Reaching a rate of 4% per annum, urbanization in Ghana has become a key issue. As more and more people are converging in cities in Ghana, just like other countries within the West African sub-region, it has become very necessary to focus attention on the challenges arising in urban centers.
Cities over the world have served as hubs of economic and technological advancement and their growth planned and managed. This is because of the decreased per capita cost of providing social and economic infrastructure and services. A direct relationship can be established between urbanization and development as most of the industrialized developed economies are largely urbanized.
In Ghana and some developing countries, urbanization is posing serious problems to city managers that it appears to overwhelm their efforts. In almost all urban centers in Ghana, there is a sense of development leapfrogging ahead of service provision. This phenomenon is often attributed to weak spatial planning and non coordination of sector plans.
As more human settlements in Ghana are attaining urban status, the questions that linger on the mind of actors and needs to be answered are:
- Whether these settlements, their residents and managers are adequately prepared for their new status?
- Can the level of services available be upgraded?
- Where can the new higher order services and facilities be located?
- Is there land available to accommodate people who would be attracted into the settlement,
- Are the informal activities which have supported and fuelled the growth of these settlements going to be still recognized and supported or pushed to the fringes?
Responding to these and many other challenges confronting our cities, its people and managers, CHF in collaboration with the Institute of Local Government Studies, under the auspices of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development institutionalized the Ghana Urban Platform to create a common ground for all stakeholders to dialogue and build partnerships for action.
The first in the series was organized in March 2009 under the theme “Promoting the Urban Agenda: Meeting the Challenges of Urbanization and Poverty in Ghana and Africa”. A follow-up forum under the theme “Operationalizing the Urban Agenda: The Road Map to Sustainable Urban Development and Management was held in September 2009 with the support of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The third workshop, held in August 2010, was under the theme “Understanding and operationalising Participation in our Contemporary Urban Ghana: I belong to the city and I will have a say”
Acknowledging the current urbanization trends and the ever-present questions on services, the local economy and shelter for the urban dwellers informed the theme of the 4th Workshop – “Access to my city: Economy, Services and Shelter. This workshop brought together over 400 participants from all sectors of the urban system through the 2-day period. Mayors and key Local Government personnel from Adenta, Ga East, Ga West, Tema, and Ashaiman Municipalities again actively participated; realizing the need to be abreast with urban challenges and adequately respond to them. Traditional authorities represented by Chiefs and Queenmothers once more responded to their invitation to be part of the solution since some sectors of society see them as a part of the urban spatial problems.
Speeches, a presentation and panel discussions were held on the first day of the workshop. All the speakers agreed on the importance of tackling these three interlinked sectors and spared no breath in reiterating their positions. The panel discussion on the informal economy, as well as the presentation on situational analyses of urban service provision and innovative ideas to serve the urban population better set the stage for the parallel sessions held on the second day.
Three parallel sessions were held on Day II of the workshop. The first session, focusing on the situation of informal settlements and the response of national and local governments over the years drew the largest number of participants. There were passionate discussions from slum dwellers present and housing rights activists. A slum dweller emphatically stated that their plight was a result of some push factors like low profitability of primary economic activity in the rural areas. A response to this phenomenon could involve promoting rural development by providing basic infrastructure and services.
Informal settlement formation was attributed to policy failure in both the economic sector as well as breakdown of social support systems which promote integration of migrants into mainstream society. Good planning and partnerships between slum dwellers and local authorities as in the case of Ashaiman is yielding good results and gradually moving people out of the slums not by forcible eviction.
In the second session, the informal economy and its associated challenges were discussed by micro-entrepreneurs, researchers and other interest groups to find ways of integrating the informal sector into mainstream planning. Small and micro-business entrepreneurs who participated in the session bemoaned the high cost of borrowing, which stifles their growth and march towards formalization. The session with media practitioners drew close to 70 participants, where recent developments within the Accra Metropolis like the Millennium Cities Initiative, the Urban Back-Up project were explained to them. A talk on good urban reportage was also delivered.
To conclude the two day event, a synthesis of discussions was held to draw a blueprint, clearly outlining challenges to boosting the urban economy, improving urban service delivery as well as enhancing residents’ access to basic shelter. The roles of civil society, media and other stakeholders were outlined. Some of the direct outcomes of the 2 day workshop include:
- Information and knowledge sharing
- Closer engagement of media practitioners considered to be the fourth realm of government
- Unanimous recognition ofthe informal sector and its contribution to employment and sustenance of most urban dwellers