Traveling around Ghana: Kumasi

Precolonial forms of state formation and urban settlement differed significantly around Ghana.  Africans lived in towns and cities well before Europeans ever arrived in the Gold Coast.  This is not necessarily the case in other parts of the continent, where urban settlements were constructed (or emerged organically) around centers of European-established trading and business interests.  Cities like Nairobi or Cape Town reflected the plans and intentions of European control over urban populations and urban spaces.  As we will learn throughout the semester, even when European colonial administrations sought to control life in or restrict access to these towns, African residents persisted in shaping urban life to reflect their own priorities and values.  However, cities that had precolonial African roots were shaped by a different process of politics.

Our travel to Elmina and Cape Coast will allow us to explore one incarnation of urban life in Ghana.  Our experience in Accra will show us another.  Mid-way through the course, we will also visit Kumasi.  Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti Region, and Ghana’s second-largest city.  It is also the capital of the Asante Kingdom.  The Asante Kingdom controls the majority of the country’s gold mines, making Kumasi a major industrial center.  The Asante have also long-controlled trade of slaves, cash crops like cocoa and palm oil, and many other products throughout the region, connecting interior markets with coastal ports and other urban centers.

Kumasi, then, is a city of rich and often overlapping influences.  “The Garden City”, known for its lush greenery.  The capital of the Asante Kingdom, marked with symbols of chiefly authority.  The center of a trading, political, and cultural empire.  The site of anticolonial resistance and political opposition.  The location of one of the largest markets in West Africa – Kejetia.

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