While the diasporic nature of overseas Chinese has been explored in a wide range of localities (from Southeast Asia to Europe, Latin America, and North America), less work has focused on the growing cultural and sociopolitical influence of overseas Chinese communities in West Africa. In 2007, Xinhua (New China News Agency) reported that an estimated 750,000 Chinese are working or living in Africa; overseas Chinese in Africa have been portrayed in the media as the latest wave of outsiders coming to Africa to extract natural and labor resources. They come not only as investors looking for new opportunities for expansion or engineers working the oil fields of the Sudan, but also as petty entrepreneurs starting trading companies, restaurants, pharmacies, and other businesses in what is portrayed as a “new frontier.” They also come as laborers, working for Chinese companies that are building new plants or infrastructural projects in Africa. Their presence sometimes creates resentment among local residents of African communities where Chinese immigrants have created their own communities, at times leading to kidnappings and violence as has happened in Nigeria and Ethiopia. In Ghana, their presence has been peaceful, though resentment of their affluence in their largely managerial or entrepreneurial roles is beginning to be voiced. This project seeks to ethnographically document the presence of overseas Chinese in Tema and other metropolitan areas of Ghana. The goals of this project are to collect demographic information on the overseas Chinese communities in Ghana to determine: more precise numbers of the Chinese population in Ghana; if there are particular Chinese localities or other demographic characteristics that are providing the bulk of overseas Chinese in Ghana; and Chinese attitudes towards their Ghanaians (and, correspondingly, Ghanaian attitudes towards the Chinese). Based on contacts that I developed with Chinese entrepreneurs in Tema and Cape Coast in the summer of 2008, I will select more informants based on snowball-sampling to gain access to overseas Chinese communities, and informal interviews, household surveys (if relevant), and other anthropological fieldwork based methodologies will be used to collect ethnographic data.
Today, Fifi and Francis took us to the Art Center and the Nkrume Memorial in Accra. After driving around Accra, we made it into the Art Center. The Art Center is essentially a market that sells all sorts of Ghanaian textiles and artwork. At the Art Center, I bought Ghanaian clothing to bring back home to Michael and Rebecca (and a Ghanaian shirt and flag for myself!). We walked around, looked at masks and other wooden sculptures, and then walked back and bumped into a guy selling these traditional musical instruments. They were hollowed-out cones of some kind, filled with something to make a rattling noise, and tied together with a string. He played them by spinning them around his hands, with one of the gourds in his hand. He gave us a demonstration, and taught us how to use them – and then cursed out Francis when we walked away without buying them.
We then went to next door to the Nkrume Memorial. As we walked in, we noticed a wedding party ahead of us – we followed them, and took a couple of pictures as they took their bridal party portraits. We then toured the museum and the park dedicated to Nkrume. On our way back, we stopped by the Accra Mall, and then visited Francis’ family’s store to see his family.
After lunch, we stopped at a roadside cafe for some drinks, and had some Ghanaian kebabs to go along with our drinks – they were delicious, spicy, and something to try again later. The boys came back later that night to take the Davidson girls out to see the nightlife – I stayed home with the elders and watched part of African Apprentice!.
On my first night in Tema, it rained heavily; but by the morning, the sun was out and the sky was clear. After breakfast, I did some errands with Aggie in the Community 1 market, and we visited her older brother Emmanuel. Emmanuel’s son graduated from Davidson about 4 years ago. Later that day, we got a call around 5:00 pm that the Davidson students were in Tema, but they couldn’t find the house. So we drove to meet them and bring them back to the house. The students were Rachel Winston and Sarah Bennett. The driver of the car from Cape Coast also drove the carpenter who was working on Aggie’s table, and brought other things from Emmanuel Sr.’s to bring back to Cape Coast.
We all then cooled down under the tree in front of Aggie’s house until Edmund, Aggie’s husband, returned from Kibi – he was out fulfilling his responsibilities as chief “of the rear guard.” Edmund had lived in New York, first as an ambassador with the Ghanaian mission to the UN until 1981, and then as a private citizen.
Today was my first day in Ghana; I left around 5:00 pm from JFK in New York, and arrived the following morning around 9:30 am in Kotoko International Airport in Accra, Ghana. The plane was about an hour late because we had to stop in Dakar, Senegal to refuel – for reasons unknown and mysterious. Aunt Aggie was there to meet me as soon as I got out the door, and we went straight to her house in Tema.
I’m in Ghana for two reasons – for preliminary fieldwork on a new research project exploring the impact of Chinese economic development efforts in Ghana (results from the China Africa Development Fund announced in 2006), and to prepare to be director of Davidson’s program in Ghana. So of course, one of the first things I see is the craze for soccer in Ghana! (My old research project was on issues of sports and society in China).
I started the ground running – around 5 pm that afternoon, I was introduced to Francis who knew some Chinese businessmen in Tema. Tema is a major port city in Ghana, where ships filled with containers for importing into Ghana dock to drop off their goods. The factory that I visited was run by a man from Hong Kong – there are only about 5 Chinese people who work in this plant; most of the workers are Ghanaian. The factory produces plastic products – most notably, the black or white plastic bags that are ubiquitous in small Ghanaian stores. They also make styrofoam food containers, for take out meals. What you see in the picture above is the re-starting of a machine that makes styrofoam sheets; these are later molded into the desire shapes of the container, and cut by the people working in the factory.
It’s a good start to my fieldwork – a factory on the first day, with promises of more to follow up on. It is pretty hot out, but it’s a heat that I can get used to.