Television in Ghana was born at a radical time when Africans across the continent were boldly inventing systems of governance resistant to imperialism and racial inequality. Alongside the formation of the new state, the new medium was designed to help realize visions of Pan‐Africanism and African socialism promoted by Kwame Nkrumah. With the February 24, 1966, coup d’état seven months after its first broadcast, Ghanaian socialist television ended. Based on archival research and interviews with Ghanaian television pioneers, in this essay I argue that this Afrofuturist segment of Ghana's media past provides a counternarrative to new media discourse from the colonial era that positioned Africa as the passive receiver of television. I show how transnational influences were actively adapted to theorize the new medium in opposition to racial capitalism and propose that media archaeologies attuned to Afrofuturism may reorient the field toward social and political justice in the present.

. . . all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things. . . . In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

—Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences

Michel Foucault begins his 1966 “Archaeology of the Human Sciences” with an account of an intellectual sensation he felt after reading Jorge Luis Borges's “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.” Confronting alterity in Borges's speculative fiction, for it was a fictional Chinese encyclopedia that provocatively ordered animals in inconceivable ways, the structures of meaning Foucault took as stable—a constant and immovable force—began to dissipate. Thus, Foucault begins his detailed archaeology of Western thought from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century with an acknowledgment that the precarity of that intellectual tradition is the result of “the stamp” not only of temporal but also geographic specificity.

Media archaeology, deriving its methodology in part from Foucault, is a critical practice that excavates media pasts in order to recontextualize the media present and their possible futures (Huhtamo and Parikka 2011: 28). Like Borges's illusory Chinese encyclopedia, the unearthed discarded media object in the hands of the media archaeologist destabilizes the presumed order of things. In the case of media archaeology, this is an assumption of the inevitability of the media of the present. In other words, “the stark impossibility of thinking that” about our contemporary media demonstrates “the limitation of our own” suppositions about what media have been, are, and what they can become. By exhuming the failed and forgotten media oddities of the past, media archaeologists reject teleological histories that celebrate the newest media as the most advanced in favor of histories of media that dwell in the speculation of what was and is potentially possible (Huhtamo and Parikka 2011: 3).1

Still, it would seem media archaeologists have been too preoccupied with time. In their pursuit of the “always already new” (Gitelman 2008), they tend to set aside questions about the impact that provenance has on the old new media they uncover. As a result, media archaeologies have often begun and ended in the West. Underneath this tendency to focus on new media in Euro-American contexts is the principle that media are new when their material components become tangible, or when they are first dreamed up and patented. The focus on novelty years, media transitions—the so-called moments of medial identity crises—in the West reifies a particular narrative of media history.

However, media are always becoming. The distribution of media systems across the globe and the use of technologies in imaginative new ways allow for the continuous reinvention of media. Not only do use-centered histories of media affirm the social construction of technology, they also insist that human creativity and innovation are found beyond the Silicon Valleys of our media pasts (Edgerton 2007; Mavhunga 2017). I want to make the case that to know the contours of the present mediatic moment, and perhaps those of the future as well, media archaeology might consider new media geographies as much as alternative media timelines. What do the histories of new media in the Global South show about worldwide discourses of new media, which often remain latent in contemporary media archaeologies that focus on the usual Western sites of new media production and their successful white male inventor-entrepreneurs? By focusing on the short-lived experiment in socialist television, which characterized the birth of Ghana Television in the mid-1960s, I will attempt a start.

In general, it is only since the “global turn” in television studies in the 1990s and early 2000s that the field to focus on television histories outside industrialized Western nations (Parks and Kumar 2003: 6). Most sub-Saharan television scholarship today focuses on mass media after structural adjustment and the wave of media privatization that swept the continent in the 1990s, leaving the history of African television during its initial years still understudied.2 This early period where it is discussed is characterized by an initial period of poor access and technological lag. In the year 1960, UNESCO reported that only five countries in Africa had at least one television per one thousand people, while in Europe there were twenty-four and in North America fourteen (UNESCO 1963). Additionally, summaries of the origins of African television have suggested that television was nothing more than a parting gift from former colonial powers (Berwanger 1995: 310; “Africa, Sub-Saharan” 2004: 45). Yet this picture can be misleading. The relatively small numbers of television receivers in Africa during the mid-twentieth century should not diminish the work that African broadcasters were doing to bring the new medium to the citizens of their countries. Nor does the role of foreign governments and transnational corporations in the establishment of African television mean that African broadcasters were importing media technologies indiscriminately.

