Urban Society

Ghana Table of Contents

In 1960, 23.1 percent of the population of Ghana resided in urban centers. The figure rose to 28 percent in 1970, 32 percent according to the 1984 census report, and an estimated 33 percent in 1994. The census figures show that while a majority of Ghanaians still live in rural areas, larger towns and cities continue to attract more immigrants than small ones. There is a high correlation between both the economic well-being of the individual and his or her educational level, and the tendency to migrate. A large number of immigrants come from areas immediately adjacent to urban areas. Urban populations are therefore multiethnic in character. Even in this multiethnic urban environment, however, ethnic associations play important social roles--from the initial reception of new immigrants to the burial of urban residents.

Formed by people from the same village, district, region, or ethnic background, ethnic associations in urban centers function like extended families in which membership entails obligations and benefits. Apart from the obvious assistance that such associations may render--such as introducing new immigrants to the urban environment, organizing credit unions, or helping with weddings and funeral activities--associations may also contribute to the development of their home areas. For example, urban residents from towns and villages in the Kwahu Plateau area are known throughout Ghana for their mutual aid societies. Through their fund-raising activities, Kwahu associations have contributed to school building construction, rural electrification, and general beautification projects in their villages.

In urban centers, the degree of traditionalism or modernism demonstrated by an individual is determined to a large extent by the length of residency in an urban setting; by the level of education and, therefore, the degree of Westernization; by living habits; by the nature of work; and, in some measure, by religious affiliation. For analytic purposes, one scholar has divided Ghanaian urban residents, especially those in the upper ranks of urban society, into groups according to occupation. Within these groups are individuals who, on the basis of their education, professional standing, and participation in the urban milieu, are accorded high status. They include professionals in economics, politics, education, administration, medicine, law, and similar occupations who constitute the elite of their respective groupings.

Taken as a whole, however, such elites do not compose an upper class. The individuals who constitute the elites come from different social and ethnic backgrounds and base their power and social status on different cultural values. Most of them continue to participate in some aspects of traditional society and socialize with members of their own or other lineage groups. Most important, they do not regard themselves as an elite group.

The working class constitutes the rank and file of the various trade union groups. The majority of them have completed the Middle School Leaving Certificate Examination. Some have secondary and technical educations. Unions have been politically active in the country since the 1960s. During the 1970s, members of the Trade Union Congress, the umbrella organization of workers, and the nation's university students joined together to call for political changes. In the 1980s, however, long-standing good relations with student organizations suffered when certain trade union groups attacked demonstrating university students. The primary function of the Trade Union Congress as a mutual aid group is to conduct negotiations with the government in an effort to improve the conditions and the wages of workers. Apart from such joint actions within the unions, the lives of working people in urban centers, like those of their elite counterparts, revolve around friends, family, and other mutual-aid networks.

Family life in more affluent urban areas approximates Western behavior in varying degrees. Decisions in the urban family are increasingly made by both parents, not just one. As children spend increasing amounts of time away from home, more of their values come from their peers and from adults who are not members of their lineage. Social activities organized by schools have become more important in the life of urban children and have reduced sibling interaction. As a result, a greater amount of socialization is taking place outside the kin group and immediate family. This contrasts with rural society in which family and lineage remain the most significant institutions.

As a result of weakening lineage ties in urban centers and of population movements that separate more and more individuals from kinsmen upon whom they would ordinarily depend for assistance, companionship, and entertainment, many urban residents have turned to voluntary-membership clubs and to organizations composed of people with shared interests rather than inherited links. Popular examples of such clubs are the Ghana Red Cross Society, the Accra Turf Club, and the Kristo Asafo (Christian) Women's Club. Other organizations such as the Ghana Bar Association, the Registered Nurses Association, the Ghana Medical Association, and the Ghana National Association of Teachers address professional concerns.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress