National Cathedral: Problems and Prospects

Announced in March 2017 as a symbol of Ghana’s self-perception as a ‘Christian nation’, the national cathedral project was welcomed by many Ghanaians, including most church leaders.

Prominent politicians from the two main parties, New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC), agreed that the national cathedral was of great public significance and should be pursued with energy.

Some among the Muslim community as well as less-religious Ghanaians were less keen. They objected on the grounds of excessive cost, as they believed that the tax payer would significantly contribute to the cost of construction. The Coalition of Muslim Organisations stated that Ghana’s Christians should be capable of building a cathedral without the state’s financial sponsorship.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced the national cathedral amidst celebrations marking Ghana’s 60 years of independence from British colonial rule. For the president, the national cathedral was fulfilment of a personal promise to God, made during the election campaign: if he won the 2016 presidential election, he would build a national cathedral. The president stated that the national cathedral was to thank ‘God for his blessings, favour, grace and mercies on our nation’, to provide ‘an avenue to call the nation to prayer, to worship, to celebrate, and to mourn’, to promote ‘deep national conversations on the role of faith in building the progressive and prosperous Ghana we all want’, and to encourage ‘ideas and values that should help us build a new Ghanaian civilization’.

The national cathedral was envisaged as a ‘non-denominational Christian worship centre’, scheduled to be completed by June 2024. The cathedral complex occupies six hectares (14 acres) of state-owned land in central Accra, beginning at the Ridge roundabout area and ending at the western side of the State House/Parliament House.

Fast forward, seven years to date, Ghana’s taxpayers have expended $58 million dollars on the project which, in April 2024, has not progressed as the government had hoped. An estimated $450 million dollars is needed to complete the project and it is not clear if that amount is yet available to complete the construction. By mid-2022, various church denominations had contributed GH¢2.21 million ($164,000) towards the construction of the national cathedral. This is a large sum but not sufficient on its own to pay the remaining costs of construction.

It is not clear how much more churches and individual Christians have donated in the two years since then. Paul Opoku-Mensah, CEO/Executive Director of the national cathedral, has called for Ghanaians to make regular individual donations to enable the project to be completed. President Akufo-Addo has requested funds from Ghana’s diaspora and from individuals in the USA. It is unclear how much money has resulted from these efforts and how much more needs to be amassed before completion of the project. As time has gone on, critics have complained that the cost of the national cathedral is rather high, and that the money would be better spent on development projects: health, education and infrastructure.

It is an election year, and there is much discussion about the national cathedral and what more needs to be done to complete it. The plan was to inaugurate the national cathedral in March, 2024 but this date passed without the inauguration. It is not clear at what stage the project is now at. The government does not include the progress of the national cathedral in its new performance tracker, designed to show Ghanaians how the government is doing in running the country.

Critics contend that failure to include the national cathedral in the government’s own performance tracker is a regrettable oversight. Some claim that the government has not included it because it does not want more public attention on the slow progress of the national cathedral. Over seven years, the national cathedral has gone from an expression of Christian pride to a symbol of how difficult it can be to complete costly national projects at a time of economic hardship.

President Akufo-Addo stands down in January, 2025 after two terms in office. His stated aim was to complete the building of a national cathedral during his presidential tenure; this now looks unlikely, leaving the project as a potentially problematic legacy for his successor.

What can be learned from the saga of the national cathedral and what can be done in the future to ensure that projects of national importance can be completed on time and in budget? One lesson might be that the government should liaise more with stakeholders at the planning stage of the project in order to ensure that there is both popular support, and that ordinary citizens are convinced that the project is good value for money. A second lesson is that it is imperative to regularly update Ghanaians on the problems and prospects of the project so that they can continue to express their support for the president’s vision.

The writer is Emeritus Professor of Politics, London Metropolitan University, UK,