This is Cape Coast, a town on Ghana’s southern coast that attracts throngs of visitors every year. It’s a Saturday, and hot; the sun is high in the sky. Down below, the waves push up against the shore. The structure’s white walls gleam in the midday sunshine, a stunning, white-washed camouflage to the still dank, still dark and still seemingly haunted chambers below. The group of tourists circle round the tour guide as he recounts history.
And it has a heavy history, this slave castle. For many who visit the castle, its memories and rememories are still fresh. A holding place for slaves just before their shipment across the Atlantic to the New World (and the first seat of government for the British colonial government), this is perhaps one of the more recognizable and faithfully preserved edifices of Ghana’s (and black people’s) economic exploitation. But the castle is also an important part of Cape Coast’s history, an opportunity for experiential tourism to explore the past, and a resource that could — and should — be leveraged to support the city’s economic future.
A Disconnect Between Tourism and Local Economic Development
From its beginnings, the castle had served as a node for capital gains that were strategically isolated from its urban surroundings. It is said that this castle, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was originally purposed by the Swedish for the storage of timber, gold, and other goods to be shipped to Europe; after changing hands, Cape Coast grew as a major trading nervepoint for the British along the West African route. With the popularity of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, it became a waiting depot for human goods (slaves), captured locally and shipped to the Americas.
According to Kwabena Kumi, tour guide at the castle, its dungeons could hold, on average, some 1300 slaves — 1000 males and 300 females — at one time. “But you can imagine during the peak periods,” he said, “it might even surpass that.”
At the time, little of the wealth generated from the trade trickled down to the city of Cape Coast or the locals. Today, the castle is generating a new form of capital (tourism), through the thousands of visitors streaming through the castle’s entrance gates each year who explore this aspect of Ghana’s history.
Kwabena has been leading groups of visitors around the castle for three years now, leading as many as three to four tours a day. He and the other castle staff seem unsure of how many visitors come per day, month or year. According the Museum and Monuments Board, 80,000 visited the castle in 2009, the same year U.S. President Barack Obama visited. The next year, in 2010, that number swelled to just over 89,000. But in 2011, the Museum and Monuments Board officer reported just 78,691 visitors to the castle.
“It must bring a lot of revenue,” Kwabena says, estimating it’s somewhere in the millions of Ghana cedis.
It seems a vicious cycle, where again, few outside of the direct revenue stream see any benefit, with little positive impact for the surrounding urban area of Cape Coast. But one of the challenges is that the revenue doesn’t flow back into the city. It’s a problematic aspect of the tourism sector, not just for Cape Coast, but more widely for Ghana’s “booming” economy: ensuring that opportunities for big-buck revenues flow back into and support the wider, local economy.
Read more: http://africanurbanism.net/2013/01/18/cape-coast-tourism-economics/
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