“Right now, in Ghana, it’s no longer who you know; it’s who knows you”
What I wish to share with you, today, is more about a bunch of hunches than it is about some reliable evidence that can be validated and/or replicated through method. It is about a series of questions, which have come to plague my conscious of late. It is also about a particular impression of contemporary urbanity that has accumulated, ever since I relocated to Ghana in August last year, and washes over me time and time again, as I navigate Accra’s urbanity with rising trepidation. Additionally, it is about my current observations of Accra’s urban landscape that are percolating up and out to you through a prism of other socio-spatial insights, gleaned through over thirty years of my living and traveling in various urban settings around the globe (on five out of seven continents to be exact). In other words, I also wish to imbue what I am about to share with you with a gravitas that is rooted in much personal experience (even if not in scientific method), as well as in a decolonial determination to reconstitute the value of other kinds of knowledge-production for an academic arena such as this international webinar.
What I want to talk to you about today has everything to do with the notion of postcolonial unrest. It speaks to our growing concerns about increased uneven development and the many, many manifestations of inequality that reside across the globe. More specifically, I want to draw attention to the constantly widening financial gap between the 1% and the rest of us, resulting in multiple and increased adversity within almost every highly contested, “imagined community” (Anderson, 1983) that we have devised and/or consented to through our continued appropriation of the racist/sexist Western construct of the nation-state. By this, I refer to our many—mostly capitalistic—forms of socially constructed and capital-p-political boundary-making, which abide even in the critical face of increased mobility and flows of people, things, ideas, and even capital. I also refer to our continued—often unrecognized—participation in a “colonial matrix of power” (Quijano, 2000, 2007) that denies us the privilege of truly knowing other kinds of (our)selves, i.e., other ways of being, believing and becoming in the world. Fundamentally, we exist (and persist) in a denial that continues to strip us of the opportunity to devise other modus operandi that are not predicated on the current all-pervasive linear, binary, competitive and hierarchical concepts of growth and civilization, which serve up urbanity as a marker of progress and a symbol of attained development.
So now let me move on to a brief sharing of certain ideas of mine, which I hope can also lead you to the same conclusion: that we are in need of some kind of paradigm shift; that is, a massive transformative shift of consciousness from “Me” to “We” (Keating, 2009), alongside a reconstitution of “worlds and knowledges otherwise” (Escobar 2007), through many forms of decolonial thinking, doing, and loving.
As I said in the beginning, I am beset with questions and concerns about an accumulating impression that comes out of my present sojourn in Accra, Ghana. It is a nagging sensation that suggests that we are currently living in the midst of a “neo-colonial gold rush”; one in which postcolonial cities such as Accra have become the prospecting playgrounds for many an enterprising individual and/or organizational entity. And since the neoliberal world of capital accumulation has run out of (both perceived and real) growth landscapes in the Global North, it has moved its neo-colonial tentacles speedily into the Global South – where it can acquire multiple geopolitical mediums of choice for activating and enabling new, emerging markets, replete with the allure of billions of up-and-coming consumers.
So we find that in a postcolonial city like Accra, the government, civil society, the private sector, and everyday citizens—alongside an array of international organizations and other sundry actors—engage in multiple (planned, speculative and unintended) interactions in order to catapult the larger body politic, and themselves, into a global marketplace, which is characterized by competition and a rather uneven distribution of capital, goods, technology, knowledge and other resources. In such a “free for all” terrain, many find themselves in the unpredictable throes of rapid urbanization that paradoxically feels slow (or even stagnated) to those of us who are negotiating the hardship of everyday hustles to do with a basic lack of reliable services, inadequate infrastructure, limited daily resource acquisition, and a system plagued by political and everyday corruption.
The kind of urban context that I speak of is a mutating and fragmented landscape, within which stratified populations often go about their daily business in parallel, without any regard for each other’s circles of influence. It is a place where many a person gets left behind, while the lucky few—with substantial social and cultural capital, both local and global—easily negotiate burgeoning economies focused on consumptive lifestyles. So therefore, in Accra, we find that a substantial few now sip champagne, as a weekend pastime, while they (mysteriously) make and bank million-dollar deals within an economic landscape in which the average white-collar worker earns just about GHS800 ($167) per month, while those who are more hard-done-by struggle to make even GHS5 ($1) for a whole day’s labor—under what is often a blistering sun.
