The Trouble With ‘An African City’

an-african-city-cast-620x400There is a new web series online called ‘An African City’, and if you have any device imbued with magical internet powers and any connection to Ghana in any way, chances are you’ve heard of it. Created by Nicole Amarteifio (whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting once at a bazaar), the show styles itself after ‘Sex and the City’ and seeks to tackle some of the same or similar subjects in an African context; or at least that’s my assumption.

I was going to write this post 2 weeks ago, but I decided against it because I didn’t want to go on a rant about something another woman’s art. It would be better to let it be, I figured. But then the BBC came a-knocking (for my BFFFL. I was second pick) and I said some things and shared some thoughts on air that I should thought I should probably clarify on my own e-space.

By and large, people do like the show…but this is probably going to be the only place where you hear/see that there are people who DON’T. Until the third and latest episode, I was certainly among that number, and it pained me in a way I had never previously experienced.

I heard that the series was coming out two weeks before it aired and when D-Day arrived, I greedily clicked play and watched the first episode. Minute by minute I become more and more disturbed by the subject matter and the interactions between the main characters and the supporting cast, that supporting cast being Accra in total.

There is a very real phenomenon of separatism in Accra society that has existed since the 80’s. Ghanaian society, like many West African nations is separated by class rather than by race, and within each class there exist peculiar subsets. One of these is the Returnee – or Been To – subset. These are small, insular groups who spend half the day, every day, complaining (in part) about how poorly Ghana is wrong, how they have to yell and spit and be cruel to get their way, and cannot abide by the reality that *gasp* water can/does go off on a regular basis. They treat the locals as though they are inept and beneath contempt. These are precisely the type of people I try to avoid whenever I am in Accra…and now they were on my iPhone!

I was crushed. I desperately wanted to love the show, and I didn’t.

What was I to do? I asked for reactions from a few of my closest friends: women who are in the entertainment arena, who have returned to Ghana and/or have strong connections with Ghana via heritage. They shared my disquiet.

“Okay…is this show taking itself seriously, or are they parodying Sex in the City?” asked Ama*.

“It’s taking itself seriously,” I replied. “It’s not a parody.”

“Then I cannot condone it,” she said, her voice getting more and more shrill. “This is exactly the type of behavior that was such blight on our culture in the 80’s and 90’s. I couldn’t get past the first five minutes for all the caricatures and stereotypes of a Returnee.”

She talked for another 35 minutes and came to the conclusion that she would never watch the show again.

I asked Milicent* her thoughts and she was just as critical. She lives and works in Accra and has chosen never to live abroad.

“It was just too much Ghana bashing at the onset. It rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning,” she replied. “You know, I was sharing my thoughts about it to one of my guy friends who is connected to the show, and he dismissively suggested that the only reason I didn’t like it is because I was the type of Ghanaian who only enjoys watching ‘Concert Party’.”

To put it in context, saying one was the type of Ghanaian who only liked ‘Concert Party’ is akin to saying one was the type of Black American who is only sophisticated enough to enjoy watching ‘Good Times’.

I asked another friend whose opinion I value tremendously hoping she would tell me I was overreacting. She told me I was spot on, as far as she was concerned.

“Some of the situations are just not realistic,” she added. She referred to a scene in the restaurant where are the women were dining. “For instance, the entire table would not go silent if you took something with your left hand. Furthermore, if you were raised by proper Ghanaian parents, this is something they would have taught you anyway.”

That scene in particular really bugged me. I suppose it’s because I identify more with the waiter than I did with the 5 women sitting down to eat. Whenever I dine in Accra, my thoughts often turn to how these people make ends meet on tips and poor wages, how they cannot perform their duties because management doesn’t always provide the items listed on the menu and how flustered they often become in the face of abrochi privilege. I feel like the writers could have afforded these people a bit more dignity. I also think they could have tackled the enduring subject of erratic electricity and water with a bit more wit instead of engendering a complete bitch-fest.

Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty to love about the show if you look for it. The fashion is fantastic, it is well produced and a number of the actresses hit it out of the park with their craft. And of course, it gives many women in the Diaspora something to look forward to watching on the weekends. I don’t believe for one moment that the show’s creator meant to condescend to Ghanaian plebian society, but the privilege of those with power and access is that they have permission to condescend and dismiss, even if it’s unconsciously, and will be forgiven for it…usually. This is why those of us with power, privilege and access must use it responsibly.