Unlike the origins of radio and cinema in Ghana, which were initiated under British colonial rule, the first official Ghanaian television broadcast on July 31, 1965, came out of a radical time when Africans across the continent were boldly and creatively inventing systems of governance intended to contest imperialism and racial inequality. Alongside the formation of the new state, television was seen as a new medium that would help realize the African socialism promoted by the first prime minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. Yet with the February 24, 1966, coup d’état, only seven months after programming began, Nkrumah was overthrown, and Ghanaian socialist television came to an end. Contemporary institutional histories of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) omit the influence of Nkrumah's style of African socialism on Ghana Television's founding, emphasizing instead the long-standing educational mission of GBC (Mahama 2015; see also “The Humble Beginning of GBC” 2015). In this essay, I suggest that we read the first seven months of Ghanaian television as an Afrofuturist segment of Ghana's media past and as a counternarrative to the enduring colonial discourse that positions Africa as the passive receiver of new media machines. Focusing on work done by Shirley Graham Du Bois, the first director of Ghana Television, this media history establishes how television was invented in Ghana as a revolutionary alternative to the capitalist alienation of an implicitly white, Western technology. The detailed account of Du Bois's theories of television underlines the centrality of race in global discourses of the new medium.

Transnational Entanglements

The inauguration of Ghana Television happened at four o'clock in the afternoon on July 31, 1965, as thousands of individuals came to GBC to celebrate the first television transmission (see Figures 14). Parliamentarians, diplomats, chiefs, and other distinguished guests attended the “simple but very impressive” ninety-minute ceremony, while countless other Ghanaians watched live from television sets across the country (Ghana Radio1965b: 12). Nkrumah's speech to inaugurate Ghana Television celebrated the day but also negotiated a tension that characterized both the development of television in Ghana and the country's own political situation in the 1960s. Choosing to remain unaligned during the Cold War, Nkrumah's Convention People's Party (CPP) government increasingly appeared more socialist as the decade wore on. His attack on Western capitalism in his 1965 book Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism strained Ghana's relationship with the United States, England, and other capitalist countries. And yet television was established over seven years through an assortment of transnational economic and political relationships, which in some cases resembled the neocolonial dependencies Nkrumah despised. With the use of British equipment, help from Canadian expertise, and a Japanese industrial partnership, it was necessary for Nkrumah to acknowledge these international associates at the inauguration.

After a brief introduction on the origins of Ghana television, Nkrumah thanked the Canadian government for being “so generous” with their “equipment and personnel” (Nkrumah 1965: 1). He then expressed his gratitude to the British electronics company Marconi, who “assisted in no small measure” with the construction of Ghana's television transmitters and the television studio complex (1). A delegation of three, led by B. N. MacLarty, a consulting engineer from Marconi, sat in the audience to receive his thanks (Daily Graphic1965b: 3). Nkrumah also went on to acknowledge the Japanese Sanyo Corporation, who were partners with the Ghanaian government in establishing a local television factory in Tema, before thanking the many Ghanaian staff involved in making television a reality despite the “sceptics [who] declared that the establishment of a truly indigenous Television Service, organised and staffed by Ghanaians was an impossible task” (Nkrumah 1965: 1–2). Yet, Nkrumah's earlier acknowledgement of international assistance suggests that Ghana television was hardly “indigenous.” The heavy involvement of international collaborators meant that neocolonial entanglements—especially British interests—were bound up within the history of Ghana's new medium. The discussion of the emergence of African media industries has focused on the legacy of former colonial empires because of influences like those of Marconi in the history of Ghana Television, but Nkrumah would navigate a Cold War policy of nonalignment by developing partnerships with capitalist and communist countries alike.3

