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Reviewed by:
  • The Ghana Reader: History, Culture, Politics ed. by Kwasi Konadu, Clifford C. Campbell
  • John Parker
Kwasi Konadu and Clifford C. Campbell, eds. The Ghana Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016. xiii + 476 pp. Illustrations. Index. $27.95/£18.99. Paper. ISNB: 978-0-8233-5992-0. $99.95/£69.00. Cloth. ISBN: 978-0-8233-7496-1. $27.95/£17.99. E-book. ISBN: 978-0-8223-7496-1.

The Ghana Reader is the latest title to appear in Duke University Press’s series of “World Readers.” Following the success of an earlier series focusing on Latin America, its aim is to introduce a general readership to the history, culture, and politics of selected nations around the world, with volumes extending, so far, from Bangladesh, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, and Russia to South Africa, Sri Lanka and, in an interesting “first nation” variant, Native Alaska. That Ghana should join South Africa in representing the African continent in the new series is not surprising. Although modest in terms of population (currently some 25 million) and economic clout, it has long punched above its weight on the regional stage and is now increasingly doing so on the global stage as well. As readers of this journal will hardly need reminding, Ghana shot to prominence in the mid-twentieth century when, in 1957, it became the first sub-Saharan African nation to win independence from European colonial rule, and in the years that followed it remained a beacon for the pan-African liberation movement under the charismatic leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Before that—as revealed in an efflorescence of historical scholarship generated in part by this precocious statehood—the region that would become the British colony of the Gold Coast and then independent Ghana had given rise to one of West Africa’s most powerful and dynamic states, the Akan forest kingdom of Asante. Ghana’s iconic modern status may have been forged in the crucible of the anticolonial struggle, but that status rests on a rich cultural legacy shaped by a deeper history. It is this past and present, in all its tumult and vibrancy, that the collection sets out to encompass.

The editors, Kwasi Konadu and Clifford C. Campbell, were handed a generously broad canvas on which to work, and they did an excellent job in selecting a diverse range of engaging readings representative of Ghanaian history and life. Their aim, they explain in a useful introduction, was to evoke a wide variety of voices, to include pieces of critical importance to an understanding of Ghana, and to present selections that, even if taken from scholarly works (as many of them are), can be readily appreciated by the [End Page 241] general reader. In the interests of engaging a nonacademic audience, the critical apparatus was kept to a bare minimum. The readings are grouped in six sections: the first focuses on deep historical currents as revealed by archaeology and oral traditions of origin; the second, on the first two centuries of African–European encounter on what the Europeans called the Gold Coast; the third, on the period dominated by the rise of Asante, 1700–1900; the fourth, on the period of colonial rule between 1900 and 1957; the fifth, on the era of independence; and the sixth, titled rather opaquely “The Exigencies of a Postcolony,” on a range of cultural issues shaping an increasingly cosmopolitan Ghana. Other than the pieces extracted from academic books or articles, there are a number of primary historical sources as well as works of literature, including six poems by Kwesi Brew (1928–2007), a scene from Kobina Sekyi’s famous satirical play The Blinkards (1915), and the lyrics of “Birth of Ghana” by the calypsonian Lord Kitchener (“Congratulation from Haile Selassie/Was proudly received by everybody”). The topics extend from the Flemish merchant Eustache de la Fosse’s account of a voyage to the Gold Coast in 1479–80 to web-based musings on President Obama’s 2009 visit to Accra, Ghana’s film industry (inevitably, “Ghallywood”), and mobile phone use (the latter by the academic and pithy cultural commentator Kwesi Yankah). Each piece is prefaced by a brief...


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