Earlier this year, I visited Nsamanpom, Madina, the neighbourhood I grew up in. It had been a while since I last stopped by and I needed some sentimental connections to my earlier years and to see friends and neighbours I shared them with. Buildings and neighbourhoods, apart from offering serving functional purposes of shelter, community, to name of few, possess the soul we admire in famous art pieces; they are living monuments of our rich history and identity as frantic humans grappling for meaning in this rugged life. This connection was what I kept looking for as I walked through the Ecobank Headquarters in Accra. Was there something intrinsic that kept the structure from being out of place on the Independence Avenue and in Ghana’s bustling capital city with its lavish cultural heritage, colonial past and popular culture known and shared globally?
In this article, I attempt to stress the fortuitous location of the Ecobank Headquarters Accra (first mentioned by the representative of Mobius Architecture who took us around) and how it renders the structure a modern beacon of Pan-Africanism in a country that was home to one of its greatest advocates, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. If the edifice thus serves as an icon for the Pan-African movement then it is no longer a building for Ghana or Ghanaians, but a symbol for Africans in solidarity everywhere, passively or actively contributing to the development of the continent.
The Ecobank building is located on the Independence Avenue on land previously owned by The Trust Bank, which they acquired in 2011. The Independence Avenue is a historic road adjoining the Liberation Road and the N6 road, linking the Peduase Lodge to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Nkrumah’s resting place and famous site of the declaration of Ghana’s independence from colonial rule. The Independence Avenue is in the centre of Accra, a city Nkrumah planned to build with historical landmarks inspiring Ghanaian nationalism. There are today a number of these landmarks along or close to the Independence Avenue; these include the Independence Square, the State House, the African Unity monument, to name a few. The Ecobank Headquarters finds itself surrounded by buildings that have enormous meaning for Ghanaian and African history and might have a lot more to add to the landscape. The project architect mentioned that when construction was almost completed, they climbed to one of the top floors only to realize that the building aligned perfectly with the African Union Monument across the street. The story is a lot like a fairy tale or Ecobank’s “destiny” or God’s plan!
Pan-Africanism emerged as a global consciousness for the freedom and development of black people in face of the marginalization and racial discrimination that characterized the colonial and slavery epoch (Wamba-dia-Wamba, 1996). It was a rallying effort for a black emancipation and equality that manifested itself in anti-slavery efforts in the Diaspora and decolonisation in the continent. Ecobank is Africa’s leading bank with wide geographical reach (present in 36 out of 54 countries). Beyond merely operating as a financial institution, it symbolizes financial independence and economic stability for Africans and Africa, with its commitment to connect Africa and lead economic transformation. We need to pause and revisit this Pan-African awareness that engulfs us and now towers in Accra’s developing landscape, and rethink this paradigm, juxtaposed with contemporary issues of race, popular culture, economic and political development, among others. What contribution to Africa’s development and history do we want to distinctly bring as architects, anthropologists, entrepreneurs, politicians, technologists, etcetera? I truly hope (not only for me) that for many the structure can be an abstraction of these ideals.
The building sits on a 22,000 square metres, opposite the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park. According to the project architect from Mobius Architecture the towers are designed in two ellipses to look like lotuses. The “bigger lotus” is 14-storey for corporate offices, board and meeting rooms, whilst the other “smaller lotus” houses two canteens, a coffee shop, a banking hall and a staff auditorium. By many standards, the building is world class; ranging from the technology in the building management systems to the materials used for different parts of the building to the concepts guiding design of the entire structure as a (living) ecosystem seen in the motion of the curvaceous interior and exterior. I have likened a lot of the thinking, planning and creativity with bureaucratic and other financial constraints in putting up the structure to our current challenge of innovation and development here in Ghana. We need to put in hard thought about the Ghana or Accra we want to see in the next ten, twenty years, whether as entrepreneurs or government workers. I am a ‘tech guy’, and that has been a bit of my quagmire for some time now. How innovative are the tech solutions I develop? How do they change the face of the city or country? How do they improve lives in a way sensitive to the Ghanaian and African milieu?
Perhaps the whole idea of Pan Africanism is quite lost on us, but for me beyond EcoBank’s neighboring landmark buildings that enforce this idea, the edifice is a reminder, or better still a statement for the African people on excellence (because EcoBank is a paragon of excellence in Accra’s modern landscape) in our development struggle. The profound thought that went into the design of a sustainable structure or ecosystem (ellipses) as I’ll prefer – the attention to detail (whether it was the alignment of the tiles or consistent amoebic shapes of light-emitting components), the ventilation-and solar consideration for a tropical building, to name a few – is what I’ll remember the next time I pass by it.
Wamba-dia-Wamba, E. (1996). Pan Africanism, Democracy, Social Movements and Mass Struggles. African Journal of Political Science New Seri, [online] 1(1), pp.10-11. [Accessed 19 July 2018].