Examining the Social Effects of Gentrification on Communities in Accra
Gentrification has hit Accra, Ghana’s bustling capital, like a storm, bringing both good and bad news to its residents. But what exactly is gentrification and what are its effects on the city and its communities?
Accra has a rich history, starting as a tiny fishing village on the banks of the Volta River, inhabited by the Ga people. In the late 18th century, the British arrived and turned Accra into a bustling trading port for the slave trade. Then, post-independence in 1957, Accra underwent rapid growth and development with the construction of new infrastructure such as roads, schools, hospitals, and parks which helped to create the vibrant city that exists today.
Today, Accra is undergoing another transformation – gentrification. Gentrification is the process of renovating and redeveloping urban neighborhoods to appeal to higher-income residents. This influx of wealth has attracted increased investment in new developments and infrastructure, spurring a significant change in many neighborhoods in Accra.
However, not all that is associated with gentrification is positive. As property values have increased, so have rents and taxes, forcing lower-income residents out of their homes. This displacement often sees these former residents unable to find new housing in the same area. Osu is a prime example of gentrification gone wild. Once a low-income neighborhood, it is now a luxury hub with apartments, restaurants, and shopping malls. Other areas that have seen gentrification include Airport Residential Area, Cantonments, Labone, East Legon, and North Ridge.
In the past few years, Accra as a city has morphed and changed as a result of many forces – government, large and small-scale private development, and ad-hoc housing developments.
In part, Accra’s gentrification is due to the efforts of the country’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, who has worked to promote the city and Ghana as an attractive destination for foreign investment and tourism. A key way that the President has sought to raise Ghana’s profile is by granting citizenship to international celebrities.
‘The Year of Return, Ghana 2019’, a joint initiative between Ghana and the U.S-based Adinkra Group, intended to encourage African diasporans to settle in Africa and invest in the continent saw more than 200 African Americans conferred Ghanaian citizenship.
Actors such as US actor Michael Jai White, and British-Ghanaian actor Idris Elba later became beneficiaries. By granting citizenship to these well-known figures, the president aims to increase Ghana’s visibility on the world stage and showcase its welcoming and inclusive nature.
However, the initiative has not gone without criticism, especially for its contribution to Accra’s gentrification. Specifically, critics have argued that the government is disregarding the needs and interests of the local population by granting citizenship to wealthy foreign celebrities.
Unsurprisingly, the trend has led to a rise in real estate prices in areas where these celebrities have chosen to reside, making the areas financially inaccessible for ordinary Ghanaians. In recent years, the country has also seen a surge in international attention, particularly in the entertainment industry.
The annual Afrochella and Afro Nation music fests and the inaugural Black Star Line Festival, co-founded by Vic Mensa, also helped in fueling a wave of tourism to the West African country.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, US rapper Chance the Rapper was quoted: “There’s plenty of successful homebred concerts and festivals in Ghana, but one that was a specifically Pan-African event that links arts and culture along with the music was something that we felt like we would be good to put together.
Ghana is, in a lot of ways, the center for global Blackness and has, over the years, become just this destination for Black folks, not just in the U.S., but in the islands and in the U.K., to spend time and to create relationships.”
Additionally, the influx of foreign celebrities has also led to the development of gated communities and exclusive clubs, further perpetuating the divide between the rich and poor in the country. This is especially concerning as it fuels fears of an erosion of the sense of community and shared cultural identity that has come to define Ghana.
Future of Accra
It is difficult to predict exactly how gentrification will continue to shape Accra in the coming years. But, it is reasonable to assume that, as Ghana’s capital city, new arrivals will perceive it as an attractive destination to establish roots with Ghana’s growing profile. Consequently, one could imagine the effects of gentrification becoming more apparent.
Even as President Akufo-Addo’s efforts to attract international celebrities to Ghana have the potential to bring attention and investment to the country, they must be carefully considered in terms of their impact on the local population and cultural heritage.
The government must ensure that the interests of ordinary Ghanaians are not overlooked in the pursuit of attracting foreign investment and tourism. This could include measures such as providing support for displaced residents or incentivizing developers to create more affordable housing options. These measures would help ensure that gentrification in Accra remains beneficial for everyone involved.