The dilemmas of regional development in Ghana: An ethnographic analysis of the North

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Dr Kwadwo Adusei-Asante

Second Advisor

Dr Ann-Claire Larsen

Third Advisor

Associate Professor Vicki Banham


There is growing evidence of unequal regional development in most countries across the world, with apparent wider regional development disparities, particularly, in developing countries. At the same time, the frontiers of national development discourses are changing, and neoliberal development paradigms are giving way to place-based development approaches to regional development. Despite the implementation of neoliberal and bottom-up development policies and programmes and Ghana’s democracy and pace of development being touted as one of West Africa’s best examples in the last three decades, the three northern regions of the country disproportionately lagged in development.

Scholars have ascribed the dilemmas to various factors including the historical legacies of imperialist development strategies manifested in colonialism, harsh climatic conditions and resource endowment, discriminatory post-independence policies towards the North, and the failure of neoliberal development paradigms to address the needs of lagging regions. These diverse contentions have necessitated the need to explore the North’s development dilemmas anew.

This study thus presents results from an ethnographic study that explores, the perspectives of 61 development stakeholders purposefully selected from the three regions of the North, the factors responsible for the persistent underdevelopment of northern Ghana amidst all the compensatory policies by post-independence regimes. The study investigates the precursors of the North’s underdevelopment including socio-cultural dynamics, development challenges, and policy initiatives and interventions. A four-strand theoretical framework underpins the study – the climate theory of underdevelopment, the imperialist theory of development, neoliberal development theory, and bottom-up development theory.

Overall, the research findings show that the most significant causal factors responsible for northern Ghana’s underdevelopment are endogenous. Though some participants maintained that the historical antecedents of slavery and colonialism, and unfavourable climatic conditions and natural resource endowment underscore the North’s development dilemmas, this thesis shows that there is a general shift in the debate to contemporary variables.

The findings reveal that the North’s underdevelopment is primarily a consequence of the inherent challenges within the national political economy of development. Participants cited the absence of a coherent long-term national development programme, partisanship and corruption, weaknesses in the regional administrative structure, and the lack of responsible leadership at both national and sub-national levels as the crux of the North’s underdevelopment. The imperialist, hegemonic and manipulative role of the neoliberal agencies of globalisation, that is, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organisation, and the general conditional intervention support regime as a whole, were also blamed for the development quagmire of northern Ghana.

Finally, the study exposes the weaknesses in the North’s development infrastructure, including the difficulties in implementing the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority initiative, and the contributions of some NGOs intervening in the development of the North.

The thesis thus contributes to the on-going discourse on place-based/regional development paradigms, achieved through the evaluation of Ghana’s development trajectories and the apparent conflict between exogenously conceived policy initiatives and programmes, and actual development outcomes.

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