- Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism by Ato Quayson
Ever since Accra supplanted Cape Coast as the colonial capital of the Gold Coast [Ghana], its rise in popularity and expanse have hit dizzying heights. Ato Quayson’s Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism joins several books already written on the subject. Accra, therefore, has arrived within the established scholastic domain of Urban Studies. In this significant work, Oxford Street, an unofficial term of reference, becomes a microcosm of the urban Accra macrocosm; a phenomenon decidedly remarkable for the less than two mile portion of the longer Cantonments Road. Making it all come together beautifully is Quayson’s telling descriptive advantage and sense of humor. In the process, the author authoritatively proffers a convincing theoretical framework, amidst an ample touch of literary discourse, for the Accra urban narrative. Discussed within the conceptual framework of space, [End Page 216] streetscape, performative, and spatial traversing, city life, or better still everyday life on Oxford Street, as it is for Accra, is seen as the product of the mutual insemination of the trajectories of transnationalism and local particularities. To this end, Quayson asserts “any temptation to see Oxford Street as a postmodern commercial boulevard … must be quickly tempered by the many signs of cultural phenomena that reach back several generations some of which … replicated in varying forms in different parts of the city and indeed across the country” (p. 12).
The seven stimulating chapters are divided into two major parts. The first focuses primarily on urban spatial evolution, the accretions of districts and neighborhoods, with these equally seen as the spatial aggregations of social forms; a dynamic that defines the dimensions of the Accra urbanity and also have implications for ethnicity and hybrid identities. The second constitutes an examination of the morphologies of everyday life with an array of cases such as ubiquitous and colorful public transport inscriptions, a focus on the youth with respect to salsa dancing and gym patronage, and a literary analysis of spatial traversal. Quayson highlights transnational and hybrid groups as well as national migrants central to overall Gá identity and urban formation with a significant impact on the social character of Accra that is largely obscured. The Afro Brazilians or the Tabon, for instance, introduced requisite skills with a particularly urban inflection into the general local economy as well as early forms of diversified urban livelihood that eventually resonated powerfully with the large numbers of migrants from other parts of the Gold Coast and West Africa. [End Page 217]
The discussion of hybridity in this work is spun around the unfortunate general omission in social analysis on the continent by African studies scholars who disregard the fact that various regions of Africa exhibit some considerable interracial and intercultural mixings. This obscurity stems from Africa being largely seen as multiethnic rather than multicultural. Migrants have never been placed under the rubric of multiculturalism despite the extensive history of migrations in Africa. Second, the viral post-independence Africanization policies rolled out to rectify perceived colonial injustices ultimately disavowed multiculturalism.
Among other things Accra’s spatial fix up to the 1950s was mainly influenced by the colonial toward facilitating European commercial and residential dominance of core areas; other aspects of the town planning dynamic were occasioned by disease and natural disaster management. However, the tension between reactive and planned urban development was only properly addressed in the post-World War II era amidst a variety of factors; especially the clamor for decolonization that facilitated a more integrated vision of urban planning. These strands defined contentions among opportunity, local dynamics, global processes, and spatial logic understood by a historicized dimension of Accra’s transformation from a small fishing village to the bustling city.
The emergence of Euro-Africans that facilitated the trans-culturalism of Osu as part of Accra’s history is attributed to a complex interaction between resident and visiting Danes and the local population spanning a period of two hundred years. The process evolved as a disjointed form of social characteristic...