The Western Region comprises five major indigenous ethnic groups. Oral tradition has it that early ancestors of these people migrated from the source of the River Nile in search of fertile land and also to escape from political and social conflict. These groupings exhibit a high degree of cultural homogeneity, especially in the areas of lineage, inheritance and succession, marriage and religion.
The location occupied by the five major ethnic groups in the region cannot be clearly and unambiguously defined, as their boundaries overlap. The Ahantas, who form about 6 percent, and the Nzemas (including the Evalues) 11 per cent of Ghanaians by birth in the region, occupy the entire coastline from Shama on the east to the western border of Ghana.
Both the Ahanta and Nzema celebrate the ‘Kundum’ festival in remembrance of their ancestors. Since after, and on the basis of the results of the 2000 Census, new districts have been created. These are Bia, with its capital at Essam-Debiso and Amenfi East with its capital at Wassa Akropong.
The Wassa people, who form about 12 per cent of Ghanaians by birth in the region, can be found further inland off the coast into the interior. Their annual ‘Eddie’ festival is celebrated to coincide with the harvest period of farm produce.
The Sefwis who represent about 11 per cent and Aowins who constitute about 3 per cent of Ghanaians by birth in the region are in the northern part of the region and share a boundary with the Brong Ahafo Region. Both groups celebrate the annual Alluolie (Yam) festival.5 The languages/dialects of the Sefwis and Aowins are very similar to each other, and to the Ahanta and Nzema languages. The four groups can converse with each other in their own peculiar dialects or languages and still understand each other.
There are other indigenous minorities such as the Pepesa. The Wassa are divided into various sub-ethnic groups, namely the Wassa Fiase/Mpohor and Wassa Amenfi. The Pepesa, who are located within the Fiase Traditional area at Dompim, Simpa and the surrounding villages, south of Tarkwa, have their own peculiar dialect more akin to, and understood by the Nzemas, Ahantas, Aowins and Sefwis. The Nzemas are divided into the Evalue, Dwira, Ellembelle and Jomoro. Their various versions of the Nzema language differ only very slightly in very few insignificant ways. There is however only one standard written Nzema language.
It is worth noting that although Ahanta, Nzema, Wassa, Sefwi and Brossa (Aowin) are the languages spoken by the indigenes of this region, Fante is widely spoken as a second language in the southern part of the region. It is the school language and medium of instruction in lower primary classes in many of the basic schools. Twi is more widely spoken in the Sefwi and Bibiani areas even though Fante is also widely spoken in the same areas. The only other language used as a school language/medium of instruction is Nzema, even though Ahanta is now a written language.
About 18 per cent of Ghanaians by birth in the region are Fantes. Apart from the Fantes, other ethnic groups who have migrated into the region are the Asantes (7.3%), Ewes (5.9%), Brongs (3.4%) and Kusasis (2.9%). Most of the region’s inhabitants are either Ghanaians by birth (92.2%) or by naturalisation (4.1%), with a few immigrants from other neighbouring West African countries. There is complete freedom of religious belief in the region; however, Christianity (81.0%) and Islam (8.5%) are dominant. Traditional religion is also practised by 1.5 per cent of the region’s population, while as many as 8 per cent reported no religious affiliation.
The level of literacy in the region is 58.2 percent, compared to the national average of 57.9 per cent. The level of literacy for females (47.9%) in the region is low as compared to males (68.0%). This low literacy level for females could be linked to the low level of educational attainment in the region. The highest educational attainment level by females (42.4%) in the region is primary, while for males (42.4%) it is middle/junior secondary school (JSS). These figures are unacceptable, and access to education should be linked with parity in basic school enrolment, if there should be any improvement in literacy levels. Nearly two-thirds (64.3%) of those currently in school in the region are at the primary level while only 21.3 per cent are in JSS.
The composition and structure of the Ghanaian household are a general reflection of the social structure of the Ghanaian society. The Western Region is no exception, and most households in the region follow the traditional household setting of a man, wife and children, with an extended family composition comprising of other relations. A good proportion of females (61.4%) in the region are in some form of co-habitation as against 56.6 per cent of males. Co-habitation includes formal unions that are customary or religious as well as informal unions for persons 15 years and older. For the region as a whole, 58.9 per cent are in such unions, while 29.3 per cent have never married. Children in the region constitute about 40.0 per cent of the average household composition, mostly headed by males.