As I scour Accra’s landscape with my investigative indigenous-foreigner eyes, I see a constantly unfolding political economy of “winners and losers” (Robbins, 2012), with the latter being magnified by the increased number of beggars and homeless on Accra’s streets, as well as a surprising number of disheveled women and (mostly) men, who walk about the city half-naked and in a manner that raises questions about mental stability. When these individuals are then contrasted with the suited and booted, who race around town in their four-wheel drive cars and are barely seen to be pounding the dusty pavement in their designer heels or fine Oxford shoes, it becomes crystal clear to anyone, that “the right to the city” (Harvey, 2008) and its exponential wealth accumulation, do not accrue evenly. Instead, people find their financial destinies differentially determined, mostly as a consequence of intersectional identity markers such as gender, ethnicity, age, education, income bracket, disability, sexuality, political-party affiliation, and other distinctions. These all produce certain socio-spatial implications for each and every one of us navigating Accra’s urban landscape, where—as Fatahyia Sumaila rightly reminds us—“who knows you,” versus what was before “who you know,” is now the measure of one’s ability to find work.
In such an urbanity, rooted (and routed) in a veritable “colonial matrix of power”, one must always ask the question: For whom, is (urban) civilizational progress, especially within the confines of uneven development? And how might a collective (urban) future be co-constructed, within landscapes that are perpetually embedded in the historicity of racist/sexist (post)colonial boundary-markers for living and working?
I believe the decolonial option is an imperative in such landscapes. This is because the decolonial option tasks us to delink from a colonial historicity that can still very much be said to be in motion today. We can enact this option through (un)learning and (un)thinking (Amoo-Adare, in review) everyday practices fueled by certain development policy and practice, which function to move us all uniformly into the rather linear (binary and unequal) notion of growth and civilizational progress. We can do so by questioning the very idea of development, especially as epitomized by the onslaught of urbanity and the construction of false and exclusionary concepts such as the nation-state. The question then becomes what is the alternative? And how can we create (the un-imagined) alternate, within the inertia of recalcitrant systems of doing development and their structures that are also anchored in westernized existences, ecologies and expectations? In my view, this boundary-work is full of unknowns. It also begins at the borders of difference(s), with our embodied, spiritual and creative practices of decolonial doing, knowing, loving and becoming. It is here that we must set our sights on the murky “in-betweens”, using them as ambiguous locations from which we strive toward social and cognitive justice (Santos, 2014) for all, just about everywhere.
Amoo-Adare, E. (in review). “(Un)thinking Science: Here’s to Contradiction and the In-Betweens of Power-Knowledge”. In A. Hornidge, M. Nonhoff, S. Schattenberg & I. H. Warnke (Eds.), Contradiction Studies. Berlin, Germany: Springer VS.
Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso. (Original work published 1983)
Escobar, A. (2007). Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise. Cultural Studies 21 (2), 179-210.
Keating, A. (2009). “Transforming Status-quo Stories: Shifting from ‘Me’ to ‘We’ Consciousness.” In H. Svi Shapiro (Ed.), Education and Hope in Troubled Times: Visions of Change for Our Children’s World, (pp. 210-222). New York: Routledge.
Harvey, D. (2008). “The right to the city.” New Left Review 53. Retrieved June 29, 2018 from https://newleftreview.org/II/53/david-harvey-the-right-to-the-city
Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Neplanta: Views from South 1 (3), 533-580.
Quijano, A. (2007). Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality. Cultural Studies 21 (2), 168-178.
Robbins, P. (2012). Political Ecology. A Critical Introduction. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Santos, B. (2014). Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide. London: Routledge.
 Personal communication made on 28 June 2018, in a conversation about the challenges that young people face when seeking employment in Accra.
 I speak here of the contradictions inherent in the idea of nationhood, especially for those who sit in the literal and ideological margins of any society that continues to apprise itself of several false delineations (with real divisive implication), i.e., historical boundary markers that were derived from arbitrary line-drawing on colonial maps of territorial conquest.