Sekondi-Takoradi: an oil city comes full circle
Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana ©Barbora Nemcova.
In 2007, after offshore oil deposits were discovered near Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, industry observers noted the rise of West Africa’s newest oil city. A recent paper by Franklin Obeng-Odoom, a research fellow at Australia’s University of Technology, Sydney, School of the Built Environment, surveys Sekondi-Takoradi’s post-discovery growth and suggests that the city’s past should inspire us to be more confident about its future.
Sekondi-Takoradi’s transformation has been well documented by Obeng-Odoom’s peers, but his review of their efforts presents a compelling snapshot of the city’s frenetic growth, which is as remarkable in capturing the scale of change as it is in finding the contrasts that exist between the city’s old urban forms and emerging new ones.
The “oil fever,” as Obeng-Odoom describes it, in Sekondi-Takoradi has created new jobs as a result of more than 40 international oil companies establishing operations in the city since 2007. It has also spurred expanded university-level technical training programs and political and public discussions around how to best manage the resource opportunity. At the same time, greater investments in urban development, ranging from a new 180,000-resident satellite settlement to a municipal initiative to designate streets with names, are further signs of the city’s transformation into a center of wealth creation.
In observing what is happening in Sekondi-Takoradi, Obeng-Odoom believes the city is coming full circle, building on pre-oil achievements such as the city’s modern transport infrastructure network, assembled over the last century, including road networks (1895), railways (1898), and later Africa’s first artificial harbor (1975), which helped increase Sekondi-Takoradi’s national and international importance.
These antecedents, however, provide something more than just historic parallels. They offer, according to Obeng-Odoom, an important source of resilience to help the Sekondi-Takoradi manage the social and economic challenges associated with oil developments:
“Social relations are likely to become increasingly complex and new contours of adjustment and maladjustment may arise, but they will not necessarily cause ‘social disruption,’ a ‘resource curse’ or ‘rentier state’ pressures. Institutions —formal, informal, implicit and explicit — and rules, processes and customs matter: they shape, restrain and constrain the future.”
By attempting to show Sekondi-Takoradi’s case as a contrast to what he sees as a prevalent attitude shaping how we perceive the rise of Africa’s oil cities, Obeng-Odoom is not dismissing the challenges involved in growing economies that rely on resource extraction developments. Instead he is encouraging a more nuanced perspective on how oil will shape Sekondi-Takoradi’s future.
Franklin Obeng-Odoom’s Political economic origins of Sekondi-Takoradi, West Africa’s new oil city appears in Urbani izziv, volume 23 (2012).
Micheal Fountain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an editor of the Connected Cities blog.