Review: ‘Governance for Pro-Poor Urban Development: Lessons from Ghana’

Author(s) Franklin Obeng-Odoom
Publisher Routledge
Year 2014

I received the book Governance for Pro-Poor Urban Development: Lessons from Ghana to review with incredible excitement and eagerness. Ghana constitutes one of the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that has developed a National Urban Policy and my positive feeling towards the review emanates from my involvement in the conceptualisation, various consultative processes and actual drafting of the policy.

As clearly noted in the policy document, the role of government ministries, departments and agencies and that of metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies in the implementation of the policy is crucial, and this is where Franklin Obeng-Odoom’s book becomes timely. He provides a valuable insight on the urban challenge focusing on four key areas — employment, municipal services, housing and land — to demonstrate how urban governance has failed in addressing these challenges. Unravelling the dynamics by which urban governance has failed, Obeng-Odoom uses his extensive wealth of experience and knowledge of urbanisation and the urban challenge in Ghana, gained through researching and published extensively on urban issues in Ghana. As amply demonstrated in the book, he has had an unparalleled access to statistics from public agencies and departments, private sector and through his own empirical research. The information has been remarkably coalesced to present an excellent picture of the urban milieu in Ghana.

Although the book is composed of eleven chapters, it is structured into three main parts. The first part provides an understanding of the conceptual and theoretical issues concerning urban governance. The second explores the urban challenge confronting Ghana, paying particular attention to employment, municipal services, housing and urban land, and argues that neoliberal approaches to urban governance have failed to address these challenges. In areas where some gains have been achieved, for instance employment and poverty reduction, the point is made that the gains cannot be exclusively attributed to neoliberal urban governance policies. The third part takes a critical look at the political aspects of urban governance focusing on the approaches of city mayors to the urban challenge and the extent to which citizenry hold state actors to account through elections.

Obeng-Odoom provides detailed facts and figures from historically and spatially relevant contexts to demonstrate the magnanimity of the urban challenge and the failure of urban governance in addressing the problem. He also compares the case of Ghana with South Africa and Uganda, two countries widely acknowledged to have achieved some successes with respect to urban governance.

The book’s greatest strength lies in the level of detail provided about key urban issues such as employment, municipal services, transport, and housing. Comprehensive information has been put together in illustrating the severity of the urban challenge and governance. This extensive information is sourced from reliable national statistical reports, governmental agencies, newspaper and other published studies in addition to a primary survey. While the book’s greatest strength is this high-level of detail, it is also its greatest weakness. Although comprehensive information is provided, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the volume of information. More importantly, some of the information provided does not constitute the most recent. This is not necessarily because Obeng-Odoom failed to provide current information but because such information is not always readily available, as shown in the section on waste management where there is information provided for the early 1990s to 2000. In lieu of hard data, information from anecdotal source is presented in depicting the current situation. Obeng-Odoom’s choice to combine institutional and Marxist political economy as an approach to the investigation makes it plausible to make intellectual inferences in situations where data availability and the nature of data as captured constitutes a challenge.

Despite this weakness, the book is a brilliant, thoughtfully-produced and pragmatic depiction of the urban challenge in Ghana and the failure of neoliberal driven urban governance policies in addressing it. The extensive coverage given to urban employment, poverty and inequality, health and sanitation, transport, housing and land, in particular, makes the book a valuable read. I am convinced that I will be returning to Governance for Pro-Poor Urban Development: Lessons from Ghana frequently as a reference text. Students, researchers and policy makers in Ghana and Sub-Saharan Afric also stand to benefit from the issues that have been excellently articulated. The book is highly recommended.


Robert Lawrence Afutu-Kotey is an urban geographer and Lecturer in Environmental Management at the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA). He holds a first degree in Geography and Resource Development from the University of Ghana, an MSc. in Regional and Urban Planning from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and a PhD in Development Studies from the University of Ghana. His doctoral thesis was on ‘entrepreneurship and youth livelihoods in the mobile telephony sector in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area.’ Robert has refereed articles in Urban Geography, Landscape and Urban Planning, and African Studies Quarterly. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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