A frequent visitor to Accra over the last three years would note that investors have been pouring money into malls, shopping centers and eatery franchises, which appear to have been opening every three to six months. These new facilities have become the yardstick by which development and modernity are being measured, especially by the promoters, and politicians are enthused by their proliferation. Another measure of the competition has to do with questions of size as developers assert their supremacy, in near paroxysm, in West Africa and cities like Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi in frenzied rivalry for such investments, as has similarly occurred in East Africa.
The growth of these developments also reflects the neoliberal consolidation that is crystalizing through the aspirations of a visible middle class whose tastes and preferences create the perception of an inexhaustible market. Barely is the other obvious reality of increasing urban poverty and the concomitant inequity of state disposition towards such capitalist investments ever juxtaposed with the limited benefits of the mall enterprises. Interestingly, investors from South Africa and Mauritius are predominantly driving the new developments with minimal local participation in investment capital, management and products.
Flush with cash, some of these investors appear to make locational choices which do not make planning sense yet are approved by city planners, perhaps giddy from the prospects of the realization of their sense of modernity. The situation is even more bizarre given the experience of the siting of Accra Mall and the traffic nightmare it has generated over the years.
Sitting on the edge of the southern clover-leaf of the Tetteh-Quarshie Motorway interchange, Accra Mall attracts shoppers, both real and the window variety, generating traffic like a beehive. Due to its location, unacceptable levels of traffic are growing by the day. Those who use the roads daily will tell you that a single trip to the city centre will take you a whole day. This endless dribble from the mall is choking vehicular movement on the Spintex Road, thereby eroding the vitality and viability of the area east of Accra.
In part, the real and virtual patronage arose because the mall was the only kind of its size. The traffic congestion worsened from the gradual creep of hawkers and pavement sellers catering to the window shoppers whose pockets could not meet the price tags of the top-end brands but would not be stopped from visiting the mall from all over the city to ogle at its wares. Further confusion and conflict arose from the absence of an integrated public transportation system as the individual taxis and “tro-tros” took rational economic decisions to perch anywhere as close as possible to the mall. The fact is traffic is getting worse and the prognosis spells doom for our city. Alarm bells must ring, because we cannot afford to travel on this precipitous road; neither can we accept the status quo. However, it appears lessons have not been learned from this menace. This is evidenced by the repetition of the same approach with several new malls and eateries exhibiting similar features as the Accra Mall.
These new developments lack the basic planning consideration of integrating transport and land use planning, such that additional transport facilities needed to be provided where new developments create additional demands on transport infrastructure and services are completely ignored.
The Junction Mall, a planning oxymoron as its name suggests, sits on the first T-junction of the Accra-Tema arterial road from the Tema port (known as the “Tema Beach Road”). It is a nightmare waiting to happen. The location is so close to the Tema Port (10.5 km), which is used mostly by articulated trucks carting goods from the port to the industrial enclave along the Spintex Road.
Presently, the residential neighborhood of Community 13 and 14 (Sakumono Estates), housing mostly middle class households that commute to work in Accra and Tema, and the schools in the Regimanuel Grey Estates in Community 15, create congested traffic conditions especially during rush hour. The situation is compounded in the evenings as the number of trucks leaving the ports peaks.
Without any mitigation measures the frequent contra-flow traffic (which is very heavy at specific times of the year such as Christmas when articulated trucks make more trips carting importers’ goods from the port to meet the shopping demand) will be worsened by the new traffic of shoppers going to, or returning from, the Junction Mall. If the experience of Accra Mall is anything to go by then residents and other road users are in for a torrid time. However, one does not get a sense that there is an urgency to improve transit in this area despite the incongruity of the Junction Mall. Accentuating this mess, KFC operates a drive-through franchise along the Spintex Road situated at another important junction that links Communities 18, 19 and 20 to the Spintex Road. This outlet is not more than 10 kilometers from the Junction Mall. Within a radius of not more than 20 kilometers, heavily loaded articulated trucks compete with private-vehicle owners who commute from Sakumono and Lashibi dormitory neighborhoods as well as other neighborhoods to the southeast of the Accra metropolis which operate in the many commercial businesses and public services in Accra central and Tema.
As part of the new direction in locational choices, KFC is about to open a new outlet along the Lagos Avenue, a critical junction where the traffic heading towards Madina and beyond is taken off the East Legon collector road.
Similarly, the KFC drive-through in Mataheko, right at the junction of the Kpakpo Mankralo Street and the Dansoman Street, presents a similar dilemma, mitigated marginally by the Shell filling station sharing the location.
Although not the same kind of problem, the siting of the A & C Mall in the flight path of the Kotoka International Airport and so close to the landing strip, makes hearing impossible every time a flight passes over on its way to landing. Given this difficulty, it beats the imagination that the owners have undertaken massive expansion of the facility.
The illogicality of the junction shopping centers and eateries coupled with ongoing mall expansion within the flight path across the city collectively is a direct challenge to planning orthodoxy and lays bare the existence of non-traditional elements within the decision making framework of investors that requires critical examination.
Certainly, time will reveal such unknown rationales. This cross-sectional perspective may be asking questions too early, nonetheless it is imperative that such questions are asked: Why such contrary investor choices? Do investors know something that planners don’t? Or are planners too smitten by their own navels not to notice this sea change? What is the method in this madness?
Joseph Ayitio is researcher and urban planner living in Accra, Ghana, and a fan of the overarching social implications of planning and urban design in African cities. He is particularly interested in expanding dialogues on African urbanism and how the hybrid governance of formality and informality produce city forms and urban economies. email@example.com
Kwadwo Ohene Sarfoh is an international housing consultant and urban planner. Currently living between Ghana and Liberia, he is supporting the government of Liberia to develop a national housing policy. He also has interest in slum upgrading and prevention, municipal infrastructure and finance, urban revitilisation, local governance and local economic development in Ghana and abroad. firstname.lastname@example.org
Marie Vanderpuye is a development practitioner whose interest in urban development practices has been spurred by a recent career shift. She works closely with the urban poor in improving service delivery. She is a programs support officer with Global Communities Ghana.
Main image: East Legon KFC along Lagos Avenue in Accra, Ghana. Photo supplied by authors.Read older posts from this section