Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Notes from Barcamp Ghana 2009

Yesterday I attended
Barcamp Ghana 2009. Most exciting to me was to see so many people congregate with the express purpose of sharing strategies and ideas about building enterprise and engagement here on the ground in Ghana. And I appreciate the effort to use social tech: I found out about this Barcamp Gh on Twitter and found the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (a nonprofit venture by the Norwegian IT company) the morning of using Google Maps and GPS on my G1 phone (without which it would have been infinitely more difficult to find). The use of technology--both in organizing and real-time sharing of this most recent barcamp in Ghana--was also testament to the opportunities for using social tech/media more/effectively (check out #bcghana09 on Twitter).

The morning panel addressed opportunities for youth leadership in development, mostly on an entrepreneurial/open-source/civic-engagement tip. Panelists were Estelle Akofio-Sowah (Country Manager of Google Ghana, former CEO of Busy Internet), Patrick Awuah (founder of Ashesi University), George Minta (ED of Empretec Business Forum) and Anna Bannerman-Richter (CEO of the Longevity Project). After lunch were threee one-hour blocks of break-out sessions. Notes (my highlights, not comprehensive) from the three sections I attended are below... I'm particularly interested if there is more out on there from the sessions on prison reform, using Google maps for businesses, social networks and innovation, and the entrepreneurship session taught by Meltwater faculty... Oluniyi David Ajao has notes from the session on blogging led by Kajsa Hallberg Adu of GhanaBlogging.com

1 // FASHION // leads: Adwoa Perbi and Esi Cleland

Ms. Perbi and Ms. Cleland have launched afrochiconline.com - 'an online clothing store born out of a vision to clothe Africa from within.' The broader business vision is to demonstrate that African print clothing can be contemporary and through sales of Gh-made clothing support local textile manufacture and resist the pressure of cheap imports: AfroChic clothes feature exclusively Gh-made prints (only womens clothing to date, but plan to sell menswear eventually as well -- AfroChic is afro-sheek not afro-chik). They led a discussion about starting an online clothing retailer in Ghana, sharing their own experience and soliciting feedback.

They developed their own standards for clothing sizes. An early visit to the Ghana Standards Board suggested over reliance on ISO designations for clothing sizes, largely un-calibrated to the Gh market or local clothing production. So they chose to define their own--after compiling data from a large number of seamstresses/tailors in Accra metro (I think as many as 50 or 90). Interesting that the founders are a computer scientist and a physicist.

AfroChic releases new clothing items online as often as biweekly. They warehouse ready-made garments sized according to their in-house sizing. Shoppers browse the catalog and order online but pay on delivery--AfroChic delivers to buyer's home or business. Clothing production is distributed across a local network in which each individual seamstress/tailor has first successfully sewn a default size of the garment they produce. Quality control derives from the centralized warehousing prior to delivery. The intended market is Gh women 18-35; the online shop only sells within Accra metro now but sees the entire West African market as a viable future.

Re: competition. One of the participants explained that he stopped the business making bags that he started in high school because suddenly a dozen classmates were also making and selling bags, and blatant copying was rampant. At the same time, the ubiquity of fashion-related signage alone in Accra hints that there is a huge market for homegrown options. Perbi and Cleland added that not only do they welcome competition, it is critical for the development of African clothiers that can compete at scale with imported clothing.

In my opinion, if they can sustain their sizing standards it could represent a major innovation--not simply as a metric, but as a method to build a local platform for distributed production and delivery of Gh clothing. This could be amplified considerably if they integrate social media (how many Ghanaians in their target market *do not* visit Facebook each week) and geo-tagging (I have no idea how they manage delivery now, but using GPS-enabled smart phones and Google Maps could be instrumental as they increase volume). Having consistent sizes, quality, fresh design available via online shopping and to-door delivery seems like a winning combination, while the sizing itself has potential to become a market-wide standard.

Picture: Golda Addo, left (who chaired the session on renewable energy) and Esi Cleland, middle. Lively debate over setting optimal price points. Verdict: type of fabric and stitching affect cost, and a modest premium can help establish brand quality at launch.

