My advice to anybody who wants to know more about Africa, GO. Don’t sit around in ignorance imagining things that have no basis in reality. If you can, go see for yourself.
I entered this class with ignorance of my ignorance, but I am leaving with a newfound appreciation for all that I don’t know. And while I can keep trying to convey what all this means to me, I think these concepts have already been spoken for. In terms of culture, travel, education, and beyond I think Kwame Nkrumah said it best, “Forward ever, backward never.”
Everyone we met had an opinion about both the Ghanaian and American presidential elections (some of them surprising) and were eager to have conversations about politics. But many of the people we spoke with, including former presidents like Rawlings, were also disenchanted with the political status quo.
During the Winter 2016 semester I reluctantly came across a mass email about studying abroad in Ghana. Almost deleting it [before opening], I decided to first see what the message was about. Seeming like a dream come true, I committed myself to attending the required African Democracy Project informational meeting regarding the trip at the very least. I then learned that the project served as a course focusing on the citizenship and democracy of Ghana.
On October 10th, Nate Plageman visited the African Democracy Project course to talk about his book, Highlife Saturday Night. In the highlife book and in his more recent work about the history of Sekondi-Takoradi, Nate seeks to push against reductionist narratives about “average Ghanaians” that ignores their daily lives and focused instead on state-centered narratives. At…
I signed up for the class because I knew that the country of Ghana would be electing its president around the same time we in the U.S. would be holding our presidential election, giving me the opportunity to study the democratic process unfold in another country. When eight of sixteen presidential contenders were disqualified the candidates ended up in the Supreme Court, it gave an added dimension to our study of democracy in Ghana.
When we traveled to the country it was not quite what I expected. I was actually expecting some similarities to Namibia, but this was completely different. I actually wasn’t expecting Accra to be as big or have as many buildings as it did. I was expecting it to be similar to Namibia where there was more land laid out between spaces. Although, Oxford Street was almost exactly as I pictured it. I also went online to see a few pictures of what it looked like, but I tried to refrain from doing it for everything because I wanted to be surprised by the country. I also have to admit, I wasn’t expecting it to be as dirty as it was in some parts, compared to Namibia which was relatively clean.
The thing that I learned most from this program is the given opportunity to expand my concept of my respected study of computer science. I also found this to be a life learning experience that is beyond the scope of my academic career as well. As a personal reflection, I found Ghanaians to be humbling people. They are also a group of people with a high level of integrity, which I admire. I also learned that I want to participate in more projects like the ADP. I seek to bring this aspect as a software engineer to future programs, and perhaps, advocate for more programs like this one in the computer science department at Wayne State University. Ultimately, this program helped expand my views on how to apply my craft as a computer science student.
Before I flew out to Ghana, the most I knew about Africa came from what I had previously read and watched. Americans tend to talk about Africa in generalizations, in guilt-gilded absolutes. It’s this massive continent whose sociopolitical complexities are largely excluded from the general world history that students are taught in schools. African history is an elective, not a requirement. So going into this, I wanted to know more, I wanted to know which things I had learned were actually wrong, and I wanted to have experiences that weren’t from a book.
Rather, thinking about Africans as consumers–not just producers or laborers–disrupts narratives of the global economy. And, in the absence of any significant system of domestic production, the history of African consumer culture forces us to pay more attention to systems of distribution – in the Ghanaian case, market trading and the network of intermediaries who distributed goods and facilitated exchange throughout the region. In exploring these questions we should be careful not to assume that seemingly “global” movements were adoptions without local roots or motivations. Likewise, we cannot ignore either the politics of the state or the social and cultural politics of gender, race, and generation. Consumer culture in 20th century Ghana was certainly influenced by both forms of politics. But it also shaped those politics in profound ways.
We began the semester with a visit from Jeffrey Ahlman, whose work on nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and Nkrumahism provided an excellent foundation for our ongoing questions about national identity, political participation, ideology, leadership, and state power. In particular, Jeff raised a number of questions about the ideological roots of nationalism and both the promise and challenges posed by independence. Nationalist movements like the United Gold Coast Convention and Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party were rooted in anti-colonialism – a rejection of colonial rule. But those parties also had to craft compelling visions of what would take the place of colonialism. What, in other words, would the nationalist government do that would be different from what the colonial government did?
This semester, we will be exploring what democracy, politics, and development mean in Ghana. It’s a particularly fraught time to raise these questions. Ghana’s next presidential election in November 2016 takes place in the midst of an ongoing energy crisis, near constant construction, accusations of judicial corruption, and a failure to deliver on promises of economic…