History Of Accra

 

Accra was first settled at the end of the sixteenth century when the Ga people migrated there after leaving their previous settlement at Ayawso, ten miles north of Accra. This site proved to be advantageous for the Ga people as it removed them from their rivals, the Akwamus people, who were a menace at Ayawso. Also, the site also enabled the Ga people to engage in trade with the Europeans who had built forts nearby, the most important of these being the fort at James Fort and the Ussher Fort.

These early inhabitants also engaged in farming and lagoon fishing, with sea fishing taken up during the middle of the eighteenth century.

However, Accra was not initially the most prominent trading center. The ports at Ada and Prampram, along with the inland centers of Dodowa and Akusa to the east initially were more important. During the slave trade, however, Accra took on more importance due to the nearby forts (many of which were owned and controlled by the Dutch), a prominence that lasted until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

However, during Accra’s first two centuries of recorded inhabitancies, the population was rather small, never climbing over 16,000. In the 1850s, the Dutch sold Christianborg and their other castles to the British.

In 1873, after decades of an uneasy relationship between the British and the Acing people of central Ghana, the British attacked and virtually destroyed the Asanti capital of Kumasi, and officially declared Ghana a crown colony.

Shortly thereafter, the British moved their administrative capital from Cape Coast to Accra. The main factors in this decision were Accra’s drier climate relative to Cape Coast, and the fact that Accra was not home to the tsetse fly, allowing the use animal transport.

 

Until this time, the settlement of Accra was confined between the Ussher Fort to the East and the Koole Lagoon to the West.

However, with the influx of Europeans that came as the administrative functions were moved to Accra, the city began to expand to accommodate the new residents (resident who did not want to live in the same neighborhoods as native Ghanaians). Thus, Victoriaborg was formed in the late nineteenth century as an exclusive European residential neighborhood, located to the East of the city limits of the time, behind cliffs where there is reported to ‘always be a breeze.’

The boundaries of Accra were stretch further in 1908 as the bubonic plaque resulted in the founding of two new neighborhoods (exclusively for Africans) as people wanted to leave the overcrowded city center. These one of these neighborhoods was Adabraka, north of the city. Adabraka was also settled as a Muslim enclave.

The deacon to build the Accra-Kumasi railway in 1908 was one of the most influential decisions in Accra's history. The decision was made mainly to connect Accra, the major port at that time, with Ghana's main cocoa producing regions. The builders of the railway foresaw the fabulous wealth that could be attained by such a project, and by 1913 Ghana was the world's leading producer of cocoa. The railway was completed in 1923, and by 1924 cocoa was Ghana's largest export. By the end of World War I, Ghana was the most prosperous colony in Africa with the best schools and civil service on the continent.

Until 1928, Accra was the main exporter of cocoa, and this was one of the main reasons for its rapid growth during the early twentieth century. Another factor that drew in many migrants from rural areas was the service of piped water that was made available in Accra in 1915. By 1921, Accra had a population of over 42,000.

The British government heavily influenced the shape that Accra took during this period. For example, racial segregation of neighborhoods was mandated by law until 1923, and all new buildings were required to be built out of stone or concrete. Despite these regulations, the British government was very hesitant to invest any large amount of money into the city to maintain its infrastructure or improve the public works. This did not change until the governorship of Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg.

Accra prospered during the 1920s, and this prosperity has generally been associated with the influence of the governorship of Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg. Guggisberg had a bridge built across the Koole Lagoon in 1923, opening the land west of the lagoon for settlement. He also oversaw the building of many hospitals and schools in Accra, which brought in many workers who settled in the city.

In the years following World War II, the population of Accra exploded, increasing from 60,726 in 1931 to 133,192 in 1948. This increase was due to both an in-migration of rural people into the city, and the immigration of increasing numbers of European businessmen and administrators. As a result, the Ridge and Cantonments were planned as low-density developments for Europeans, while many of the rural migrants settled in neighborhoods such as Nima or Accra New Town that had not yet been incorporated into Accra's municipal boundary. Thus, the development of these neighborhoods was unregulated by the government, creating a crowded and jumbled landscape.

