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The origins of Osu Oxford Street 11/08/2008 Page 1 of 1
THE ORIGINS OF OSU OXFORD STREET
Story: Sebastian Syme
The Oxford Street at Osu ( Cantonments Road ) is one of the populous streets in Accra , given the vibrancy of businesses and the presence of Europeans, Americans and other foreign nationals there.
The mere mention of Oxford Street connotes pastime and eating of delicacies.
One unique feature of the Oxford Street is that it leads straight to the Osu Castle, the seat of the President of the Republic of Ghana.
How did Oxford Street at Osu acquire its name?
A Ghanaian professor of English at the University of Toronto in Canada, Ato Quayson, has given an insight into it. Presenting a historic background to what went into the naming of the popular OSU Oxford Street in Accra, he explained that the name evolved from the early 1990s when Ghanaians seeking political asylum in London and elsewhere after the reintroduction of multi-party democracy were granted amnesty to return to the country by former President Jerry John Rawlings.
In a lecture he delivered at the British Council Hall in Accra on Last Wednesday on the theme: “Globalization, Urban Growth, and Social Inequality: Interpreting Oxford Street Accra”, Prof Qauyson said after Ghanaian abroad developed confidence in the system after the 1992 elections, many of them, particularly those from the United Kingdom, began to return home.
He said the business potential of the country began to gain grounds, the Ghanaian returnees resident around the Osu Oxford Street and its environs decided to name the street after the popular Oxford Street in London.
He explained the current economic environment along the Oxford street in Accra was influence by the destruction of the Makola Market in 1979, which had gained reputation for being the citadel of economic competition dominated by women.
Prof. Quayson, who is also the Director of the Centre for Diasporan and Transitional Studies at the same University, added that following the destruction of the Makola Market, the entire Central Business District (CBD) became unsafe from 1979 because there was an economic “demise” of Makola, which necessitated the “flight” of economic energy to other parts of the city.
He said consequently, Oxford Street became a trading hub and the capital of night life in Accra, after adding that after 1985 the street had the potential to generate huge economic activities to the benefit neighbourhood.
He listed some of the establishments in the area as Papaye, which was established in 1993; Frankies in 1996; Osu Food Court in 1994 and Barclays, the first Bank to be established in the area, and said they had paved the way for the establishment of other institutions such as the Penta Hotel and the Trust Hospital which were established in 1993 and 1997 respectively.
Prof Qauyson said the population of Accra was fast increasing, adding that city’s population as of 1899 was 22,000 and begun to expand in 1956, with a population of about 100,000.
“Fifty years down the line, the city now has between 2.5 and four million inhabitants,” the professor added.
He also presented a picture of how the city of Accra evolved from the time of the colonial administration to its present state to the packed audience at the lecture.
He mentioned the fact that the construction of low-cost housing project in certain poor communities such as Chorkor and Kaneshie, coupled with expensive housing in areas such as Ridge, created differential social ecologies, with the ruling elite and their satellites enjoying a better living environment, to the total exclusion of the poor.
Prof Quayson stressed that with the rate at which businesses were springing up on the Osu Oxford Street if nothing was done, about it the area stood the risk of being needlessly choked with people, coupled the attendant vehicular traffic on the road.
A former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Pro Ivan Addae-Mensah, who chaired the function, supported calls to relocate the capital city from Accra, saying that for the purposes of easing congestion, countries such as Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire had created political and commercial capitals.
“A strong political will in our case is what is required to effect the kind of arrangement”, he said.
Referring to the Osu Oxford Street, Prof Addae-Mensah noted that what was known currently as Osu RE referred to Regimental Engineers, probably because the military in the colonial era was based there.
He stated that the indiscriminate commercialization of plush areas in Accra largely accounted for the movement of people into unplanned areas and called for a regulatory framework to guide the development of the city.
Another view suggests that Oxford Street took its root from Oxford in Britain because of its bustling cosmopolitan nature reports Musa Yaya Jafaru.
But the official name of the Oxford Street is Osu Royal Engineers, shortened to Osu RE, which was coined from the colonial army stationed along the street during the Second World War between 1939-1945.
Incidentally, the building the colonial army occupied is now being used by MTN, the mobile telephony providers
According to the Asafoatse (Warlord) of Osu RE road was untarred, with a lot of weeds, and it was only the military who could drive along the street with special jeeps.
However, now the Oxford Street, in the Korle Klottey Constituency, boasts of restaurants, bars, supermarkets, boutiques, hotels, banks, forex bureaux, internet cafes, private clinics, among others.
Prominent eating joints along the Oxford Street are Papaye and Frankies, while the biggest supermarket is the Koala Shopping Centre.