2 // GREEN ENERGY // lead: Golda Addo

Ms. Addo is the founder and managing director of Energy Solutions Foundation - 'a Ghanaian NGO focused on the development and use of Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) and the promotion of Waste Recycling in Ghana.' She became interested in sustainability when she witnessed Accra's garbage dumping practices and felt driven to organize against ecological degradation and energy crisis in Ghana. Ms. Addo opened up a group conversation about greening Ghana after an overview of the Energy Solutions Foundation's findings, how they have been seeking change in policy and on the ground in both enterprise opportunities and wider cultural attitudes about waste and energy.

Most significantly, she pointed out that Ghana has tremendous potential for the use of solar and wind energy, biogas and biowaste briquettes. How optimally can adoption of these alternative energy practices counter the decline in available firewood and electricity, especially hydropower. The Foundation has lobbied Gh government to prioritize renewable energy and commit to solutions that engage communities. (Wind turbines were installed on the Tema-Kpone road, but have apparently fallen into disrepair...has anyone seen this or know more info?) Ms. Addo also argued that one of the biggest deterrents for consumer adoption is the lack of access to simple output vs. cost metrics (e.g. if I pay GHC1800, I will get 1kW of solar power with 48 battery back-up). Break-down of renewable energy technologies by size vs. cost is a way to help citizens better understand their options. Renewable energy does not have to be either/or. It is just as possible for people to re-wire a few outlets to switched solar--so that when the power grid goes off, they retain a modest supply perhaps enough to run a fan a few lights, a laptop. Incremental change can--in aggregate--transform how Ghanaians generate and use energy.
Of the maybe 15 participants in this break-out session, only one had renewable energy installed in their house(s)--although notably, it was a house with solar and battery back-up. Participants noted that it is also hard for consumers to find technical capacity. In Ghana, its easy to find a mason or a plumber, but radically more difficult someone who can install a PV solar array or a biogas digester. The Energy Solutions Foundation has a number of volunteers and contacts on request who can assist in many cases, and also leads workshops and training. Several inspiring projects so far include student design projects and plastics recycling. There is a wide open space for creative thinking (see Trashy Bags) but scaling up remains a challenge (e.g. a plastics recycler in El Mina does weekly pick-ups in Accra, paying 15 pesawas per 1 kilo of lightweight plastic, but how do potential collectors identify this business opportunity?) Participants also asked: how do we find out more information?

Ms. Addo offered the Foundation's network as a resource, welcomed volunteers and mentioned that GTZ may be a reference source for more substantial projects. A Google search also returned this list of solar (and wind) energy businesses in Ghana, no idea how up-to-date and the Energy Center at KNUST.

Picture: the facilitator for the session on starting a company in Ghana, introducing his break-out during the agenda setting session.

3 // START-UPS //

I didn't get the name of the gentleman who led this third session on 'how to start a company in Ghana.' But it was a big group of over two dozen young people (median age under 30 or 25), many of whom had already started businesses both in Gh and abroad, and many more who were either actively beginning the process or planning to in future. It was a lively discussion and the moderator did well by steering the conversation away from corruption! transparency! integrity! critiques to nuts-and-bolts dialog of lessons learnt and best practices.

A lot of the conversation centered on registering a business. Some complained that the documents dated 'from the colonial era' while other countered that the legal language can be frustrating but is useful in the event of litigation (wording is designed to avoid ambiguity). There was some disagreement on requirements such as how long you can operate without registering and sequencing registration across a decentralized set of government agencies. Answers to my question 'why bother registering in the first place?' were a) to avoid getting in trouble down the line; and b) to support Ghana's development by paying taxes...I thought both responses were pretty solid.

Similarly, one participant explained how his company--which develops games for mobile phones--is registered in Ghana and just completed a nontrivial process of getting a (paid I assume) game on the iPhone App Store. The company deliberately chose to register in Ghana and seeks to prove that is not incompatible with global ambitions. Clearly in digital space, there are exciting prospects for this class of attitude about global competitiveness. It was also cool to see a rep from Web4Africa, a sponsor of Barcamp Ghana 2009, sat in on the break-out session...growth of Gh IT and web entrepreneurship should demand infrastructure for local hosting.

