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Navigating Traditional and Modern Institutions in City Governance: The Role of Chieftaincy in Spatial Planning in Tamale, Ghana


Year published: 2021
Categories: Articles

Author / Authors:

  • Issahaka Fuseini


African Studies, 80:2, 230-248, DOI: 10.1080/00020184.2021.1911623


At a time of intensifying urbanisation in Ghana, ineffective spatial planning is one of the symptomatic challenges of urban growth in the country. In the Ghanaian context, traditional authorities (chiefs) play a disproportionate role in urban land management due to the fact that a vast proportion of the country’s land is held in customary tenurial arrangements. The role of the traditional authorities in (urban) land management is given legal status by national constitutional provisions that recognise chiefs as fiduciaries of the land held under customary tenure. The state-supported customary land secretariats (CLSs) perform these responsibilities in conjunction with the local government structures. They are largely being operationalised through urban land-use planning. However, the complex factors and processes of rapid urban growth have had unintended consequences. These include increased urban land values, speculative and informal land markets, and overlapping governance/power structures. The outcome has been the reported commodification and administration of urban land by chiefs for personal gain. These complex processes evolve at the intersection of traditional and modern governance structures which are opportunistically interpreted and applied to achieve certain ends. This article demonstrates how these changes in customary land administration are evolving in Tamale, Ghana. Qualitative interviews were undertaken with participants from relevant statutory land sector institutions, local government officials and traditional authorities. Using the lens of urban governance and planning practices, the article explores the outcomes of chief-led spatial planning and customary land administration practices and associated land markets in Tamale. These are social, economic and spatial inequalities, as well as urban governance challenges.


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