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“Fruity” Smells, City Streets, and the Politics of Sanitation in Colonial Accra

Abstract

When the British declared Accra the capital of their Gold Coast Colony in the 1870s, they sought to remake the politics of space and the culture of everyday life in the old town, which had long been settled by members of the Ga ethnic group. British efforts concentrated particularly on issues of “sanitation.” While sanitation debates included issues of road drainage, water provision, and rubbish collection, the most animated conversations centered on issues of sewage. What appears on the surface to be a relatively straight-forward conversation about public health highlighted fundamental cultural fissures over relatively mundane issues such as smell, bathing practice, and the organization of the household or compound. In historicizing both the infrastructural politics and sanitary cultures of urban residents and the regulatory and policy strategies of government officials in the context of colonial Accra, this article aims to refocus debates about sustainable development to think more carefully about what a just, inclusive, decolonized, and community-centered approach might look like.

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Availability of Data and Materials

Archival data in this article is publicly accessible through the National Archives of Ghana and the National Archives of the UK. Oral interviews are currently held by the author.

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Notes

  1. The Gold Coast Leader, 12 July 1902, p. 2.

  2. The editors of Gold Coast newspapers and the people who wrote into those newspapers were almost exclusively members of the coastal elite in the early twentieth century. For more information about early Gold Coast literary culture, see Newell (Newell 2002), Jackson (Jackson 2021).

  3. For other examples of this in the Ghanaian context, see Osseo-Asare (Osseo-Asare 2019), Hart (Hart 2016).

  4. The literature on malaria, public health, and water in Ghana is quite extensive. See, for example Dummett (Dumett 1968), Roberts (Roberts 2010), Bin-Kasim (Bin-Kasim 2019)

  5. JE Casely-Hayford, Gold Coast Native Institutions (London, 1903), Appendix E-1, 382.

  6. Casely-Hayford, Gold Coast Native Institutions, 382.

  7. CO 99/8 1893–1894 Gold Coast Gazette.

  8. The Gold Coast Chronicle, 15 November 1898, p. 2.

  9. “We ask the Colonial Office authorities in England to follow us further on to the time in 1887 when Colonel B.P. White, the mention of whose name is associated with some pleasurable feelings, was administering the Government. We remember that he employed a large number of women to carry water from Beulah in the dry season, but the times are changing and who can predict what the prospect of the dry season will be in 1894.” The Gold Coast Chronicle, July 28, 1894.

  10. The Gold Coast Chronicle, 28 July 1894; The Gold Coast Chronicle, 15 November 1898, p. 2.

  11. The Gold Coast Chronicle, 10 September 1896.

  12. “Governor’s Address on the Annual Estimates”, Gold Coast Leader, 25 December 1909, p. 2–3.

  13. The National Archives (TNA): Public Records Office (PRO) CO 96/730/1 1936 Water Supply–Extension of Accra Water Works.

  14. Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917.CO 96/387/1 1929 Sewerage Scheme for Accra, Gold Coast Sessional Paper III 1916–1917.

  15. TNA: PRO CO 96/775/11 1942–1943 Accra Sewerage Scheme.

  16. TNA: PRO CO 96/730/1 1936 Water Supply–Extension of Accra Water Works.

  17. TNA: PRO CO 96/730/1 1936 Water Supply–Extension of Accra Water Works.

  18. TNA: PRO CO 96/730/1 1936 Water Supply–Extension of Accra Water Works.

  19. TNA: PRO CO 96/730/1 1936 Water Supply–Extension of Accra Water Works.

  20. TNA: PRO CO 96/730/1 1936 Water Supply–Extension of Accra Water Works.

  21. TNA: PRO CO 96/730/1 1936 Water Supply–Extension of Accra Water Works.

  22. Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917, TNA: PRO CO 96/387/1 1929 Sewerage Scheme for Accra, Gold Coast Sessional Paper III 1916–1917.

  23. Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917, TNA: PRO CO 96/387/1 1929 Sewerage Scheme for Accra, Gold Coast Sessional Paper III 1916–1917.

