Currently reading : Social exclusion in the Zongo
It’s easy to forget that even in our hyper connected, hyper-global, world that we live in where most people spend their time either on the phone and or computer screen, that social exclusion is still an issue that pervades the virtual and non-virtual spheres of everyday life. From minute instances attributed to income, age and gender to the exclusionary practice experienced by so called “newbs” on sites such as 4-chan and twitter to the ongoing practice of exclusion faced by the working poor, social exclusionary practices are something we either continue to face or have faced at some point in varying degrees. Since the mid-2000s in Japan, for example, there has been very xenophobic sentiments from right-wing group Action Conservative Movement toward immigrants of both Korean and Chinese decent (similar to past xenophobic attitudes towards Jews in Germany, and Black South Africans and Armenians and Kurds in the middle east) that have found its primary voice on the internet and increasingly in non-virtual spaces via public demonstrations. These demonstrations call for the exclusion of Chinese and Korean people from all matters of ethnic Japanese cultural lifestyle. The goal of many of these discriminatory sentiments is to highlight the impurity of the “other” as a major detriment to the perceived establishment and progression of “authentic” culture. Foreigners, minorities, and anyone not Japanese is seen as impure and must thus be socially excluded for the sake of social and economic harmony through the banning/shaming of intermarriage, prevention of upward social mobility, and many times the gerrymandering of specific districts to isolate them geographically.
Zongo areas in the West African country of Ghana are certainly characteristic of this notion in that many of its inhabitant Zongorians, mainly the Moslem population, are shunned by the larger Christian as well as affluent population outside of the designated zone by virtue of their religion and culture, preventing them from moving up the social ladder into positions of influence in political and economic decisions. This unfortunate situation leads to many Moslem Zongorians usually taking employment as gate watchers for the rich or to perform tasks that are exploit their labor. Christian inhabitants of Zongo do not commonly face this sort of backlash and are given more opportunities to move up the social ladder and are therefore better off in a certain respect to their Moselm counterpart solely because of the already strong Christian majority in most of Ghana.
Urban planners and local leaders gerrymandered Zongo communities to exclude the Moslem population during period of post-colonial urbanization of major Ghanaian cities such as Kumasi and Accra as a means of removing the urban poor, and especially the Moslem nomadic population, Hausa and Fulani who originate from the North of Ghana and neighboring countries, from the newly developed metropolitan areas of global commerce. Planners saw the presence of the as a negative image for their purpose of crafting a Ghana fit for modern Western trade as they wanted to create the image of a “clean” and “god-like” metropolis uninhabited by the unclean and ungodly.
When one watches contemporary Ghanaian films, several focus on the movement away from Zongo villages by the youth to more urban developed centers such as Accra in turn forcing these individuals to abandon behaviors in favor of pseudo-Christian behaviors that will make them more acceptable in the mainstream environment. These behaviors range anywhere from fashion changes to Christian based education and the abandonment of their native tongue for either English or another variety of Akan amongst several others. However, unlike other zones of social exclusion, there is never a strict xenophobic discourse only a discourse of change toward contemporary urban life.
Zongorians are connected by place to the country of Ghana, by mannerisms to the connected world we live in, and by body Earth. Local shops sell records of all nationalities and ethnicities and schools are populated by both Moslem and non-Moslem students who celebrate Ramadan alongside Christmas in relative harmony. When one visits a Zongo area it is common to witness the stark difference in mode of behavior and culture when compared to more affluent areas of Ghana. The fashion choices are different and the creative act of body modification in the form of scarification, especially amongst the Fulani and Hausa members of the Zongo community (the original pioneers of the Zongo area) are prevalent. Fortunately, devastating physical violence and outspoken xenophobic policies, though perhaps tacitly implemented through institutional neglect, amongst the Moslem population by the Christian population is relatively inexistent.
The exclusionary practice amongst implicit towards Zongorians in Ghana is also unique in that because the areas and thus inhabitants lie in an interzone of Ghanaian nationality due to their exclusion from the metropolitan and Christian majority areas, they are often seen as non-Ghanaian proper and without claims of personhood. Yet the general public possesses a strong sense of place as Ghanaians and demand equal treatment especially when it comes to addressing the issues that plague their communities and seek to make these aware by way of the media. The sense of community and the strong will and yearn for abandoning the systemic marginalization of its inhabitants are in many ways stronger than other communities in many regions-proper of Ghana and elsewhere. Industriousness and community building are very prevalent and make the socioeconomic bonds in these communities very strong.
Today, small boutique shops, primarily family owned, litter the streets selling anything from hand sewn vibrant and unique traditional and contemporary garments of Arabic and Christian influence. Women and men gather set up shops and roam the streets selling fresh produce in order to feed their families in a relatively peaceful and incorporated atmosphere. A testament to the positively changing syncretic nature of the area is the prevalence of not only churches of Christian denomination but also shacks and homes that house fetish priests and practitioners of West African voodoo with individuals who would not normally associate with the area coming in droves. It’s certainly not easy to escape the noise of millet and corn being ground for porridge nor is it easy to escape the smell of the carpenters wood chips and tanned leather prepared for home furnishing. The sound of the hustle and bustle of everyday life pervades the area creating a lively and savory ambience. What makes Zongo truly different from other zones of social exclusion is that though it was systematically created for the purpose of excluding a particular group of individuals for the sake of modernity, it has become a hub, albeit structurally in-work, embodying the cosmopolitan narrative it was meant to be excluded from.
No one is out of place unless they want to be out of place. Language is vast in variety and depth. It is very common to hear a Moslem Zongorian speaking the dialects of Akan and Ga and the native Hausa and vice versa. What was originally meant to tacitly separate has become a zone of diversity under shared communal values. Poverty and systemic negligence on the part of government officials still exists and proves to undermine the social mobility of many people living in Zongo. Yet what is easily noticeable when one becomes familiar with the area is the strong community that has been crafted by individuals in order to solve the issues they are wrongly denied by the government apparatus as well as the strong sense of autonomy the communities have in shaping their community terrain for the benefit of others; this being paradoxically due to the fact that they are usually not provided the resources by the government necessary to actively address the ever growing poverty and lack of infrastructure afforded to the more affluent population.