Tamale – West Africa’s Fastest Growing City

Sun, 14 Apr 2013 Source: Ziem, Joseph

Ever wonder why Tamale has suddenly become the next business destination of many multinational and Ghanaian companies which for many years have limited their activities to only the Southern part of Ghana? According to officials of this cosmopolitan city, apart from the increase in human population, Tamale for almost a decade now has also experience a very significant growth in physical infrastructure and increased business and other human activities in all spheres of the local economy, making it the fastest growing city in the West African Sub-Region. Joseph Ziem writes….

Tamale is a bustling rapidly expanding commercial regional capital located 600 kilometres North of the nation’s capital, Accra. With a population of 371,351 (2010 PHC) people dominated by native Dagombas, Tamale in recent years has become the fastest growing city in the West African Sub-region. Its local economy is predominantly agriculture, but the sprawling city is also a hub for manufactured goods and an economic, administrative, educational and medical center.

In recent years, increase in human population, commercial activities, influx of foreign merchants, expansion of infrastructure, increase in number of vehicles, emergence of new human settlements and among others, cannot be underestimated. That notwithstanding, quite a number of meticulous research work by state and private institutions and objective assessments by city officials quite support this claim.

While most people often limit their understanding of Tamale’s fast growth rate to just only the increasing human population, Head of Public Affairs of the Tamale Metropolitan Assembly, Issah Salifu Musah, said in an interview with this writer that, it goes beyond just increase in human beings. He cited for instance, that the mad rush by different companies and organizations to establish branch offices in the city in order to cash-in the volumes of money that exchange hands through the day-to-day trading activities, was one yardstick to use to measure the economic growth rate of Tamale apart from the human population.

According to him, the hospitality, financial, telecommunication, transportation and educational sectors as well as Non-Governmental Organisations and among others, had over the last decade grown rapidly.

There are more than twenty-five financial institutions including Banks and Savings and Loan Companies operating in this city with most of their customers, aside the salaried workers being petty traders and those in the informal sector of the economy. Notable among the most recently established ones are Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, HFC Bank, Bank of Africa, Prudential Bank, 1st National Bank, ARP Apex Bank, GT Bank, Zenith Bank, Eco Bank, Barclays Bank, Stanchart, Sahel-Sahara Bank, Uni Bank, Dalex Financial Services, NIB, SGSSB, Stanbic Bank, among others. Quite a number of insurance companies are also selling insurance policies ranging from accident, life, education, health, disaster and so on.

Additionally, all of Ghana’s six telecommunication companies namely; MTN, Vodafone, Tigo, Airtel, Expresso and Glo are operating in a much wider coverage area now and almost every average person in the city now has a mobile phone or two. This has also triggered an increase in the number of mobile phone shops and opening of two of the best ICT training institutions in Ghana; NIIT and IPMC College of Technology.

With Tamale’s current population hovering 371,351, movement of people becomes crucial and the last few years has seen a lot of newly established transport companies with luxurious buses commuting daily between Tamale-Accra, Tamale-Kumasi, Tamale-Sunyani, Tamale-Bolgatanga, Tamale-Wa as well as the rest of the other district capitals in the Northern Region. The leading transport organization which is the Metro Mass Transit Limited has fleets of buses linking Tamale and other districts and regional capitals in the North.

Other transport companies are O.A Transport Services, Inter-city STC, GPRTU, Imperial Express Transport and VIP Transport Limited. Public transportation in the form of taxis is the most convenient means of going round Tamale as a visitor to the city. The popular means of travel for the locals, however, is by bicycle and motorbike. Also, private flights like CityLink, Starbow, Flight540 and Antrak Air operate regularly between Tamale-Accra, with plans for many to join later due to the prolific nature of the aviation industry. Now vehicular traffic in the middle of the city in the morning and late afternoon is almost the same as the nation’s big cities such as Accra and Kumasi.

Besides, there are also about 200 local and international Non-Governmental Organisations located in Tamale, and notable amongst them are the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), CARE International, ActionAid Ghana, IBIS, SNV, SEND-Ghana, NORGAID, World Vision, and among others. This has earned Tamale the accolade ‘Headquarters of NGOs in Ghana’.

