Nationalism, spatial iconography, political history: Exploring Accra’s “Big Six” monuments for Republic Day

in Public Life/Public Space/Urbanism from Ghana by

A series of major roundabouts (traffic circles) and one interchange in the city commemorate some of the Big Six, Ghana’s forefathers and leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention political party who agitated for and helped usher in independence from British rule in 1957. On July 1st of each year, Republic Day marks the formal creation of the Republic of Ghana, three years after independence from the British. As an early republic, these six leaders continued to play pivotal roles in shaping the country’s political, social and economic history, and their contributions have been codified in the city’s monuments and street spaces.

This year, we explore those roundabouts, through the map below, a photo slideshow, and street surveys asking people if they can recall all six members of the group (and you can listen to the audio below).

For five of the Big Six, monument spaces showcase their historical roles

The five monument spaces are indicated in the map below with black star. Click on each one to learn more about the site’s history:

 Credit: Map created by Victoria Okoye for africanurbanism.net, 2013

At the airport roundabout, there is also a series of bronze busts of all Big Six members.

Appropriating spatial identities for political purposes

It is not uncommon for streets, roundabouts and other spaces to be renamed. For example, the Ako Adjei Interchange’s most recent identity is drawn from the Big Six member,  but it has had a few other identities in the past. Although the naming and siting of monuments falls under the direction of the Ghana Museum and Monuments Board, this demonstrates the intrusive role of political parties in power who appropriate urban spaces  to support their agendas. Originally, the interchange was known as Akuafo Roundabout, named by the National Redemption Council. It was later renamed by the PNDC to Sankara Circle, after the Burkinabé leader. That also seems to be why William Ofori-Atta is the only remaining Big Six member without a space named in his honor.

Claiming space for political leaders in the city can be fraught with tensions, as it is the tangible struggle between who is recognized, and who is not, and who has the power to create that agenda. It also plays a role in shaping the collective memory, by putting some names at the forefront of people’s minds (when they regularly encounter these spaces and names, but at the expense of those they do not). For example, in a quick, informal survey asking 10 city residents if they were familiar with the Big Six members and their role in Ghana’s political history, everyone was able to generally recall the group’s role and period of impact, but few could name all six (and most frequently, it was William Ofori-Atta, the only member without a roundabout, whom people consistently forgot — but not always).

Listen to some of those responses here:

So why is it that William Ofori-Atta’s been left without a roundabout, interchange or another sort of public space named after him?