Following Ghanaian independence on March 6, 1957, there was some talk among Ghanaians of starting a national television service, but most of this was only exploratory. Toward the end of 1958, two British electronic equipment companies, Marconi Co., Ltd. of London and W. G. Pye & Co. Ltd. of Cambridge, began lobbying the Ghanaian government to start a national television service. In April 1959, the Ghanaian government accepted a joint proposal from the two companies for limited television coverage of the royal visit to Accra scheduled for November 1959.4 The scheme was designed as a trial run, which would come to an end after the royal visit. Around fifty television receivers would be made available to the government with additional receivers available for hire during the demonstration. The royal visit was to be aired live with a three-hour recap in the evenings (“Supply” 1959: 631). In presenting the proposal to Parliament, the minister of education and information, Kofi Baako, explained, “Although the experiment will be limited to Accra I hope that it will give people here some idea of what television is like. As a result I believe hon. members will be interested when later on I bring before them my proposals for the establishment of a national television service” (631). Baako emphasized that it would not “in any way commit the Government to any particular system of television,” but he hoped it would give the Ghanaian government enough background information so that they would be able to solve, on their own, any problems that may arise (631). When the royal visit was postponed to early 1961, the arrangements were canceled. As an alternative event, Baako invited Ghanaian ministers, foreign dignitaries, and members of the press to a small reception at the Broadcasting House on September 21, 1959, in honor of Founder's Day. There, Ghanaian broadcasting engineers demonstrated a closed-circuit television system that had been set up by Marconi for training purposes.

The early efforts by Marconi to woo Ghanaian officials had G. W. Marshall, the UK trade commissioner in Accra, convinced that British companies would win any bid that was solicited. On October 24, 1959, he gathered and sent a detailed intelligence report about the development of Ghanaian television to A. B. Savage at the Board of Trade in London. The report made clear England's vested economic interests in the development of Ghana television, seeing it as an opportunity to sell program material and transmitting and receiving equipment and give technical advice. With a shared national language and the long association between the British Broadcasting Corporation, GBC, and Marconi, Marshall assumed British companies would be more attractive partners. Believing in the superiority of their own television model, Marshall also presumed that the Ghanaian government would pursue state control over a commercial television system through legislation similar to the United Kingdom's Television Act.

Any challenges that British companies would have in winning the television contract with the Ghanaian government were taken to be largely practical. Marshall noted that the greatest difficulties a British company would have would be finding the technicians needed to operate the service, the training of Ghanaian personnel, and acquiring a supply of programs with suitable African content. He wrote, “Programmes will have to have a good proportion of African content (i.e. film material with white faces would not do for all of the time). This means that much of the programmes will have to be prepared on the African Continent, although in the beginning sound programme material will probably be in considerable use.”5 Marshall's report on the development of a Ghanaian national television station assumes that whichever company won a government contract would have significant control over the station. For Marshall, good will efforts toward training African staff and creating film material with Black faces instead of white ones were a cosmetic necessity to win the bid.

Not only would GBC eventually accept British equipment, entering an agreement with Marconi, they also welcomed numerous consultants and experts from England and abroad. The Canadian government, in particular, became an important resource and influence on Ghana Television, especially during the early days of its development. As Baako explained in an address to Parliament, the ministry “sought advice as to the problems involved in television from the Government of Canada” because it “is a developing country, like ourselves in many ways, and may be able to help us to decide how best to go about the complex process of introducing a television service” (“Supply” 1959: 631). Dealing with an English-speaking country that was not a former colonial ruler allowed Ghanaians, at least in theory, to avoid appearing to fall into a neocolonial relationship with Britain.

