle, then a massive "exorcism" and renovation has to be performed by Christians and Muslims.

They argue that a move from the Castle may be unnecessarily expensive because having to outfit a new presidential edifice would cost the taxpayer a lot of money. "The Castle?s past dark image can be effaced and lightened if Kufuor runs an enlightened government", said an Osu resident, who believes the seat of government should not move from where it is now. He further suggested that a good architect should be invited to redesign the frontage, to make it more public friendly and accessible.

"But first of all, the castle prison must be demolished. Mr. Kufuor must not rush to take residence there." If this line of thinking prevails, the Castle could go through major refurbishment and made ready for President Kufuor?s occupancy by March 6, 2001 the 44th anniversary of Ghana?s independence from Britain. Sources close to the incoming president say a house is not an issue with the president-elect because he already has his own castle in which he is living at the moment and a decision will be taken that will be in the interest of the country.

When The Accra Mail put the question to a security expert, he said in terms of safety, the Osu Castle is the most reliable place for the president. "Peduase Lodge is a security nightmare because of those winding roads and escarpment; the Flagstaff House is too open; and the State House has too many activities," he advised and also agreed that a renovated and refurbished Osu Castle, would still be the most ideal place for the presidency.

At the time of writing, a source close to the Transition Team disclosed that the issue was going to be part of the agenda of the team?s work. The source would not say whether the president would immediately move to the Castle or not. His body language clearly showed that Kufuor would not be too much in a hurry to go and sleep in the bed Rawlings was sleeping in or occupy the chair Rawlings had just vacated...
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