Learn More About Accra

Throughout the course, we’ll read about the history of Accra alongside the histories of other major cities throughout the continent.  We’ll also explore the city first-hand through class trips and student research.  But here’s a few facts and resources that you can read to learn more about this fascinating and dynamic city.

  • Accra is the capital of Ghana.  It is also the West African country’s most populous city.  The 2012 census estimates the population at 2.27 million.  The Greater Accra Metropolitan Area has an estimated population of 4 million, making it the 13th largest metropolitan area on the African continent.
  • Accra is located on the Ghanaian Atlantic coast, spreading northward into the verdant Accra plains.
  • The area now known as Accra was originally settled by the Ga people, who still live in the city.  The role of Ga people in the economic, cultural, and political life of the city is highly contested today, as increasing urbanization and the influx of people from regions to the north of the capital has placed pressure on available land, employment, and other resources of indigenous Ga inhabitants.  These politics are most prominently acted out in land disputes and contestations over language.  However, the Ga have a very long history of incorporating strangers into their community, including European traders, various northern groups, Akan speakers, and returned slaves from Brazil known as the Tabon.
  • The historic core of the city (sometimes referred to as “old Accra” or “downtown Accra”) was originally three different settlements, built by three different European powers and anchored by trading forts.  These original settlements include British Jamestown (Nleshi), Dutch Usshertown (Kinka), and Danish Christiansborg (Osu)
  • Accra was not originally the most important port in the region (known as the Gold Coast until Ghanaian independence in 1957).  From the 15th through the mid-19th centuries, ports like Cape Coast and Elmina farther to the west were much more important both as sites of trade and seats of government power.
  • Many Europeans fought for control over the lucrative trade from the Gold Coast.  By the mid-19th century, however, Great Britain increasingly expanded its authority over the region, declaring the Gold Coast a colony in the 1870s and moving its capital from Cape Coast to Accra in 1877.
  • Accra is the birthplace of a unique transportation, called trotro – named for the original three-penny fare for a ride within city limits.  The system began as a more convenient alternative to British buses in the colonial period.  Today more than 85% of the city’s residents travel on trotros.
  • Accra is famous as the home of numerous world-champion featherweight boxers, and there are numerous boxing gyms located in the city center.
  • Accra has received a great deal of attention in the news over the last several years, as urban development has led to a new economic and cultural dynamism in the city.  The New York Times labeled Accra “Africa’s Capital of Cool” in 2016 and declared it a “new cosmopolitan hot spot”.  While there’s definitely a lot of exciting things happening in the city right now, not everyone has the means to participate in these new opportunities, raising questions about who benefits from development.
  • Accra is the backdrop for the YouTube series An African City.  Check it out to see how the new Afropolitan middle class experiences urban life.
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