In February, I traveled to Accra for a weekend and, among other adventures, had the pleasure of visiting Fort Ussher. This Dutch-built fort was originally used for the slave trade and then, under the British, to house political prisoners including Kwame Nkrumah, the first President and Prime Minister of independent Ghana. The fort is now in disrepair and, despite intentions to turn into a museum and historic preserve, sits largely unnoticed by everyone except its lone caretaker.
As I entered the main cell block, the jail cells creaked with age and sighed under the weight of dust, half-finished construction projects, and rusting scrap metal. I was initially worried that I had accidentally wandered into a horror film that that the cell block door would suddenly slam shut behind me and hosts would appear rattling the bars on their cells and shouting while a hanged ghost prisoner swayed on the makeshift gallows sitting in the center of the cell block…
But my jitters were quickly replaced by a haunted awe, as cell after cell revealed beautiful mural testimonials left behind by those who passed their days within these walls.
One cell revealed a Middle Eastern tile mosaic drawn in chalk but reminiscent of a multicolored, glory-filled mosque. One the remaining wall of that cell were written Koran verses calling for strength, perseverance, and hope.
Another cell revealed a landscape focused on Eve and the serpent, with Adam looking on from the side. Eve’s hair seemed to sway in the wind and her titillating figure was drawn, I’m certain, to provide the prisoner relief both spiritual and physical.
The next cell brought an incredible portrait of Jesus on the cross. The next, a list of exotic European travel destinations, with Amsterdam as a jet-setting highlight. And so on.
The caretaker told me that he believes the government will eventually turn the fort into a historic preserve and fix it up as a proper site for international and domestic tourists. I can only hope, when this happens, the prisoner artwork is also preserved and not scrubbed away. Without the artwork, it would have been impossible to see the humanity that existed within the fort’s walls.
[Sorry for the lack of photos – next time, I’ll bring a camera]