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How Past Pandemics Should Inform Urban Planning in Africa

Throughout much of the African continent, colonial officials exploited outbreaks of disease to implement racial segregation and create economic systems that intentionally marginalised Africans. Ghanaian historians are each currently writing about a different major city, these are Kumasi, Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi. In their research efforts – and in those of many other scholars – they’ve repeatedly seen how medical experts and modernist urban planners exploited outbreaks of disease. Take the example of Accra, the Ghanaian capital city. It became the capital of the country then called Gold Coast in 1877. After 1877, British officials sought to decongest the city centre so that they could better control populations and create space for their own administrative and economic activities. Similar patterns unfolded in the second city of Kumasi, a regional trade hub. In 1924, residents experienced their first plague. Shortly thereafter, they experienced drastic spatial changes in the name of sanitation and urban order. In the port town of Sekondi-Takoradi, now a joint city, outbreaks of disease – real and imagined – were frequent flashpoints for the flexing of urban planning and public health muscle.