By Stephen Appiah Takyi, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Owusu Amponsa, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)

Capital cities play an important role in the socioeconomic development of all countries. People generally move to cities where there are opportunities.

Accra, the capital of Ghana, demonstrates this pull effect and the problems it can create, such as congestion issues and development planning.

One consequence has been periodic flooding, which has claimed lives and property. Over the years, the city authorities have tried to decongest Accra, without success. The city is now demolishing illegal structures, especially those near waterways.

Some people have suggested that Accra’s congestion problem could be solved by moving the capital to another city. Others disagree.

Our position in this ongoing debate is based on a six-year-old study that one of us conducted comparing Accra to the Nigerian capital, Abuja. Nigeria moved its administrative capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1991.

The objective of the research was to make recommendations for the effective functioning of capital cities. We believe the findings are still relevant.

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The study found that Accra was congested because too many facilities and services were concentrated in the city. We concluded that instead of moving the capital from Accra, its various functions could be shared among several regional capitals. Accra could maintain its political role, but some of its facilities and services should be spread across the country.

Accra’s many features

The capital city of Ghana has multiple functions: educational, commercial, entertainment and administrative.

As an educational hub, Accra has around 40 tertiary institutions. Ghana’s seat of government, parliament house, and supreme court are also located in Accra, giving it an administrative and political role. The main sports activities in Ghana are football, athletics, and boxing. The only boxing stadiums in the country are in Accra. The city also has the Ohene Gyan Sports Stadium and the Olympic Stadium (under construction).

Ghana population by region.
Authors

Renowned research institutes such as the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research are located in Accra. The headquarters of major religious organizations such as the Ghana Christian Council and the Office of the National Chief Imam are also located here.

Some facilities that might have been located in other cities are all concentrated in Accra. In general, the city serves as the commercial, manufacturing and communication center of the country.

This has attracted important private companies to locate their headquarters in the capital. The Ghana Stock Exchange, the main enabler of the country’s capital market development, is also headquartered in Accra.

The combination of its political role and all the other facilities and services in the city have attracted people from all parts of the country. According to the 2021 Population and Housing Census, the Greater Accra Region is the most populous region in Ghana, with a population of over 5 million people. The region, with a population density of 1,200 people per square kilometer, is also the most densely populated region in Ghana.

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This density has led to traffic congestion and overcrowding. On average, traffic on the main highways in the Greater Accra metropolitan area grew from 2.5% to 14.8% per year.

Accra’s multifunctional nature has put pressure on the land’s resources, which has also resulted in encroachment on green areas and wetlands. The result is that parts of the city are unsafe to live in. Perennial flooding that claims human lives and destroys property has been blamed on the city’s spatial planning and development problems.

Solutions

The relocation of capitals does not necessarily solve the congestion problem in the long term if the root causes of congestion are not addressed. For example, the relocation of the Nigerian capital to Abuja did not resolve the congestion in Lagos.

We argue that a more feasible option for Accra is to change the role of the city from a multifunctional role to a political role.

National policies should focus on deconcentration by relocating some of the facilities and services that are currently in the capital but do not require direct access to the executive. These may include the headquarters of some government institutions, non-governmental organizations, universities and research institutes, religious organizations, and private companies.

The relocation of the headquarters of the Ghana Cocoa Board from Accra, for example, could be considered as Accra is not a cocoa-producing region. Such an institution could be moved to a place where cocoa is produced.

The headquarters of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation could be moved to the western region of Ghana, where oil is extracted. Universities located in Accra could be encouraged to establish branches in other parts of the country, thereby reducing the number of students on Accra campuses. This would help promote spatial equity in Ghana in terms of geographic access to university education.

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There could be incentive packages for institutions to establish their headquarters outside the capital. Those in the capital could be charged a special congestion rate. Finally, there must be a conscious effort to give functional roles to Ghana’s 16 regional capitals. Functional roles may include business capital, defense capital, entertainment capital, and sports capital. The decentralization of facilities and services would help distribute opportunities, and people, across the country.The conversation

Stephen Appiah Takyi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Owusu Amponsah, Senior Lecturer, Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.