Tema is a city and port located in southeastern Ghana along the Gulf of Guinea, approximately 18 miles (29 km) to the east of the capital city, Accra. It is an important industrial and commercial centre in the region, primarily due to its significant port facilities.
The development of the Tema port was initiated in response to the increasing international trade demands of Ghana by the year 1950. The existing open-sea ports, including Takoradi, were inadequate to handle the growing trade volume. As a result, Ghana required a second deepwater harbour that could cater to the eastern part of the country and serve the Volta River basin. Tema was chosen as the location for this new harbour in 1951 for several reasons:
- Proximity to the Volta and Accra Rivers: Tema’s location near the Volta and Accra rivers made it suitable for transportation and access to the inland regions.
- Availability of Construction Materials: Tema had local supplies of construction materials, including those needed for breakwaters, which were essential for building a functional harbour.
- Deep Offshore Waters: The offshore waters near Tema were deep, which reduced the need for extensive dredging during the construction of the harbour.
Tema’s harbour was officially opened in 1962 and has since become the largest man-made harbour in Africa. It encompasses 410 acres (166 hectares) of the sea and includes features like 3 miles (5 km) of breakwaters, 12 deepwater berths, an oil tanker berth, a dockyard, warehouses, and transit sheds. Additionally, there is a separate fishing harbour with facilities for cold storage and marketing, located east of the lee breakwater.
To accommodate the growth and development associated with the new harbour, the Ghanaian government acquired 64 square miles (166 square km) of land north of the harbour, which was then entrusted to the Tema Development Corporation in 1952. This area became known as the “New Town” and was planned as an industrial residential complex. The development led to a significant influx of population in the 1960s due to increased employment opportunities in the area. However, the corporation faced challenges in constructing housing and providing other essential services to meet the needs of this migration.
As a result, a large slum area, consisting of shacks, emerged near Tema, specifically in an area called Ashiaman. Despite efforts by the Tema Municipal Council to undertake building projects and improve living conditions, this slum area persisted and posed ongoing social and infrastructural challenges in the region.