Following the successful consultation work of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) employees A. L. Pidgeon and J. L. Marshall on the establishment of a Ghanaian international radio broadcast, Ghana invited two more consultants from the CBC to advise on the development of a television system. On November 6, 1959, R. D. Cahoon and S. R. Kennedy arrived in Ghana to make their recommendations. Cahoon and Kennedy were tasked with several items: to evaluate several proposals submitted to the Ghanaian government by equipment manufacturers and suppliers, to prepare a report on the best implementation practices while noting what risks Ghana might need to mitigate against, and, lastly, to provide recommendations for the organizational structure of the new department. The Ghanaian government stressed that they had already decided to establish a state-owned television service that would be integrated within the GBC. They also insisted that the Ghana television service should be “African in content and not simply a reflection of television services in other countries” (Cahoon and Kennedy 1959). In other words, Ghana wanted a unique television system, not the wholesale adoption of a BBC (or CBC) model like Marshall had predicted.

After a month of research, on December 11, 1959, Cahoon and Kennedy filed their report, and the Ghanaian government largely accepted the proposal. However, there were some minor changes. Where the Canadian report suggested offsetting costs by allowing commercial content, Ghana decided to make their television system commercial free. Additionally, in an effort to make “television for everyone,” instead of installing only three transmitters in the southern and central parts of the country and waiting to broadcast to the northern part of Ghana in a second stage, a northern relay station was added to ensure that television would be beamed to nearly two-thirds of the country upon its inauguration ([Du Bois] 1964: 7).

Following the acceptance of Cahoon and Kennedy's report, close ties with Canada continued. Under the Technical Assistance Agreement between Canada and Ghana, Frank Goodship and Wes Harvison, also from the CBC, arrived in late 1961 to assist with the development of a television training school—what would be the first institution of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. During 1962, the school was constructed at the GBC Broadcasting House and outfitted with television equipment, though it was not until January 28, 1963, that the minister of information and broadcasting, L. R. Abavana, officially opened it (Ghana Radio Review1963b: 4). Goodship was in charge of training the television production staff and advised on all aspects of television programming, while Harvison trained technical staff (Ghana Radio Review1964: cover). In early 1964, four more CBC employees would become instructors at the television school: Harry Heywood, a technical adviser; Pier Castonguay, television program adviser and production training officer; Harry Makin, film manager and news cameramen and film personnel manager; and Burns Stewart, a news training officer (Ghana Radio Review1964: cover).

The initial pupils at the television school were mostly culled from the ranks of Radio Ghana employees, and later from the Photography Division of the Information Services Department.6 After six months of basic training, twenty-four trainees from the Ghana Television School—twelve producers and twelve technicians—were sent to Canada for further studies and on-the-job training (30 Eventful Years1965: 20). Several Ghana Television students took courses at the Ryerson Institute of Technology in Toronto before practical assignments at the CBC (Ghana Radio Review1963c: cover). By 1965, when television began, fifty Ghana Television men and women had been trained in Canada (30 Eventful Years 1965: 20).

In addition to training television staff, there were efforts to prepare Ghanaian teachers to use television as an educational tool in the classroom. At the Educational Television Seminar, held at the Accra Television Training School, September 2–13, 1963, thirty Ghanaian secondary school and Teacher Training College teachers were encouraged to develop teaching materials for the school broadcasting (Ghana Radio Review1963d: cover). The seminar was primarily designed “to emphasise the educational values of Television” (Ghana Radio Review1963a: 7). Seminar instructors included two educational television experts from the United Kingdom: Charlotte Reid, a language instructor, and Tony Gibson, the director of the Centre for Educational Television Overseas (CETO). Also participating in the opening day's program was Dr. Joseph Coleman de Graft and Shirley Graham Du Bois, the second wife of W. E. B. Du Bois and future director of Ghana Television (Ghana Radio Review1963a: 7).

