A March of Numbers, a Cascade of Images: Temporalities, Planning and Economic Management in 1960s Ghana

Gerardo Serra, University of Manchester

In the 1960s Ghana’s first postcolonial government, led by Kwame Nkrumah, represented a beacon of hope for the African continent and a pioneer experiment in African socialism. The Seven-Year Plan for National Reconstruction and Development (7YP), launched in 1964, epitomised the government’s attempt to build socialism through macroeconomic engineering. However, while still attempting to rule over an economy already hindered by mismanagement, shortages and inflation, Nkrumah’s government was overthrown in February 1966. This has led development economists and economic historians to suggest that the 7YP was ‘a piece of paper with an operational impact close to zero’. The paper is built on the assumption that, although the plan did not succeed in reshaping the Ghanaian economy in its image, it had a substantial symbolic and discursive importance. Specifically, the paper treats the 7YPas a catalyst of visual and textual representations. These, in turn, articulated the multiple temporalities on which the construction of the ‘political theology’ of socialist Ghana, and its denouncement and exposure by the military regime that took power with Nkrumah’s overthrown, were based. Building on Francois Hartog’s notion of ‘regimes of historicity’, the paper treats the plan itself, the newspaper articles and visual representations that it inspired, and the judiciary records of the commissions of inquiry on economic mismanagement that followed its implementation, as discursive frameworks that articulated the relationship between past, present and future. A close reading of the multiple temporalities (spanning from the messianic undertone of the socialist propaganda to the ‘consumed time’ of the courts proceedings) inspired by economic management allows a fine-grained exploration of postcolonial political iconography, and a more nuanced understanding of the place of planning in development discourse.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 44. Performativity from a New Angle: Planned Economies and Their Data