Chinese restaurants are also common in the area. The banks include Barclays, ECOBANK, Amalbank and Fidelity Bank. The Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) has an office and a hospital along the Oxford Street. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has one office there.
Mobile phone service providers, MTN and Tigo, have opened branches on the Oxford Street. Woodin and Wrangler are located there.
Petty traders and street vendors are also hugely present along the Oxford Street, selling mainly artifacts, dresses, paintings, shoes and video discs.
The indigenous fishermen of Osu are also not left out of the business as some of them have displayed their fish for sale along the Oxford Street.
The Oxford Street presents a picture of a variety of races, with a number of Americans, Europeans and Chinese competing fovourably with their Ghanaian counterparts.
The Europeans, most of whom are tourists, are mainly from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, among others. African tourists, mainly from South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria, also patronize the Oxford Street.
It is, therefore, not surprising that several street carnivals are held along the Oxford Street on occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.
It is worth mentioning that some of the tourists ‘fall in love’ with the petty traders along the Oxford Street, especially those with dreadlocks or Rastafarians. The tourists even go back to their respective countries with some of their new-found friends.
One Rastafarian who declined to give his name confined in this reporter that his wife was an European based in London.
Stressing the history of the Oxford Street, Nii Amaja said the road was one of the oldest in Accra constructed before the Ring Road.
“Osu RE is ancient,” he said.
Nii Amaja said the development of the Oxford Street started in 1986 and became more vibrant in the 1990’s.
He said that the change of the name from Osu RE to Oxford Street about 10years ago resulted from the business boom along the street. However, he said, the name Oxford Street was not the official name of the street and indicated that the media that couched that name to connote the vibrancy of the businesses there.
He said the development of shops and offices stared from Cantonment, an adjacent area to the Oxford Street and extended to the Oxford Street.
According to him, the Queen of Britain built some houses for her officials at Cantonments, saying that the presence of the expatriates at Cantonments made the area popular.
Many of the buildings along the then Osu RE Road were for residential purposes before 1986.
According to an elder at Osu, Ataa Oko, the buildings were individual property. He said some of the owners sold their houses outright to investors between 1986 and 1990.
However, he said from 1990, the owners resorted to giving out their houses on long leases.
On why the indigenous people of Osu should sell or lease their houses, Nii Amaja III said people could not resist the huge sums of money extended to the by the investors.
He said the people were given money to build new houses at other places in Accra.
Nii Amaja was happy about the vibrancy of businesses and the presence of foreign nationals on the Oxford Street but was not thrilled at the fact that the indigenous people of Osu had not benefited from the business boom.
He said due to the chieftaincy litigation in the area, the traditional authority was not able to give any conditionalities to the investors.
For instance, he said an arrangement could be made to have a fraction of qualified youth in the area engage in the businesses or the investors asked to pay some royalty to the traditional authority.
“There is so much litigation over who is supposed to be the head. Because of that, nothing comes to the stool,” he lamented.
Nii Amaja’s greatest worry was the adulteration of the local culture of the Osu people, mainly by the kind of dressing by some of the foreign nationals.
“Some of the people dress badly and this is affecting some our youth,” he said in a rather disturbed mood.
A dealer in artifacts along the Oxford Street, Dawuma Mamadou, told this reporter that sales picked up from June when more tourists normally arrive in the country.
Nonetheless, he said, market was generally good in the area.
A taxi driver, Solomon Adjei, said business peaked along the Oxford Street from Friday evening through to Sunday evening, as more people trouped to the area at those times.
Charlotte and Frank, both from Belgium, who were seen walking along the Oxford Street, said they liked the area.
According to them, they asked for a supermarket and they were directed to the Oxford Street.
Charlotte and Frank said they liked the taste of the delicacies but they felt the prices were on the higher side.
Mr. Adu Mante is the current Member of Parliament (MP) FOR THE Klottey Korle Constituency where the Oxford Street is.
There are four divisional quarters at Osu, namely the Asante Quarter (Mankralo), the Alata Quarter, the Anerho Quarter and Kinkawe Quarter.
The relaxed manner in which the foreign nationals sit at eating joints, shop and move about on the Oxford Street testifies that they enjoy the atmosphere.
As indicated earlier, Oxford Street has some similarities with Oxford Street in Britain.
Oxford, which is not far away from the city of London, is famous for its university and place of history. Nowadays, it is a bustling cosmopolitan town, whether on one of the Science and Business parks or within one of a number of residential areas.
With its mix of ancient and modern, there is plenty for both the tourist and the resident to do.
Whether you are visiting for business or pleasure, you will find a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments and self-catering accommodation, according to Oxmaps Accommodation Finders in the United Kingdom.
Daily Graphic page 29 Thursday, August 7, 2008 Page 1 of 1 1
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