So what’s the trouble with ‘An African City’? Like any media phenomenon, not everyone can universally agree to love it…which is a good problem to have. It gets people talking, and talk turns into publicity and publicity turns into dollars. I pledged to keep watching the show for three episodes before writing it off, and I’m pleased to say that by the third webisode entitled ‘An African Dump’, it had begun to redeem itself. You all know how much I love toilet humor.

What do you think of the show? Are you in the love it, hate it, or couldn’t care less camp? Do you think I’ve been unfair in my analysis – or am I right as usual? 🙂 Discuss!

  • I would say it’s ok ..would agree with you that it’s a one sided view.. my issue is the acting.. the ladies don’t seem to be in sync with each other, y’know it’s not real..some of ’em are better actresses than the rest. Nos 1 best acting is Nana Mensah who played Sade and next best is MaameYaa Boafo who played Nana Yaa. A for effort and beauty though.

  • Sam

    Hey, Great article as usual! I am absolutely in love with this show! l was also uncomfortable with the classism that the characters showed and the complaints about living in Ghana but I thought that the point of those scenes was to show returnees who do behave like that, that they are being idiots. I think they wanted to give a realistic representation of how returnees act with the aim of self-reflection. But then again I am only in Ghana in December and while there, I barely interact with returnees so maybe I am not the best person to comment on how the average returnee usually acts like.
    Also Segun is so hot, I make sure I watch every week just to drool! 🙂

  • To be fair, there are different ‘types’ of Returnees, some being more tolerable than others. I guess the ones who come home every December behave so badly that they give the rest of the group a bad name and it becomes easy to apply their bad behavior on one and all. I’ve had friends who vehemently oppose the title “returnee” being ascribed to them at all! It is important to see them interact with each other and the rest of us commoners as they naturally would, I suppose. Kind of like observing a zoo animal for study…
    That was mean. Don’t mind me. That’s just my bias showing.

    Lalaroses: I agree with your analysis on A for effort and beauty. I think the actresses’ interactions become more natural as the series goes on, and yes, the women are all stunning in their own ways. I think MaameYaa Boafo is the better actress though. 😉

    Sam: yes ooo, Segun is hot like fiya! We shall see more of him (I pray!).

    • knowledge

      I understand your critique. However, I will counter you a bit. As someone who is born and raised in the Western world but goes to Ghana very often, the show is realistic in many ways. If you are raised outside and go to Ghana for a long period of time you will definitely end up interacting with other people who are “born and raise outside”. That is a specific demographic that has grown tremendously over the past ten years. Fifteen or twenty years ago this type of show could not be made. Now, if you go to Ghana you will meet a large number of 20 something and 30 something folks with Ghanaian parents but Western experiences. It is hard for people to swallow because this is the first time someone has really allowed this demographic to be featured. Moreover, because it is a sexual show, Ghanaians are uncomfortable with it. However, ask those same Ghanaians if they have half brothers or half sisters!! Ha ha ha…
      The show is painfully real and there are more shows like this to come in other countries. Be prepared…

  • ESB

    Ok, so i just finished watching all 3 episodes. I finished watching them before i read this post because i didn’t want any preconceptions before watching and i guessed correctly all that you didn’t like about it whiles watching it. I don’t think your analyses were unfair because i thought the same things as i watched. Why are all the “perfect on paper guys” educated outside? Our educational system is that bad huh? Well, it was nice in all. Sade is crazy. Episode 3 is really funny.😀 haha still laughing

    • Hmmm. Our educational system produces the best and the brightest! You just have to know where to look.

      I have to confess if I haven’t already. But I was hesitant to write this blog. I didn’t want to come off as a “Hater”. The Ghanaian film industry is so severely lacking in really good talent and quality that I didn’t want to knock a woman for giving it her best. However I think it’s very important that we respect our culture, and not belittle what is not familiar to us. Episode three was approved! Although I do know of one reader who did not like it because she took offense to the idea that African poop is stinkier than European poop.

      Poop. Ha ha ha!!!

  • Nuong

    As always, even when your opinion isn’t popular, you get it right.

  • Reblogged this on Speak Ghana.

