Sunday, September 8, 2013


Every individual is entitled to a list of inalienable rights. The ultimate of which is the “right to life.” This right transcends the general perspective to which most attention has been given. Firstly, it draws on the factors that deprive people of their entitlement to life. Secondly, it is a demand to ensure that these factors are eliminated while enhancing the factors that sustain life. For many developing economies, rights have been limited to political misconceptions and misinterpretation. Parochial interests and value-laden partisanship have dominated several urban political processes and politics is delimited to achieving democratic dispensations forgetting that a political dispensation is not merely an end in itself. It is mostly part of the means to achieve a greater goal of “right to life.” This paper, advocates “right to life” as an underpinning criterion for examining urban development practices. This has been made using experiences from Ghana. 

KEY WORDS: Duty-bearers, politics, right-holders, rights to life, urban development 

The politics of urban development is no new constellation in development discussions. Urban development has primarily related to processes and efforts to advance the welfare of urban dwellers in terms of creating thriving and productive economic base, safe and healthy places, enhancing access to basic services, and promoting sustainable environments (Gruen, 2010; Smith, 1980).

The importance of politics and the roles of systems and mechanisms of decision making that influence how benefits and costs to society are dispersed are well documented (Pagano and Bowman, 1997; Swanstrom, 1988). Indeed, it is a theme that is omitted only at the peril of the activist or the planner who seeks progressive change in the lives of people and urban communities (Majone, 1989). Yet these same systems are crippling development in developing economies as the rivalry between political units in terms of who should rule is affecting development processes (Thies, 2007). Overly entrenched positions and parochial interventionism have dictated the processes of development rendering a stationary movement of development processes. The consolidation of political institutions are critical to upholding the fundamental principles and prescriptions of democratic processes and dispensations yet in most developing economies these political systems have perpetuated secularism and continue to be the bane behind development stagnation (Hyden and Mease, 2003).

Partisan political programs and actions are evident in every aspect of the urban development process. Appointments are made on political lines at the expense of competences. Favoritism and nepotism have become the reward for political activists while accountability and transparency are seen and interpreted along political lines (Kim, 2007; Vargas, 2009). Urban development processes started by previous regimes end prematurely and attenuate gradually to redundancy as political leaders tend to ascribe achievement and progress to predecessors and not achievement of human development; and consequently not efforts towards ensuring the fulfillment of alienable rights of urban citizens. Decisions on policies are made based on beliefs and ideologies that political elites in power think will keep their regime in power (Booth and Therkildsen, 2012). Subsequently, building a systematic effort to ensure the “right to life” is rather limited to showmanship and ad hoc programs and projects that are mostly fleeting and inefficient. These among others are the political dilemmas of urban development in developing economies.

In Ghana, these observations are not different though they manifest in varied ways from the generic articulation of the phenomenon in the immediate forgone discussions. The fulfillment of the “right to life” is the greatest goal of development in its simplistic form yet it is a complex endeavor at the same time. Indeed, the “right to life” as the ultimate goal of development may be contentious and perspectives on this assertion may differ. But why do we strive to increase access to potable water, education, health, adequate shelter, sanitation and wealth if not to enhance the abilities of individuals to have decent standards of living; to give them the capacity to sustain their lives and limit their vulnerability to decay. The issue is certainly obvious. 

The goal and destination of development processes is known but the question is eminently why developing economies are not there. Arguments of capacity have been discussed in Ghana over 56 years of her independence until now. Investments have been made to ensure the achievement of development priorities. Nonetheless for each strive that is made their impact seems illusive and probably benefits accrue only to a select few of society; political regimes and their networks. The “masses” seem to be relegated to the background. 

Such is the situation of the current state of urban development in Ghana. Despite huge investments and attentions; or so it seems; towards development processes, impoverishment wanes little and smacks boldly on every aspects of urban life. Little change has been achieved and more questions emerge. An attempt to understand these dynamics and complexities cannot be made outside the realms of urban politics. For when a system of political and democratic dispensation of decision making fails to respond adequately to development needs, answers must be sort first from the failure of that purported to be the panacea of development. In this case we must begin by redefining the question related to politics. 