Other key points:
! Everyone thinks they need someone to do *it* for them...but be proactive--do things for your yourself! ...where *it* ranges from registering a company to navigating red tape to filing paperwork. Several participants mentioned that they paid consultants to facilitate their registration process, but one noted that he paid GHC 200 for this service several years ago and only GHC 80 when this year he directly registered a new company himself.

! That said, don't try to do everything: Complement your expertise with assistance from experts in other areas. Know your limitations and find top people to consult for your business when you need help.

! Business success in Ghana occurs within an 'economy of affection.' While the group had competing approaches ('I include finder's fees in my books,' 'it was suggested to me by government employees to keep two sets of books,' 'what are the actual legal guidelines for ethical behavior?') there was still consensus that all aspects of business are easier the more people like you.

! In Ghana we don't have documentation centers--the information is in people's heads. (see above)

! You are expected to have started your business *before* you initiate the registration process. Application materials will ask for a 'date of commencement.' Although there are different forms of incorporation, with various exemptions in some cases (e.g. Ghana Free Zone businesses, manufacturing, start-ups that are not-yet profitable) typically you are legally obliged to register within 30 days of commencing business (possibly defined by date of first sales?); it is illegal to operate a business after 1 year without having registered that business.

! Anticipate timelines. Some suggested that people tend to pay for fast-tracked or preferrential treatment when they have not budgeted enough time for a given task. If you may need a passport in six months, apply now: you will then have sufficient time to follow official procedure.

George Minta-Jacobs, Executive Director of Empretec Business Forum which supports SMEs in Ghana, offered three rules of thumb: 1) Register your business (after developing your business plan and setting a 'date of commencement'); 2) Get your Tax ID Number and VAT (if your business is not turning a profit in early stages, report nil profit but you are still required to file); 3) Keep your books well! (get help if you need to, but educate yourself or you could unwittingly be taken advantage of).

The session focused more on educating yourself and the power of documentation than on specific business models or opportunities for entrepreneurship. For more information: former Gh Attorney General Joe Ghartey has written the best overall guide, Doing Business and Investing in Ghana: legal and institutional framework if you can find it. Several participants also praised Doing Business which documents business regulations globally and has a section on Ghana and the SME Toolkit developed by the IFC which is available online for free. Participants of the break-out session compiled a list of emails and phone numbers in order to generate a working group on entrepreneurship out of Barcamp 2009.

Thanks and congratulations to the organizers for a great event.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Still digging Blitz the Ambassador's album Stereotype after 2 mos. and his stereo-brain-blowing logo. >> music: Something to Believe

Yet as sometimes in the arts, for every first in black US America there tends to be a predecessor in France or Germany... like Sekou L'Ambassador:

Without fact checking, I believe Sekou's tenure as ambassador precedes Blitz's.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Open source

I don't wear a watch. I used to. Then I realized that ever-present wristbands feel like chains. I don't wear a watch now, and I feel less constrained. Time still progresses, and you can always verify it--particularly in the cell phone era. Watches are cosmetic.

Today I unlocked my T-mobile G1 (you can request here with your IMEI number); if feels similar to not wearing a watch. I can flip SIM cards.

I am preoccupied with how digital networks can re-orient urban interaction. That's why the My Tracks Android app (which I've used often) impressed me so much today in Ghana (I also got Google Maps update pushed today). After a GPS connection on my roof deck, it tracked my route around the neighborhood/block while in my pocket. That means the geolocation was triangulated from the cell phone network. There will be enormous effects as Africa transitions to higher smartphone density and market-specific mobile apps.

(below) from the 'send to Google' option in My Tracks;
Google Docs:
Google Maps:

For the record: I am two weeks into a 10-month Fulbright in Ghana. The views expressed on my blog are my own solely and do not in any way reflect the opinions or policy of the U.S. State Department. In order to avoid any opening for being called a US spy, my goal is to share online as close to the entirety of my research as my Zipnet bandwidth can support.

Friday, May 1, 2009

HAA .May 1, 2009

Presented SoCA, pK and UTEC today to the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors, along with Jon Evans and Andy Lantz talking about Design Initiative for Youth/DIY/ProjectLink and Marrikka Trotter talking about Department of Micro-urbanism/Chinatown Insert. It felt strange partly because I felt visibly jaded about Harvard's bubble, and partly because of the Manchurian Candidate effect...that despite having acted, through SoCA, etc. as an attempt to protest the orientation of the GSD, we have in the end--through Harvard's own financial support--ultimately proved part of the institution. This is not really surprising, and at least our work helps connect the GSD to real communities, but it still feels weird..

