Academic journal article African Studies Review

Reconstructing the Nation in Africa: The Politics of Nationalism in Ghana

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Reconstructing the Nation in Africa: The Politics of Nationalism in Ghana

Article excerpt

Michael Amoah. Reconstructing the Nation in Africa: The Politics of Nationalism in Ghana. International Library of Africa Studies 19. London and New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2007. vii + 248 pp. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $74.95. Cloth.

Based on the title, I expected this book to be a study of the institutions and politics through which Ghana's successive governments since independence built the nation and helped create the sense of "Ghanaianness" so pervasive to many observers, particularly as the nation celebrates the Jubilee of its independence. However, Amoah offers neither an analysis of "top-down" nation-building nor of "bottom-up" nationalism, nor does he discuss how colonial policies intertwined with precolonial state-making and shaped the independent state. Instead, the reader is presented a decidedly anticonstructivist account of theories on nation and nationalism, including essentialist definitions of "tribe," "ethnic group" and "ethnonationalism" as "natural" (50) and "organic" (29) identities that ignore the past twenty years of scholarly discussion on ethnicity; a lengthy treatise on the supposed origins of most present-day Ghanaians in "Ancient Ghana"; a brief discussion of the "rationalization of ethnonationalism" (114ff); the results of a survey on political attitudes, home ties, and "ethnonationalism" that the author conducted among five hundred Tema urbanites in 1999; and, finally, a rather cursory analysis of the results of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

The author's verdict on the current state of the Ghanaian nation is contradictory. On the one hand, he acknowledges that "a single Ghanaian national identity has [developed] despite ethnonational heterogeneity" (187). On the other hand, he laments that in the post-Nkrumah era, the "national construct [is] dissipating" (3) because genuine leadership is lacking, economic resources are not equitably distributed, and politics, including voting behavior, are dominated by the "politics-of-the-belly" syndrome - a concept borrowed from Bayart's work on Cameroon and assumed to be relevant to Ghana even in the absence of actual empirical analysis. However, to "bring back lost national feeling" (3), so Amoah believes, requires "passion"; economic development and good governance alone will not suffice. The necessary "psychological ammunition" derives from the "common past glory" (3) that Ghanaians supposedly share - a notion that takes up primordialist theories of the premodern roots of nationalism and the ethnic origins of nations. …

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