Political and development theory set forth the beginning of this inquiry. In this paper, I move away from the fundamental theoretical purview of classical analysis to a more “liberal” argumentation(1). The paper makes allusion to a rights-based approach yet limit the conceptualization and articulation to the fundamental issue of “right to life” as a criterion to understanding and critiquing the politics of urban development in Ghana. The paper also makes allusion to tenets ingrained in social justice; fairness, distribution, morality, humanity, equality, and legitimacy; as evaluation criteria in my arguments. All these argumentations are to help espouse the political dilemmas that are working against the fulfillment of the “ultimate goal of urban development” which is the fulfillment of the “right to life” of citizens in urban communities. 

The idea and approach to development continue to evolve. Concepts of economic growth, basic needs, rights and humanity have underpinned the various thinking; all informed by the simple idea of the survival of human existence. One significant implication that readily becomes evident is that, in each case, these attempts aim to justify development as a prerequisite for existence mostly directly directed at politicians who make the final decisions on what interventions must be undertaken. Take for instance the Cocoyoc Declaration in 1975 which was based on basic needs(2). Today the concept still has relevance and relates to the current thinking of human and multi-dimensional development; the continual semantics surrounding the whole idea and approach to development. Apparently, these variations in development semantics are underpinned by the “philosophy, purpose, context and time” of scholars and practitioners. Over sixty years of development discussions, development ideology has evolved from growth-based ideologies, basic needs, structural adjustments, human wellbeing and currently multi-dimensional development (Cobbinah et al., 2011).

Embedded in these ideologies is the need to help humanity satisfy their basic survival needs and ameliorate or eradicate the incidence and prevalence of impoverishment. The understanding has been to enhance access to opportunities and services that ensures the development of capabilities for human survival. Indeed, that is the whole idea of the social justice theory or justice as a critical factor in development processes. John Rawls conception of justice of fairness depicts such paradigm. According to Rawls (2006: 186):

"First, each person participating in a practice, or affected by it, has an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with a like liberty for all; and second, inequalities are arbitrary unless it is reasonable to expect that they will work out for everyone's advantage, and provided the positions and offices to which they attach, or from which they may be gained, are open to all."

A similar strong relationship can be drawn between justice and the basic needs of individuals (Taylor, 2003). In this argument, justice is seen as the ability of a system to effectively distribute the gains of society and to ensure that basic needs that need to be satisfied become a paramount awareness that scholars and practitioners draw. In effect, inequalities in terms of access to wealth and social opportunities that renders urban dwellers incapable of satisfying their basic needs have gained dramatic attentions. For instance ensuring the quality of education for children is a social justice issue as it enables the development of capabilities to support their survival; right to life; in the future (Tikly and Barrett, 2010). In the same vein, development interventions that limits people’s social economic potential and increases their impoverishment is seen as a divergence from the tenants of social justice (Cernea, 1998). 

The “right to life” argument stems from the constellation that every individual has a basket of alienable rights. Currently everyone identifies that each individual is entitled to a list of human rights for which the deprivation of these rights is a travesty against humanity. These are enshrined mostly in national constitutions and recognized by international development agencies. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, 2010: 10) intimates that “human rights are the minimum standards that people require to live in freedom and dignity.”… Based on the principles of “universality, indivisibility, interdependence, equality and non-discrimination,” it offers a great conceptualization and integration of justice into the process of development. It is therefore immoral, inhumane, and illegal to infringe on the rights of individuals. Every human being according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has the 

"right to life, liberty and security of person; the right to equality before the law; the right to an adequate standard of living including food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services; the right to free primary education; the right to work and equal pay; the right to freedom of movement, residency and nationality; to freedom of thought, conscience, belief, religion and the right to hold and express opinions without interference" (Gareth, 2010: 10). 

This understanding transcends all development ideologies and understandings and at the same time places a moral and legal obligation on every political system of decision making to ensure that these human entitlements are fulfilled. Unfortunately, ineffectiveness, inefficiency and ignorance in one way or the other have provided excuses for political systems to turn a bold blind eye on these demands. 

