O National Cathedral of Ghana: My Hopes and Fears Have Met in Thee.
In the interest of full disclosure, first of all I am a Bible-believing, Jesus-following, Spirit-filled African Christian. Secondly, at the time of writing, I have no membership of any political party—just a citizen who passionately loves his motherland and has served both major political parties when called upon. Finally, I comment on the National Cathedral of Ghana matter primarily as a missiologist and leadership scholar. These thoughts were largely shared on the Cit FM/TV current affairs programme The Big Issue on 21st January, 2022. The crux of my submission, that the project be halted and audited, was also carried on Citi News Room here.
THE THING THAT I FEARED HAS HAPPENED
My first article on the proposed National Cathedral of Ghana in August 2018 was entitled in a manner that exposed the battle that raged within me upon hearing the president of the Republic of Ghana announce his vision to put up a national cathedral. It was an inquiring heading: “National Cathedral: Vulgar or Virtuous Venture?
In it, I confessed “my unwholly holy initial thoughts, honest-to-God,” sharing my initial skepticism about the project, mainly concerned about it being a mere political scheme to siphon monies, only with a nice religious façade. Secondly, I questioned the prudence of it amidst the poverty and sheer lack of basic infrastructure and public services in a developing country (NB. This was before Covid would hit and make everything that was bad, worse). Thirdly, I was wary of the perilous path of Europe where centuries old grand cathedrals now only stand as emblems of a once-upon-a-time vibrant Christendom while the faith itself is dying today, precipitously. Even then, one need not cross the oceans to note the dangers of religious opulence over pragmatic faith. Just look next door, right across the Ghana border to the near-white elephant of the Notre Dame de La Paix in Yamoussoukro, whose proposed community-impacting hospital as an attachment to assuage the papacy’s guilty conscience is till yet to see the light of day, thirty-two years later.
As I studied the cathedral proposal further, especially as an African missiologist, its merits rose above my cynicism and mounting hopes tamed my fears to the extent that I was willing to give the project a chance, even my support. In fact, not only was I present at the foundation stone-laying, I wrote a cogent trilogy about how even the president might not be fully aware of the extent to which Almighty God may be using him to accomplish His glorious purposes in and through Africa, especially considering this unique moment in history where the once derided “dark continent” now has more Christians than any other continent and will double that lead by 2050, with more Christ followers than the next two continents (Latin America and Europe) combined! In fact, a summary of the trilogy even made its way into the Cathedral’s published magazine.
Over the last couple of years since then, I have found my faith in the project on a slippery slope back to where it first began, with supposed scandal after seeming scandal and allegation upon allegation that rival the corporate sins of the Arthur Andersons and Enrons at the turn of this century (if not making them pale in comparison), that do not befit an edifice for the King of kings. The opacity in the project’s financial dealings, including estimated project costs, eye brow-raising fund transfers and amorphous government seed money, make nonsense of the God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. The purpose of this rejoinder is not to dive into each of the smudges and spots on the project but to put on record that while I have enumerated prior at least a dozen reasons this could be a virtuous project, like ‘the greatest man in the East’, for me too, “the thing I greatly feared has come upon me” (see Job 3:25-26). I seek to document for posterity my revised position on the National Cathedral of Ghana for not only are my values being violated, the very faith in whose name this edifice is being erected is endangered.
NOODLED & NUANCED
This cathedral matter is a very nuanced one and thus requires the highest levels of leadership competence, care and character to navigate it. What do I mean? Four things. First of all, the president is not a king; he cannot just pronounce edicts, fiats and decrees at an enlightened citizenship. Secondly, we don’t live in a theocracy, but in a fairly vibrant democracy (although admittedly we are a pseudo secular state with our national anthem and pledge referring to ‘God’). Thirdly, private-public partnerships can be a tricky dance. And finally let’s face it, things are hard socioeconomically right now!
As if all of this is not enough, the president in particular hasn’t shown the kind of great leadership in casting vision (constantly, compellingly, creatively) and galvanizing the people from the grassroots. To make matters worse, the government itself has lost the trust of the Ghanaian people with its economic mismanagement, real and imagined, poor emotional intelligence in matters like this and poor consultation culture–from this cathedral issue through the recent e-levy saga and even current Domestic Debt Exchange debacle.
Then the process itself has been fraught with paucity of information and poor communication, poor governance (really governance 101), low accountability and too much opacity. In fact, in my frustration the other day while preaching on an Ephesians chapter five text about leading and living in the light I bellowed, “Stop the Cathedral in the name of the Lord!”
