Academic journal article The Geographical Review

OXFORD STREET, ACCRA: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

OXFORD STREET, ACCRA: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism

Article excerpt

OXFORD STREET, ACCRA: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism. Ato Quayson. xii and 297 pp.; maps, ills., bibliog, index. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014. $94.95 (cloth), ISBN 9780822357339, $25.95 (paper) ISBN 9780882257476.

In Oxford Street, Accra, Ato Quayson makes a bold effort to interpret the city of Accra under capitalist expansion in cultural terms. As an urbanist working from a social science epistemology, I looked forward to reading this often-ignored interpretation of the African city, especially because I listened to an earlier presentation of the core of this book by Quayson at the British Council Hall in Accra in early 2008.

Quayson breaks the book into two parts. The first deals with the history of the Ga people and the impact of colonialism and its planning on Accra Central. In addition, he traces the transcultural activities that shaped Accra Central through activities of the Danes and colonialism on Osu, Accra. An introductory chapter dealing with urban theory and the role of space or place precedes this part of the book. Quayson also introduces here his methodology of horizontal archeology

The formation of Ga Akutso from the arrival of the Tabon, or Afro-Brazilians, is followed by how colonial planning shaped Accra Central as an arena of transcultural social life, involving the Danes, Dutch, British, the Tabon, and Ghanaians from all over the country, including intermarriage between these groups. I was impressed to read of Princess Yeboah from Ashanti who married into the Bannerman family. Quayson closes this part of the book with the nature of cultural mixing that existed in Accra Central. The title of chapter 3 --"Osu borla no, sardine chinsii soo" ("Osu's garbage dump is littered by sardine cans")--is an appropriate manifestation of this intermixing and transnationalism of the past.

The second part of the book deals with how the morphologies of everyday life manifest as part of the transnationalism that is occurring in the city-region today. A discussion of tro-tro slogans and cell phone advertising along Oxford Street, Accra, is followed by an analysis of salsa on Citi FM radio, through Afrikiko Garden Restaurant and to the Coconut Grove Hotel. Quayson then turns his attention to gymming by kobolos as the other aspect of transnationalism in the Accra-Tema city-region today. This part of the book closes with an exposition on literary representations after Kofi Awoonor's This Earth My Brother.

The strength of Oxford Street, Accra, lies in the first part of the book. Using horizontal archeology, Quayson is able to weave together the formation of Accra Central and how European and colonial influences and planning shaped that urban space. This presentation of the historic development of Accra Central is not new, but Quayson does it so well that it is refreshing to read. Very few maps are used, but Quayson's descriptive ability captures the imagination of the reader and brings them back in time to imagine how Accra Central developed and how Dutch, Dane, English, Tabon, and people from all over Ghana contributed to influence the composition of a multiethnic and multinational urban space. Even though he recalls Henri Lefebvre's concept of the production of space in the introduction, this is not woven into the text in his historical archeology. Yet, the story he tells of the historical development of Accra Central in chapters 1 through 3 is compelling.

In the second part of the book, Quayson seems to have minimized the impact of Oxford Street, Accra, by choosing obscure examples to illustrate his points (despite identifying more pervasive examples in each case). Quayson also uses some rather dated or weak examples to illustrate the morphology of everyday life in Accra Central.

Mummy trucks are a thing of the past in today's Accra-Tema city-region and throughout most of Ghana. In the era of globalization, modes of internal transportation in urban Ghana have transitioned from a preponderance of mummy trucks in the 1960s and 1970s, through Nissan Urvan and Toyota Hiace minibuses in the 1980s, to "Plain Face" Mercedes Benz trucks and busses in the 1990s, and on to Mercedes Benz Sprinter Buses and an assortment of minibuses in the 2000s. …

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