As a result of the rights-based approach, an effort that does not lead to the fulfillment of these rights renders the endeavor a travesty of development and an illegality. Regrettably, the processes to seek redress are fraught with political ambiguity and frustrations which is semblance of the political structures that should ensure the fulfillment of these entitlements. The rights-based approach presents a continuum that this paper utilizes. The continuum of what the approach describe as “right-holders” and “duty-bearers” and between these two actors are systems, processes and other actors that offer support and services to help ensure that these rights are fulfilled. In this paper, much emphasis is placed on these two actors.

In the subsequent discussions, the paper explores the roles and obligations that characterizes right-holders and duty-bearers in the urban realm of Ghana and how the state of urban development is not merely as a result of inadequate capacity of duty-bearers but also an issue of abuse of social justice principles primarily of the blatant disregard for human rights, morality and humanity. The paper is of the fundamental view that as urban development practices begin to appreciate the processes that define their position as duty-bearers and become subject to constitutional consequences as a result of the disregard for human rights, urban political systems and development practices will go through a significant transformation that respond to the needs and rights of urban dwellers thereby reducing impoverishment and promoting development.

Ghana gained political independence in 1957. However, political instability rendered the process of development challenging and inconsistent for over 20 years (Hilderbrand and Grindle, 1994; Konadu-Agyemang, 2001). In 1992, constitutional rule was reinstated and until now democratic governance has shaped the processes of development in Ghana and offered a consistent effort towards human development and the eradication of poverty (Asiedu, 2006). Despite the immense gains that have been achieved in the past 20 years, access to basic services such as water and sanitation, good quality education, shelter, transportation and health continue to remain a critical urban challenge. While Ghana may have reduced the proportion of the population living in poverty from 50 per cent in 1990 to 28.5 per cent by 2006 and is believed to be one of Sub Saharan Countries to achieve the first of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, the challenge of poverty exists especially measured in terms of access to social services (Ghana Statistical Service, 2008). It is no wonder that the achievement of other MDGs targets remains a challenge. 

Since 1992 several efforts have been initiated to consolidate grass-root participation and development through decentralized local governance which started in 1988. The goals of Ghana’s decentralization encompass participatory democracy, increased local resource mobilization, balanced development and better coordination of development initiatives (Ahwoi, 2010). The argument for decentralized governance has been premised on institutional effectiveness and responsive development yet several institutional assessments and reforms continue to identify that weak institutional capacities are the bane behind poor development achievements. Aryee (2001) espouses that the civil service and departments are not able to adequately implement development policies and programs of governments and also unable to ensure efficient management of public resource. 

The aim of the decentralization process is clearly articulated in Chapter twenty of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana which articulates the transfer of development functions and responsibilities from central government agencies to local government authorities (Government of Ghana, 1992). Transparency, participation, accountability, grass-root development, planning and coordination are explicated as key tenets that must define the process of decentralization. The Local Government Act, Act 462, 1993 was enacted together with the National Planning Systems Act, Act 480, 1994 and National Development Planning Commissions Act, Act 479, 1994 to consolidate and facilitate the implementation of decentralized governance in Ghana (Aryee, 1996). As a result three levels of planning emerged in Ghana: local, regional and national level planning with action planning and implementation taking place at the local and national levels, and regional level planning limited only to coordinating and supervisory functions. 

Urban planning which was under the realm of the Town and Country Department subsequently became a department under the structures of governance in the new decentralization processes. As a result, priorities on urban development became relegated to the background with policy planning and implementation of projects and programs related to social development dominating the processes of urban development. This facilitated low emphasis on land use planning, spatial planning and growth management. The dominance of rural related issues as majority of Ghanaians lived in rural areas and absence of a comprehensive urban policy undermined successful urban development efforts. Despite these observations, it is also important to intimate that little have been achieved in the direction of social development(3). 

