University of Toronto
On the surface, public criticism for the National Cathedral being built through the efforts of Ghana’s current President Nana Akufo-Addo seem few and far between. Many seem to agree with Akufo-Addo that the Cathedral that is being built would be a celebration of “national unity and social cohesion.” Akufo-Addo called it “a priority among priorities.” In a country where roughly 70% of Ghanaians self-identify as “Christian,” the building of an interdenominational Cathedral is lauded as an important event of biblical proportions. Archbishop Duncan-Williams, also known as the father of Charismatic Christianity in Ghana, likened the Cathedral to the building of Solomon’s temple from the Old Testament. The apparent contradiction of a secular country building a Cathedral as a symbol of “national unity” magically turns into a non-contradiction when interpreted through a Biblical history and when Ghana’s Christian majority becomes the measure of value for national identity.
Yet, if one scratches below the surface, and ventures onto social media and within Ghana’s artistic scene, one will find several strands of critique. Ghanaians have responded on Facebook, Twitter, and online media, to question their President’s “priorities” and his determination to build this Cathedral at a time when other basic services are waning and when infrastructural needs are wanting. The reasons for erecting this Cathedral have been interpreted as motivated by elite Christian ambitions and at the cost of the poor and disadvantaged or a respect for religious diversity in Ghana. Supporters of the Cathedral have reassured Ghanaians that this is not a government project (not paid for with taxpayers money). However, the use of public land and a lack of consultation with Ghana’s Muslim minority have been conveniently left out of this explanation. The more relevant and perhaps alarming observation is the taken for granted assumption: that building this Cathedral is about national security and prosperity for all Ghanaians. That the secular character of the country is determined by a Christian majority and by a President who is determined to keep the promise he made to his God.
On February 8, 2019, Akufo-Addo visited the “Museum of the Bible” in Washington D.C., where he hosted a banquet to get the financial support of the Ghanaian Christian diaspora. In his speech he revealed three reasons motivating his decision to build the Cathedral: (1) Post-colonial Ghana had “been spared civil war, famine and epidemics” and he believed this to be because of the “grace of God” who has “preserved and sustained” the nation and to whom he wanted to show thanksgiving, (2) that the Cathedral will become a rallying point for the Ghanaian Christian community and promote “national unity and social cohesion”, (3) that he made a pledge to “Almighty God” that if he won the elections he would build a Cathedral “to His glory”. Accompanying him was Duncan-Williams who is Chairman of the Cathedral’s fundraising committee and a member of the Board of Trustees. Drawing attention to Genesis 22 of the Bible, Duncan-Williams asked those attending to give generously in order to receive the blessings of the God of Abraham. It would not be a stretch to argue that Ghana’s “Fourth Republic” (since 1992) – like Nigeria’s – is a “Pentecostal Republic” (Obadare 2019). Since the 1990’s, Ghanaian Pentecostals have influenced the public sphere and national politics and continue to see Ghana as a “Christian nation”. Duncan-Williams, who has had personal relationships with political leaders in Africa (past and present) and has said that “dealing with Presidents or politicians is part of my calling”, represents this alignment of Pentecostal Christianity and nationalism in Ghana. As he stated in an interview on “Good Evening Ghana”: “Jesus categorically gave us the command to disciple nations and to win souls… so when it comes to governance, leadership, giving direction, its supposed to come from the church… we should rule in corporate, politics, the marketplace, everywhere.”
A couple of months before the fundraiser, on 2 December 2018, a satirical cartoon by talented and prize-winning artist Bright Teteh Ackwerh was posted onto his Facebook page and circulated widely. In this piece entitled “KOTIDROL,” fire and smoke is detected in the background representing the protests and voices of dissent against the Cathedral project. President Akufo-Addo (in the middle) is depicted, child-like, desperately clutching the design of the Cathedral in his arms in case it is taken away from him. Duncan-Williams (on the left) is perspiring from the heat while holding the Bible in his left hand. David Adjaye (on the right) is pictured casually looking on with his hands folded behind his back. As Bright told me: “I expected him (Adjaye) as an artist to tell them the project was not needed but alas he just wants to do the job take his money and run.” This cartoon has gained much public attention online and viewers asked to form their own critique of the Cathedral and to think about this alignment of charismatic-Pentecostal politics, the building of the National Cathedral and the President’s pet project. On his Facebook page Bright writes: “Ah, Nana paa, bra b3 ma y3n adwuma ne hospital ne school a wose woo b3 si Cathedral because wo p3 S3 y3n k)ti as)re.”
This translates directly into: “Ah, Nana, come and give us jobs, and hospitals and schools. You said you want to build a Cathedral.” However a play of words is also involved in its re-interpretation. Written in Twi the word “k)ti” means “penis” and has been used in several Ghanaian songs to refer to “go and erect (a Church)” since colloquially it also means “I have an erection.” In this piece Bright is also saying to Akufo-Addo: “You want to build a church because you have an erection” – insinuating that the real reason behind the Cathedral might be his personal desire or lust for power rather than the nation’s best interests. What we find in such forms of satirical artistic productions are usually “expressions of sarcasm, outrage and challenge” that are aimed to critique but also express that “the poor have dignity and moral worth” (Barber 2018, 12). In Ghana, satirical art and music serve as powerful forces that circumvent institutional forms of political power and traditional media agencies in order to allow others, usually non-elites, to participate in a conversation, to interpret these works and to criticize national institutions and the decisions they make.