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Are cities not built for people? Accra in global urbanism

lknIs there something that makes Accra’s geouniqueness enviable? The Government of Ghana legally places the administrative management of the entire country under Accra institutionally spearheaded by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). The AMA is doing good things for the city. And, not long ago, Accra’s Mayor was honoured as one of the Best African Mayors, and earlier, Accra was accorded a Millennium City. Since the official designation of Accra as a capital city, it had undergone remarkable political winnowing to become a city for democratic choice.

Traversing the city tells a lot. Accra, as a seat of government, houses important national assets including over 60 per cent of higher institutions of learning and the Kotoka International Airport (KIA), which serves as the country’s main junction to the global community. The British Airways (dis)embarks every other day. Getting flight to Germany’s Berlin, Canada’s Toronto, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro or Brasilia, Russia’s Moscow, and India’s New Delhi is not a struggle. Chinese restaurants are easy to find and the South Africa’s national flag is heartily inscribed on commercial vehicles. The Japanese brands of vehicles are common on the streets. Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Tema-Accra Motorway continually remains significant in linking the heavy industrial hub to the urban economy.

New physical infrastructure is springing up in the inner and the outskirts of the city somewhat reflecting an upward status ranking of Ghana by Human Development Report 2014. From Roman Ridge in central Accra to Dawhenya or from Adenta to Dodowa, several buildings of dissimilar capacities are emerging with stronger taste for the rich. The development of shopping malls and new residential, educational and industrial infrastructure had replaced nearly 80-92 per cent of traditional-styled buildings in Accra City. Konadu-Agyemang’s very useful study on ‘housing conditions and characteristics in Accra, an African city’ a decade and half ago, published in Habitat International, showed that 79 per cent of houses were constructed from cement blocks, 5 per cent from baked bricks, 4 per cent from mud/mud bricks and 3.6 per cent from wood. In central Accra, the extent to which buildings constructed from cement blocks have replaced traditional-styled buildings nowadays is close to 98.1 per cent.

In addition to serving administrative functions, Accra has metamorphosed into a booming centre for sub-regional trade negotiations and economic activities, and a home to thousands of people who had escaped civil wars. All kinds of food are traded at the Makola Market. Buying foodstuffs that were transported from rural areas by middlemen and then being conveyed back to the same rural areas by consumers is interesting to see at Makola Market. Public news concerning Ghana’s oil and gas industry has indirectly intensified hunger for the city such that youth migration from hinterlands to the city is alarming. The daily interactions of people from different local, national and international backgrounds make Accra an inviting cosmopolitan and a vibrant city – surprises can pop up though. Is Accra a global city?

The Extended Accra city inhabits by approximately 5 million people is congenially peaceful. The peaceful atmosphere in contemporary times is attracting many high-profiled international conferences and continental festivals. Key beneficiaries of the enabling environment are international students, researchers and scholars who are undertaking short-term cultural exchange programmes or long-term academic trainings. Foreigners and local residents live, eat, interact, and walk on the streets of Accra freely. Accra’s Oxford Street is a place-loving and place-relaxing. A few international companies, bilateral and multilateral organizations (United Nations [UNDP, UN-INRA, FAO & UNICEF], World Bank, DFID, Vodafone, Commonwealth, DANIDA and JICA) are represented in Accra’s landscapes providing varied services.

In global and continental context, many preeminent leaders had visited Accra over the years and went back with indelibly good memories. Some of the leaders included the former and current US Presidents Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton, the current Chairman of AU and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, as well as the former and the current UN Secretary-Generals, Kofi Annan and Ban Kin-Moon respectively. The footprints of one of Africa’s best football stars, Samuel E’to were recorded. Such visits and others by personalities I could not mention had contributed to Accra’s global standing.

Accra has appealing socio-cultural outlook. Like other African capital cities, Accra has its own distinctive ethno-cultural identities. The Ga culture is deeply rooted and welcoming. The inter-religious tolerance within the city is pleasing. The coastal savanna identity is admirable. Its natural features such as the Achimota Forest Reserve, coastal reefs and the Odaw[na] River have undeveloped tourism appeals.

Is there any city where everything about urban living is complete? Inequality exists in Accra paving several areas for institutional collaborations and development interventions. Urban diseconomies of scale are testing the completeness of Accra city, including flooding, wastes, hunger, child streetism, and in-work poverty. Think about how street children are able to buy 500ml of drinking water? Recently, temptation by digital violence to deliberately cause human sufferings has been trans-territorially introduced. As the UN Millennium Development Goals targeted at redressing some of these urban issues are slowly getting to an end, the UN Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) are rapidly surfacing. Besides the challenges that may be posed by climate change and extreme poverty, accepting the SDGs and demonstrating commitment to it by implementing integrated initiatives to eliminate urban inequality, decongest slums and streets, improve service delivery and expand energy opportunities will do well for transforming Accra into a sustainable and an inclusive city everyone will love to live in.

