Much has been said about the lack of a maintenance culture in Ghana, how even the most impressive buildings can be neglected until they need extensive and expensive renovation. Well, now we can add to that unenviable reputation a second one: outrageous irreverence for premises which deserve to be treated with respect.
That was my conclusion following what I saw last weekend, a demonstration of glaring disrespect for the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC), also known as the ‘Pink Lady’, when I attended a function there.
Right from the early days of the AICC, even before the construction had been completed in 1991, some of us knew the Centre by that whimsical nickname, the Pink Lady. It was so named because of its pinkish colour – although I can’t remember now who gave it that name, probably the company that built it, a company from Eastern Europe, I believe.
Ghana is currently marking the Silver Jubilee of the Fourth Republic, and it is perhaps opportune to reflect on some of the events that helped the country shed its military-rule-country description, with all that it connotes, ahead of the return to Constitutional rule.
A conference held in the Pink Lady, the Tenth Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, September 1 to 7, 1991, indeed for which it was built, was one of the signposts.
It has since become one of the preferred venues for conferences, national and international, as well as other high profile events.
As I recall, the prestigious building, set in vast grounds, with spacious parking and well-manicured lawns, was greatly admired for its elegance inside and outside. One entered its gates and premises almost feeling as if one were stepping into sacred premises. It still has a prestige all its own and despite reports of some wear and tear issues, from the outside at least, it is still an imposing building which commands some amount of awe.
However, apparently, that respect is not felt by all.
As indicated, a few days ago, attending a function there the scenes I encountered there were simply shocking, bewildering.
How else can one describe what I saw there last Sunday, January 7 – in fact at the very time that the celebrations for the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth Republic were taking place at the nearby Independence Square?
The Centre had apparently been booked for at least three big events that same afternoon. It’s a huge place so normally there should not have been any problems, but there were.
There was a wedding taking place on the first lawn to the right as one entered the grounds; and to the extreme left another big event was also starting, with much noise and music, disturbing the solemnity of the wedding. Inside, the main hall had been arranged for yet another event.
After the wedding ceremony, the guests moved into the Centre’s first floor for the reception, directed to use a side door. By an ingenious arrangement of panels, the wedding guests going up to the first floor for the reception were diverted from the main hall on the ground floor.
As a result of the separate big events, the AICC that evening was ‘heaving’, so busy that I kept wondering why the management had agreed for so many major events to take place that same time.
And I was not prepared for some of the scenes that I came across: part of the lawn next to the main AICC entrance had been turned into a makeshift kitchen! A woman was bent over a fryer on a small gas cylinder on the grass, busy frying something!
But if that was an incredible sight, it was nothing compared to what I saw next: a sausage and kebab grilling stand right behind the main gate facing the main entrance of the Centre. Milling around the stand were prospective customers waiting to be served.
Yet that wasn’t all. Outside, in front of the AICC gatehouse were hordes of traders selling all sorts of cold drinks and snacks displayed on tables and from ice-chests.
Not surprisingly, as the number of vehicles entering increased so did the parking hassles. And because of the traffic inside the grounds, exiting became a problem. For an unknown reason, although the AICC was built with one gate for entry and another for exit, only the Entry was being used by both vehicles coming in and going out.
Consequently, it took a while for sanity to prevail, before patrons driving out could do so.
One imagines that the cost of maintenance of such a building must be astronomical and so the Centre’s management needs all the bookings they can get. But shouldn’t there be concern about maintaining the dignity of such a place?
I believe that most events at the Centre are catered affairs, so why the need for kebab and other eatables and drinks to be sold there, with no heed at all for the pedigree of that impressive, imposing building?
As indicated, I was a guest at an event at the AICC. By the time I was leaving, I had come to the conclusion that whoever is in charge of the Centre is in the wrong job. Either that, or there is nobody really in charge there to insist on basic rules that should apply to the running of such a place.
Whose decision was it to allow such unladylike activities, such goings-on at the Pink Lady?
So what next, AICC ‘management’? Are we going to see the grounds hosting banku and tilapia stands, as well as chop bars in the middle of the lawns from where the pounding of fufuo will be heard, with cauldrons of soups cooking nearby?
I don’t think I’m the only person who was disturbed by the scenes at the AICC last Sunday. But perhaps such occurrences are now regular there.
So my question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, or whichever Ministry has oversight of the facility is: are you aware of the desecration of the Accra International Conference Centre?