The Du Boises had defected to Ghana in the early 1960s to escape political restrictions in the United States for their involvement in the Communist Party. W. E. B. Du Bois's radicalization later in life has often been attributed to Shirley Graham Du Bois's beguiling leftist influence (Horne 2000: 31). However, as Gerald Horne writes, “The idea that a weak-minded Du Bois was seduced into joining the party does not do justice to him and, perhaps, overstates Graham's powers of political persuasion. On the other hand, it would be naïve to underestimate her dynamic influence on him, particularly her ability to bring him into radical circles that he otherwise avoided” (32). On her bidding, W. E. B. Du Bois joined her on a world tour that included a trip to the Soviet Union shortly after the success of Sputnik, as well as to China, which the United States government still prohibited its citizens to visit. Their voyage perturbed the United States, resulting in the couple's passports being revoked and solidifying their resolve to live abroad. With an invitation from Kwame Nkrumah, they chose to make their home in Accra and became Ghanaian citizens. For the Du Boises, and a number of other international Black Marxist thinkers who composed Nkrumah's intellectual circle (notably George Padmore and C. L. R. James), there was a consensus that capitalism was inextricable from global white supremacy, and therefore the need to forge a new Pan-African economic future was imperative.

Shortly after W. E. B. Du Bois's death, Nkrumah appointed Shirley Graham Du Bois as the director of Ghana Television. On February 1, 1964, she became director of what she later described as “Ghana's ‘non-existent’ Television.”7 Her first fifteen months, she recounted, “went into constructing, organizing, planning, training personelle and all the other activities necessary for building television in an ambitious, but un-developed country.”8 With little background in television, before her appointment, Du Bois was sent by the Ghanaian government to study television systems in Great Britain, France, Italy, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, and Japan before returning to invent, as she put it, “a specifically Ghanaian approach to Television organization and programing” ([Du Bois] 1964: 9).

Her trip began in England on October 28, 1963, and ended in early December in Italy. In London, Du Bois visited CETO, the same organization that was responsible for the Educational Television Seminar she participated in back in September 1963. CETO was a nonprofit organization founded in 1962 to promote the use of television as a tool for education in developing countries (Lawler 1965: 359). Funded in part by the Ford Foundation, the organization researched the needs of developing nations, offered advice on how to implement educational television programming, and provided their own educational content and graphics that came customizable for producers in overseas countries (Lawler 1965: 360). On her visit, Du Bois sat in on a CETO-produced lesson on cartography. In it, an Indian teacher used a map of India to give a televised lecture for a class in New Delhi. Despite the material being geared for an Indian classroom, Du Bois saw potential: “The various pieces and illustrations used to explain map making could just as easily apply to a map of Ghana.”9 Responding to the capacities of the medium, she was excited by the potential to use television to broadcast such visual aids to “hundreds of viewing centers at the same time!”10

This was the type of translation work Du Bois would do throughout her trip. In each of the places she visited, she took stock of how the country was approaching television in order to appropriate methods that would work in a Ghanaian context. In Italy, she visited the Telescuola Centre in Rome and came away speaking highly of the novel Italian approach to reducing illiteracy. At the Telescuola studio, she observed the production of the classroom lesson where an instructor gave a history lesson to eight students seated at desks in a classroom setting, a lesson that was then broadcast to hundreds of television schools in nearby towns. After two days at the studio, Du Bois, along with five other observers from different countries, traveled to viewing centers to see the children who received the broadcast lessons. She also viewed an adult education program called It's Never Too Late. The Telescuola model would become extremely important to the development of television in Ghana, as Du Bois borrowed the idea of using monitors at viewing centers to interpret televisual lessons for adult audiences. She wrote, “One senses immediately that this approach to television teaching has the simplicity and directness which is needed to combat illiteracy anywhere. Many of the methods used in Italy can very well be applied to Ghana.”11

Following Ghana's policy of nonalignment, Du Bois also examined Czechoslovakia's use of television for education. Similar to efforts in Western Europe, the Eastern Bloc considered educational television a critical tool in social transformation, modernization, and development. School television programs were seen across Europe as a means to accelerate learning in low-performing school districts. Television systems under Soviet authority were even developed through transnational collaborations with television systems in Western Europe (Imre 2016: 13; see also Gumbert 2014). Anikó Imre argues that there was a shared pre–Cold War “ethos of public service broadcasting” across Europe that saw national television as possessing a “government-led mission to inform and educate while promoting nationalism” (17). In Hungary, for example, where almost a third of the population had not obtained an eighth-grade education, television promised to offer a new means of adult education (45).

