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Opinions of Monday, 27 September 2010

Columnist: Jeffrey, Peter

RE: Economist rubbishes calls to build new capital at Kintampo

Economist rubbishes calls to build new capital at Kintampo – A Rejoinder

Should the capital be moved from Accra to deal with the worsening problem of congestion in the city state? Relocating the capital from Accra can become a national policy if all political parties and various stakeholders argue in favor of the move.

Various reasons have been given for relocation of Ghana’s capital city to Kintampo, among others that the condition of Accra is getting worst everyday due to over population, bad infrastructure and horrible gridlock (traffic jams). The costs for improving Accra are estimated to be much higher than for moving the capital city to Kintampo, according to an eminent criminologist, Ken Attefuah.

Over the past 50 years, governments in both developed and developing countries have initiated capital relocation programmes - Germany, Brazil, Nigeria, Malawi, Botswana, Pakistan and Tanzania.

Those countries which had made the decision to move their capital cities, however, have invariably felt that although such programmes are very expensive, they have been justified for several reasons. In the case of Ghana, many commentators have advanced congestion and bad infrastructure as a reason for the move to Kintampo.

Accra is a sprawling metropolis, a home to some 5 million people (some argue that the true figure is over 6 million, including Tema), and is the second largest city in West Africa, behind Lagos, Nigeria. Not only is it the political and economic heart of Ghana, but the city has hosted many freedom fighters from across sub-Saharan Africa, has a cosmopolitan air with its first class colleges, art galleries and country’s premier university, University of Ghana, Legon.

However the case for moving the capital city from Accra to Kintampo is compelling. Like Tehran, the Iranian capital, Accra lies on a known fault line, and like Port Au Prince in Haiti, it would not survive a major quake intact. Many seismologists have long warned various governments since the 1970s of such dangers.

Port Au Prince’s devastating earthquake has given impetus to the relocation idea in Ghana. Kintampo, over 200 miles from Accra, is the area that is the front runner, however opponents to this idea charge that the cost of building a new capital, estimated to be between $50-100 billion, would be better invested to make Accra a better capital city and to improve earthquake preparedness.

Ken Attefuah’s call for a new capital region should not be dismissed as “ridiculous proposition”. Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, might be an interesting example for policy makers and commentators, including Nii Moi Thompson, who opposes the new capital city proposition to study. Brasilia, like Abuja, was built from scratch in the interior of the country and replace Rio de Janeiro as the capital in 1960.

Although Brasilia, in the beginning was inhabited mostly by people whose livelihoods depended on the government, but over the years it grew and grew, confounding the planners’ expectations, and thus, as Nii Moi Thompson stated, “It is only a matter of time and Kintampo will also become Accra”.

In the case of Accra, according to official statistics, Greater Accra’s economy is dominated by the financial and real estate sectors as reflected by its GDP, followed by trade, hotels, restaurants and manufacturing in that order. The government sector’s contribution to GDP has been relatively small.

The figures indicate that space and numbers of people employed by the government sector in Accra/Tema metropolis are also most likely relatively small as opposed to the private sector services, trade and manufacturing.

Thus to advance the debate further, one cannot dismiss both schools of thought (Ken Attefuah’s “for” and Nii Moi Thompson’s “against” moving of the capital city to Kintampo) by looking at the problems facing Accra as a sustainable capital city.

The statistics findings would imply that to overcome the problems facing Accra there is a need to relocate economic activities systematically and consistently from Accra to other regions in the country over the long term.

To reduce Accra’s domination and to have a more balanced development, there is the need to redistribute economic and government activities from the capital to other cities.

The CPP 7 Year Development Plan which Rawlings PNDC metamorphosis into Vision 2020 clearly set the blue print for redistribution of ministries from Accra to the regions.

As long as economic and governmental activities are concentrated in Accra, it will be difficult to overcome the bottlenecks identified by Nii Moi Thompson (improper planning which is a result of weak institutions) as the main problems over choking Accra.

There is no doubt that relocation of the capital from Accra to Kintampo might not contribute significantly to solve this problem. Strong political will is needed to deal with the problem of over concentration of political and socio-economic activities in Accra by planning and implementing a strategy to distribute some of these activities to the regional capitals in the country.

This writer hope that any attempt to realize this novelty idea (of relocating the capital) would be done carefully by considering all aspects like Ghana’s financial conditions, economic and socio-cultural impacts and its benefits to the rest of the country.

Peter Jeffrey