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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Columnist: Adom-Mensah, Yaw

How Smart is Accra?

During a coffee discussion over the weekend with a colleague in Midtown
Manhattan on Africa’s growth challenges and the general new innovative
beginnings since the end neocolonialism, she engaged me in a rather
perplexing but modern intellectual debate about Ghana – Accra is crowded;
(so) let’s relocate the capital. Little did I know at the time that this
same thought has recently been engrossing many of our elite policy makers
and decision thinkers? Like Ellen, my learned physician friend and
colleague, many of us (Ghanaians) share the belief that the relocation of
Accra requires little thought to extrapolate the benign effects of such an
action. After all, some of our influential West African neighbours have long
pursued such actions and the examples from Nigeria, Cote d'ivoire or even
Brazil when taken in context are relative success stories.

We believe there is the need a central legislation to be enacted to enforce
a formal declaration targeted at equitable distribution of (the) movable
human and social capital and their functioning units.

We wonder why the Nigeria or Cote d'ivoire example has taken us so long to
implement although the process of thinking (about what to do with Accra)
began over 10-15years ago. Why don’t we simply declare Accra as commercial
capital while a substantive administrative capital is remodeled at Kasoa,
Wa, Kumasi, Ada, Ho or wherever we like? After all, we all know that apart
from human and material congestion, Accra is developing poor sewage
maintenance, growing impermeable surface area and limited free flowing
transportation networks. In addition, the nation’s capital like most urban
centre’s in Africa is characteristically deviled with an exponential
suburban sprawl growth.

Granted we believe we have achieved a 70% acceptable diagnostics of Accra’s
problems, why the wait in doing right thing? Don’t we want to give Accra’s
5million residents the opportunity to at least enjoy a relatively plateau or
linear reduction to physical share of land size per person? Why don’t the
metropolitan assembly and other stakeholders place firm restrictions on
Accra’s peri-urban growth and at the same time thin out Accra’s menacing
demand pull effect which attracts all categories of the social strata?; (we
know) our university graduates are all moving so are our junior high school
graduates. These two entities all contribute to the same core exponential
effect of filling Accra’s limited land which reduces available land per
capita for incumbent residents every year.

Some of our helpless resident’s who for obvious reasons disdain this
phenomenon of a reduction in personal space not attributable to the city’s
own internal dynamics such as internal birth rate and or improved mortality
are unable to move out mainly because as confirmed by numerous World Bank
working papers, many capital cities in Africa including Accra usually
possess a large and disproportionate dominance in terms of GDP
contributions, sometimes as large as being greater than the combined GDP
contribution of the next 3 and sometimes 4 (big)cities of that country.
Given this condition and coupled and with nascent and/or limited
interconnectedness, digitization or data-shy economies still common in many
parts of Africa including Ghana, 8 or perhaps 9 out of 10 person’s will
choose to stay in Accra despite an unconventional strong push force which is
eventually subdued by a stronger pull force.

Relocating Accra will not decongest Accra. Neither will that neither improve
Accra’s degenerating urban public transportation nor eliminate growing
impermeable surface area. Rather such a process will only test our
organization, engineering and planning skills as a nation to design, manage
and sustain a new city on a bare land like Accra in the 15Century or Tema in
post 1957. Unlike in the 15 century, this new city will attract the
unsatisfied professional Accra residents who favour a non pedestrian based
city but at the same time demand core availability of their needs as met by
Accra. The result of this will be an exponential growth in services and
facilities to meet the demands of these professional residents in the new
city. These high demands will eventually attract others from other parts of
the country who hitherto were not pulled to Accra because of a thought of a
potential city declivity stage. Whiles the departure of Accra’s elite will
addition to elevating the remaining middle income to elite status, it will
also attract migrants from other parts of the country whose sole purpose is
to fill vacuums created by migration to the new cities. Unlike the 500years
it has taken Accra to grow to this stage, we can as a nation expect that in
less than a generation, the results of such an action will only add another
developmental challenge: how do we better keep our commercial and
administrative capitals safe, livable, governable and sustainable.

The answer to our Urban and social problems is not to relocate Accra. The
conditions and prevailing environment that led to countries like Brazil,
Germany, Pakistan or our own Cote d'ivoire are different than they are
today. Cote d'ivoire for example has had four (4) capital cities in history,
Grand-Bassam (1893), Bingerville (1900), Abidjan (1933) and now
Yamoussoukro (since 1983) and going by the trends and predictions do we
expect Cote d'ivoire to name a new capital the next 5 years? What we need to
understand is that capital relocation programmes are not a solution to
existing dynamic systems and infrastructure malfunctions, the challenge is
to interpret the systems we live in and how their dynamics works. In 1966,
when then Romanian dictator Nicolau Ceausescu wanted to improve the birth
rate in Romania, he banned abortion and the sale of contraceptives – as
expected, it worked for a while, but then ‘the population system’ realigned
its self to the new restrictions and eventually resulted in greater problems
for Romania.

Moving the capital city from Accra is not a difficult task as a nation, all
we need is the resources which even if is unavailable could always be loaned
from our friendly partners who will essentially support any programme(s) we
seek to undertake but, in doing so we are not moving Accra, neither we are
moving Accra’s content’s nor the building of you the reader who resides in
Accra. We are essentially offering a temporally second (and better)
alternative to living in the stress Accra for today’s generation. Should our
institutions and national processes and dynamics remain unchanged, we will
be changing capital cities every generation or less. Port Du Prince will
still have been destroyed by the January 10 earth quake even it was a hamlet
in Haiti. In the case of Haiti would it not have been a good incentive to
rebuild a new capital city at a new location with the 15 billion plus
pledged at the UNHQ in New York on March 31?

What about Singapore, which is the second most densely populated urban space
in the world? Do they solicit help from neighboring China to donate land for
Singapore to relocate? In today’s world dynamics and new the knowledge
discovery of better systems, a structural change does not essentially imply
expensive capital relocation programmes.

For those who understood the conversational tone and intent of this article,
I implore you to keep thinking further and to those who did not, just
re-read and re-think.

To learn more about smart cities visit:


*Yaw Adom-Mensah.*

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