Monday, February 17, 2014

The Social Geography of Accra

Today I saw a rather interesting presentation by Ato Quayson from the University of Toronto with the title Ethno-Politics, Colonial Space Making, and Town Planning, 1650s to 1950. Accra is a strange city in that parts of it were well planned by the British colonial administration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and other parts of it were built from the bottom up with very little guidance from above. The result is that you have the persistence of socially-economic differentiated neighborhoods that can date their origins back to colonial times. There is for instance the area running from Victoriaborg through Catonments to the area around the airport which has been subject to a great deal of urban planning. That particular corridor of the city has also been wealthy for a long time. The persistence of colonial era economic inequality in residential housing has survived the elimination of racial segregation under the last years of British rule, independence in 1957, the coup in 1966, the coup in 1972, the coup in 1979, the coup in 1981, and the hopefully permanent return to civilian rule in 1994. There was a lot more covered in the talk, but this particular aspect stood out for me. It seems none of the many radical political changes that have occurred in Ghana have fundamentally altered which neighborhoods in Accra are rich and which ones are poor. This geography has been stable even though the demography of the city has changed significantly since colonial times. Most notably the percentage of indigenous Ga residents has steadily decreased in the 20th Century as Akan speakers and other migrants have moved to the capital. So despite ethnic changes the lines dividing areas of Accra into rich and poor neighborhoods remain more or less the same.

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