In Czechoslovakia, Du Bois met with representatives from the Ministry of Education and Culture—which administered television, radio, theater, and film departments—but she was most impressed with her visit to the famous Kudlov Film and Puppet Studio, where she remarked on the importance of imagination for both puppetry and television. Du Bois was delighted by the inventor of the puppets and director of the studio, Madam Tyrlova, writing, “first of all, [she] loves children and understands them (which is not always the same). And she also knows that something of the child lingers in grown-ups—if only the imagination can be stirred and the fancy set free. Her puppet films are for all people whose hearts would be young. . . . In this Film and Puppet Studio the imagination, so important for television, reigns supreme.”12 Du Bois's love of puppetry would inspire her again when she observed the use of puppets for educational television programming during her subsequent visit to Japan (Figure 5). Puppets, Du Bois claimed, gave Ghana a solution to the problem of retaining “young pupils [sic] full attention throughout a television lesson.”13 Indeed, GBC would go on to incorporate puppets into their educational television repertoire in late 1966.14

Following her trip to Europe, Du Bois organized a twenty-day trip to Japan to study television in a non-European context. She was accompanied by Alex Quarmyne, deputy director of television, and Jacob Dentu, director of engineering. From February 24 to March 15, 1964, the small Ghanaian cadre visited numerous electronic factories and Japanese television stations. On February 27, for example, the group visited the Japan Broadcasting Corporation's (NHK's) Technical Research Laboratories, where they “examined the Separate Luminance Color camera,” which was later used to broadcast in color parts of the 1964 Olympic Games in Japan and, as Du Bois put it in her report of the trip, “may well revolutionise television everywhere.”15 Quarmyne and Dentu also picked up programming ideas from the NHK, adopting how they assigned personnel to productions and drew up their production schedules (Quarmyne, pers. comm., July 13, 2017).

On their visit to Nippon Television Network Corporation on March 3, the group was given a tour of the studio and a color-television demonstration. After her visit, Du Bois became convinced that Ghana Television should begin in color. Given that color television was still only used in the United States and Japan at the time, this was a bold statement. She argued that the beauty that color television could afford was amplified by the impact it would have in moving Ghana forward to take their “place in the foremost ranks” of global communications technology ([Du Bois] 1964: 17). Du Bois also felt that the vibrancy of Africa could not adequately be represented in black and white: “Its bright sunshine, rich foliage, tropical flowers, blue skies, skin coloring, golden seashores and vivid clothing—all cry out for color.”16 Color television thus offered the means to celebrate more fully Black African identity. It could directly confront global racial hierarchies reinforced by ideologies about media diffusion, which projected Africans as late adopters, while also making visible the brightness of African culture.

While Canadian and European television experts emphatically stated that the cost of starting Ghanaian television service in color would be too prohibitive, in Japan Du Bois found manufacturers who understood the symbolic power color television could play in shifting global attitudes toward the new nation. In a memorandum to the Ghanaian minister of information and broadcasting, she emphasized Sanyo Electric's willingness to help Ghana Television start in color. According to Du Bois, T. Iue, president of Sanyo Electric Company, said, “If Ghana becomes the first country in the world to start television in color—it will seize a psychological leadership which will be world-wide. Think of the impact this would have on Europe! And the standard it would set for Africa! I'd like to see it done—and I promise you every possible assistance.”17 Matsutaro Shoriki also assured her, “You can have color television if you really want it, plan for it and work for it!”18