  • Afua

    The trouble with this blog post:

    1) You feel sorry for the waiter? You feeling sorry for the waiter is nothing but your privileged guilt. They do not want your sympathy. Poor you sitting in a restaurant feeling sorry for the waiter taking your order. Get over yourself.
    2) I did not know I should not use my left hand in Ghana until I was 19 years old and my grandmother hit it with enough force to take me out. I will let my parents know that some Malaka chick does not think they are “proper Ghanaian parents.” Again, you allude to the ladies being snobs – but your snobbery oozes all over this blog post.
    3) You called your friends? Give me one second. Let me get my brothers on the phone. I will call them Kweku and Kwasi. Do some better research next time. The opinion of your “friends” is not interesting.
    4) I am back now and I will “gasp” that the water or lights are off again and again. I’m allowed to “gasp” because my government should at least be able to get that right. We are now snobs for wanting to hold our governments accountable? But you never complain about this government as you are too busy feeling sorry for waiters. Woe is you.

    Now stop hating. Enjoy your second choice pick for a BBC interview. I’m off to watch episode 7 as I find that episode ridiculously funny. I’ll watch it if I have electricity that is. Gasp.

    • There are so many ways to respond to this comment, but not of them are favorable.
      Do I instruct you to stop being a troll?
      Do I tell you what a half-intellectual, self-indulgent, idiot you’re being?
      Do I go the Kola Boof route and tell you to eat a bag of monkey dicks?
      Do I just enjoy this moment because Adventures from the bedrooms of African women just won best blog at Blomcamp and just ignore you?

      I’m going with the last. You’ve completely missed the point. You can’t possibly be worth my time.

    • A-Dub

      Afua…… WOW….WOW…WOW…. sigh… gasp …. wow!
      It is interesting that you say that the opinions of Malaka and her friends are not interesting, yet you care to share yours? Pray tell what makes your response so interesting so that next time she can call YOU and NOT her friends… I’m sure Malaka would just love to get it right the next time. You seem to have the answers so please share your astute wisdom.
      This is her blog, she is supposed to share her opinion -whose opinion should she have? Face it, if the blog were not interesting in some way you would not have spent the time to respond or even read it to the end… but then again, you do seem to posses some wildly higher sense of self …so maybe you have the time to read things that are not interesting and worth your time? I don’t know about you but I don’t waste my time on things I don’t find interesting. You will notice that I started off saying you commenting in the blog was interesting to me… once in a while I get
      very a huge chuckle from fools.

      High five to your grandma for knocking you out… #thumbsup #wink

      For Rohan!

    • @Afua – Excuse me but your comments are clearly full of crap. Here’s why:

      1.) Your arguments are weak. You’re making open ended conjectures based on nothing. She’s not feeling sorry for the waiter because he is “serving her” as some lowly servant boy per say. She is sorry that you expats don’t think past yourself when it comes to the quality of service and therefore treat waiters with DISRESPECT.

      2.) I am going to make a conjecture here just like you: Shame on your parents. You obviously grew up on a westernized home where your parents didn’t respect Ghanaian culture. And it took your grandfather whom you clearly didn’t grow up with to correct your parent’s mistake. Hope you enjoyed eating with the hand you also wiped your backside with.

      3.) That stupid comment isn’t even worthy of a response.

      4.) Point well taken, however the point she was suggesting was that you expats SPEND HALF THE DAY complaining about something you know is going to happen. Yes, Ghanaians should expect more out of their government. And Yes, service delivery is essential, but what are YOU doing about it? There are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.

      Grow up.

      • She’s not an expat ooo! That’s an insult to expats. Expatriate has better sense than to show up in a country, supposedly of her heritage, and not familiarize herself with the customs and expectations of said country. This Afua girl (clearly not her real name) is just the clueless, Valley Girl, caricature of a Returnee I was talking about in the blog, who thinks bitching about problems is the equivalent of demanding change. And that’s PRECISELY the problem I have with this show. It’s not innovative. It’s poor imitation of a Western standard. It highlights problems, puts a coke (with no lemon please!) in 6 chicks hands, and let’s them kvetch about it for 10 out of 15 minutes of air time. The type of Returnees Ghana needs are those coming with ideas to solve our problems, not self-absorbed chicks looking for “big government contracts”, and certainly not of this Afua’s ilk.

        Kai!