The Local Government Act, Act 462, 1993 identifies District Assemblies, which emerged after the decentralization initiative, as the highest political and administrative authorities, planning authorities, development authorities, budgeting authorities, and rating authorities (Olowu et al., 2004). It is this observation that places them as duty-bearers of development in urban areas. They are thus responsible for all actions but those that impoverish the livelihoods of urban dwellers. However, the political system that defines their activities raises questions beyond capacities. This is not to suggest that capacity issues are not relevant in the political discourse of the urban development functions of these assemblies. The questions as to why urban development continues to be a huge challenge with a claim to no definite process that shows prospects for change and development is the underpinning concern.

The 2010 population census puts the proportion of the total population in urban areas in Ghana at 50.9 per cent. For the first time in Ghana’s history there are more people in urban areas than in rural areas. Though estimates in 2009 documented this trend, the 2010 population census provided an impetus for direct policy response. According to the Ghana Statistical Service (2005) 2000 census report, the Greater Accra Region alone had an urban population of 87.7 per cent compared to its rural population and far beyond the national trend and an urban growth rate of 4.8 percent. Urbanization at the beginning of the twentieth century has always been a major development challenge especially with high national population growth rates (2.7%) and urban growth rates (4.2%). The rate of urbanization has been on the rise and the implications have been strong for the development of urban areas as poverty from the rural areas were obviously migrating to urban areas while at the same time the urban areas were not improving economically and socially to support these urbanization trends. The present situation is no different. 

Access to water, sanitation and adequate shelter has reached its deplorable peak in this decade with traffic and energy situation of households and firms dwindling as a result of national challenges. In the mist of all these negativities are the emerging paradigms of political rhetoric and showmanship that tend to oil the political wheels of promises rather than actual development interventions. The actions of duty-bearers have become more reactionary rather than preventive and strategic making achievements of development goals illusive or inconsequential. It is within the context of the mandates of these duty-bearers that the paper advocates a critique of the politics of urban development in Ghana and how these are delimiting the fulfillment of the fundamental human right of the “right to life” of urban dwellers. 

Partisanship Representations: Eroding Development Priorities
Based on the decentralization process, the president appoints chief executives who represent the seat of government at the local level. The chief executive after appointment is voted on by elected representatives and appointed members together known as assembly members. This Electoral College is made up of District Assembly members who are elected on non-partisan lines and constitutes two-thirds of the voting college(4). The rest are government appointees. Nonetheless, political interests have crippled the process making it polarized and predicated of the national political economy. As the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (2009) argues the intent that established the decentralization processes in Ghana and the appointment of local public officials to ensure downward accountability have been replaced by fanatic partisan politics. As a result there have been a skewed upward accountability rather than a downward accountability to the people who are the beneficiaries of development. Duty-bearer to duty-bearer accountability has resulted rather than the downward linkages and connection. This is contrary to the accountability principles which must develop between duty-bearers and right-holders as enshrined in the tenets of decentralization processes in Ghana; grass-root participation, accountability and transparency. As such “the degree of responsiveness to the poor and the extent to which there is any impact on poverty are determined primarily by the politics of local–central relations and the general regime context—particularly the commitment of the central political authorities to poverty reduction” (Crook, 2003: 77).

Thus development responds to partisan manifestos rather than the development plans that are prepared in conjunction with communities and actors in the various districts, municipalities and metropolitan areas. Advocates subsequently argue that by moving away from this system development will be people centered rather the political party centered (United States Agency for International Development, 2012). The current system does not give equal opportunities to every area in the society within the context of Rawls exposition on fairness. First, equal liberties are not granted as priority is given to partisan interests rather than all right-holders and secondly that the office and positions are skewed towards individuals ascribed to be for the party’s interests. What happens is that those actually in need of development tend to be ignored on the basis that they are not inclined to a political party in power. 