Prof. Laura Miller introduced us to the UTEC project but never really advised us. When we started pK, Prof. Toshiko Mori advised us to not do the project ("Nonprofits are tricky"...which is true, but not necessarily reason to not become involved). Project Link only got financed after years of lobbying, attending conferences and arguing that institutions like Harvard need to aggressively build their own pipelines for underrepresented minority students. True, Marrikka has built DMU through her own energy, but INSERT! is part of the Harvard fundraising machine now.

On the upside, at least students were part of presenting the GSD to Harvard alumni, along with the Dean and Department Chairs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

09 Unspoken Borders: Ecologies of Inequality

I guess I should get used to having my name misspelled.

But the conference was great thanks to Riziki House, Thabo Lenneiye, Nakita Johnson, Michelle Lin et al who organized the conference and started this blog to continue exploring the issues that Unspoken Borders 09 addressed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tema Network Power

Draft for UPenn's Unspoken Borders 09 conference... With my thesis I am working to push the idea of designing standards, not just "architecture" and especially not just the one-off architectural masterpiece...

[ Network Power in a West African New Town | Dk Osseo-Asare ] 


        “Was it not yesterday that the first truck rumbled into the bush village?” [E. Maxwell Fry, 1964] 

        “On the 8th of March 2000, having acquired the visas, tickets, and general property of the expedition, we left Cambridge for the west coast of Africa to begin our explorations. It is not without some nostalgia that we set forth to discover Graham Greene’s ‘blank’ and ‘unexplored’ spaces. Driven by ‘a curiosity to discover if one can from what we have come, to recall at what point we went astray.’ To find what we are becoming, and what our future will be.” [Foreward, Lagos Handbook]  

        “African cities operate as a platform for people to engage in processes and territories elsewhere.” [AbdulMaliq Simone, 2001. “On the Worldling of African Cities.”] 

The goal of this text is two-fold. First, I question dominant approaches to framing architecture in Africa. Second, I test the concept of “network power” as a tool for relating the agency of architecture and planning to local and global power differentials in the African city, starting with the industrial new town of Tema, Ghana. 


While architects write about African cities far less than do journalists, novelists, lyricists, anthropologists, sociologists and development policy “experts,” Africa is back in the discourse thanks in part to Rem's Lagos. What was it before? Mali, Maasai, mud and magic... African architecture is typically considered through several lenses. (1) Tradition: The African artisan as indigenous genius. This approach echoes previous preoccupation with organic architecture and the vernacular, embracing traditional techniques of construction and the spiritual dimensions of the culture of building (Labelle Prussin’s work on gender and space, Suzanne Blier’s study of the Batammaliba, Ron Eglash’s ethnomathematics of African fractals). (2) Conflict: African as refugee. Africa’s defining conditions are poverty and war, but design can help (Architecture for Humanity, Shigeru Ban’s earlier emergency architecture for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees). (3) Crisis: African as innovator. Citizens of African cities are remarkable because they collectively (mysteriously) develop tactics for survival in cities that are so deeply in crisis that they approach total breakdown of social and physical infrastructure (Boeck and Plissart’s Kinshasa, Koolhaas’ Lagos). 

For Koolhaas, Lagos is important because it “might be the most radical urban condition on the planet.”1 This latest attempt to conquer the enduring mystery of the Dark Continent replaces the focus on traditional techniques and materials of construction (mud mosques and village housing) with Africa’s new urban phenomena, an alternate global culture of congestion, emergent entrepreneurship and the informal. Rem’s Lagos research deliberately plays with the historical idea of “the expedition,” but takes as its territory of discovery Lagos’ “dangerous” and “unexplored” urban space: an ultimate urbanism produced by people who survive despite the collapse of the city, the future of the West. His search for the future primitive finds only the uneven question of the informal...Like Urban Think Tank’s savvy branding of Caracas’ “informal city,” Lagos’ density proves not that it is wholly different, but that it is an enormous and emergent part of the global project of urbanism.  

