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Giving Ghana at the Edge of the Salt Water

Prasansak, Ram. Giving Ghana at the Edge of the Salt Water. 2011. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation examines the dialectic of "work" and "gift" in four postcolonial Ghanaian novels: Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Ama Ata Aidoo's Our Sister Killjoy (1977) and Changes: A Love Story (1991), and B. Kojo Laing's Search Sweet Country (1986). I broadly argue that western gift theorists such as Marcel Mauss and George Bataille romanticize primitive forms of gift exchange in non-western societies. In doing so, they privilege gift giving and end up neglecting the symbiotic relationships between commodity production, distribution, and circulation that such societies have maintained in the capitalist global economy.

I reveal that the Ghanaian writers dismiss the supposedly disinterested principle of gift exchange by showing that gift exchange cannot be divorced from the complexity of Ghana's political economy shaped by the development of colonial economic policies in West Africa. This study traces the colonial molding of Ghana as an import and export colony that heavily relied on imported consumer goods for its domestic consumption and cocoa as its largest foreign exchange earner. The four novels address how such molding has generated in the postcolonial era a wide range of political and economic problems: corruption in industrial and agricultural development projects, brain drain, and market malpractices.

Chapter one reads Armah's novel as narrating alienated labor between the "socialist" state and Sekondi-Takoradi workers. Armah captures this alienation by contrasting Party men's private property ownership with the workers' meager wages. Chapter two focuses on the main plot event of Laing's novel to show that gift giving is politically motivated and given objects border on the commodity and gift forms. Chapter three on Aidoo's Our Sister Killjoy demonstrates that gift giving is governed by entangled sexual, gendered, racial, and class hierarchies. The novel also critiques the self-exiled African professional educated class in the West. Chapter four reads Aidoo's Changes as a tale of two groups of women standing at the opposite ends of market relation: the bourgeois heroine who enjoys luxurious rare imported commodities and working-class market women who struggle in a time of material scarcity.

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