A youth empowerment program dubbed the National Youth Employment Program (NYEP), now Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA), was initiated in Ghana in 2006. This was aimed to offer employment to the Ghanaian youth; offer requisite working experience to post- national Service personnel; and provide Ghanaian youth with employable skills (Government of Ghana, 2006). Unfortunately, recruitment for GYEEDA has been perceived on partisanship and now a program introduced in the country to support vocational and technical training of the youth has consequently become rewards for party advocates. What became glaringly obvious is the termination of contracts of beneficiaries because they were deemed members of a different political party even to the extent that the uniforms for beneficiaries were changed to remove any connection to an old regime. Additionally, the recent revelation in the media and the subsequent review of the program by the Ministerial Impact Assessment and Review Committee shows how partisan politics has undermined the program objectives. The locking of National Health Insurance Scheme offices and the seizure of some commercial transport stations and toilet facilities by party advocates depicts such controversies surrounding, first the distribution of opportunities and second, the equal opportunities that needs to be conferred to each and every right-holder(5). These are examples of circumstances and events that characterize the urban political economy of Ghana and many developing economies. 

Unfortunately, the argument is dismissed because each regime sees it as an opportunity to sustain their rein and a move away will undermine their parochial and partisan interest. Such is the case of electing the chief executives through a popular vote and not through representatives and government appointees. Hoffman and Metzroth (2010) explains that the fear of the lack of control of certain political strong holds have resulted in the perpetual reluctance for chief executives to be elected through a popular vote. As such the right-holder will continue to wallow in the development process without a definite hold on the accountability processes. For this reason the challenge will continue to remain and the distribution of socio-economic opportunities will continue to be drawn along party lines instead of strategic efforts towards satisfying the “right to life.” This thus undermines people’s right to factors that will sustain their lives as every now and then development interventions become ad hoc and only benefits a select few. 

How does the “right to life” or the right-based approach come into these discussions? Is there an issue of justice that we must be overly concerned of? Am I just making unnecessary assertion over the obvious? I bet to differ. The right-based approach requires that every person, no matter the political inclination, be treated as an individual with a “right to life.” It builds on the humanity of duty-bearers to respond to the needs of individuals without discrimination. In this case, when you are walking by and someone is drowning, the first motivation is to save a life not because of obligation but the sheer fact that it is first a life that is being saved and secondly one will be upholding the constitutional tenets of the individual; the obligation aspect. Blending the two aspects of humanity and obligation provides a strong basis to appeal to the consciences of duty-bearers and at the same time offers a legal avenue to fight to save urban lives. It builds on the fact that through the constitution of countries and the issue of the “right to life,” right-holders can demand services as a matter of right and not privileges and still hold duty-bearers accountable through the judiciary without necessarily through elections. It sounds audacious for developing economies where there are challenges with the judicial process yet when individuals and public official are held legally accountable for the negativity of societies on the basis of not performing their functions, a trend of a sense of humanity, morality and obligation will be adduced. 

A case in point is the law on wilfully causing financial loss to the state in Ghana which is premised on dereliction and corruption (6). In the same vein, when city authorities do not ensure access to water and sanitation, health services, shelter, economic opportunities then the right-holder can have a legal mandate to demand for accountability and not necessarily wait for an election to demand accountability; as this is a condition of causing livelihood loss to individuals and society. It will also allow for horizontal accountability where right-holders can also demand that other right-holders conform to rules and regulation which can offer an avenue to ensure that right-holders are responsible even when the various duty-bearers are not seen to be performing their legally enshrined responsibilities and functions. 

In addition, as “right to life” becomes the criterion for examining urban development processes then the issue of development plan implementation will replace interventions that rest on party manifestos. Because development plans represent a consensus for urban development, anything contrary to this becomes a bridge of the legal mandate citizens have agreed upon to support the drive to sustaining their “right to life.” Anything contrary to this can then be deemed as a threat to the lives and thus demand justice from the legal apparatus of Ghana. 

But this is by no means an easy endeavor. The challenge will remain as to whether the citizens of urban areas can influence such obligations. Despite these interests and challenges it will remain to be seen if right-holders can demand this accountability. There are indeed prospects in the urban setting. Civil society groups continue to press on city authorities by appealing to them as a matter of deliberative processes. This must be the beginning of efforts but when failure becomes incessant then as a matter of right these authorities must be seen as a threat to life and thus the necessary legal processes initiated to demand the necessary factors to sustain the “right to life.” As literacy continue to increase in urban areas, awareness of citizens as right-holders and their legal mandates to accountability beyond the electoral process can help to demand equitable if not equal socio-economic opportunities.

