1060 Slices
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5. In the House of Stories: Village Aspirations and Heritage Tourism

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES the intersection between Anansesεm performance and heritage tourism in neoliberal Ghana. As mentioned before, the 1990s saw a rise in popular trepidation about the Ghanaian government’s divestiture of state-owned enterprises and its courtship of foreign direct investment. Public concerns about external influences in the government and fears of foreign profiteering detracted from the political legitimacy of J. J. Rawlings’s administration. In order to undermine and confuse this opposition, the neoliberal regime sought to co-opt the stylistic rhetoric of pan-African cultural revival, which previously had been a feature of the anti-colonial movement. One aspect of this strategy of cultural legitimation was that the Rawlings regime began to strongly promote international black heritage tourism in Ghana, thereby making foreign involvement in the country appear less offensive. The regime proposed (in partnership with foreign investors) that the development of the country’s tourism industry, including the associated hotels, resorts, transportation, and infrastructure projects, could be tied to courting African diaspora tourists who would return to Ghana to experience “traditional” sites and cultural events.

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4. Ma Red’s Maneuvers: Popular Theater and “Progressive” Culture

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

IN 1994, THE GHANA NATIONAL THEATRE embarked upon a project to revive the concert party, then a moribund, near-century-old form of popular theater rooted in Anansesεm. Concert party theater historically drew much of its patronage from the rural peasant classes and the urban underclass. The revival of this form, conducted in collaboration with the Ghana Concert Party Union, was therefore initially conceived as a means of stimulating the country’s populist traditions, consistent with the Nkrumahist ideal of African cultural revival and with the National Theatre’s public service mission as a state-owned enterprise. However, during the following year, the National Theatre underwent a significant reorganization as part of J. J. Rawlings’s neoliberal policy shifts. In a move that was strongly criticized as a vulgar commodification of Ghanaian heritage, the funding of the Theatre was partly divested to private commercial interests. The result was a growing sentiment that the government was abandoning its responsibility to develop and protect Ghana’s native culture. This dissatisfaction created a threat against the political legitimacy of the Rawlings-led regime—and specifically, against its co-option of Nkrumah’s community-oriented cultural vision.

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3. Selling the President: Stand-Up Comedy and the Politricks of Endorsement

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

ON MAY 11, 1995, a coalition of political opposition leaders in Ghana known as the Alliance for Change organized a demonstration they called Kum-me-preko (Kill me once and for all). The immediate cause of this protest was President Jerry Rawlings’s decision to implement a new 17.5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services. Rawlings enacted the new tax in an attempt to meet the requirements of Ghana’s “structural adjustment program”—a series of drastic policy changes mandated by debt-holding international finance institutions (IFIs). The VAT was intended to make up for the loss of revenues caused by the concurrent lowering of the corporate tax rate and the elimination of import and export tariffs. In effect, these tax reforms were designed to shift revenue burdens away from large-scale businesses and toward consumers, thereby creating a more inviting climate for private investment in Ghana.1 Unsurprisingly, the new tax policy immediately came under fire from labor unions and the general public for increasing the tax burden on the poor and in some cases catapulting the prices of goods and services out of the reach of ordinary citizens. The organizers of the Kum-me-preko protest called the VAT a “gruesome policy measure.”2

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2. Once upon a Spider: Ananse and the Counterhegemonic Trickster Ethos

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

Poor painted Queen, vain flourish of my fortune,

Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider

Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?

Queen Margaret (to Queen Elizabeth) in Shakespeare’s Richard III

WHEN CONTEMPORARY GHANAIAN performers navigate the web of tensions among public needs, political pressures, and cultural traditions, they have a long-standing reservoir of counterhegemonic maneuvers to fall back upon. This chapter discusses the time-honored trickster ethos of Ghanaian folklore, which is centered around tales of the crafty spider-spirit Ananse. The folkloric stories reveal Ananse’s propensity for misdirection and “double maneuvers”—antics that can simultaneously confirm and undermine the sanctity of established beliefs, values, rules, and authorities. In an Ananse story, we are never quite sure if the trickster is endorsing the status quo or critiquing it. We will also see that Anansesεm (the practice of telling Ananse stories) is a tradition in which the trickster’s deceptive ethos is seen as a defining quality of performance itself. Ananse is not merely the topic of these stories; he becomes an integral part of the storyteller’s persona, and the trickster’s unreliable craftiness becomes a part of storyteller-audience interactions. In the spirit of Ananse, storytellers are seen as ambivalent and deceptive figures who appear to be undermining social mores, while endorsing them at the same time (and vice versa). Anansesεm practitioners thus often use their performances to challenge distinctions between what is true and false, what is real and imagined, and what is authoritative and questionable. This form of storytelling has long served as a counterhegemonic influence in West Africa and beyond, allowing performers to surreptitiously call into question the legitimacy of socially dominant groups and their ideologies. This chapter describes how Anansesεm practitioners maintain their agency in politicized performance spaces by obscuring the relationships among their stories, themselves, and their audiences—by cannily confusing the distinction between trickster representations and trickster embodiments.

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1. From State to Market: The History of a Social Compact

David Afriyie Donkor Indiana University Press ePub

THIS CHAPTER EXPLORES the historical and economic situations in Ghana to provide some background that should make it easier to understand contemporary practices derived from Anansesεm. The events discussed can be broken down into three chronological periods. During the first period, from the 1940s through the 1960s, Ghanaians rallied behind the ideologies of anti-colonial nationalism and pan-African communitarianism. These populist movements led to the rejection of British colonial rule and resulted in the creation of Ghana as an independent nation in 1957. The country’s new leaders built a state-oriented economy that, in contrast to colonialism, was morally idealized as nonexploitative. Ghanaians saw themselves as having established a social compact in which legitimacy was granted to a government that defended the interests of the people. The state, more so than the market, was viewed as the primary mechanism of economic development and social well-being.

From the 1970s through the 1980s, however, after a period of escalation of economic crises and multiple regime changes, neoliberal economic policies were introduced in Ghana that broke with this understanding of the state. The government lifted many of its regulatory controls on the economy, auctioned off state-owned enterprises, and eliminated public subsidies. Many considered these new “austerity measures” a breach of the postcolonial social compact. Ghanaians feared a move toward a neocolonial reality, in which the government no longer protected the public interest and instead regressed toward its former role as a conduit for exploitation. These economic policy changes were never fully accepted by the public, leading to a crisis of legitimacy for the state. The military regime that held power in Ghana during the 1980s was able to enact the unpopular changes (at the behest of international finance institutions) by aggressively repressing protest and through the sheer inertia of power. But this inertia did not last.

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