New Ghanaian

Little Voice from the Forest – Behold Ghana (3) – national cathedral and messiness

Papa Badu Donkoh


20 November 2023

National Cathedral and the Messiness in Ecclesia 

The National Cathedral building project has become a very divisive issue in Ghana, the sentiments and debate it generates competes favourably with those of Ghana’s pitiful performance at the recent FIFA World Cup. But diehard supporters, who bated away initial complaints, as ugly noises from anti-Christs, now cower under pews, only the brave come out with gritted teeth, like Sekondi Eleven Wise fans. Key complaints of the ‘anti-Christs’ include: the colossal project cost, the choice of site, poor governance and management practices, breaches of procurements processes, and lack of candour by the trustees and government. Admittedly, some of their arguments are rather feeble. The argument that it took decades to build cathedrals in Europe and that same should apply to the Ghanaian one is flimsy. At the time those cathedrals were built it took weeks to travel from Ghana to China, you can make the same journey under 15 hours today – technological advancement. Again, the point that building the cathedral was a personal pledge of the president is a bit hollow. Free SHS, planting for food, one village one dam, free chocolate for school pupils, and the lot of them, were all personal pledges by the president. Weren’t they?

Monuments, like a well dressed lady or gentleman, say a lot about a country (the wearer). Building and maintaining them are different ball games altogether – Ghana has abysmal maintenance record. Countries use monuments and edifices (often enormous ones) as symbols and narratives of their journeys, social, cultural and religious values, and to commemorate historical figures. These monuments don’t come cheap, though economists talk about indirect and soft power returns. Osagyefo’s local and foreign detractors accused him of using scarce resources to build the Independence Arch (this was one of his cardinal sins mentioned in the British media at the time). The National Cathedral idea is not a bad one but the visualisation and actualisation of it is problematic. All national events and ceremonies can be held there instead of under canopies in the sweltering sun, however colourful the canopies may be. Luxury it may seem but necessity it may become. Selling the concept, as a tourist magnate that will raise millions in revenue, and the addition of a bible museum (garden or whatever it is called) was unnecessary and unwise, notwithstanding the potential soft (economic) returns. Is it not supposed to be a space for solemness and ceremony? Good governance practices were neglected – public engagement, ownership, role of the state, role of religious bodies, governance and oversight structures, funding and procurement mechanisms. Anytime, the secretary of the board opens his mouth what comes out evokes more serious questions than soothing assurances. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, the energetic and mesmerising NDC MP for North Tongu, whose constituency host Ghana’s major hydroelectric dam, is using his copious electricity allowance to shine a light on the happenings at the Cathedral’s board. Good job. 

The recent resignation of senior clergymen and trustees from the board of the Cathedral project has generated a lot of comments. Most people are applauding them for their damascene conversion. Others see them as cowards and hypocrites, and refer to Matthew 23:5 – 6 (NIV) “everything they do is done for people to see: they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” They (together with those who resigned long ago) cannot be absolved from the lapses in judgement and oversight. They have biting questions to answer:

  • Who appointed them and were they given appointment letters including the associated terms and conditions as trustees? 
  • Do they think they discharged their mandates effectively? The trustees should have been mindful of Christ’s words in Luke 14:28-30: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”
  • Did they discuss the whole cathedral concept and agree a road map including the total cost and funding mechanisms? 
  • Where did they think funding will come from?  Government handouts? The trustees (including some of the resigned) said that the project wouldn’t be tax payer funded – who paid for the project site, compensation to property owners, the architectural designs, the various trips outside the country including the trip to carry the piece of ‘holy’ rock from Israel? The trustees may need to be reminded of 2 Samuel 24 : 21 – 24 (King David’s insistence on paying for a threshing floor to build an altar, rejecting the owner’s free offer).
  • Did they have sight of and scrutinised the incorporation documents to ensure it was above board?
  • Were they aware of the registration of the project in the US and the US nominated trustees? Did they review the registration documents and do any due diligence on the trustees? Were they aware that the US trustees were looking for ‘investors’ or ‘interested persons’ for the project? Did they sign up to this and what role would these ‘investors’ play and what would be the return on their investment? Sceptics are right to question possible challenges about entitlement rights if the ownership structure is obscure. Brings to mind Abdoulaye Wade’s (former President of Senegal) claim of ownership to the intellectual property rights of the African Renaissance Monument in Senegal (said he conceived the idea) and demanding 35 percent of generated profits from visits. I plead ‘guilty by association’ for being a member of the liberal movement that campaigned, however little the impact, for Abdoulaye Wade (as well as J.A.Kufour of Ghana, and Alassane Ouattara, of Côte d’Ivoire) in his quest to lead his country. 
  • Were they involved in the architectural designs (commissioning or signing off)? Were they involved in selection of the site, if not what were their views at the time? Did they have contrary views and if so did they make these known and proposed alternative sites?
  • Did they raise any concerns about the procurements breaches and did they put in place measures to mitigate these?
  • Who introduced the concept of bible museum, going to Israel to get a piece of rock or whatever it was ( are Ghanaian rocks not sanctified by the Almighty)?