Development Effectiveness 
So at this point, I am attempting to preempt within the current political dispensation what would happen if one political opponent finds the rival drowning. Will, out of humanity or obligation, the other move to save the drowning opponent or allow him/her to drown? Peter Singer (1972) metaphor of the drowning child demands an obligation-oriented action while Brain Barry (1982) arguments of humanity imply that the drowning political opponent must be saved. Unfortunately, this is not what is seen when it comes to how development is adduced in developing economies. Development is seen as rewards for political participation and support in the power struggle. Thus, if the passer-by sees no reward in saving the drowning person, would the person dive into the water to save the opponent? 

In the context of developing economies, communities who voted a particular regime into power stand the chance of benefiting from development rather than communities that do not. Such cases will result in the opponent drowning for the absence will mean less competition. The irony is that in the constitution of developing economies there is a clear assertion of equality before the law. However, this is where the whole misconception begins, as this is limited to only criminal processes in practice. If it is enshrined that everyone is entitled to life, any action that degenerates this is an illegality. For instance in Ghana, “malaria still accounts for a large proportion of morbidity and mortality in Ghana” (National Development Planning Commission, 2012: 164). The factors of poor sanitation are clearly identified as a cause. To the extent that city authorities do not ensure that adequate sanitation are properly enforced and provided which leads to diseases that cause their death; deprivation of the “right to life”; they are guilty of depriving the lives of those they bear the duty of being duty-bearers. Similarly, right-holders; city dwellers; who perpetuates these acts must be seen as threats to human lives.

Urban areas in Ghana are increasingly being characterized by slums and poor accessibility to social services (United Nations Water Decade Program on Advocacy and Communication, 2010). The emerging urban ambience presents the greatest challenge to satisfying the “right to life.” Education performance is still declining, access to water has improved marginally and shelter worsening each day (National Development Planning Commission, 2012). The supply of energy and cost has been worsening and the brunt of this is on low-income households in urban areas. Circulation that can enhance accessibility is worsening dramatically. In all cases, living in urban areas despite the economic opportunities it may offer have increasingly become a daily struggle of survival needs. The urban dilemma continues to worsen and with increasing urbanization, informality, and politics the challenge becomes even more daunting. Answers to these challenges have mostly centered on capacity however recent and current urban dispensation reflects issues beyond a matter of capacity. The sheer absence of political will have ingrained urban areas and developing economies in perpetual backwardness (Humpherys and Bates, 2002). As this paper has continuously argued, the matter rests with the re-interpretation of the politics of urban development in developing economies. This must begin by placing urban development justice as the evaluation criteria expressed as the “right to life.” 

Again, this may sound highly contentious but it is not when someone takes up a gun to shoot or stub someone to death that the matter of deprivation of the “right to life” comes to fore. As a requirement by law in Ghana, regulations are put in place to be enforced by assemblies yet enforcement is virtually absent and compliance illusive. Where they exist, city authorities condone and connive with residents to navigate around these laws. A case in point is the Melcom building disaster where 14 lives were lost as a result of the negligence of city authorities to ensure that building standards are adhered to (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2012). 

UN-Water Decade Program on Advocacy and Communication (2010) estimates that in Accra, the national capital, the urban poor pay 12 times more for a litter of water than the rich. The supply of water is erratic and the private vendors are utilizing the inefficiencies in water supply to exploit urban dwellers. Many households are not connected to piped water systems while those connected are faced with the poor quality and unreliability of water supply services. These are similar circumstances that surround the functions of urban authorities in developing economies. 

Similarly, in most urban areas of Ghana typically in Accra the national capital, slums continue to be the greatest challenge of city planners. This is partly the challenge of informality which is rendering chaos in urban areas in the city. Unfortunately when these informal settlements as well as informal economic activities are treated as an illegality, the political systems are spared the charge of dereliction.  In actual sense, informal settlements and economic activities are the effect of an urban political system that has failed to perform the responsibility of urban space management. Thus they are rather an effect other than the cause of the urban problem. Every human being behaves in a way to respond to the principle of least effort (Zipf, 1949). Given a certain level of freedom without conscious regulation there will be potential negative consequences. The challenges of urban development in developing economies are primarily rested on the fact that agencies fail to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. They have failed to realize that the constitution mandates them as duty-bearers to fulfill the rights of individuals who hold the right to have access to water, education, adequate shelter, health and economic opportunities which ultimately influence their “right to life.” 