Furthermore, Tamale is considered the main centre of education in Northern Ghana. Currently there are over 750 public and private schools within the city. They include Kindergartens, Primary, Junior High and Senior High Schools. The rest are Technical/Vocational Institutions, two Colleges of Education, a Polytechnic, a Nursing and Midwifery Training College, one Community Health Nursing Training School, School of Hygiene and two Universities – University for Development Studies (UDS) and Islamic Technical University College.

For instance, in a location called the Education Ridge covering an area of about 3 kilometres square, over 20 schools ranging from KGs through to JHS and SHS, Teacher Training Colleges, Tamale Polytechnic and Ghana Institute of Languages (GIL) are all located there. The numerous trees especially mahogany lining up on both sides of the street in this part of the city portrays a tropical rainforest outlook.

All the aforementioned institutions and companies providing range of services to thousands of people on a daily basis, according to Issah Salifu, is enough evidence to conclude that the city was growing at a very fast pace. Few years ago, many people had to travel to the Southern part of the country to buy certain basic needs and source for other services, he said, adding that, now a lot of such basic items were available in the local market courtesy the southern traders and those from Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

The Head of Public Affairs of the Tamale Metropolitan Assembly also observed that government functionaries, businessmen and women including tourists could now travel to Tamale to attend crush events, emergency meetings and also transact other businesses. “If you’re seriously sick now and needs good medical attention, you don’t need to travel several miles to Kumasi or Accra to get the best medical services. The Tamale Teaching Hospital (TTH) which is now more equipped than before is providing essential services to people, adding “even under emergency circumstances which will require one to travel down south to seek health service, commercial flights are there to catch any day”.

Amongst Tamale’s recent state-of-the-art infrastructural facilities include the newly constructed Sports Stadium, replacing the old principal football field –Kaladan Park – with a world-class venue, 3-star GETFund Hotel at the University for Development Studies and a modern medical facility at the TTH.

The sector that has also received a major boost like the financial sector is the hospitality industry. There are now more modern hotels and guest houses most of which were developed in the period leading up to the 2008 African Cup of Nations tournament of which Tamale was a host city. In Tamale, one can be treated to both local and foreign cuisines in many of its 2star hotels like Gariba Lodge, Mariam Hotel, Modern City Hotel and Relax Lodge, which make up the over 90 hotels and guest houses that are currently operating in the area including over 30 restaurants. The city also happens to be the leading producer of cereals, yams and meat in the country and so these foodstuffs sell cheaply in the local markets.

Administratively, Tamale has a Mayor who is vested with extensive Executive powers. The Mayor is appointed by the President of the Republic of Ghana and approved or otherwise by members of the General Assembly, although there has been an increase in public outcry to increase accountability of the office by having the Mayor elected through the ballot box. The current Mayor of Tamale is Alhaji Abdulai Haruna Friday appointed by H.E. President John Evans Atta Mills in 2009.

The city’s architecture is a mixture of traditional and modern styles. While the majority of the houses are roofed with corrugated iron sheets, a good number of them are roofed with thatch (grass). English is the official language, but in daily life majority of the people (natives) speak mostly Dagbani and Hausa even though Akan is also widely used in commerce. Majority of the natives are followers of Islam, as reflected by the multitude of mosques in the city, most notably the Central, Anbarriya and Ahmadiyya Mosques.

With almost a flat topography, one can have a perfect view of the city on any three or four-storey building. In the heart of the city are the Traditional Palaces of the Gulkpe Naa and the Naa Dakpemah where one can catch a glimpse of pure traditional architecture. Not too far from there is the Centre for National Culture – home of traditional artifacts and designed clothes – attracting at least about a hundred of local and foreign tourists a week. All the principal streets in Tamale are tarred with the central dual carriage road until recently heavily lit up during the night. Tamale is the only city in Ghana with bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways; and indeed, the fastest growing city in West Africa. But why is the city also gaining the accolade “The lawless City in Ghana”? Read my next article on this.

The authour is a freelance journalist but regularly write for The Daily Dispatch Newspaper. All views and comments can be sent to him via ziemjoseph@yahoo.com or +233 207344104.

Columnist: Ziem, Joseph