Zongo Encounters
"Amid the squalor and sprawl of Ghana's overcrowded cities you will find the Muslim zongos. Where a cruel history meets an uncertain future and where caravans of hope collide with convoys of despair."1)

A zongo is less a physical space, more a construct
Transsaharan traders travelling from the northern Sahel region to Ghanaian citied found places on the outskirts of the cities where they could rest. These places became known as "zongos", the Hausa word for "caravan". From the late 1800's on zongos have developed into permanent multiethnic settlements.


Hausa traders
(photo: The British National Archives, Colonial Office Photographic Collection,

For the British colonial rule these peri-urban communities were convenient out-of-sight territories to contain the northern migrants who were exploited as soldiers or cocoa plantation workers.
Today, the cities in central and southern Ghana are growing rapidly due to rural depopulation in the northern Muslim regions. An increasing number of indigent farmers - the majority of them Hausa speaking Muslims - come to cities to settle down for "greener pastures", i.e. in hope of employment and better living conditions. Originally the zongo areas were on the outskirts of cities, today they have shifted to the centers of Accra and Kumasi.
A worldwide phenomenon hits African cities as well: their centers become objects of gentrification. In Accra, Kumasi and other Ghanaian cities, zongo residents are threatened by forced evictions. Housing rights have become a severe issue. In the zongos throughout Ghana the residents resist with strikes and demonstrations.

The British colonial government made large-scale city planning in Accra, but no adequate
housing alternatives were offered to people who were forcibly evicted. Still today zongo
areas are threatened by gentrification.
Caption: "Gold Coast. Accra. An unsanitary area showing huts and houses crowded together
without roadways or good compounds. Nothing but demolition of the huts & remodling the
whole area tender (?) healthy." (photo: The British National Archives, Colonial Office
Photographic Collection, CO1069-45)

In Ayigya-Zongo homes have been marked with red signs meaning that the buildings
shall be broken down, and the families shall move away. The reason is the high tension
tower which was built amidst the community - without asking the residents and
informing them about the health risks of the electric charging.

A zongo has "its own dynamic and rhythm of life independently from the existing order of Ghana."2) The majority society and the media often stereotypically reject the zongos as slums associated with poverty, unemployment and crime. The self-image of the residents sounds quite different: "'Zongo people' are more or less free people - free, independent, but also deprived of the resources and services of the state. To migrants from different tribes and ethnic groups with uncertain residency permit status a zongo provides acceptance, tolerance, security and freedom of movement ... zongo is a certain locality and has a phenomenological quality, and not a physical place."3)
September 2011
HMJokinen, Charlie Michaels
1) Abdullah Bradford: Life in the Zongo, Q-News, The Muslim Magazine, Isue 367, July 2006 (08/25/2011)
2) Bakyt Muratbayeva: Zongo and the community of work and life in Accra, Ghana, University of Bielefeld, Faculty of Sociology, Research Report "Modes of Mobility in Africa", p.15 (08/25/2011)
3) Bakyt Muratbayeva, i.c.

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