Week 3: “Oxford Street, Accra” Response

There is much to say about this week’s assigned text as it serves as one of few books written so extensively and expertly on an area as specific as Oxford Street, Accra, Ghana.

Having had a brief living experience in Accra this past summer, which fueled a sense of passionate fandom in me towards the country of Ghana, this book allowed for an enjoyable experience of reminiscing and reflection. However, there are some areas of Dr. Quayson’s work which I find porous. I first find myself asking the question of what kind of audience Dr. Quayson envisioned for the creation of his book. I say this because I assume that those who have not had lived experienced in Oxford Street, Accra, may find it hard to reconcile all of the specific examples given with the core themes of Dr. Quayson’s grand analysis. On the other hand, I also find it challenging to imagine inhabitants and dwellers of Oxford Street themselves wanting to indulge in this book given its descriptive breakdown of the city as though directed at a foreigner. This also could be a very poor assumption on my part. Nonetheless, I found that having had spent some time on Oxford Street myself, and being a student of African Studies,  I was well-equipped to appreciate all of Dr. Quayson’s work in this book. I also would like to ask the question of why Dr. Quayson may have chosen to focus on the specific social relations in which he did throughout the book, especially in the Introduction. Ghanaian people are known for their hospitality and comradery and so, I thought that highlighting mostly minor quarrels in the streets of Accra could potentially distort outsider perspectives of the most common kinds of social relations that exist in this part of Ghana. At the same time, as we have established in the outset of this course, any single-story is no story worth telling and so Dr. Quayson’s choice of examples could be trusted for it’s multi-dimensionality, not to mention its’ genuineness, him being a Ghanaian native.

Something I noticed with regard to Dr. Quayson’s approach to sharing these seemingly objective ideas about this space, was his choice of words when describing certain aspects of Accra. For instance, without ever directly mentioning the concept of capitalism, I found that much of Dr. Quayson’s examples both of Phil Cohen’s two-part concept of material infrastructure and abstract meanings of space could also serve as meaningful indications of growing capitalism in Accra.  Dr. Quayson’s mentions of the significance of price tags and lack-thereof (formal and informal transactions), the commercialization of salsa, systematic international economic interventions (i.e. IMF & SAP’s) and the growth of the mobile phone industry are a few examples of the capitalist repercussions of globalization in Ghana which, I believe, are worth mentioning as such. However, as I can infer from Dr. Quayson’s acknowledgement of the city of Accra as his own, he was deliberate in his efforts to share a  raw phenomenon with the world, whilst steering clear of the unnecessary yet highly-demanded critical breakdowns of such a special, unique place.

Referencing the urban planning of Moscow, Dr. Quayson explains how walking down Oxford Street on any given day never entails a linear stroll, but rather a zigzagged route mainly as a result of the commercial diversity found on the nearly non-existent pedestrian paths. In some ways, this idea can be paralleled with Dr. Quayson’s approach for his book “Oxford Street, Accra”. This is because his choice of topics and concepts discussed across chapters are far from ordinary, and thus takes the reader on a kind of divergent journey from one characteristic of Accra to the next i.e. post-colonial ethnicities to cellphone advertising. That being said, I did appreciate the uniqueness of his book, and his approaches to introducing readers to new ways of thinking i.e. analyzing the constituents of free time/leisure in order to draw conclusions about socio-economic class and spatial relations instead of the typical examination of people’s occupations in a society. Focusing primarily on historical, cultural, and social aspects of Oxford Street was a refreshing way to enter a first-hand academic stroll down this vibrant West African cosmopolis.

For further reference and contextual aid:

Article: “Why a Ride in a Tro-Tro Made Me Think of Uber” explains the Trotro industry in a way that it’s efficiency should be further acknowledged by the West. http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/trotro-ghana-ride-sharing-trends-uber

Video: “Land of Promise” – Damian Marley & Nas, lyrically painting Africa’s cities as contrary to popular belief.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjoCnCaynCM

Video: “Pizza & Burger” – Sarkodie & Jayso rap about Western influences (i.e. youth food choices) in Accra, Ghana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5rneIo4jbk

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