Despite the humanitarian motivation behind trends to expand the field of design by considering “informal” urbanization processes globally, we need to be careful. The current generation of designers seeking to alleviate Africa’s poverty and foster development through innovation is in danger of failing to critically examine previous efforts over the past sixty years. The Architecture for Humanity, Open Architecture Network, and Design for the Other 90% mentality that proclaims—“Design can save the world!”—risks becoming self-indulgent propaganda. Given today's global economic and existential crisis, design has in recent history been either underutilized, outmatched or ineffective. 

Let us be more modest. Architecture, urban design and planning all have social effects—but the nature and extent of these effects is contingent on a host of other factors. We should not become so preoccupied with the provocative that we ignore the conventional. The reality of radical urban or environmental conditions in Africa today are linked to an equally real history of modern architecture and planning intervention. Yes, under contemporary conditions of globalization, Africa has some of the most phenomenal rates of urbanization in all human history, but architecture is not only now arriving on the scene. African technocrats trained in the US, the UK, Eastern Europe and later, the new African postcolonies have together with a displaced design, planning and engineering community of Western expatriates in Africa already built—on top of the colonial network—additional networks of infrastructure that dictate much of the new urban growth. The first wave of modern architecture and planning intervention in Africa was framed as an “experiment”2—Could design deliver development? A half-century later, before proposing new solutions, it is imperative that we map this history of design and development against the experimental results on the ground. 


In contrast to Lagos—which is important because it is different—what makes Tema relevant is not that it is unique, but that it exists. Tema, one of many African geographies with material circuits, folds conveniently into the discourse: it is a new town, built from scratch over the past fifty years, according to dominant conventions of modern urban planning and development policy. Planning and construction of new towns implicitly involves power—a more general concept than economics—given the relationship between decision-making hierarchies and agency. As urban artifacts, and because they were planned into being by fiat, new towns correlate completely to infrastructure. New towns are the opposite of spontaneous: like all large-scale infrastructure (a power grid, an interstate highway) Tema emerged within and because of a specific political ecology.3  

Other modernist ‘New Town’ projects in developing countries, such as Chandigarh in India, Brasilia in Brazil, and Abuja in Nigeria, were designed as new administrative capitals for government. Tema was instead designed to be a modern city of industry4 at the core of the mid-20th-century Volta River Project (VRP). The VRP was an ambitious project to link hydroelectricity from the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River to large-scale industry and an artificial harbor at Tema (conceived by British business interests during the colonial period but executed primarily after independence in 1957). Doxiadis Associates re-designed the Tema Development Corporation’s original master plan of Tema for a larger projected population of 250,000 people.5 With a population now twice that size, Tema has successfully jumpstarted industrialization nation-wide and is a major industrial and transportation hub for West Africa. 

Jane Jacobs wrote in 1984 that the Volta River Project was “one of the world’s great hydroelectric projects” but a “pointless investment,” producing power for which “almost nothing has materialized to make use.”6 According to Jacobs, the failure of Tema to produce enough factories to exploit the full electrical output of the Akosombo Dam renders the entire VRP development project “pointless.” Twenty years later, Ghana’s demand for electricity has grown larger than the hydroelectric capacity of the Volta River Authority (VRA), the government agency responsible for producing all of Ghana’s electricity. Today the VRA produces only half of Ghana’s electricity from the Akosombo and Kpong hydroelectric plants.7 In other words, Ghana now consumes far more power than the Akosombo dam produces.  

Clearly something did materialize to make use of the VRP’s power; not only factories (and mines and farms) use energy—so do people, houses, shops and cities. In the case of Tema’s experiment in industrial urbanism, because the master plan and investment came first, it is impossible to argue that the city emerged spontaneously. Construction of Tema and the VRP built not only new physical geographies (the man-made Lake Volta, the artificial harbour at Tema, the city of Tema)—or infrastructure—but also new organizations to manage the project, and new economic and social organisms to occupy it—an associated political ecology.  

