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.
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.
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?