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Ghana, country of western Africa, situated on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. Although relatively small in area and population, Ghana is one of the leading countries of Africa, partly because of its considerable natural wealth and partly because it was the first black African country south of the Sahara to achieve independence from colonial rule.
In addition to being known for its lush forests, diverse animal life, and miles of sandy beaches along a picturesque coast, Ghana is also celebrated for its rich history—its habitation possibly dating from 10,000 bce—and as a fascinating repository of cultural heritage. The country takes it name from the great medieval trading empire that was located northwest of the modern-day state until its demise in the 13th century. Direct sea trade with Europe, established in the 15th century, had much impact on the area’s inhabitants, many of whom actively traded with the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and other Europeans. Forts and castles, many of which still dot the Ghanaian coast today, were constructed by Europeans to protect their trade interests. Although trading was originally centred on the gold that was readily available in the area (and from which the future British colony the Gold Coast would take its name), the focus shifted to the lucrative slave trade in the 17th century. The area later became known for growing cacao, the source of cocoa beans. Introduced there in the late 19th century, cacao continues to provide an important export for Ghana.
Modern-day Ghana, which gained its independence on March 6, 1957, consists primarily of the former Gold Coast. The colony’s drive for independence was led by nationalist and Pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah, who viewed Ghana’s sovereignty as being important not only for the Ghanaian people but for all of Africa, saying “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” Indeed, more than 30 other African countries, spurred by Ghana’s example, followed suit and declared their own independence within the next decade.
Nkrumah quickly laid the groundwork for fiscal independence within the new country as well, embarking on many economic development projects. Unfortunately, decades of corruption, mismanagement, and military rule stymied growth and achievement. By the 1990s, though, the country’s state of affairs began showing signs of improvement, and Ghana is now held up as an example of successful economic recovery and political reform in Africa.
Ghana’s administrative capital is the coastal city of Accra. Originally founded on the site of several Ga settlements, Accra developed into a prosperous trading hub; today it serves as the commercial and educational centre of the county. Kumasi, another prominent commercial centre, is located in the south-central part of the country. Known as the “Garden City of West Africa,” Kumasi is also the seat of the king of the Asante people, the vestige of an empire (seeAsante empire) that existed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Situated on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea in western Africa, Ghana is bordered to the northwest and north by Burkina Faso, to the east by Togo, to the south by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the west by Côte d’Ivoire.
Relief throughout Ghana is generally low, with elevations not exceeding 3,000 feet (900 metres). The southwestern, northwestern, and extreme northern parts of the country consist of a dissected peneplain (a land surface worn down by erosion to a nearly flat plain, later uplifted and again cut by erosion into hills and valleys or into flat uplands separated by valleys); it is made of Precambrian rocks (about 540 million to 4 billion years old). Most of the remainder of the country consists of Paleozoic deposits (about 250 to 540 million years old), which are thought to rest on older rocks. The Paleozoic sediments are composed mostly of beds of shales (laminated sediments consisting mostly of particles of clay) and sandstones in which strata of limestone occur in places. They occupy a large area called the Voltaian Basin in the north-central part of the country where the elevation rarely exceeds 500 feet (150 metres). The basin is dominated by Lake Volta, an artificial lake that extends far into the central part of the country behind the Akosombo Dam and covers about 3,275 square miles (8,500 square km). Along the north and south, and to some extent along the west, the uplifted edges of the basin give rise to narrow plateaus between 1,000 and 2,000 feet (300 and 600 metres) high, bordered by impressive scarps. The most outstanding are the Kwahu (Mampong) Scarp (seeKwahu Plateau) in the south and the Gambaga Scarp in the north.
Surrounding the basin on all of its sides, except in the east, is the dissected Precambrian peneplain, which rises to elevations of 500 to 1,000 feet above sea level and contains several distinct ranges as high as 2,000 feet.
Along the eastern edge of the Voltaian Basin, and extending from the Togo border to the sea immediately west of Accra, is a narrow zone of folded Precambrian rocks running northeast to southwest, forming the Akwapim-Togo Ranges, which vary in elevation from 1,000 to 3,000 feet (300 to 900 metres). The highest points in Ghana are found there, including Mount Afadjato (2,903 feet [885 metres]), Mount Djebobo (2,874 feet [876 metres]), and Mount Torogbani (2,861 feet [872 metres]), all situated east of the Volta River near the Togo border. These ranges are part of the Togo-Atakora Mountains, which extend northward into Togo and Benin.
The southeastern corner of the country, between the Akwapim-Togo Ranges and the sea, consists of the gently rolling Accra Plains, which are underlain by some of the oldest Precambrian rocks known—mostly gneisses (coarse-grained rocks in which bands containing granular minerals alternate with bands containing micaceous minerals); in places they rise above the surface to form inselbergs (prominent steep-sided hills left after erosion). The only extensive areas of young rocks less than about 136 million years old are in the wide, lagoon-fringed delta of the Volta, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Accra, and in the extreme southwest of the country, along the Axim coast.
In the east the predominant rocks are less than 65 million years old, though there is a patch of Cretaceous sediments (about 65 to 145 million years old) near the Ghana-Togo border. To the west of Axim, near the Côte d’Ivoire frontier, the rocks date to the Cretaceous Period. The intervening coastal zone between eastern and western extremes contains patches of Devonian sediments (about 360 to 415 million years old). With the older and more resistant rocks of the Precambrian peneplain, these form a low, picturesque coastline of sandy bays and rocky promontories.