Such recognition of the “right to life” will reduce corruption and touch on the human side of these assemblies to transcend pettiness to adequately respond to development needs in the most innovative and yet cost efficient way. It is not the flamboyance that makes development but the ability to ensure that urban dwellers satisfy their basic needs. This is what is needed to make a difference in the lives of these urban dwellers. Ironically, this is not the case of assemblies. Market tolls are collected yet market centers continue to remain filthy and thus the dilemma of breach of contract becomes a precursor to the fulfillment of responsibilities required of right-holders. The issue of justice as requital becomes a dilemma in the urban political economy(7).

Another issue is urban displacement. In Ghana, urban decongestion exercises are rampant. These are efforts by metropolitan authorities to remove informal economic activities in the city in the name of decongesting the central business district of illegal activities. The activities of these informal workers mostly hawkers are not legal. The issue is rather a matter of legal occupancy of space and use of space. Typically, zoning within the formal planning process have failed to adequately mainstream the informal economy in urban development processes while at the same time city authorities see informal economic activities in cities as a nuisance and therefore requiring their removal (Owusu, 2011). Unfortunately the struggle to survive by hawkers and other informal sectors are treated as an illegality while in actual essence the challenge have emerged as a result of the need to find a place to engage in economic activities. 

Studies show that hawking which is one of the targets of decongestion exercise is mostly the last venture of resort by those engaged in them. Hawkers themselves have identified that alternative places and economic opportunities will help ameliorate this situation (Asiedu and Agyei-Mensah, 2008). This presupposes that right-holders are indeed looking for opportunities that will alleviate their struggle yet duty-bearers are not offering any better alternative than treating them as an illegality. 

The perennial flooding of the national capital and major cities of Ghana provides more evidences in this direction. Derelictions in managing urban space and the regulation of human activity have rendered cities susceptible to a yearly flooding affair. Buildings are allowed in water ways while the coordination of actions to influence the sale of land to conform to city plans and frameworks have remained unresponsive. As a result there is a huge disconnect between land owners and the regulators of land use in cities. Buildings spring up without the knowledge of city authorities and when there is flooding, city authorities respond by identifying scapegoats to demonstrate their intent of responsiveness (Karley, 2009). Unfortunately, this dies out immediately the season changes. This is mostly a matter of humanity. If city authorities indeed deem that life really matter, there would be a strategic effort aim at managing the flooding situation. However, the politics and ad hoc interventionism seem to pre-occupy their partisan and parochial interest. The result is that urban development challenges continue to smack boldly in the faces of right-holders and duty bearers.

The politics of urban development is pervasive. The issues are intricate and constantly evolving. However, duty-bearers and right-holders will always be present in the urban development discourse. Decisions will constantly be made. Without justice and the need to ensure the “right to life” as the underpinning criterion for urban interventionism, urban development will remain a desire despite improvement in capacity. Improving capacity without re-orienting the political dispensation will result in improving the ability of political regimes to respond comprehensively to their party and parochial interest rather than the bigger urban realm. 

As the paper has argued from the on-set, duty-bearers need to realize the morality and humanity that defines their office as well as the legal obligation that the constitution places on them. Negligence in the fulfillment of the “right to life” is an illegality and affront to the whole idea of development which is not to facilitate directly or indirectly factors of impoverishment. The current dispensation of dereliction on the part of duty-bearers and right-holders believing that access to development is simply a privilege to be accessed as a result of association with political regimes rather than a demand for the fulfillment of their fundamental human rights, which are enshrined in national constitutions, should be dismissed. The struggle should be to make the constitutional tenets conspicuous in the urban development planning process so as to ensure that the “right to life”; the ultimate goal of development; is attained.

