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Politics of Tuesday, 26 April 2016


Slums will remain important in Ghanaian politics

It has been predicted slums will continue to play a very crucial role in Ghanaian politics as they create opportunities for politicians, entrepreneurs, traditional rulers and community leaders.

Dr Jeffery Paller, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Earth Institute at Columbia University, who made the assertion, was speaking during the launch of a book titled “Who Really Governs Urban Ghana.”

According to Dr Paller, migrants and settlers make competing claims on land and ownership, forming new communities in the process. He said it was against the background of such issues that policymakers and international donors continue to prescribe better planning, upgrading of slum, infrastructure investment and capacity building to fix African cities.

“Who Really Governs Urban Ghana,” discusses issues contributing to the growth of slums and its effects on the development of the country. It was authored by Mohammed Awal, Research and Programme Officer at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (Ghana-CDD) and Dr Jeffrey W. Paller of the Earth Institute, Columbia University.

Dr Paller said Ghana was one of Africa’s most urbanised countries. In 2014, according to World Bank, 53 per cent of the country’s population lived in towns and cities. Ghana, the reported noted, has urbanised rapidly since 1984, and urban population has increased from 4 to 14 million with an estimated 5.5 million, representing 39 per cent living in slums.

According to him, 70 per cent of Africans will live in cities by 2050 and the continent’s urban population will grow by 473 percent. He further observed that although political clientelism and the role of informal institutions were deepening alongside the strengthening of formal democratic institutions, yet the way that urban neighborhoods were really governed, how informal networks interacted with formal politics and how citizens held their leaders to account were too often overlooked.

On his part Mohammed Awal recalled that in 1988, Ghana embarked on a comprehensive decentralisation programme to bolster democratisation, devolve resources and encourage a more participatory approach to local development. At the district level Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) are responsible for development planning, revenue collection, service delivery and internal security.

Decentralised local governance is presented as an effective response to local administrative and development needs but the lack of consensus between political parties and citizens on key national issues stifles the country from reaping the benefits of democracy.

Mr Awal noted that the democratisation of the system has generated intense competition between ruling and opposition coalitions, weakened institutions and led to poor commitment to effective devolution.

He said democratisation has encouraged the ruling elite to purse short-term strategies to win elections, at the expense of long-term policy choices that might deliver inclusive economic growth to migrate inequality, unemployment and poverty reduction. The transfer of power and responsibilies to sub-national government remains incremental, paradoxical and challenging.

Problems of accountability, institutional autonomy, participation and poor service deliver typify local government across the country. While the rhetoric of decentralisation speaks of making democracy a reality, the process has in effect been used as a political tool to maintain central government control, investing significant powers in non-elected authorities and sustaining a patronage system developed over the decades that undermines the nation’s already weak institutions.

He further added that, under the current system of decentralized governance, citizens-particularly the poor are limited in their ability to influence policy, monitor government and hold it accountable.

Local assembly representatives are formally apolitical but have close ties to political parties and party priorities often direct resources into election campaigns rather than investing in roads, streetlights or other public goods.
Mr Awal observed that competition for power in Ghana has become increasingly intense, especially in cities with more resources at the government’s disposal and greater sophistication is how political parties mobilise support.

He said ”Toilet wars ” in Accra and Kumasi were good examples of this strong competition between rival party activists and loyalists for the control of a public service.

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