Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Small Towns in Ghana: Justifications for Their Promotion under Ghana's Decentralisation Programme

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Small Towns in Ghana: Justifications for Their Promotion under Ghana's Decentralisation Programme

Article excerpt

Abstract: A key objective of Ghana's decentralization programme is the promotion of small towns, particularly district capitals, as a means of reducing rural-urban migration and the rapid growth of large towns and cities. While small towns have grown significantly in both number and population over the last three decades, the proportion of the total urban population living in these urban centres has changed very little or has even declined slightly. This contradicts the view that the growth and proliferation of small towns is leading to declining growth rates of the larger urban centres. This conclusion leads to the question of whether there is a justification for the promotion of small towns under Ghana's decentralization programme. This article examines the reasons accounting for the growth of small towns and concludes that promoting small towns, especially the district capitals under the current decentralization programme, is a positive response to rural development and the development of dispersed urbanization in the long term.

INTRODUCTION

The process of urbanization in Ghana, like much of Africa is not a recent phenomenon. Its origin predates the arrival of Europeans and colonization. (1) However, while the scale of urbanization during this period was quite small, the process assumed a new impetus and dynamism during the European colonisation and the introduction of Western economic enterprise with its market economy which favoured urban concentration. (2) The colonial and post-colonial investment strategies informed by the basic criteria of investing in regions with exploitable and exportable resources, and subsequent provision of basic infrastructure in such areas attracted the population and development relative to other parts of the country. (3) Areas of southern Ghana with climates suited to the introduced cash crops, timber exploitation and mining sites closer to the coast or ports have benefited from these investments. (4) More significantly, these activities to a large extent enhanced urban concentration as existing and new centres developed as collecting points for exportable locally produced commodities, administrative and communication centres. Northern Ghana, by virtue of its location received less of these investments. Furthermore, the presence of the Europeans on the coast also led to the reorientation of trade routes, affecting towns in northern Ghana, which had developed as a result of the trans-Saharan trade between West Africa and the Islamised states in the Northern Africa.

While these are the broad forces that intensified the process of urbanization in Ghana, the process itself, as in much of Africa, has been characterised by the predominance of very few urban centres. It is this trend that has drawn the attention of development planners because of its perceived detrimental impact on the spatial economy of the country. As a result, various planning strategies have been implemented with the aim of reducing this polarisation and producing a more balanced hierarchical settlement pattern. The most notable of these strategies have included the growth pole concept and the integrated rural development programmes (IRDP) designed to stimulate rural development to curtail rural-urban migration. (5) However, these strategies have failed to significantly alter the urbanization and settlement pattern.

In recent years, attempts at transforming the settlement hierarchy or at least reducing the growth rate of the large towns and cities have centred on decentralization and the promotion of small towns and rural development. (6) Though the small town development strategy is not new, what is new here is the link with decentralization. The increasing transfer of resources and authority to the district level under Ghana's decentralization programme is expected to enhance district development and, in particular, promote district capitals as attractive centres to potential rural-urban migrants. …

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