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How Smart is Accra?

Wed, 6 Oct 2010 Source: Adom-Mensah, Yaw

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:

http://www.media.mit.edu/research/groups/smart-cities

*Author:*

*Yaw Adom-Mensah.*

*yadommen@stevens.edu* *;

**yawadom@gmail.com*

Columnist: Adom-Mensah, Yaw