Fit for a king (sorry, president).
Since independence in 1957, Ghana has been ruled from the same slave castle, Christianborg, at Osu on the shores of the capital Accra, from where Britain once commanded all it surveyed. Now, not any more. A brand new state house was commissioned on 10 November, just in time for President John Kufuor to have a peep before he hands over power in January 2009 to a new president to be elected at the general elections fixed for 7 December. Stephen Gyasi Jnr reports from Accra.
The race to succeed President John Kufuor gathered momentum on 10 November when he commissioned a brand new presidential palace, christened the "Golden Jubilee House", built on the site of President Kwame Nkrumah's old office and residence at Flagstaff House in the heart of Accra.
The US$36.9m complex will serve as the office and residence of Ghana's next president, to be elected on 7 December. The imposing edifice, crafted in the shape of a stool sprayed with gold (the national symbol) was constructed by the Indian firm, Shapoorji Pallonji, and took two years to complete.
It was built with a concessionary loan from the Indian government that has a 50% grant element and an interest rate of 1.75%, repayable in 25 years including a five-year moratorium.
The decision to construct the presidential complex generated robust national debate, which sought to suggest that the timing was wrong and that the government was not taking into account the hardships facing the country.
"What Ghana has always needed is not just the physical structure, which in any case must befit the image of the nation, but also a credible spiritual and psychological centre to inspire the self-confidence and clear identity of the national persona," President Kufuor said at the commissioning ceremony.
"It must not be forgotten that the Osu Castle has not fulfilled and can never provide such a centre because it was physically and historically purpose-built as a slaving outpost and indeed in many parts continues to bear the indelible scars and stigma of that inhuman trade of those times," the president added.
He said the major attraction for using the site where the presidential complex has been built was the Flagstaff House, where Ghana's first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah and his family lived when he saw that the castle was unsuitable for a head of state.
According to Kwadwo Mpiani, Kufuor's chief of staff and minister of presidential affairs, the new complex is made up of offices for the president, his advisors and staff, those of the vice president, an official residence for the president that can accommodate a visiting head of state, office space for both civil and public servants, a service building, a clinic, restaurant, bank, post office, and fire station. There is also the refurbished residence of Dr Kwame Nkrumah.
Security concerns have been raised over the location of the French embassy, which shares a wall with the new presidential palace, but the government has assured the nation that negotiations are still ongoing to find a suitable location for the embassy to relocate. The location of the presidential complex has long been criticised by security experts who say the site cannot pass modern security tests.
Eight political parties are contesting the 7 December elections, but only two--Kufour's NPP and former President Rawlings' NDC--have a real chance of winning. Nkrumah's old CPP, now rejuvenated, might increase its presence in parliament, but the rest of the smaller parties are just making up the numbers.
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo (NPP) and John Atta Mills (NDC) are contesting the presidency. The campaigning, so far, has been fierce; and both presidential and parliamentary polls promise to be close. In a country with no tradition of political opinion polling, no one can safely say, even at this late hour, who is likely to win, though both main parties claim they are in the lead.
The vibrant media landscape has been exhaustively used by the various political parties and advertising companies have been smiling all the way to the bank as the nation is deluged with huge billboards, posters, banners and leaflets on the competing candidates.
There has been huge public interest in the election campaign, and some people have been making irresponsible statements about a "possible Kenya situation" if any electoral malpractices happen.
This has led to the police warning that it would not tolerate any incidence of violence on election day. The police have, thus, assured the nation that they will leave nothing to chance to ensure that the polls are free, fair and transparent.
The police have warned the public well before time that it "is illegal for anyone to carry any weapon, lethal or non-lethal, licensed or unlicensed, to polling stations or electoral centres on voting day".
The director of public affairs of the Ghana Police Service, Deputy Supt Kwesi Ofori, says the list of banned weapons includes pistols, pump-action guns, single and double-barrelled guns, locally manufactured guns, jack knives, machetes, kitchen knives, forks, petrol bombs, stones, clubs and non-lethal weapons such as pepper sprays, perfume sprays or any other adapted implement that could be used to cause bodily harm.
He says the electorate would only be going to cast their votes to elect their leaders and "not going to war", and so "weapons are not needed at the election centres".
According to Deputy Supt Ofori, the National Security Task Force will be in firm control of affairs, the security services will not compromise on security arrangements for the elections and "anyone who breaches the security arrangements will face the full rigours of the law".
The National Security Task Force is made up of personnel from the Police Service, the Ghana Immigration Service, the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS), the Ghana National Fire Service and the Prisons Service.
Under the chairmanship of the Inspector-General of Police, Patrick Kwarteng Acheampong, the Task Force has already done a lot of work at the strategic, operational and tactical levels to ensure an incident-free election.
Already more than 1,000 flashpoints have been identified by the security agencies as places where the elections could be marred by violence and they are doing their best to ensure that adequate security is provided to protect the integrity of the polls and the lives of voters and electoral officers.