Why Dodowa can be Ghana’s newest regional city?

The fortunes of Ghana’s capital city, Accra, are growing in areas of education, commerce, trade and infrastructure. How are the fortunes shared? Surprisingly, the city’s wealth, instead of translating into spatio-economic equity, has led to congested living conditions, especially in the slums. Like many African cities, Accra is densely populated and faces seemingly complex decongestive challenges – streets, homes, banks and schools. Statistics suggested that 780,000 lived in Accra in 1978. Today, the combined population in Accra, Tema and the immediate extended peripheral communities such as Kasoa, Amasaman, Pokuase, Fafraha, and Dawhenya is over 5 million.

The rapid built up of infrastructure between Tema and Accra had resulted into shrinking of open green spaces by 85 per cent between the two cities. Now, these cities have spatially merged to form Ghana’s most economically vibrant and urbanised zone. Every day commuting in-between them is very stressful. So, decongesting the zone frequently resurfaces. How can the zone be sustainably decongested to ease mobility and improve service delivery through decentralisation to enhance productivity and liveability? In this context, several policy initiatives have been implemented to decentralise urban services and yet the congestion remains sticky. Will the saddle disappear?

Over the years, harsh consequences of decongestive interventions generated unhealthy controversies among policymakers and residents. At the moment, the critical issue of interest is not so much about a search for faults, myths or what is accountable for the causes. Rather, how to undertake decongestive schemes in humane ways that will not force pro-poor urban residents to go starving, displaced or emotionally distressed.

For congestion to be minimised, then the approach will require all-inclusive strategies and clearly set paths. Though there are other routes to decongest the city, one of the apparently strategic options is to relocate the regional administrative seat of the Greater Accra Region (GAR) from central Accra to a suburb. This will free Accra to fully function and reposition as the nation’s Capital City serving all the ten regional cities, subregional ECOWAS and the global community. It is important to recognize that Accra is not only a major junction to Wa, Paga, Nasia and Avalavi but also to Toronto, Geneva, Paris, Bulawayo, Bamako and Beijing.

If Dodowa is mandated as a regional city, it will generate benefits beyond the singular purpose of decongestion. Constructing new infrastructure to facilitate transfer of administrative power to the new regional city will potentially accelerate socio-economic development of Dodowa, the GAR and the nation as large. Commercial trading activities will increase internally. And, the international community can transact businesses in Accra’s free environment.  Thus, if Dodowa becomes a regional city, it is not only for the people of the area. The benefits are for all.

Already it is widely held that poor service delivery is a predominant cause of city congestion alongside climate change and population growth. How easy it is to obtain service from your service provider? No correspondence, the delays, insults and attitudes! Indeed, reassigning regional responsibilities to Dodowa will ease service delivery and, therefore, ought to be given a keen attention in decongestive policies and general urban planning.

The existing physical infrastructure of the District Assembly in Dodowa is situated in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes having savanna, derived forest and mountainous relics. The biodiversity and green infrastructure is spectacularly rich. With an estimated population of over 250,000 (including extended fringes), Dodowa posits as a unique social mix, multi-cultural and an inviting ethnic community exceptionally receptive to others because of the peripheral proximity to Accra’s cosmopolitan livings. The prevailing infrastructural base in Dodowa provides a solid foundation to re-plan and build a new regional administrative system without the financial burden of having to start from nothing. The improved road linking central Accra to Adenta Barrier and the completion of the remaining portion from Adenta to Dodowa will superbly boost the regional city agenda. The availability of relative unused lands in Dodowa makes it possible to expand service delivery outlets to support effective regional administration. When the service outlets are well-connected, distributed and efficiently coordinated it will reduce travelling times and ease access to services. The congested central Accra will be free a bit then.

dd1As a search for comfort, safety and high-productivity in Accra city continues, the situation where service outlets are, at times, distributed but the administrative procedures are centralised would have to be reversed and done away with. Decentralising and delegating regional administrative power to Dodowa can have multiplier effects on decongestion of the Accra city. Is decentralisation really a sine qua non for sustainable decongestion? Has regional administrative system led to decongestion in Kumasi, Tamale or Cape Coast?

Note: For the map shown in the write up above, credits Google maps

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