Urbanization in Africa (and the wider developing world for that matter) has often been misunderstood by Western observers on the lookout for Western‐style cities and suburbs. In these parts of the world, rapid urbanization has led to continuing changes in the form and shape of cities, as peri‐urban zones shift swiftly from rural to urban. While some descriptions of the peri‐urban zone suggest an amorphous area filled with low‐income residents, others argue that the zone is highly diverse. Using population census data, spatial modeling and regression analysis, we show that urban expansion at the edge of the city of Accra, Ghana, is not amorphous and does indeed show some discernible patterns. These patterns are represented by four hypotheses tested in this study — the spreading pancake, development node, village magnet and ribbon hypotheses. While the assumption that urban growth occurs in concentric rings around a central city (represented by the spreading pancake model) holds for Accra, this pattern of growth combines with other patterns to create a still‐evolving urban form in the city’s peri‐urban zone. These include clustering of growth around a port city, a number of old villages and along improved highways radiating from the city.