The head of the household is the one who is identified as the head by members of the household and not necessarily the one who maintains the household. For the region, 72 per cent male-headed households as against 28 per cent female-headed households. Other relatives and grandchildren, who are an extension of the nuclear family, make up 26 per cent of the household structure. According to the 2000 Census, there are 410,412 households in the region, occupying 259,874 housing units, which give an average of 1.6 households per house. Comparable past averages are 2.2 for 1970 and 2.0 for 1984. This may be the result of increases in supply of houses or a slow-down in the formation of new households.
The average household size, that is, the average number of persons in a household, has been on the increase since 1960, when 3.8 was recorded. This increased to 4.0 in 1970 and to 4.4 in 1984. The average number of persons per household for 2000 is 4.7. Notwithstanding the constant increase over the years, the household size in the region is still below the national average of 5.1. The observed large household sizes over the years may be the result of the high fertility rate (4.4 per woman) prevailing in the region and the practice of adult children with offspring, staying with their parents.
The number of houses in the region increased from 61,103 in 1960 to 127,427 in 1984, and further to 259,874 in 2000. This constitutes a percentage increase in housing stock of about 103.9 during the 16-year period. Increase in housing stock has lagged behind population growth as reflected in the number of people per house in the region, which is still considered too high, notwithstanding its steady decline from 10.2 in 1970 to 9.0 in 1984, and further to 7.4 in 2000. Household members or relatives own more than half of the houses in the region; and generally make them available to other relatives either for a token rent or free of charge. Most of the houses, particularly in the rural areas, are constructed with sun-dried mud bricks with cemented floors and corrugated metal roofing materials.
Households in the urban areas have access to electricity, while a large number of peri-urban and rural households are also gradually gaining access to electricity through the rural electrification programme, even though this programme has a very long way to go and has touched only a few communities which are fairly close to urban centres. Those without electricity use mainly kerosene as lighting fuel. Fuel for cooking is mainly charcoal and firewood, even for quite a sizeable number of urban dwellers, even though liquid petroleum gas and electricity are used for cooking in some homes, particularly in the big cities and towns. Treated pipe-borne water is available mainly in the urban areas while the rural areas rely mainly on surface waters such as rivers, streams small lakes and springs. A few have access to deep boreholes and relatively shallow but clean water wells.
The population of the region has increased over the years, from 626,155 in 1960 to 1, 924, 577 in 2000, representing about 10 per cent of the total population of the country.In effect, population growth in the region has accelerated over the past forty years. Between 1960 and 1970, the population grew by 23 percent, more than doubled between 1970 and 1984, while between 1984 and 2000, it increased by 66.2 per cent. From 2.1 in 1970 to 3.2 in 2000, the region’s intercensal growth rate has been faster than the national average, which has remained fairly constant between 2.4 and 2.7 over the same period. The 1984-2000 inter-censual growth rate (3.2%) is one of the highest in the country, after Greater Accra (4.4%) and Ashanti (3.4%) regions.
The phenomenal growth in population is attributable to several factors. Apart from an increase in birth rate and decrease in mortality rate over the period, one major factor has been in-migration as a result of increased economic activity, particularly between 1984 and 2000 when the region experienced a boom in both the mining and the cocoa industries. If the factors that have promoted this relatively high population growth rate in the region continue, the region’s population is likely to double by the year 2020. Planners therefore have to plan well ahead to meet the challenges of these factors that promote rapid urbanisation.
The population density for the region has also been increasing steadily over the years, another factor of rapid urbanization and increased economic activity. The rate of growth of the population density has been of the same magnitude as the population growth rate. The biggest growth of 67.7 per cent was experienced between 1984 and 2000, when the population density increased from 48.4 to 80.5 per square kilometre, which is now the sixth highest in the country. This rapid increase in population density has both economic and social implications, particularly for the provision of housing and health facilities, as well as land acquisition for economic activities.
