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Urban Studies of Accra  

Richard Grant

Accra is one of the largest and most important cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of this article is to assess the evolution of urban studies in Accra and its main historical and contemporary foci. Early knowledge on urban Accra is fragmentary and orientated toward European contact points and urban plans, ostensibly from the gaze of Europeans. Writings from Euro-Africans such as Carl Reindorf provide a different prism into the precolonial, indigenous, urban society, whereas most indigenous urban knowledge was situated in the oral tradition at this time. Around independence, officially appointed social anthropologists wrote about an indigenous community in Tema and surveyed the multiethnic Accra environment. From independence in 1957 until the early 1980s, social scientists viewed the urban settlement as an alien, Western intervention. Local scholarship on Accra was sidelined as the academy in a poor, emergent nation became preoccupied with the genesis of nation-state building and the establishment of viable academic departments in national universities, and growing proportions of migrants regarded “home” as somewhere else, that is, ancestral villages. In the 1970s Accra was inserted into world history and social history, and social scientists began to study residential geographies, but scholarship at the city-scale remained sparse. Engagement with world and social histories and the social sciences demonstrated that history matters, but not in linear and teleological ways. The liberalization era ushered in by structural adjustment policies (SAPs) in 1983 invigorated studies of Accra’s urban impacts and effects. Much of this research was disseminated by international scholars, as Ghanaian scholars had to contend with the negative impacts of SAPs on their own universities and households. Since the turn of the 21st century, scholarship on Accra, and African cities in general, has been increasing. Diverse research questions and a multiplicity of methodologies and frameworks seek to engage Western urban theories and other variants, undertake policy-relevant work, assess ethnic and residential dynamics, contribute to international urban debates, and advance postcolonial and revisionist accounts of urbanism. Viewed at the third decade of the 21st century, scholarship on Accra is of diverse origins, encompassing scholarship from locals, members of the diaspora, and international urbanists, and a promising tilt is local–international collaborations co-producing knowledge.