Tag Archives: Ghana

Traditional building methods in Southern Ghana

Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

From the Nzima pile dwellings of Nzulezo in the far West of Ghana near the border with Ivory Coast, to the Ewe villages in the hills of the Volta Region, indigenous people use building methods and architecture which evolved from their environment, receiving their form through the geology, topography and climate of the area, and influenced by the social and historical development of the region. Throughout the rural areas and the fishing communities along the coast, these traditional construction methods are still employed.

Left: houses at Nzulezo
Right: Atakpame house in Ghana

There are three typical types of wall construction in this area, the wattle and daub wall, the Atakpame wall, and the wall from sundried bricks.

The desired shape of the building is marked out with the help of pegs and strings. Holes are dug into the ground at regular intervals along the outline of the building. Vertical posts which are to carry the roof structure are inserted into the holes and stabilized with stones rammed around the base. The framing process is executed with the laying of the floor slab. The horizontal and vertical members of the framework are tied in before the mud is applied. When the framework is completed the roof is built. After the roof, wet molded mud balls are pressed and worked into the framework of the walls to a thickness of 150 to 200mm. Generally, the walls are only smoothened, but in some cases they are rendered with a soft mud and sand mixture. The framing method of construction allows the builder to complete the walls when he has the necessary help in a few days, since he need not wait for each course to set and dry before he lays the next one as in the Atapkame process. The walls also require no cover during rain, as the roof is already completed.

Wattle and daub houses

The origin of this building process can be traced to the town Atakpame in Togo. Although building with molded wet mud balls is common in the northern part of Ghana, the “Atakpame” method refers to a rectangular wall laid out by the builder with pegs and a string. A pit is dug near the building place, the mud mixed with water, kneaded with bare feet, and then molded into balls of about 200mm diameter. Courses of up to 600mm in height are laid, each course covered with palm leaves and allowed to set and dry out gradually before the next course is added. Wet mud cannot bear its own weight and would slump otherwise. Each course is properly leveled out on the top. Openings for windows and doors are noted and left during construction. The wall thickness is generally about 300mm. After five courses a wall height (excluding the foundation) of approximately 2.50m has been reached. When the last course is still wet, holes are made into it every 600mm at the top through which ropes are drawn for fixing the wall plate of the roof framework. Another way of supporting the roof is by driving short forked sticks into the top of the wall over which the framework is laid and tied. Lintels over doors and window openings are pieces of the Fan Palm. The walls are generally not rendered and the pronounced horizontal lines of the courses are clearly visible. Quite often, a plaster mix of mud and bitumen is also used for rendering.

Mud is dug up From a borrow-pit close to the building, mixed with water, and kneaded. The mixture is then pressed into wooden casts. The size of a brick is approximately 200 x 90mm. A drying shed is erected with timber posts, beams and a thatched roof. Under this the bricks are left to dry slowly. This may last, depending on the weather, up to two weeks. The bricks are laid with mud-sand mortar, or a weak cement-sand mortar where cement is available.

Images courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zug55/1903220848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Susu – a culture of saving in Ghana

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Susu collector and customer in Ghana (Courtesy Barclay Media Center)

In Ghana, “susu” refers to the process of putting money by. Like many emerging economies, Ghana has a less developed financial market and an exclusive credit industry; “susu” is one of the few processes available to the informal population for insuring themselves in emergencies. The “susu” is done either by an individual who puts money away in a secret place in his/her room, or in a group setting where a trusted group member becomes responsible for keeping the group’s savings, or a susu collector is assigned to do the collection and keeping of the “susu” proceeds.

The “susu” idea is so pervasive that one is unlikely to encounter an informal sector family in Ghana without the habit of putting money by in one form or another. This habit though, is more popular with women – mothers in particular. Parents inculcate the “susu” habit into their children by providing them with “susu boxes” at an early age. Children as young as 7 years old are encouraged to fill their “susu” boxes to cater for their Christmas and birthday supplies. I remember that, as a young boy growing up, I had a “susu” box in which I deposited my change and gifts I received from adults.

The “susu” habit develops other desirable personality traits in children and adults. It entails a lot of self discipline and commitment to set aside, either daily or weekly, portions of one’s meager earnings for the unforeseen. “Susu” also requires one to be prudent with his/her income to be able to sustain a savings habit. For individuals who keep their “susu” proceeds themselves, in their homes, the ability to restrain themselves and delay gratification is also important to main the account for the duration of the determined time or period.

“Susu” does not only provide economic means in emergencies, but also helps socially to develop a very disciplined group of people.

We would be excited to hear about other informal forms of savings from around the world.

Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 1

– in need of reform, or simply a more nuanced understanding?

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Affordable housing is an emerging priority in Africa. In particular, Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing fundamental and profound changes in demographics as the 21st century moves towards its second decade. In 1983, just 21% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population of 400 million was urban, by 2003, 36% of its 700 million people lived in cities and towns. From 1990-2003 urban growth rates increased by 4.6% per annum, almost twice as much as overall population growth rates, (Stephen Giddings, 2007). At this rate of urbanization, urban managers in Africa have huge problems to grapple with; one of the most pressing being the provision of adequate affordable housing. Most analyses conclude that the development of adequate affordable houses at scale in Sub-Saharan Arica is hindered in three main categories: policy and regulatory, physical and technological and housing finance.

In my experience, the absence of clean and clear title impedes the assembling of large tracks of land at the scale require for massive housing developments. Land Tenure in most sub-Saharan Africa is Customary.  Customary land is land which is owned by Indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs and traditions. For example, in Ghana traditional land-owning authorities (stool chiefs, clan heads and skins) hold allodial (absolute ownership) title to land on behalf of their people. Thus outright ownership of land is still a rare form of land tenure in Ghana (Asumadu, Kwame Dr. May 2003).

Land in Kenya is slightly more complex, and is owned by four different kinds of groups: the government, county councils, individuals and groups (Kameri-Mbote, Patricia Dr. 2005).

In Southern Africa, the two principal forms of land tenure systems are customary and statutory tenure (ECA/SA/EGM. Land/2003/2). None of these forms of tenure allows clean and clear title for ownership.

Question for thought: Is the ‘clean and clear title’ and freehold as understood in the global North truly a prerequisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem? And what are the ways in which more complex forms of tenure can be developed and financed?

Continued in Part 2 next week

Evans Essienyi is a building technologist and real estate developer experienced in structuring low income housing projects, designing affordable houses, financing options and project development in developing countries, especially Ghana. In the USA, he was elected a Legatum Fellow at MIT, dedicated to creating innovative, sustainable, for-profit enterprises that promote prosperity in low-income countries.