Tema Series – Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Tears

In February 2007, I visited the residence of Indira Gandhi on Safdarung Road in South Delhi. This was the official residence of the first female Prime Minister of India. The house, now a museum, displays her public and domestic life. The last few meters Gandhi walked before being assassinated is covered with sheets of sculptured glass. And the point where she finally fell and had her last breath, is clearly marked. There is signage that reads:

The last few meters of Indira Ghandi’s walk have been covered with crystal suggesting a river in flow. A sheet of clear glass marks the spot where she fell. Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984.

 The lounge has been converted into a gallery. There are framed photographs and artefacts displayed and was immediately struck by a newspaper cutting of Nehru and Nkrumah. The experience was somber and reflective.

 As a student of Planning and Architecture, you hear so much about planned cities. Examples always mentioned are Tema and Chandigarh in Northern India initiated by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Jawaharlal Nehru respectively. Again, Tema and Chandigarh were designed by Constatinos Doxiades and Charles-Edouard Jeaneret also known as Le Corbusier respectively. It was therefore a privilege to visit this planned and very well managed city.  My visit to the offices of the Municipality of Chandigarh revealed that Tema was designed around the same time and the similarities were stunning. The morphology of Tema and Chandigarh are similar. Both cities were planned and built post-independence though the land that Tema was built on was acquired before independence. This is where these twin cities depart in fortunes.

Tema was designed and built on the site of a small fishing village called Torman. It is Ghana’s first settlement designed as such. It has one of two Ghana’s Deep Ports, an Oil Refinery, Aluminium Smelting Plant and many other very important industries. It has two key institutions managing the City, Tema Development Corporation and the Tema Metropolitan Assembly. The fishing village was resettled at the current Tema New Town.

Those who would judge us merely by the heights we have achieved would do well to remember the depths from which we have started – Kwame Nkrumah

Osagyefo would be sad to see the depth that Tema has sunk from its glamour. Tema is simply becoming deformed and chaotic. It is gradually becoming blighted in many areas. The harbour city is bustling but with very minimal development control and completely seems to be out of control of city managers and politicians. Ever since I walked into Tema as a young man, I have been fascinated with the planning and may even have inspired my career becoming an architect but now I am scared that it is beginning to exhibit many characteristics of an urban slum.  

It is impossible to write about the ills, misgovernance and failing infrastructure of Tema in one article. In trying to tease out the areas to discuss the list seems literally endless. That was what birthed the Tema Series- Kwame Nkrumah’s Tears. It would not be lamentations of Tema alone; we will throw in solutions. My dream about contemporary Tema will feature. What would it take to wipe the tears off the face of the ghost of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah?

Over the next weeks and months, the following key issues would be picked and dealt with in more detail, synthesized and solutions demanded and proposed where necessary:

●          Wetlands - The rains are coming. The wetlands that hold water, flora and fauna is being taken over by developers. We do not need any prophet to predict flooding in certain areas in Tema and other areas such as Ashaiman and Klagon. What bold effort is needed to reverse this phenomenon?

●          Deteriorating Central Sewerage System - Very few communities do not require a septic tank when you construct your building. Tema is one of the very few areas where there is a seemingly functioning Central Sewerage System.  The central sewerage is now overflowing and getting blocked in so many areas. It is time to delve into what needs to be done to arrest this.

●          Construction under pylons - Some of the institutions that is conspicuously failing its function are VRA, GRIDCO and ECG apart from TDC and TMA. Construction activities are freely being built under pylons in the full glare of the managers of these institutions. What happened to these institutions carefully monitoring the spaces under these pylons and reservations that need to be protected to ensure uninterrupted power supply?

●          Rezoning and Building Heights - The value of lands in Tema keep increasing. For the past 60 years the TDC and TMA has stuck to the age-old scale and building heights. In some areas, the value of the land surpasses the buildings that sits on it. The two key institutions managing this cosmopolitan area has refused to review zoning guidelines, building heights and building use. This phenomenon is breeding slum development and blight. We will ask why this is so and when these institutions would change to suit contemporary development needs.

●          Landscape Management - It is sad to see the greens in this 60-year-old township dwindle to disgraceful depths. Public Open Spaces are all being taken over by unscrupulous development. One of the most absurd approval from the TDC is a Cold Store that sits in a public open space near the Police Residential Quarters in Community 4 which got build amidst protests. A very sad spectacle. In such circumstances we will ask whether to demolish or change the use in order to restore the image of Tema

●          Tema and Art  – Henry Ward Beecher said that “Every artist dips his brush in his soul and paints his own nature into his paintings”. Art documents the soul of people and who they are. One of the most contemporary events in Tema has started on the streets and walls. Annually, young artists take over some of the streets with their amazing artworks. In the coming weeks we will look at this and what missing gaps are being closed with these works. Tema is also proud to have one of the world’s renowned artist, El Anatsui; it is time to ride on his back. The soul of the city needs Art and its expression must find space in contemporary Tema to bring it alive. We will explore this viz-a-viz talents, job opportunities and aesthetics in the Harbour City.

●          Tourism, history and museum - Museums traditionally tell the story of a people. The story about where Tema started from as Torman to date needs to be told in exhibitions, objects, artefacts, film, books and maps. There are incredible display mediums in contemporary times in 3D-Visualization that needs to be explored. It is really shocking and mind boggling that Tema has no place as such. The history of architects and planners, the buildings and how the whole township started and much more needs to be told. Tema and Tourism, the missing link.

●          Partnership with corporate giants – Tema is the home of some major industry players. The Ghana Ports and Harbour Authority, VALCO, GRIDCO, Ghana Textile Printing, Nestle, Tema Oil Refinery, Tema Shipyard, The Free Zones Enclave and the list goes on and on. It is time to redefine a deeper relationship and leverage the development of a sustainable Tema city.

●          Municipal Finance Law – A trip to Tema Markets is such a sad spectacle. For such a viable city of more than 162,000 people, the city deserves a better market. The TDC and TMA have failed woefully to develop simple modern markets for the communities. Sometimes these institutions are handicapped by law and policy. It is time to take a look at the Municipal Finance Bill that will allow various Districts and Municipalities to leverage their resources to improve very needed infrastructure.

●          Trucks nuisance – The Port of Tema, industries scattered and heavy trucks are bedfellows. The presence of trucks is such an irritation and so far, the effort of city managers is yet to yield significant results. What would it take to minimize the impact of these trucks?

●          …and more - Sea front development that is going awry, failure of Development Control, waste management disaster, regeneration and quality of life, sports infrastructure and political appointments of the leadership of Tema, ethnicity and the current cosmopolitan nature of the harbour city.

On November 27, 2020, a debate was organized by the directorate of the National Commission for Civic Education among the Parliamentary Aspirants for Tema West. It was an opportunity for candidates to talk about policies and ills that need attention in Tema. As a resident of Tema and an architect, it was sad to listen to them. The decision to write about Tema, identifying the problems and what it would take to have a dream harbour city started.

 The Tema Series about reviewing the failures and diminished roles of the various stakeholders which has resulted in a poorly managed city. Together with guest writers, we will look at statutory institutions, legal frameworks, needs assessments, the changing context of Tema with respect to the national economy, decentralization policies, independent enclaves such as GHAPOHA and its effect on the management of the city of Tema. We will also open up for needed responses from stakeholders to make the debate worth our time as Tema residents. At the end of it all, many other Metropolitan and Municipalities may have something to learn from our experience.

God bless our homeland Ghana.