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Ghana on the Go:  African Mobility in the Age of Motor Transportation (Bloomington, IN:  Indiana University Press), 2016

*2017 Finalist for the Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association

ghana on the go

As early as the 1910s, African drivers in colonial Ghana understood the possibilities that using imported motor transport could further the social and economic agendas of a diverse array of local agents, including chiefs, farmers, traders, fishermen, and urban workers. Jennifer Hart’s powerful narrative of auto-mobility shows how drivers built on old trade routes to increase the speed and scale of motorized travel. Hart reveals that new forms of labor migration, economic enterprise, cultural production, and social practice were defined by autonomy and mobility and thus shaped the practices and values that formed the foundations of Ghanaian society today. Focusing on the everyday lives of individuals who participated in this century of social, cultural, and technological change, Hart comes to a more sensitive understanding of the ways in which these individuals made new technology meaningful to their local communities and associated it with their future aspirations.

“Jennifer Hart has an acute ear for listening to stories and noticing important themes in the narratives and archives. Such fascinating material.” —Jamie Monson, author of Africa’s Freedom Railway

“Automobile technology was quickly and fluidly remade and redefined to suit local uses—in ways that alter how we think about economy, society, and modernity, as well as modes of African inventiveness: the capacity to divert, adapt, or redesign material goods or objects, how we think about them, their histories, and cultural possibilities.” —William Cunningham Bissell, author of Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Auto/Mobile Lives
1. “All Shall Pass”: Indigenous Entrepreneurs, Colonial Technopolitics, and the Roots of African Automobility, 1901-1939
2. “Honest Labor”: Public Safety, Private Profit, and the Professionalization of Drivers, 1930-1945
3. “Modern Men”: Motor Transportation and the Politics of Respectability, 1930s-1960s
4. “One Man, No Chop”: Licit Wealth, Good Citizens, and the Criminalization of Drivers in Postcolonial Ghana
5. “Sweet Not Always”: Automobility, State Power, and the Politics of Development, 1980s-1990s
Epilogue. “No Rest for the Trotro Driver”: Ambivalence and Automobility in 21st Century Ghana
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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Reviews

Sarah Kunkel, “Africans on the go to make do:  Making local sense of global developments”, Labor History (2017):  1-7.  DOI: 10.1080/0023656X.2017.1285532.

“Ghana on the Go is a central contribution to the understanding of how African commercial enterprise contributed to the overall economic development in the twentieth century. “

Ghana on the Go is as much the history of the rise of African commercial enterprise as of the development of neoliberal politics. Hart’s focus on a specific enterprise allows us to detect the changes not only from colonial to independent politics, but also emphasises the shift from state capitalism to neoliberalism in the independent period, reminding us of a more differentiated use of the term ‘post-colonial’ politics.”

“Ghana on the Go is African history of work in its most literal sense, and is contributing to an expanded notion of what that history of work entails (Bhattacharya, 2014. In S. Bhattacharya (Ed.), Towards a new history of work (pp. 300316). New Delhi: Tulika Books. [Google Scholar], pp. 3–5).”

Gordon Pirie, The Journal of Transport History 38(1) (forthcoming)

“Jennifer Hart’s text sweeps triumphantly across a century of automobility in colo­nial and post-colonial Ghana. The thoroughness of her analysis is marked out by lengthy field work in Ghana that involved travel in modern trotros and in an iconic ‘mammy wagon’, conversations in lorry parks and elsewhere (noted in the Acknowledgements), some 70 interviews, and an impressive range of archive and library sources.”

“Ghana on the Go is a sophisticated, clear and inspiring account of how the technology of motorised transport has been used by ordinary and diverse drivers and passengers to achieve entrepreneurial goals and meet aspirations for moder­nity. It is also a study of how a predominantly commercial automobility took root and was grafted onto a pre-existing set of mobilities and mobility values.”

“Hart’s well-informed monograph glides expertly and dexterously across historic periods, technologies and governmentalities. Five imaginatively titled chronologi­cal chapters work with the notion that Ghana’s automobile drivers (mostly male, but not exclusively) have been cast variously as ingenious and indigenous workers, admirable and honest, as public servants, as modern, as criminals and as agents of development. They, their vehicles and their infractions have featured continually in media and in private and public discussions about service, roads, fares and safety.”

“Straddling past and present, Ghana on the Go is meticulously researched, richly detailed, beautifully composed and elegantly constructed. Its alert and deep scho­larship is luminous. It reveals splendidly the complex layers and overlaps in trans­port provision, delivery and use. It is a marvellous book. It takes its place among the most insightful and rewarding analyses of transportation in Africa and helps lifts studies of (past) transport there onto par with fine mobility research anywhere.”

Naaborko Sackeyfio-Lenoch, International Journal of African Historical Studies (2017) (50) (1):  175-176  (link)

“Hart provides an intriguing story about masculine identity formation and the complex factors that informed this process.”

“By focusing on southern Ghana, Hart describes the actions of drivers in the region as they navigated the contested terrains of motor transport, the mobilities it afforded them, and the attendant regulations and challenges of colonial and postcolonial economic development.”

“Hart provides the reader with a nuanced and richly textured narrative about the culture and practice of African automobility. This book is a welcome addition to a growing field that centers on the experiences of “everyday” Africans who often remain marginal in the social, development, and economic histories of colonial and postcolonial African societies. This well-written book deeply engages with the dynamics of African mobility and constitutes a major contribution to twentieth-century Ghanaian history.”

From the Herskovits citation in the 2017 African Studies Association Annual Meeting program:

“This book addresses a topic of great importance in the popular economies of Africa in the twentieth century. Ghana on the Go is an empirically-rich study that looks at the history of motor transportation in Ghana starting from the earliest days of British colonialism and ending in the 21st century. In what she refers to as ”automobility” and “auto/mobile lives,” Jennifer Hart deftly charts how drivers built on existing commercial trade routes to expand the scale and increase the speed of motorized transport. Weaving together stories of passengers, drivers, and commerce, she offers a nuanced account of the contradictions and tensions that surrounded the growth and development of motorized transportation in Ghana. The text balances ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, and interviews. The strength of the book is that it focuses on the contradictions and conflicts pitting transport workers, passengers, and owners against one another at various times while recognizing their shared interests at others. In what she calls “vernacular politics in the postcolony,” Hart ends with a sanguine assessment of the challenges of automobility for the future.

Hart’s Ghana on the Go yields stimulating interpretations of specific trajectories of 20th century modernity and modernization in Ghana. While the automobile transportation system is a 20th century global transportation technology and its facilitation of novel social formations is universal, Hart demonstrates how the unique creativity of what could be called Ghana’s entrepreneurialism quickly appropriated the new technology and developed over the decades around it a vast and deep network of businesses, trades, and professions that grew into decisive factors in every facet of Ghanaian life and socio-political history, from the era of high colonization, through militant decolonization, and up to the period dominated by state driven liberalization. While managers of the production and entrenchment of new commodities—cocoa business at the top—and trade infrastructures like roads and markets—engineers being the most visible—are critical to the history, Hart’s painstaking studies reveals that the globally recognizable expansion of autonomy and mobility that “motorized travel” catalyzed in Ghana took the path it does because the local operators seized the advantages of hitherto existing trade routes and customs, social relations, and markets, and the population at large assimilated automobile presence into daily life, particularly in the expansion of mobility discourses to include motor transportation. For its insistent balance of simultaneously evolving global and national conditions in the account of how motorized transportation shaped the development of autonomy and mobility in 20th century Ghana, this book deserves all the praise it draws.”
The winner will be announced at the ASA Awards Ceremony on Saturday, November 18, 2017.

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