While the narrative of Tema is that of modernity built on an empty plain, the construction of Tema city and port in reality displaced both a traditional fishing community and its cultural frame. Resettlement of the original Tema fishing village commenced in 1952 and involved the relocation of 12,000 people and 200 gods (to a new village, Tema New Town, two miles away). According to traditional knowledge, the Ga people who lived at Tema were protected spiritually first by the Sakumono and Chemu lagoons that flanked their village, and second by communal gods or otutu that lived in earth mounds within each family compound. Broad community opposition to the chief's sale of ancestral lands to the government—the land which became the Tema Acquisition Area—translated to years of protracted negotiation between community leaders and the Office of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Justice and Local Government. Systematic bulldozing of the original Tema village, known as “Operation Hardcore,” finally completed the resettlement process in 1960.8 Although the entire procedure was legal and justifiable in terms of advancing the public good of the nation, Tema's restructured land ownership—and the resettlement's suspension of tradition—is a radical shift that typifies the new power structure: in the new Tema, the mandate of modernization outranks both tradition and the gods themselves. 


Once the process of city-building is initiated, who and what controls that process over time? In his essay “The Persistence of Planning,” Hashim Sarkis notes that Doxiadis introduced in Lebanon his ekistics philosophy as a descriptive framework that championed technocratic government-sponsored development, prioritized data-collection and physical planning, and sought to scientifically “accelerate” modernization of the nation-state.9 This reading moves beyond Doxiadis the geopolitical power broker10 to address the underlying tension of planning in a post-Doxiadis environment: who controls the planning machinery? Tema was also designed as part of a national development agenda andekistics study. Even more than in the case of Lebanon, foreign actors were involved from inception through implementation: business owners and investors, political advisors and technical experts. Consequently, it is inaccurate to present Tema as a purely national project, especially given the relative weakness of the Ghanaian nation-state compared to partners like Kaiser Aluminum and the U.S. State Department.  

Although neocolonialism remains a valid critique of Tema’s construction and initial phases of operation, the term is conceptually tied to re-introduction of the European colonialist project through new forms of capitalist imperialism. Such models of global power dynamics are increasingly inadequate in accounting for contemporary globalization, in which new transnational actors and systems of coordination exert indirect control over the nation-state, sub-national and transnational bodies. At the same time—largely due to the port and because of Tema’s proximity to the capital Accra—local and cultural forces also exert powerful pressure on the city’s urban and industrial processes. In the decades since Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist administration framed the balance of power between industrialists and workers at Tema, the city’s social geography has become more complex and the field of competing power brokers more crowded. This corresponds to the success of the city, which has transformed from near-empty “bush” to now feature an array of commercial, industrial and informal entrepreneurial enterprises, satellite townships and 25 planned residential communities of a variety of income levels that in many cases are now generations-old.  

Recent trends on the continent have decentralized the political authority of government. In Ghana, this process started even before (the latest version of) democracy: the Provisional National Defense Council Law 208 introduced decentralization reforms in 1988. The 1992 Constitution further transferred power from the state to the private sector, anticipating accelerated development and civic engagement, and in 2000 Ghana signed onto the Victoria Falls Declaration of an “African Vision on Decentralization” for the same reasons. Twenty years into the process of decentralization, the number of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs)—legally the highest political and administrative authority for planning and development—has increased from 65 to 170, but as a development model MMDAs have performed with only limited success.11 While the intended outcome was loosely coordinated distribution of economic development, emphasis on the local fails to address how regional and transurban linkages in the African context can and do contribute to existing alternative models of economic sustainability.  


Distinctions between “formal” and “informal” sectors are often made in reference to African cities. One attitude is that the informal sector represents an “invisible” sphere of economic activity and social transactions, networks of culture and knowledge. Integrating this economic capacity into the formal sector will facilitate development and lead to greater net human benefit by expanding access to capital, legality and efficacy. An opposing perspective is that the informal exists as much as does the Other. All transactional space is provisional: it is impossible to exactly identify the informal. People do not live completely inside “informal worlds” or operate solely according to “informal” rules. To the degree that there may be informal and formal modes of operation, most transactions occur along a spectrum of in/formality. Binary division of formal versus informal is less important, less possible, and less helpful than understanding transactional specifics. 