The project could have been partly funded by the state or fully funded by the church.

For example the state’s contribution could have been limited to the land (project site) and architectural design whilst the church covered the building and maintenance cost. How much do the churches in Ghana including the traditional (Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Evangelical Presbyterian, Baptist, others), pentecostal (Pentecost, Assemblies of God, Christ Apostolic,others) and mega charismatic (Action, Lighthouse, ICGC, CEM, Makers, Victory, Perez, Royal House, Fountain Gate, Calvary Charismatic) gather in a month? Couldn’t these churches set aside ten percent of their monthly takings (same as their local branches give to the centre) as monthly contributions for the national cathedral project? Spare the smaller churches and let them contribute ‘free willing’ (see Ezra 1: 2 – 6). Wouldn’t this have been more than enough to complete the project in less than four years? Not all complainants may be anti-Christ, after all. 

Peace Council and Clergy – the Peace council and the clergy have been shockingly mute on recent acts of brutalities by the security agencies – Ashaiman, Bawku, Ejura, Garu-Tampene, and the shenanigans by the Electoral Commission (EC). Are they experiencing an Ezekiel moment (Ezekiel 3:26). They did not see anything wrong with the EC’s decision to register eligible voters only at their district – offloading their duties onto political parties to ferry citizens to district centres. What a dangerous approach to take. Does this mean that citizens who are not associated with any of the political parties and do not have the means to travel to district centres are disenfranchised? It was astonishing to hear some of the loudest lawyers suggesting that the EC’s mandate is to compile a register of voters and not to register them. Compile from where? How would they compile without registration? Is compilation not the product of registration?

The Peace council will surely emerge from their slumber in the run up to the 2024 elections, with their holier than thou sermons, to demand that presidential candidates sign an undertaking to accept the elections outcome. Wouldn’t it be more responsible of them to ensure that the EC did the right thing? No, they rather resort to trivialities (Parkinson’s law of triviality) to court publicity – Archbishop Agyin Asare vs Nogokpo. Both Archbishop Agyin Asare and Nogokpo behaved childishly. The leaders of the Nogokpo town shouldn’t have been incensed by the Archbishop’s alleged remarks (Nogokpo being demonic headquarters of the Volta Region) and the Archbishop shouldn’t have responded after the so called 14 day ultimatum given by Nogokpo passed. The public is a better judge. By the way my late maternal grandfather would brag about the powers of his Nzema lineage and would rather dance to the ‘Nzema beyireh’ (witch) tag.

Opanyin Yaw Osafo Maafo (a senior government adviser) is reported to have expressed concern about the worsening corruption and questioned the impact of the Christian church on the 72 percent of the Ghanaian population who claim to be members, while speaking at the 23rd general meeting of the Presbyterian church. He is right. What is the point of the church if its light doesn’t shine through the activities of its members, and its rays beam throughout the country. The parable of the Good Samaritan, (Luke 10:30-37), and, Christ’s feeding of the multitude (Matthew 14 :13–21, Matthew 15:32-39 – leftovers collected for those not part of the congregation) are vivid cues. What traditions are they shaking? Are the religious walls being broken down? Didn’t the activities of John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli had enormous influence on the governance systems and way of life of the Swiss? Dr Edna Adan Ismail (Somali humanitarian activist) summed it eloquently in “religion is not only about rituals, but also about how you live your religion. It is about kindness and charity, living a clean and honest life. I live my religion through my acts, through the way I work”