The age structure of the region follows the known trend of a developing economy with a broad base that gradually tapers off with increasing age. In the Western Region, the birth rate is far higher than the death rate, resulting in a more rapid increase in the size of the younger population. Fewer economically active people therefore support a large dependent population. With a general increase in life expectancy, the growth is more likely to be due to higher birth rate than a high mortality rate of the young.
The distribution of children (15 years), the aged (64 years) and the working-age population (15-64 years) yields a dependency ratio of 88.3 per cent for the region for the year 2000; the dependency ratio for 1984 was 90.9 per cent. Although there is a decline from the 1984 proportion, the present ratio is still high and this means more funds need to be provided by workers for health, education and consumption needs of their dependents.
Females constitute 49.2 per cent of the region’s population, translating into a high sex ratio (males to 100 females) of 103.4, which has not changed much from the 1984 (102.6) and 1970 (104.7) ratios. The high level of male migration into the region in search of jobs in the agriculture and mining sectors could explain this excess of males over females. While there are more males in the farming and mining areas of Sefwi and Wassa, there are more females in the Sekondi-Takoradi metropolitan area, a totally urban district, and this could be due to trading and other commercial activities, in which activity females are known to constitute the majority nationwide.
Migration (both in and out) in the region has been affected by geographical and economic factors over the years. The region has the highest rainfall in the country, with the Axim area and the Ankobra and lower Tano river basins having the highest rainfall in the whole country. The high rainfall makes the region suitable for the cultivation of rain-fed forest area cash crops such as cocoa, coconut palm, oil palm, rubber, and a small amount of coffee. The region has the highest production figures for all these four economic crops. This might have attracted people from other regions, notably Brong Ahafo and Ashanti, to the farming areas. In 1970, 35 per cent of the inhabitants of the region were born outside the region. This figure declined to 28.4 per cent in 1984 and recovered to 29.3 per cent in 2000.
The in-migration into Sekondi-Takoradi has resulted in a large increase in population density of the city to about 960 per square kilometre. The population share of the region, which increased over the years from 9.0 per cent in 1970 to 10.0 per cent in 2000, is also partly an indication of net in-migration to the region. The proportion of urban population for the region rose from 24.7 per cent in 1960 to 26.9 in 1970 before declining to 22.6 in 1984. 36.3 per cent of the region’s population now lives in urban areas. The sharp increase may be partly due to a steady drift of rural migrants to the urban areas, and partly due to the growth of previously rural communities into urban centres. Of the 20 largest localities, 9 have grown from rural localities to urban status since 1984. These are Elubo, Agona Nkwanta, Aiynase, Dadieso, Mpohor, Aboadze, Sefwi Bekwai and Apowa. The most phenomenal has been in Elubo, growing from a population of 1,317 in 1970 to 1, 984 in 1984 and to 10,428 in 2000.
This is most probably the result of the construction of the bridge across the Tano River, and the shift of border activities from Jewi Wharf near Half Assini, to Elubo. The region’s decline in urban population between 1970 and 1984 could be attributed to the depression in economic activities, particularly cocoa and mining, during the same period. Despite the increased urbanisation, the region remains largely rural. Out of the total number of 8,933 communities, about 500 (6%) have a population of more than 5,000.
The Western Region is the largest producer of cocoa and timber, the second highest producer of gold, with the potential to become the highest producer of this commodity. There are five major gold mines, namely Teberebie and Iduaprem goldfields, both now owned by Ashanti goldfields, Prestea/Bogoso mines now owned by a South African company, Tarkwa goldfields, and Aboso goldfields located at Damang near Huni Valley. There are other proven but as yet unexploited ore deposits at Tarkwa, Aboso, Bondaye, and the forest reserve areas of Jomoro and Nzema East, Aowin-Suaman, Amenfi and Mpohor-Wassa-East districts.
The region has the largest and only economically viable rubber plantation in the country, stretching from Agona Junction to Bonsa on the Tarkwa road, from Agona Junction to Dadwen on the Axim road, and Baamiangor in the Dwira traditional area on the Esaaman to Dominase/Enibil road. The plantations used to support the erstwhile but still potentially viable Firestone tyre factory at Bonsa, but now support only the rubber-processing factory at Agona Junction, which processes rubber into semi-finished material for export. The only commercially viable manganese mine in the country, located at Nsuta, which has been exploited for over seventy years, is still operating.
Commercial productions of vegetable oil palms such as coconut and palm oil, both of which have the potential of rivalling cocoa, are most actively pursued in this region. The Benso Oil Palm Plantation, owned by Unilever Ghana Limited, is one of the largest in the country. The country’s only bauxite mine currently in production is at Awaso in the Sefwi District. Other potential areas of deposits in this region are yet to be fully explored for exploitation. It is scientifically proven that the large but as yet unexploited iron deposits at Oppong Manso also have about 25 per cent of exploitable bauxite that can be a valuable by-product if ever the iron deposits are exploited. The region used to have commercially viable deposits of alluvial diamond in the Bonsa River Basin, which was actively exploited by small-scale miners in the 1940s and the 1950s, but exploitation of these deposits declined and finally stopped in the early 1970s. It is however believed that the river basin could still be prospected for diamonds.
The largest potential deposits of gas and crude oil that are nearest to possible economic exploitation can be found in the Tano Basin and offshore in the Jomoro (Western Nzema) District. The same district has high quality limestone and fine sand deposits upon which the country’s cement and glass industries can rely. Major timber and wood-processing factories are found in Takoradi, Sefwi-Wiawso, Samreboi and Bibiani. Following the deterioration in capacity of the hydroelectric generation at Akosombo and Akuse, the Western Region now supplies the whole country with the largest single quantity of electricity with the three thermal plants at Aboadze near Sekondi. Current share of the Aboadze plant is estimated at between 50 and 70 per cent of national output. Another gas-fired thermal plant is expected to be operational soon at Effasu in the Jomoro district. It is expected that both plants will eventually make use of the region’s own gas deposits, as well as gas from Nigeria when the West African Gas Pipeline project comes on stream.
Tourism in the region has been described as the country’s sleeping giant. Even though the Central Region often comes to mind when tourism is discussed, the sheer mass of the tourism potential of the Western Region is yet to be properly assessed and exploited. The region has the second largest concentration of forts and castles in the country6, accounting for seven out of the country’s fifteen selected tourist forts under the Museums and Monuments Board. Central Region also has seven of these. (Anquandah, 1999). Fort St. Anthony in Axim is the second oldest Fort and European settlement in Ghana. The University of Ghana and the University of Pisa in Italy are now mapping out the slave routes from Fort Apollonia in Beyin to northern Ghana. Other forts and castles are Fort St. Sebastian at Shama, where the famous Ghanaian Philosopher Dr. Anton Amo of Axim, (who was captured and sent to Germany as a slave boy in the early 18th century, and who is reputed to have lectured in the University of Halle-Wittemberg in Germany), is buried. Others are Fort Orange in Sekondi, Fort Batenstein at Butre, Fort Gross-Friedrichsburg at Princestown, the only German Fort in the country, and Fort Metal Cross at Dixcove.
The southernmost part of Ghana, and perhaps the whole of West Africa, is Cape Three Points near Busua. The very substantial eco-tourism potential of the region is yet to be fully exploited. The famous Nzulezo village built on stilts on water, and the Amanzule wetlands, which include the internationally recognised bird sanctuary, are located in Nzema East. In the same district can be found the sea turtle conservation area at Krisan near Eikwe. There are clean and still unspoilt coconut palm-lined beaches, well-preserved wildlife parks and forest and game reserves such as Ankasa and Nini-Suhyien, full of forest elephants and other very rare plant and animal species.
The unexplored caves of Mpohor-Wassa-East, including the Rock Shrines of Wassa Domaa, can attract many visitors if exploited. The region has some good moderately priced hotels dotted around the beaches and the industrial areas of Sekondi-Takoradi and Tarkwa. Indeed, economists have predicted that the economic survival of Ghana will depend on what Governments will do to, and how they will treat, the Western Region.In all Ghana has about 80 castles and fortifications built over a period of 300 years, with many of these now in ruins or disuse, and dotted along the coast from Keta to Half Assini.