Impressed by Japan's improvements upon American television equipment, and their success at shipping electronics to the United States, Du Bois saw a partnership with Japanese manufacturers as an attractive alternative to economic relationships with European or American television manufacturers.19 To explore possible relationships, the Ghanaian group visited Sanyo Electric, where they were given a warm welcome and thorough tour (Figures 6 and 7). Du Bois wrote, “We learned why your companies can produce equipment of high quality to sell cheaper than similar equipment produced in other countries: You take unskilled workers, train and educate them and give them the opportunity to join the ranks of skilled workers. Through cooperative effort the workers earning capacity is increased. Ghana, where most of its workers are unskilled, can learn from you.”20 Captivated by the training of workers in Japan's factories, Du Bois began brokering a deal with Sanyo Electric to open a factory for radio and television assembly in Ghana. An agreement with Japanese electronics companies, she thought, offered Ghana a means to avoid a neocolonial relationship like that which shaded their work with Marconi. Eventually a deal would be made to form a company that would be equally financed by the Ghanaian government and three Japanese companies—Sanyo, Marubeni-Iida, and Nichimen Jitsugyo. The establishment of Ghana Sanyo Electrical Manufacturing Corporation was signed into effect on December 8, 1964.21

The effects of this relationship were significant, although they would be curtailed by the political deposition of Nkrumah's government less than two years later. On May 7, 1965, Nkrumah broke ground in Tema on the Sanyo radio and television factory that cost the Ghanaian government approximately 36,000 pounds (New Ashanti Times1965: 12). Yet the factory would not produce televisions until April 1966—shortly after the February 22 coup d’état.22 In a July 4, 1966, letter to Du Bois, K. Funabashi reported that the Ghana Sanyo Electrical Manufacturing Corporation was able to sell six hundred of the television sets they had produced since April and that production had reached three hundred units a month in June.23 However, under the National Liberation Council (NLC), the new military government would roll back support for state-owned industries, a concern Funabashi expressed: “As for business, it became very much harder without you as a matter of course.”24 Funabashi informed Du Bois that the new government proposed to cancel the provision in their agreement that gave Ghana Sanyo the exclusive right to manufacture and sell televisions in Ghana.25 Even as Ghana decided to adopt free-market economic policies, Funabashi naively remained optimistic, “The future of Ghana Sanyo is not hopeless however it will not be easy either.”26 In the end, without the economic protections of the state, the Ghana Sanyo factory—Du Bois's “baby”—would quietly close without lament.27

In the Black Radical Tradition

This history may suggest that Ghana television was the result of a familiar narrative of technology transfer—where new media are created elsewhere by experts, designers, and engineers and dispersed to Africa as charity, along with a hyperbolic discourse about how these technologies will transform underdeveloped countries on the continent. However, Nkrumah proposed an alternate vision in his speech to inaugurate Ghana television: “Our Television Service should be African in its outlook; and in its content,” and “should remain geared to the needs of Ghana and Africa.” Drawing on precolonial communication systems to justify different types of distribution methods, and making visible Black African expertise, Ghana Television located the newness of new media technologies in their adaption, implementation, and use.

Nkrumah's sentiment was echoed in the writings of Shirley Graham Du Bois. With the publication of This Is Ghana Television in 1965, she solidified her theorization of the new medium. In it, she argues that television is a weapon in the struggle for African unity against imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism—and that its ammunition is Ghanaian, African, and socialist content ([Du Bois] 1964: 5). Drawing on the discourses of international communications prevalent at the time, Du Bois articulated the power of television to transform living conditions, health, and agricultural practices. (In a claim reminiscent of contemporary enthusiasm for the power of mobile phones in developing countries, she at one point exclaimed to a crowd of GBC employees, “Television can save lives!”28) However, the educational potentials for television were not limited to teaching science, health, and hygiene, or new agricultural methods. For Du Bois, television was political, and she insisted that it be used to prepare “Ghanaian children for service in a dynamic, forward-looking socialist state” (1964: 22). Television also had the power to unite; it would send out “its beams of light as a unifying force for all Africa” (22).