(1) In classical analysis and argumentations, explanatory concepts and causative conditions are tested and advocated because of their complexities. This is predominantly adopted in philosophical arguments. (See Earl, 2005). The choice for a ‘liberal analysis’ approach allows for flexibility in discussions. Liberal analysis provides this framework as it looks instead to dynamic preferences from different political or ideological standpoints as well as moving beyond the technical and economic conditions that informs decision making process (Moravcsik, 2010).
(2) The Cocoyoc Declaration asserts that: ‘Our first concern is to redefine the whole purpose of development. This should not be to develop things but to develop man. Human beings have basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, health, education. Any process of growth that does not lead to their fulfillment - or, even worse, disrupts them - is a travesty of the idea of development’ (See Ghai, 1977: 6)
(3) Though statistics points progress in terms of poverty reduction, social development continues to remain a critical challenge and priority of development. Aside the overall targets of halving poverty under the MDG 1, all other targets are projected to be unattainable by 2015. Thus targets of universal basic education, reduction in maternal and child mortality, gender empowerment, reducing malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases are projected to be unattainable by 2015.
(4) They vote to approve the appointed Chief executive before the person can perform the duties of the office.
(5) See the Ghana News Agencies (2013), Ghanaian Chronicle (2009) and Freiku (2012) for news reports on these political events.
(6) According to Chapter 4, Section 179A (1)-(3),
         1. ‘Any person who by a willful act or omission causes loss, damage or injury to the property of any public 
             body or any agency of the State commits an offence
         2. Any person who in the course of any transaction or business with a public body or any agency of the 
            State intentionally causes damage or loss whether economic or otherwise to the body or agency 
            commits an offence
         3. Any person through whose wilful, malicious or fraudulent action or omission—
             (a) the State incurs a financial loss; or
             (b) the security of the State is endangered, commits an offence’ (Government of Ghana,
(7) Brian, B. (1982) argues that fairness relates to the issue of contracts and requital and that upholding  
     contracts is a dimension of justice.

Ahwoi K, 2010, Local Government and Decentralization in Ghana (Unimax Macmillan Ltd, Accra)

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This is the narrative for a presentation prepared for a Guest Lecture for “Social Justice and the City”, Professor Beth Walter Honadle, School of Planning, University of Cincinnati.


  1. A brief explanation of the ‘right to life’ as used in the context of this paper would help readers, given that the phrase ‘ right to life’ could be interpreted in several meanings. Readers are tempted to interpret it in simple terms as ‘the right to live’. Also, to say that the ultimate goal of urban development is the fulfilment of ‘the right to life’ is too simplitistic. It can be argued that not all urban development agendas aim at providing basic needs to its inhabitants. Some major cities in urban Africa such as Algiers have gone beyond basic needs and are focused on urban design, to put the city on the world map. As mentioned, explaining ‘the right to life’ in an earlier paragraph would have given it a good context.

    While I do not disagree with your arguments, one can also argue that urban development practices should limit be limited to the provision of enabling environments for development and allow private sector operators to take up the role of providing services; in which case government presence would only be necessary for equity purposes. ‘Right holders’ are supposed to take responsibility for the provision of their basic needs and not sit back as consumers, waiting for manna from ‘duty bearers’.

    Nonetheless, this is good piece. Pls do not limit ur readership, u could consider publishing these thoughts as articles. Urban development issues receive little attention in our media.

    Best of luck

    1. Thank you Will for your comments and strong arguments. Nonetheless, you must appreciate that no matter the strategy that is adopted for urban development or design, there is always a consequential effect with a consequential aim; primary the promotion of welfare. The culminating or end point of the trajectory of such development effects and impacts is what I espouse and argue for; right to life. They culminate into promoting and sustaining life. When we promote the "right to live" also, we are aiming to promote a person's "right to life". This is an implicit factor that development decisions tend to gloss over. Furthermore, I do not put forward a definition because inalienable rights "need" no definition or explanation. They are definitive in orientation. In any way, the conceptual basis is explicit in the United Nations quotation adopted. Most importantly, if life is ambiguous then our fundamental existence is at risk.