        You think THIS was hating? Honey, you don’t have a clue. Don’t make me write a blog called ‘How I REALLY feel About An African City, And What All the People who Interviewed You Really Feel About Your Show (They Think It’s Slow, FYI) But they Feel a Sense of White Man’s Burden and are Putting You on a Shaky Pedestal And Giving you a Bunch of Praise ‘Cause their Editor/Producer Said To.”
        Afua was clearly sent on a troll’s errand, and trolls will be dealt with. Anybody else want some?

    • Afua

      Ooohh sista Afua,
      You have just shyed yourself for free!
      You obviously have strong opinions about other peoples opinions, you should share them on your own blog instead of making a complete a$$ of yourself on the www.

  • I love it.. It’s as slight as a reed, and as fake as a three dollar bill, but so what… where is the page that says everything has to be lovable and authentic? Fakery has its charm.. and in the episodes I’ve seen, practically all, I recognize that the story is straining for a certain kind of truth… sugar daddies, on the make real-estate developers, complicated, maybe unsavory love relationships, and so on… This is only a slice of all the possibilities, it doesn’t represent the whole.. Anyone who comes away thinking this represents all “returnees” or Accra needs to get out more. The real streets of Accra are too funky.. we need some fantasy to get through the day, we all do.. 😀

    • Thanks for sharing your view KofiB!

  • David S.

    I haven’t watched the show. I probably never will. No offense to the creators but every description I’ve heard suggests it won’t be my cup of tea. And yet, in my non-watching ignorance, I am going to venture to comment on the back and forth that is going on here. The show is someone’s creation. It’s their expression. Like any creative work, it’s going to have it’s fans and it’s critics. Which is why I find this whole exercise of “Let’s look at your criticism and analyze it to see what it says about you as a person.” to be quite petty. Malaka has said she doesn’t like the show. She hasn’t said nobody should watch it. She hasn’t said “If you like it you are a terrible human being.” She hasn’t organized a protest to get people to boycott the show. She simply said “I watched it and I didn’t like it.” Why the defensiveness? Other people have been able to come on here, process what Malaka has said, and say “As for me, I still like the show.” I haven’t read all the comments but I see one from KofiB right above my box and and he was able to read Malaka’s commentary without reacting as if he thought her dislike of the show was a personal attack on him for liking the show. So again, those of you trolling: Why you mad?

  • Thank you for this blog post. I just finished watching the first season. Although I enjoyed the series, as an African-American born and raised in the Southern United States I wondered about the West African response. I can understand that the creator wanted to change the image of the African woman but why present this image? Yes, all of the characters have careers, great apartments and great clothes, but they are oddly obsessed with sex. I’m not saying women should live like nuns, but when you are on your grind most people don’t have time to date and sleep around like that. Sleep in itself is a luxury.

    That’s just my two cents.

    Thanks again for your perceptive.

    • And thanks for sharing yours! Since it’s the international crew that largely watches (and seemingly enjoys) this show, I think it’s important to hear all views.
      I agree with you on that final score 135%. After a long day of work, I certainly don’t have the mental or physical strength to go humping anybody so frequently. But then again, I’m old…so I’m probably not the best bench mark for what’s “relevant and real”.

  • I’m Namibian Ugandan but have never lived in UG. I love in the US at the moment. I always loved sex and the city and own the box set and both movies. I love the ideal of showing that there is a growing almost elite of young people diaspora as well as those who haven’t left Africa who are educated and much more than American media ever portrays. I love the show because even though it is too similar a model to SATC it showcases African talent, a different side of Africa and the fact that Arricans are as diverse and different and beautiful as the 54 countries. From the vantage point of a Ugandan who never lived in Uganda – this show is a breath of fresh air. As a diaspora who grew up in SADD it is overly dramatic and exaggerated, but you do get such women in Joburg etc. the specialities or glitterati – it is not the entire population but he emerging elite. This is innovative because it is showing a whole side of Africa outside of Enola these fools need to see. Hopefully it inspires other dynamic artists of which there are plenty all over Africa to show the other dynamics – the women who are not flashy but just as resourceful as the five portrayed in this series. Nicole might not have pleased everyone because Africans are conservative – but she got the WORLD talking about more than the stereotypical images which prevent the, from exploring the magnificence which is my continent.

    • knowledge

      Excellent perspective. Everything is a process. The producer and the actresses should be given credit for daring to be the first to make a show like this. It is a start and of course people will be uncomfortable because it is a sexual show. However, the fake conservatives of Ghana always have out of wedlock kids and girlfriends. It is a secretly very sexual society. Let us not fool ourselves.

