'Villager' and the rise of local orientalism in Ghana’s everyday discourse

 As a heuristic device, ‘akurase/akuraseni’ (village and villager/villageness) to all its intents and purposes describes that which is small (town) and unacceptable (behaviour). Why then has that which is unacceptable and small become placed-based, fixed and immutable in the Ghanaian everyday discourse? 

To give colonialism its force and potency, countries in the global south were framed as backward, uncivilised and oriental needing salvation and civilization. In what appears to be a side effect of this construct, colonialism and its contact with people, space and place have left vestiges not only on physicalities and but on language in Ghana. 


Village and its City/urban binary have become not just physical temporality but also a dividing line between knowledge and ignorance; the accepted and unaccepted; civilised and uncivilised; penury and affluence, development and non-development in Ghanaian everyday discourse. The central issue with this framing that I grapple with is that the village/villageness has become fixed, separate and immutable if not exotic that sits in a place far removed and unrelated to its urban/city binary. 


This framing is place-based and associated with all that is less progressive while the urban is the opposite in the Ghanaian imagining. In this way, the relationalness of the village/villageness is suspended creating a national version of orientalism. In its place-based understanding village/villageness has become a localised and embodied experience which is fixed to a place and immutable. While a village in is locative sense may shape one’s lived experiences, villageness or what is unacceptable is by no means place-bound and fixed. It is alterable. If the village and its associations convey images of poverty, deprivation and lack and its city binary represent knowledge, wealth and civilities and the latter is a function of human action, then the former ought not to be a fixed site for incivilities. It is in this reading that village in the Ghanaian reckoning is oriental. 


The potency in reversing this construct is also an understanding that the village and its making is extra-village and relational so that between the village and urban is human action/duty and its neglect. Thus what is unacceptable and its villagisation is directly linked to what is urban and acceptable. Making our civilities has resulted in the uncivilities which instead of seeing it as such have been interpreted as an offshoot of place-based experience, far and different. To say I am educated and ‘civilised’ because I am urban and you’re uncivilised, ignorant, uneducated and deprived because you live in a village is to place that which is unacceptable in geographic determinism. 


On the contrary, what defines the city is not fixed so is the village. In our case, public policy has placed the city and the village in an inversely relational dichotomy. In this sense, the village is a site for impoverishment, destitution, progresslessness, backwardness and the city/urban is its binary opposite. The underlying thread of this frame is that the making of the urban unmakes the village. But also in its political and economic sense villageness and its ascriptions remove economic and political interest, action and inactions and context and instead ascribe all that is deplorable to a place and lived experiences. This understanding renders village/villages as sitting in a vacuum with no relations to the national space and nation-making. 


Meanwhile, the village as a site for drudgery (agriculture), for instance, so owing to exploitative markets located in the urban/city. The essentialist framing of the village and villageness if anything unmasks the failure of public policy and politics through self-iterative power imbalance. On another level, the framing of the village and its situation in places and its dissociation from the making of the urban create national orients with salvaging power to backwardness. This disempowers the village and empowers political urbanities for political action. This set the village as a site for political contestation, manipulation, control, care, and redemption. On this descriptive hue, the village becomes a term for distinction and attainment, (dis)crediting and (non)belonging and a boundary-maker in discursive exercise. 
 
The village is an integral part of the urban-making connected in a complex swirl of historical contingencies and their continuous co-production, making and remaking. A realisation of the forgone is to acknowledge that poverty, deprivation, lack, and ignorance do not sit in places. Nor are they immutable constituents of biological or geographic determinism. They are offshoots of neglect.
 

by Richard Fosu

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