Who’s driving Accra’s future?

Despite its growing economy, Accra’s local government has struggled to finance the planning and management of its housing and infrastructure needs, which has pushed national government to turn to private sector-facilitated development. New hotels, office buildings and commercial high-rises are cropping up in the city, particularly in high-end and commercially attractive areas, including around the international airport and where government buildings are located.

The private sector first entered the urban development and housing market in the 1990s with the liberalisation of the economy. This time they have been drawn by the oil and gas industry. Today, some of the most visual evidence of this is in the gated communities in high-income areas. Capitalising on citywide infrastructure challenges, these fully serviced residential estates offer security and improved amenities, including tarred roads and regular water and electricity supply. Today, there are more than 50 such communities in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA), with housing prices ranging from 47,150 to 943,000 Ghana Cedis (about $23,000 to $460,000).

Despite decades of private sector development in the city, the development of satellite cities marks a new level of growing private sector interests and control in the city space. With the support of national and local government and traditional authorities, the emerging-market investment firm Renaissance Group is developing the satellite city of Appolonia within GAMA. The firm, which started as a Russia-based investment bank in 1995, is now a global company dealing in real estate, asset management, finance and urban development. Appolonia will be an 800 hectare (2,000 acre), mixed-use development community located 30km from Accra’s CBD. Over the span of 10 years, the firm is planning to house 88,000 residents in 22,000 homes, with the first residents to move in 2013. The company will acquire and develop the land then sell it to developers, who will in turn build and sell residential, commercial and office properties to the public while Renaissance Group maintains a partial city management role. The firm aims for Appolonia to get private township status – but that depends on the passage of a special land use bill currently being considered by Ghana’s parliament. If passed, the bill would give private townships greater independence from local authorities and a self-governing role for their own urban management.

“The existing cities are completely overused,” says Dela Wosornu, country head for Renaissance Group in Ghana. He refers to Accra’s congested traffic, housing and commercial activities. “Instead of joining the rush into the crowded city centre,” a phenomenon he associates with the building of gated communities within the city, “we are creating satellites outside the city centre under very strict guidelines and robust urban management.”

Renaissance is replicating this model in Ghana (King’s City, just outside of Takoradi) and throughout the continent: two such cities in Nigeria, and one in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia.

For E. Osei Kuffour, founder of non-governmental organisation One Child Development and a long-time resident of Accra, the entrance of the private sector in developing and managing the urban space comes with pros and cons. The development helps in the economy boom and gives the city a better image, says Kuffour, but it’s not all positive. “The city is developing for the people who already have the means to access the development (those who can afford it) – the average Ghanaian (in Accra) is not benefiting. It’s only the people in the upper class, and it’s always like that.”

For now, Kuffour, along with many residents, hopes that at least in the long-term, this development will someday benefit the average citizen: “Who knows, maybe they’ll leave something for us (the average resident).”

Victoria Okoye is a Community/urban planner and media professional based in Accra

Twitter: @vickivictoriaO


This article is part of Urbanafrica’s reporting project


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