At the same time that the operation of African cities is no longer an internal process—because economic networks are increasingly global—if the world today is an ever-contracting system of exchange, this phenomenon is new only in scale. The alchemical wealth-creation that financed the construction of modernity emerged through mercantilist and colonialist global networks of trade and resource-extraction. In the case of Tema, the central role of the city and the port in the VRP development program—which considered industry and industrialization to be the key driver of national economic development—both planning process and policy have historically been weighted toward industrial and business interests. Tema is a city that in theory exists first for industry—specifically heavy industry—as a landing point for global capital. This follows the principle that ideal economic conditions of social and physical infrastructure (cheap labor, energy, roads) will attract global capital investment for manufacturing. Irrespective of success, this strategy prioritizes relations with capital from elsewhere.  

This approach to development locates Tema within the economic and political space of globalization—a process, ultimately, of power distribution. But how do we untangle the web of actors and agendas at work in sites that, like Tema, are designed from the outset for globalized integration? How do we determine if and when architecture and planning are complicit in transferring local power offshore? How can design move beyond false dichotomies like “formal” versus “informal” in order to amplify all networks that can enable African actors to compete within current modes of globalization, dominated by multinational corporations and Western powers? 

Network Power 

Researchers have used the term “network” in various ways over recent decades to describe the organizational logic of globalized/-ing urban space and to relate local conditions to global processes. Concepts of the world city, global city, networked city, and the network architecture of computing all already exist... Meanwhile, mesmerized by the graphic language of the network, “Architecture,” as Mark Wigley writes, “dreams of becoming a circuit board.”12 Architects, in general, approach networks visually, treating networks as a mode of spatial organization. This model, referring to mathematics in order to define a network as a system of nodes and links, lends itself to the production of pretty pictures. A second approach to conceptualizing networks is as a mode of standards-based association, rather than spatial configuration. Spatial networks are defined by where nodes are located in space and the degree to which links interconnect the full array of nodes. Standards networks are essentially de-spatialized, defining the boundaries of a given network not by nodal distribution, but by membership into a standardized protocol. Members may still constitute nodes but conceptual emphasis is on the standards that operate that network. 

Harvard political scientist David Grewal advances a concept of network power to describe formations of human freedom under contemporary conditions of globalization.13 He observes that globalization is a critical issue today on which two camps fail to agree. Proponents of globalization claim that “transnational flows” increase freedom; critics argue that “global standards” constrain individual and national freedom. In response to the question “Is globalization a form of empire?” Grewal argues that globalization does represent a structure of domination, but is an informal system of empire because it does not exert control by force or direct control. Instead, globalization operates according to standards networks; network power is the degree of attractiveness of a given network's system of cooperation, whereby a network gains power in  proportion to the number of people who adopt the standards of that network (e.g. the dominance of the network of English-speakers, for which the standard is the ability to speak English). Hence a network can exert pressure toward adoption of particular standards without physical force; one network’s network power can contribute to its supremacy over another network; networks exert power indirectly by reducing the viability of competing networks. 

Networks are simultaneously determined by their spatial configuration and by the system of standards, conventions and protocols that define them. Tema, like all African cities and all urban spaces, is part of many (economic, political, techno-social, etc.) networks. It is not enough to merely isolate or identify the standards behind the networks of globalization. Instead of the endless project of classifying what is formal or what is informal, what is dominant or what is insurgent, technocratic or participatory, the agency of design lies in the design of network/ed standards themselves.

1 This is the subtitle of the Harvard Project on the City “Lagos Handbook.” P. Belanger, M. Cosmas, A.D. Hamilton, L. Ip, J. Kim and N.L. Slayton. Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2000 (unpublished). Rem Koolhaas supervised this research and partly composited his “Lecture on Lagos” from the student work contained in the Lagos Handbook. My take may seem critical; however, in my view the Handbook is an impressive text and I argue for more of this type of research, not less. The key is that architects move beyond the Dark Continent narrative.

2 E. Maxwell Fry, “African Experiment: Building for an Educational Programme in the Gold Coast.” Architectural Review 113: No. 677 (May 1953). For more on the Tropical Modernism project in West Africa, especially Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew before Chandigarh, see Hannah Le Roux “Modern Architecture in Post-Colonial Ghana and Nigeria.” Architectural History, Vol. 47 (2004), pp. 361-392. And Daniel Immerwahr. “The Politics of Architecture and Urbanism in Postcolonial Lagos, 1960-1986.” Journal of African Cultural Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (December 2007), pp. 165-186.

