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A Rope of Many Fibers: The Making of Transnational Co-operative Citizenship in Ghana

Abstract

This project examines the history of the Ghanaian co-operative movement, and its transnational connections, from its origin until the 1960s. Co-operative societies were first introduced in Ghana in 1929 as a British colonial development scheme, when the country was known as the Gold Coast colony. Like co-operation in Britain, the Gold Coast movement was based on economic democracy – collective ownership, equal voting rights, member leadership, and dividend incentivization. While initially limited to cocoa production, co-operation eventually became a vibrant socioeconomic movement in the colony. Indeed, by the early 1950s tens of thousands of members, from a multiplicity of classes and vocations, were participating in activities from wholesale/retail networks, to banking and thrift, to agricultural marketing, to social events, such as annual conferences and parades. Within the movement many Africans found employment as bookkeepers, secretaries, bank tellers, storekeepers, drivers, teachers, government officers, newspaper editors and federal executives. Moreover, a group of African and European co-operative leaders emerged, who worked together, to engender a unique, and utopian, imagined post-colonial future where infrastructures of imperialism would be replaced by an equitable global co-operative commonwealth, without race or class distinctions. This study has two central goals. First, to understand the tangible and imagined ways that Ghanaians were impacted by, and had an impact on, mid-twentieth century co-operative spaces from the local to the global. And second, to detail how officials and co-operative members in the country created a unique socioeconomic identity that I have termed transnational co-operative citizenship. I define this identity as a merging of British co-operative ideology with imperial citizenship, mid-twentieth century internationalism and welfare colonialism. Overall, I suggest that telling the story of Ghana’s co-operative history offers insight into the complex ways that competing imagined post-colonial futures impacted trajectories of development and market configurations during the final decades of British rule and early nation-building in the country. Additionally, I argue that understanding the history of the movement, helps us to unpack the lingering tentacles of imperialism in present day development theories and schemes.

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