  • Apologies for typos – my gadget changes words! The second sentence should read – growing and emerging and not “elite”. Also, let’s share our thoughts but respectfully. No need to attack each other.

  • I really enjoy watching an African city for a number of reasons. I am most certainly a very diverse individual. My parents are Ghanaian (My mum is Ga and my dad is Ashanti), I was born in London and I grew up in America for a large part of my life. I was definitely not born with a silver spoon but there are so many thing I am thankful for. With that said I am very much as sophisticated lady with home grown qualities. I don’t own a Trassaco apartment, drive a BMW, or have a married man as my sugar daddy. However I can relate to 99% of the “fictional” story line’s that an African City portrays.

    There are so many different points of view that we as a society can portray of our own people. For instance my mum can watch a Ghanaian village comedy on UTV for the whole day. She is very much a city girl (Born and raised in La, Accra) but she could care less about the way the modern day (westernised) Ghanaian movies portray Ghanaians that are coming from London or America.

    There are things about sex in the city that are definitely over exaggerated but this is the beauty of moving art. The creator of an African City may have expressed her view point to something maybe one of her African friends from a different continent has shared with her. When I’m with my girls in Accra, we work/form new business ideas, we support each other, we go to church, we hangout and we chill with our boyfriends.

    Once again I am not filthy rich but I have experience many of the topics that are portrayed in an African City. I feel that this show expresses a different side of modern Ghana. The western world loves to depict the struggles of Africa from war torn countries, to hungry babies. From that view It seems Africa doesn’t have an ounce of sophistication or woman who aren’t being forced to do things against their will.

    I completely understand that we have our issues at times but can we also show something that appeals to the hard working sophisticated woman of Africa? An African City get us talking about things that really troubling. For instance, why are apartments in Accra being sold in dollar amounts with a ridiculously expensive deposit tagged on to the charge? According to Mr. Dombo of the Ghana rent control department it is a criminal offence for estate or landlords to charge rent in dollars yet a majority of them ignore this law completly (http://www.ghanapropertyfinder.com/rent-control-ghana/). This year dumsor has seem to reach an all time high. Since I was an infant I have been coming to Accra. Even when I was younger I don’t remember dealing with this many struggles regarding electricity. I have friends that don’t come from much but you wouldn’t know it because they always dress to the nines. They will step out with a show stopping look and would settle for nothing less than the best. Along with everyone else I have spend well over 200 dollars to ship goods to Accra only to turn around and pay another fee (I call it post man tax) to receive my own items from the post office. We all know that “tax” on our goods just ends up in the pockets of the employees but this is the Ghana I love. I have at least one friend that doesn’t mind dating married men for her needs because she claims all men cheat and the system is difficult to gain a leg up on. However in my mind I feel like this should rather be our time to change the system. There are a lot of problems I would like to fix when it comes to the way things run in Ghana and I feel that an African City portrays these issues. The only thing that is slightly different is the type of woman that are being portrayed. They are not the usual “norm” but what is normal these days?

    Sometimes second generation Ghanaians who end up living between two worlds (western/ghana society) and eventually end up living back in one world (ghana) experience life on a totally different frequency. That is really a different conversation all together but what I’m trying to say is that whether we like to believe it or not a lot of these things do happen or have happened. The last thing I will say is that when I’m in Ghana there are many people who see me as an american or a Londoner…..or someone who has money to spend (which is defiantly not the case, lol). It is only when I speak in Ga or make it apparent that I know my way around town, is when they choose to treat me like a Ghanaian. Even after that some people still chose to treat you a certain way. Mind you I am the only one in my group of Ghanaian friends who wasn’t born in Ghana but I do come from old school values. If anything I feel like we, as a society, can do a better job at treating each other more fairly. Until we do that all of these lines and divides will be sharper than ever. An African City is certainly one view point of many but this is one I enjoy watching and sometimes living.

  • knowledge

    Your post says it all. At the end of the day, there is a new demographic that both Ghanaians and Americans are having trouble handling. There are people who have African parents who were raised in the Western world who have their own perspective which is a legitimate one. Slowly but surely, that new demographic will be respected. This series is just the beginning.

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  • You are right the fashions are awesome. It is a bit of Accra bashing.