The drainage system is dominated by the Volta River basin, which includes Lake Volta and the Black Volta, White Volta, and Oti rivers. Most of the other rivers, such as the Pra, the Ankobra, the Tano, and a number of smaller ones, flow directly south into the ocean from the watershed formed by the Kwahu Plateau, which separates them from the Volta drainage system. South of Kumasi, in the south-central part of the country, is Ghana’s only true natural lake—Bosumtwi—lying in a meteorite impact crater and without any outlet to the sea. Along the coast are numerous lagoons, most of them formed at the mouths of small streams.
Over much of the surface of Ghana, the rocks are weathered, and great spreads of laterite (red, leached, iron-bearing soil) and lesser spreads of bauxite and manganese are found on the flat tops of hills and mountains. Although the movements of Earth’s crust that produced the basic geologic structure of the country have now virtually ceased, periodic earthquakes occur, especially near Accra along the eastern foot of the Akwapim-Togo Ranges, where there is a major fault line.
What is an open space? These two little words have very powerful meanings in human settlements. The Concise Oxford English dictionary defines open, among others, as allowing access, passage or view, not closed, fastened or restricted ; exposed to the air, or to view; not covered or protected etc. The same dictionary defines space, among others, as a continuous area or expanse, which is free or unoccupied. Thus an open space can be described as a continuous area which is not occupied that allows access, passage or view and is exposed to the air or to view. What have open spaces got to do with human settlements or villages, towns and cities? A lot.
Health concerns when building
There are very good reasons why a developer cannot built on the entire plot of land that he or she has acquired. One of these reasons is health. Any building would have to be able to facilitate and allow the free movement of air (natural ventilation) as well as carry away any foul odour. That is one reason why somebody from the health department sits on the Technical Sub-Committee that recommends the approval of building plans in the various district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies. It is for the same reason that setbacks or specified spaces are left from the walls of buildings to the fence wall and also from the front wall to the street. Such open spaces also include courtyards in individual houses.
The house can be regarded as a microcosm or a smaller version of a human settlement. In that respect, human settlements also need spaces to literally breathe. Such spaces can be open spaces. Open spaces can, therefore, be referred to as the lungs of human settlements. They allow human settlements to function effectively and come in different shapes and sizes. Even in the most metropolitan of cities in the Western world such as New York, Frankfurt and London, large open spaces, which could be public parks with trees and landscaped areas, sometimes with water bodies, are found in abundance. Golf courses also follow in the category of open spaces. These public parks also have furniture such as benches, paved walkways and beautiful sceneries where many inhabitants spend some time away from the daily stress of life.
Where are the open spaces/parks?
Interestingly, our former colonial masters left open spaces and/or public parks in some of our human settlements and some indigenous settlements across the country also had their versions of these open spaces. What has happened to these spaces? Many of them are non-existent today. In many human settlements in Ghana, plots of land earmarked for open spaces have been sold as plots to developers by chiefs in league with officials of the Lands Commission, Town and Country Planning Department and politicians. Even plots of land originally assigned to the Parks and Gardens Department, the body responsible for seeing to the development and maintenance of these open spaces, have suffered the same fate. The story goes that after the June 4, 1979 revolution, the Kumasi Golf Club was nearly turned into a cassava farm to benefit the proletariat so that the bourgeois 'rich men' who played golf would have to find their course elsewhere. Fortunately, that did not happen and the golf course is still existing.
The city of Kumasi used to be known as the 'Garden City of West Africa', an accolade allegedly bestowed on the city by no other than the Queen of England when she visited the city. What do we see today? Road construction to service the ever growing number of vehicles has meant the felling of several trees which used to line the streets in the municipality. The so-called Children's Park at Amakom is now a den for vagrants and criminals. Fortunately, the renovated Rattray Park in Kumasi has come to fill a huge void in the city, despite some subtle opposition from some residents.
The Efua Sutherland Park in Accra is in no different shape and it looks like the place now performs better as funeral grounds on week-ends than as a place for children to spend quality time. The Monkey Hill Sanctuary next to the Paa Grant Circle in Takoradi, unfortunately, is a forest reserve that cannot be used by the public. Many more such parks as the Rattray Park in Kumasi, perhaps not on the same scale, are needed across the length and breadth of Ghana. This is because open spaces facilitate better health and afford places for relaxation, socialisation and human watching.
Sadly, many educated people do not seem to appreciate the need for open spaces in human settlements in Ghana. They, therefore, see nothing wrong with the huge concrete jungle that is being created in human settlements in Ghana. Many people have simply developed a routine of moving from their heavily barricaded houses to their work places in the mornings through heavy traffic and returning to the same way in the late evenings. Weekends are spent at so-called 'spots' or pubs with alcoholic beverages and pork, guinea fowl or chicken and that is all that life is about. Coupled with rare medical check ups, is there any wonder that many notices announcing the death of people - and these days, many young people - now scream 'What a shock?' Yes, week-end walk is better than a sedentary life without any exercise but the presence of open spaces in Ghana's human settlements will also go a long way in improving the health of Ghanaians. Can a Member of Parliament take this crusade up so that open spaces are mandatorily located in all the districts across the country?
The writer is Past Dean, Faculty of Architecture and Building Technology, KNUST