  24. Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917, TNA: PRO CO 96/387/1 1929 Sewerage Scheme for Accra, Gold Coast Sessional Paper III 1916–1917.

  25. TNA: PRO CO 96/389/2 Gold Coast Colony Korle Lagoon Reclamation Scheme Report and Estimate, Percy Hall, Director of Public Works 3–1-29.

  26. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 12 September 1932. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  27. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 December 1933. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  28. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 13 July 1936. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  29. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 13 July 1936. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  30. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 December 1933. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  31. Pexbroke Playfair, “The Public Health and Sanitation”, The Gold Coast Independent, 26 August 1922, p. 12.

  32. “Our Town Councils”, The Gold Coast Leader, 21 June 1913, p. 4.

  33. The Gold Coast Leader, 25 May 1912, p. 5.

  34. Pexbroke Playfair, “The Public Health and Sanitation”, The Gold Coast Independent, 26 August 1922, p. 12.

  35. “Notes and Comments”, The Gold Coast Nation, 9 December 1915, p. 4; see also The Gold Coast Leader, June 22, 1912, p. 2.

  36. “Notes and Comments”, The Gold Coast Nation, 9 December 1915, p. 4.

  37. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 December 1933. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  38. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 9 April 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 1933–35 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  39. Gold Coast Sessional Paper III, 1916–1917, Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917 TNA: PRO CO 96/387/1 1929 Sewerage Scheme for Accra.

  40. TNA: PRO CO 96/775/11/1942–1943 Accra Sewerage Scheme.

  41. Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council, 11 March 1935. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  42. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 December 1933. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  43. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 December 1933. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  44. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 9 May 1932. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 9 July 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 1933–35 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  45. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 9 April 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 1933–35 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 12 February 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 1933–35 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  46. Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council, 11 February 1935. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  47. Gold Coast Chronicle, 8 September 1894, p. 4.

  48. Gold Coast Chronicle, 8 September 1894, p. 4.

  49. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 12 February 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 1933–35 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  50. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 12 February 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 1933–35 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  51. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 12 February 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 1933–35 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  52. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 14 April 1930. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/1 1930–31 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  53. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 14 April 1930. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/1 1930–31 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 May 1931. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/1 1930–31 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 14 September 1936. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  54. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 June 1935. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  55. TNA: PRO CO 96/381/1 1929 Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917, Sewerage Scheme for Accra, Gold Coast Sessional Paper III 1916–1917.

  56. TNA: PRO CO 96/381/1 1929 Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917, Sewerage Scheme for Accra, Gold Coast Sessional Paper III 1916–1917.

  57. TNA: PRO CO 96/381/1 1929 Report on Accra Drainage Scheme (Government Press), 1917, Sewerage Scheme for Accra, Gold Coast Sessional Paper III 1916–1917.

  58. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 14 March 1932. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/3 1932–36 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 12 March 1934. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  59. Minutes of the General Monthly Meeting, 11 December 1933. PRAAD: NAG (Accra) CSO 20/1/5 Minutes of Meetings, Accra Town Council.

  60. TNA: PRO CO 96/775/11 1942–1943 Accra Sewerage Scheme.

  61. TNA: PRO CO 96/687/1 1929 Sewerage Scheme for Accra. For similar sorts of arguments in Tanzania, see Grace (Grace 2017).

  62. Gold Coast Sessional Paper III, 1916–1817, Report on Accra Drainage Scheme, Gold Coast (Government Press, 1917) TNA: PRO CO 96/387/1 1929 Sewerage Scheme for Accra.

  63. The Gold Coast Nation, 10 April 1913, p. 270.

  64. The Gold Coast Leader, 22 April 1922, p. 9.

  65. The Gold Coast Nation, 2 September 1915, p. 7.

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Hart, J. “Fruity” Smells, City Streets, and the Politics of Sanitation in Colonial Accra. Urban Forum 33, 107–127 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12132-021-09446-4

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Keywords

  • Ghana
  • Sanitation
  • Colonial
  • Accra
  • Infrastructure
  • Technology