Another era in Accra that took shape during the post-WWII years was the CBD. More administrative buildings were built on High Street, including a massive judicial/administrative complex. Additionally, many more commercial buildings were built in the CBD, including one with several stories.

In this era, Maxwell Fry was appointed as Accra's planner, and in 1944 he devised a town plan the was revised in 1958 by B.D.W. Treavallion and Alan Flood. Although this plan was never followed through, it illustrates the British vision of how Accra should develop.

In the Fry/Treavallion plan (as it is known), a reorganization of the CBD was called for, as well as the development of the coastal region of the city. In order to reorganize the CBD, the planners decided to superimposed a tight grid north of Fort Ussher. To the east this newly organized CBD, the planners hoped to preserve a broad open space for a restaurant, country club, and polo and cricket fields. Additionally, the British planners wanted to build large numbers of public squares, fountains and ornamental pools and statues throughout the city, and build a vast Parliament Complex in downtown. Lastly, the Fry/Treavallion plan included plans to make the coastal region an extension of the exclusive European neighborhood of Victoriaborg, and create a recreational preserve for the elite. However, by the British colonial government was overthrown before the Fry/Treavallion plan was enacted.

By the late 1920s, many political parties began to emerge in Accra determined to regain independence. Independence was finally achieved in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah of the Convention People's Party, became president. He named the country Ghana after one of the many great empires of ancient Africa. Thus, Ghana became the first African country to gain independence from European colonization.

Kwame Nkrumah

However, when Kwame Nkrumah became president in 1957, he completely ignored the Fry/Treavallion plan and created his own plan for Accra's development. Instead of creating spaces to serve the elite, Nkrumah sought to create spaces to inspire pride and nationalism in his people and people throughout Africa. Instead of creating public squares and fountains and building a large Parliament complex (as the Fry/Treavallion plan suggested), Nkrumah decided to build Independence Square, the State House, the Ambassador Hotel, the Organization of African Unity building, and refurbished Christianborg Castle.

With regards to the coastal region, Nkrumah decided to leave it undeveloped as to not detract attention away from the Community Center or Independence Square, lending both spaces symbolic significance. In fact, the significance of the nationalist struggle is very apparent in the landscape of Accra. In central Accra, the National Museum, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, and Independence Square all speak to the importance of this event.

Lastly, the Nkrumah plan did not emphasize order nearly as much as the Fry/Treavallion plan did. Whereas the British plan strove to lessen crowded of the commercial district and help relieve the overcrowding of neighborhoods bordering the CBD, the Nkrumah plan allowed for continued compression of commercial establishments in the CBD, as well as increased migration into Jamestown.

However, throughout Nkrumah's presidency, he alienated himself from virtually everyone. On February 24, 1966, the Ghanaian Armed Forces forced a coup and J.A. Ankrah of the National Liberation Council became president. Shortly after the change in presidents, many of the monuments that Nkrumah had built were defaced or abandoned, and Nkrumah himself was sent into exile. However, when he died in 1972, president Acheampong ordered his body back to Ghana and was given a state funeral, and a mausoleum built to commemorate his life as one dedicated to nationalism and pan-Africanism.

 

The years between 1966 and 1981 have been referred to as 'the Great Decline' in Ghana. During this time, six corrupt governments seized power. The cedi (Ghana's currency) became increasingly worthless, and every year more and more cocoa was smuggled across the boarder into Togo and the Ivory Coast.

However, in 1981, Jerry Rawlings staged a coup and he was able to regain power, and remained president until 2000. In 1983, Rawlings engaged with the World Bank and the IMF in Structural Adjustment Programs, which have been somewhat effective in improving the country's economy and drawing international investors. Thus, the groundwork was laid for the modern city of Accra, Ghana.

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