In the field

In mid-October our class relocated from Detroit to Accra, Ghana, where we spent two weeks talking to government officials, academics, and Ghanaian citizens about the upcoming elections and their understandings of politics in the country.  As part of that time in the field, students pursued their own research questions, drawing on connections made on their own through social media and other forms of communication or through Dr. Hart or Dr. Reid.  Students spoke to a wide range of people in pursuit of their research questions, including the artist Nicholas Wayo, court reporter Wilberforce Asari, journalist Raymond Archer, taxi driver and gender activist Esenam Nyador (aka Miss Taxi Ghana), and founders of organizations like Accra We Dey, Accra Goods Market, and Accra Soup.

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Our Wayne State students got to speak with students at Ghanaian institutions like MEST (check out our Wayne State student, Kenzie Zuchowski, talking about her experience with MEST students on their website) and Impact Hub Accra.  We visited local businesses like Tea Baa and shopping centers like Accra Mall to understand better what the emerging conversation about the “new Accra” was all about and to see firsthand how cultures of health and consumption might be changing for at least some people in Ghana’s capital and largest city. And we saw performances by highlife musician Ebo Taylor and the musicians and dancers of the Ghana Dance Ensemble, in order to experience what we had just read and discussed with Nate Plageman and Paul Schauert in the weeks prior to our departure.

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We visited local markets to purchase cloth and souvenirs, we took a walking tour of Jamestown, and we traveled outside of Accra to see the slave castles in Elmina and Cape Coast and to visit bead makers and kente weavers in Krobo and Ewe communities in the eastern part of Ghana in order to understand the longer histories and older cultures of trade, production, and consumption in Ghana.

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And we were extremely privileged to meet former Presidents J.A. Kufuor and J.J. Rawlings, as well as Chief Justice Georgina Wood and other high court justices.  Given the intense public interest around the courts due to their consideration of pending cases related to the Presidential elections and the intense public discussions about the election in both Ghana and the US, these meetings were particularly important.  Prof. Gretchen Bauer met with us to help us contextualize these meetings within the political debates ongoing in Ghana and around the continent.  We also learned about the perspective of the US government in a meeting with Public Affairs Officer Daniel Fennell and his Cultural Affairs Officer.

These meetings highlighted both the intense political culture of Ghana and the limits of state-level politics to address the concerns of Ghana’s citizens.  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.  For some, that translated into support for the opposition (NPP) party candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, who was recently declared the winner of Ghana’s December 7th presidential elections, defeating incumbent NDC candidate John Dramani Mahama.  For others, that meant disconnection from the political process altogether.  Some of the people we spoke with were refusing to vote, claiming that their vote would not matter.  Others sought ways to create substantive social, economic, political, and cultural change outside of the realms of the state, starting businesses and other grassroots organizations to drive local problem-solving and creativity.  Many Ghanaians on social media declared that the outcome of the election made it clear that Ghanaian citizens want change.  It remains to be seen what this most recent change in political power will mean for the political culture and socio-economic life of the country.

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