Don’t get me wrong. There are pluses about this project. Many. Between my initial article and the subsequent trilogy you will easily find a dozen cogent reasons why this could be a virtuous venture, including how the cathedral is more than a building (although the Africanization of it, its tourist attractions and income generation nature per se are all something to write about). The fact that the cathedral has a mandate to be a convenor of national conversation and debate warms my heart.
If the government had kept to its initial promise of providing “just the land” and only “seed capital,” I’ll be at peace. It is for the body of Christ to build this cathedral to the glory of the LORD, but considering the nature of Christianity in our Ghanaian public sphere and the prime place of faith for the African this is a nuanced matter. Any good government would have a keen interest in this matter, hence the sense in situating the NCG in the country’s capital city’s ceremonial core to provide “the missing link” (words of the architect) as a final piece of a national puzzle. Apparently, the other national pieces are all already in place: the people’s place (international conference centre, national sports stadium), the people’s representatives’ place (parliament building and State House), the peoples’ heroes’ place honouring the dead (Osu cemetery and adjoining military cemetery).
Granted, it isn’t everyone who is able to appreciate that we are a building a nation here; not just an eclectic collection of utilitarian infrastructure. That’s how come although we still have children learning under trees we still have national stadia and presidential edifices like Jubilee House and Peduase Lodge. To build or not to build this cathedral is really a nuanced and noodled matter that requires a certain high level leadership that I, honestly, haven’t seen on the horizon.
THIS ISN’T A ZERO SUM GAME
As a missiolgist, I believe that even the president does not fully know or understand the magnitude and implications of his vision. His initial vision may have been personal but vision is often progressive and it is possible He is being used by the Sovereign God in ways the man himself cannot fully comprehend, let alone the masses crying out against this vis-à-vis the impoverished state of the state. In order not to repeat the dozen or so cogent reasons why this project can be worthwhile, I will strongly encourage you to take a look at trilogy 1, the second part and the final installation, all from March 2020.
GOING FORWARD: SEVEN STEPS
1. STOP! STOP! STOP!
This may very much sound and look like the ‘STOP WORK’ in red paint on uncompleted building projects by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) yet, I see red flags all over this project that require concomitant red paint markings all over it too. This is not from the AMA this time. Just “we the [Ghanaian] people” saying, “STOP WORK!”
Secondly, let us get any of the so-called ‘Big Four’ global auditing firms in the country to do a thorough audit of the NCG secretariat, board of trustees and other associated names like JNS Talent etc.
Sometimes those AMA signs not only read, “Stop Work” but continue with “Produce Permit.” I would say for this cathedral project, in conjunction with step one, let us also “Stop Work and Produce Audit.” The result of the audit will help clarify our next steps—if even this project should continue at all, and if it should, how.
3. CALL FOR CONVERSATIONS AND DEBATE
Let us on purpose have a broader conversation and debate of the best minds and hearts for the way forward. “In the multitude of counselors there is safety,” said the wisest man that ever lived. And this is a sagacious king who could’ve easily ignored the counsel of others. Interestingly, he put up the most magnificent temple in the whole world in his day, for YHWH. Even Africans like the Queen of Sheba travelled long distances to come and see. If we want to see the reverse today, others come from elsewhere to behold the magnificence of the NCG, then we had better consider wise, broad-based consultation.
In my humble opinion, this government has been unbelievably militaristic; so non-consultative! Yet the thing is that even if people do not agree, they will support the project, or at least not be as antagonistic, because they have been seen (recognized) and heard. Conversations and debate will cause the significant groundswell needed for such a massive national venture with international ramifications.
4. GIVE OURSELVES TIME
If from the pause, audit, conversations and debates it becomes apparent that this project should continue, then we must give ourselves time. This cathedral doesn’t have to be built by 2024 and ready for a January 2025 swearing-in. That is precisely part of the problem with this project: the fact that the president is in a hurry to put this up while he is in office.
While a sense of urgency is good, undue pressure because of time crunches leads to many mistakes and often unethical behaviour, no matter how hitherto virtuous one’s cause. For example, this strange exchange of over two million Ghana Cedis between a whole national project and a private individual’s company obviously happened because apparently the project couldn’t wait for government funds to clear (this issue is under investigation, and rightly so). Besides, things are über hot in the economy right now, Ghana’s caught up in a socioeconomic inferno. It is wisdom to let both the times and tempers cool off.
If this is truly a national cathedral and not H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo’s pet project, then it should stand the test of time by traversing other administrations—perhaps two or even three terms down the line, including opposition parties—and be owned by all and sundry. If is by the good people of Ghana it for the glory of Almighty God, then we are not in a hurry. When we are not in a hurry we can think properly, do things appropriately, follow due process… Time is money and time will save us a lot of money—and a multitude mistakes.
5. TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY!
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NIV). Even some corporations have more transparency and better governance than the current supposedly religious project. Anathema! If this is truly an edifice to the Most High God then there cannot be even a hint of inappropriateness and misappropriation. As it stands now, not only has there been too much darkness and opacity surrounding a building that is to be a Lighthouse for the nations; too many allegations and suspected scandals that even some ordinary government projects cannot rival.
My mind goes to another cathedral project’ in ancient times where it was said, “They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty” (2 Kings 12:15, emphasis mine). I’m afraid we cannot say this of the NCG people or process so far.
6. LET GOD’S PEOPLE BUILD GOD’S BUILDING
The government of Ghana has done more than enough, giving the land. And way more seed than was my impression at the start of the project. If this sanctuary is really for the LORD then let’s let the Body of Christ in the country build it. And yes, we can! Christians have literally put up thousands of edifices strewn across the length and breadth of the country, ‘from Gambaga to Accra, from Wiawso to Keta.’ Let the Church do this for the glory of Almighty God. We thank the generous government of Ghana for the head start but no more government/tax-payers’ funds, please.
Let God’s people be able to say, like in Nehemiah’s day, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.” Whenever God gives a vision, He also makes the provision. But if this venture isn’t of God, then we are on our own; it will be hard.
For a number of great cathedrals that have been built, people have felt so privileged to be a part of the history-making that they have voluntarily given, not just of their substance but of their very selves. Carpenters, masons and other artisans and professionals have offered their services for free, and not the case of exorbitant amounts being paid to the current architect and others. In my opinion, the celebrated architect should feel so privileged to do this for God and country that he does this gratis! You tell me how much we paid the designers of our national flag and presidential stool; or composers of our national anthem and pledge.
7. WORK AS PASSIONATELY ABOUT OUR ‘SOFTWARE’ AS WE ARE ABOUT THIS ‘HARDWARE’
By software I mean our values, our paradigms and attitudes etc. The nation is so full of poor work ethic, corruption, filth (environmental and figurative), incompetence, dishonesty, lack of integrity etc. yet we want to build a magnificent cathedral for God. There is so much grievous poverty in the lives of the majority yet we want to put up this ceremonial and celebratory infrastructure at a cost of $400 million in the heart of Accra. The scriptures are replete with what God requires of us, first and foremost, and it is not so much physical buildings as that our spiritual, social, mental and emotional states reflect His glory; also, that our physical bodies will be hallowed as His temple. So as we are excited about the hardware (physical building of a cathedral), o how I pray that we are equally excited to work on our values, attitudes, morality, ethics, true selves, true faith and integrity. We also ought to disciple our sectors and systems of Ghanaian society so that these reflect a people that believe in a righteous and excellent God, the Most High.
Despite the bold vision of the NCG, we haven’t as a people or leadership displayed the kind of competence (eg. vision casting, convincing communication, broad consultation), character (eg. transparency, accountability) and compassion (eg. sensitivity to the present economic plight of the Ghanaian people) that a project of this magnitude demands.
I believe if we took the above seven steps, that should put us in good stead and hopefully lessen the painful memories and bitter aftertaste that this project would otherwise bring us. I do not believe the NCG is an entirely vile venture; but neither will it be entirely virtuous without great leadership in its purpose and process. Repentance and restitution must take place where the audit finds wrong and the best way forward forged as a body politic. The virtues in the idea of a national cathedral can be redeemed and the dead and near-buried hope and glory resurrected. This project can still bring God glory and bestow blessing on not just Ghana but the nations of the world if we would be quick to vanquish the evils that crouch at the foundation and front steps of this edifice. But for now, both my hopes and fears of these past six or so years have come to a head in this embattled National Cathedral of Ghana project.
It was heart-warming to find that a couple of the National Cathedral’s Board of Trustees members, namely Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams and Rev. Eastwood Anaba, reiterated my January 21 call above to ‘stop work and produce audit’ barely two days later, January 23, 2023. It was soon followed by a formal press release by the chair of the Board, Rev. Prof. Opoku Onyinah the next day, following a January 23, 2023 Board of Trustees meeting at which they agreed to engage Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world, to carry out an audit.
The hope expressed in the final paragraph of the said press release is mine too: “It is the hope and trust of the Board of the National Cathedral of Ghana that once these nagging issues are satisfactorily dealt with, the public interest and confidence in the project would be restored and rekindled to enable the citizenry to contribute generously to complete the Cathedral to the glory of God.”