3 The term political ecology typically denotes the interdependent effects of politics, social factors and economics on the natural environment. Authors such as David Harvey (1997), while not discussing “political ecology” directly, have argued against false dichotomization of natural and built environments. I use the term political ecology throughout this text to highlight that in the case of Tema, the political power structure operates simultaneously on the natural and built environments, and is itself a system of social organisms interacting to achieve dynamic equilibrium over time.

4 Lisa Peattie made a similar observation about the industrial city of Guayana in her seminal text, Planning: Rethinking Ciudad Guayana. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987.

5 Construction of Tema began in 1954, under direction of the then Tema Development Organization (now, Corporation) in association with the Public Works Department. The TDC plan covered 5000 acres and a population of 80,000 people in seven residential communities of 10,000-12,000 each.

In March 1960 the Government of Ghana enlisted Doxiadis Associates to conduct an ekistics study for the entire country, as well as the Accra-Tema metropolitan area, the Accra-Tema-Akosombo triangle, the Accra Plains, the Southeast Coastal Plains, and the full region of the Volta River Project. In July 1961 the Government hired Doxiadis Associates to produce a master plan for the 63 sq. mi. Tema Acquisition Area and a comprehensive development program for the town and industrial area over a 25 year period and projected population of 235,000-250,000. Documentation of Doxiadis Associates’ Tema design appear in Ekistics 13: 17, 159-171. For ekistics study of Ghana see “Accra-Tema-Akosombo” in Ekistics 11: 65, 235-276.

By the time Doxiadis Associates came on board, two residential communities had already been completed with an estimated population of 22,000 and work begun on industrial sites, Tema harbor and infrastructure (roads, sewers, etc). The Doxiadis Associates’ plan with modifications has governed the city’s urban and industrial growth to date.

6 Jacobs, Jane. Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life. New York: Random House, 1984. Pp. 105.

7 While the VRA (www.vra.com) is still responsible for national production of Ghana’s electricity, the government is encouraging independent power producers in the private sector. So far only one private company is producing at scale, in partnership with the VRA at the Takoradi thermal plant. Significantly, Ghana’s electrical demand has continued to increase even while the Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO) aluminum smelter, which the World Bank calls the intended “primary consumer” of VRP power, has not run at full capacity since 2002, and current implementation of long-planned regional networking of West African energy infrastructure is only now making large-scale export of Ghana’s electricity viable (see website of the West African Power Pool, Economic Community of West African States: www.ecowapp.org).

8 G.W. Amarteifio, D.A.P. Butcher and David Whitham. Tema Manhean: A Study of Resettlement. Accra: Ghana Universities Press for the University of Science and Technology-Kumasi, 1966.

9 Sarkis, Hashim. Circa 1958: Lebanon in the pictures and plans of Constantinos Doxiadis. Beyrouth: Dar An-Nahar: Fares Foundation, 2003. Pp. 207. “If we continue to make plans (and we should), if we continue to interrogate the process and benefits of development including planning (and here again we should), we should do so by generating more information from different perspectives about the issues taken on by the plans.” Constantinos Doxiadis used the term ekistics to describe a science of human settlements.

10 For discussion of Doxiadis’ political prowess see Michelle Provoost, “New Towns on the Cold War Frontier: How modern urban planning was exported as an instrument in the battle for the developing world.” URL: http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-06-28-provoost-en.html. Also, Markus Daechsel, “Misplaced Ekistics: Constantinos A. Doxiadis and urban plannning in Pakistan.” Paper from Doxiadis Foundation international workshop (Dec. 2006).

11 See The New Legon Observer. Ghana Society for Development Dialogue Publication. Vol. 2 No.9, 22 May 2008. “Decentralization, Cities and Development: Some Retrospective Issues and Challenges.”

12 Mark Wigley. “The Architectural Brain.” In Network Practices: New Strategies in Architecture and Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007. Pp. 38.

13 Grewal, David. Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. And Grewal, “Network Power and Globalization.” Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 17, Issue 2, pp. 89-98).

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