Ghana and the urban challenge

Sylvanus Kofi Adzornu is the head of the Urban Development Unit in Ghana’s Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. spoke with him at Africities 2015 about the local government challenges in Ghana. (Interview edited for length and clarity).

UA: In Ghana, what do you see as the biggest challenge to local government?

SKA: I think the biggest challenge is urban planning and to be able to have spatial data that allows you to tap effectively the revenue, especially property rates, for development. I also see limitations in terms of funding and finance in most cities…The government transfers about 7.5 percent of national revenue annually as a grant (called a common fund) to the cities but that is not enough. The way forward is for government to allow the cities to be able to go to the market, or to the bank, with viable projects to improve on the infrastructure backlog, and also to be able to divert into social housing.

UA: In the opening talk at Africities, a lot of mention was made of the importance of local government because of urbanization. What are the positives that are coming out of local government in Ghana’s cities that can serve as an example for other African cities?

SKA: You realize there has been devolution of power from the centre to the cities. [There has been] an improvement in socioeconomic infrastructure in most of the cities through the common fund and other sources. We also have a transfer of capacity, resources, staff and skills to the cities. We have a transfer of planners and budget and finance officers…that has helped the cities to grow.

We also have a system where the cities have been given certain revenue sources to collect. This is happening, but we are talking about an improvement on this. There should be an improvement. [The cities] have the means to collect but there is a need for them to be supported, to have the data that allows them to collect the rates properly.

UA: Looking at African cities in general, what do you see as the biggest challenge for African cities moving forward in the next 10 or 20 years?

SKA: I think everything relies mainly on proper planning. I also see the issue of slums and pressure on existing infrastructure — inadequate housing leading to slums. And then not providing space for the informal sector and the poor [resulting] in slums. Upgrading slums becomes a challenge….

Urban sprawl: most African cities are moving horizontally. There is a need for densification in most African cities to create urban buffers that prevent cities from going horizontally…There is a lack of planning in most African cities. Because of the pressure, especially on sanitation, most African cities today are very dirty… Sanitation is a problem, sometimes water and traffic congestion. There is a need for urban planning that allows for densification, improved connectivity and urban mobility and the [introduction] of mass rapid transport systems. Eventually, having a system that’s accountable and has a good balance sheet so that [cities] can implement projects based on balance sheets rather than projects based on loans from donors and so on.

…My emphasis for cities is to do master planning. Not to just write their plans but to have maps and models so that all plans have their physical or spatial aspects. We should do physical and development planning. In Ghana, we do mostly development planning without a physical plan and that is responsible for the haphazard development and urban sprawl we have. There is a need for enforcement when we have the master plan — it needs to be implemented and enforced.

UA: Is there development of a master plan, or a master plan in place for Accra, for instance?

SKA: It’s old. There is a master plan but it’s old. There is a need for it to be enhanced, to take into consideration newly growing area[s].


Brendon Bosworth is the editor of

Photo: Sylvanus Kofi Adzornu, head of the Urban Development Unit at Ghana’s Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Credit: Brendon Bosworth.


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