It was thus not only television content that was geared toward Ghana and Africa. Ghanaians would be able to resituate the new medium as a continuation of indigenous media systems by linking Ghanaian television to a history of precolonial African communication systems. Nkrumah likened the Ghana Broadcasting Service to ɔkyeafoɔ, the skilled orators who draw on traditional proverbs, royal history, and poetry to translate and interpret the will of the Asantehene (the Ashanti king) (1965). Du Bois would likewise situate Ghana Television within an indigenous media history: “Television in Ghana will be the heir to a long tradition of journalism that goes back to the talking drums which have been used to transmit and receive messages for several hundreds of years” (1964: 28). The talking drums, which were used to communicate from village to village, became the call signal for Ghana radio and television (Smith 1970: 106) and were incorporated into the Ghana Broadcasting logo. Visitors to GBC were, and are still today, greeted by “the proverbial ‘gong-gong’ beater standing elegantly on the green turf in the middle of the compound” (30 Eventful Years1965: 5). Those who tuned in to Radio Ghana's Farm Forum on Sunday evening would hear Kwadwo Osae, the town crier of Aburi in Akwapim, “intone the call sign” using a double flanged bell (Ghana Radio Review1965d: cover). Local broadcast systems, like the talking drum, the town crier, and even the ɔkyeafoɔ shaped the way television was used and adapted by Ghanaians in the 1960s to share information, educate, and explain and translate government policy to the people. In this way, television and radio were not just incoming technologies from abroad but were remade in Ghana within the longue dureé of indigenous media (Mavhunga 2017: 14).

Besides being a noncommercial television system, Ghana Television's emphasis on using viewing centers as a means of set distribution denoted a significantly different conception of television. At a basic infrastructural level, the government instituted numerous official public viewing centers, especially in those parts of the country that were further from urban Accra (Ghanaian Times1965). Television receivers were set up in schools and in chiefs’ palaces. During the day, the televisions at schools were for classroom use, but in the evenings they were open to the public (Quarmyne, pers. comm., July 13, 2017). At official television viewing centers, “monitors,” modeled in part on traditional African storytellers, were employed to translate English content into local languages, thus combining “one of the oldest traditions of Ghana with this newest scientific invention” ([Du Bois] 1964: 15).29

Ghana was not the only place that public television viewing centers were used. It was a practice that recalled, for example, the way the British colonial administration in the 1940s brought educational content to rural communities for communal consumption through mobile cinema vans and shares some similarity with calls for the development of information communication technology community centers to bridge the digital divide in the early 2000s. More proximately, the French télé-club of the 1950s was a notable model of collective television reception, as villagers would congregate at schools to watch national broadcasts, discuss programming, and give feedback to producers—a model that was influential on UNESCO's approach to the promotion of television in developing nations (Wagman 2012). Indeed, a 1961 UNESCO document suggested that group viewing was essential for ensuring that television in Africa reached “those sections of the population for whom educational television is particularly designed” (UNESCO 1961). By 1964, there were community viewing centers in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and fifteen community television centers in Sierra Leone (UNESCO 1964).

Communal viewing extended into domestic spaces in Ghana, as people with private receivers would welcome their neighbors into their homes to watch television. The tendency to share family possessions with one's community, of which collective television viewing is an example, has been described by Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Gyekye as Akan humanism. “Akan thought,” he writes, “sees humans as originally born into a human society (onipa kurom), and therefore as social beings from the outset” (1995: 155). Because humans are naturally social, it is essential to Akan thought to guarantee the well-being of each member of their society. Nkrumah would draw on these African values to articulate what he saw as a particularly African idea of socialism. In his 1964 book, Consciencism, he argues for enacting a uniquely African style of economic socialism (rather than adopting the socialism of the USSR or China) that was rooted in precolonial African social systems which valued collectives, cooperatives, and asset sharing.

Quarmyne recounted that his brother, who lived in Kaneshie, “encouraged anybody in the neighborhood who wanted to watch television to come to his house. He later had to stop, because his furniture was all broken” (pers. comm., July 13, 2017). To preemptively try to manage the ruckus that hordes of excited children might cause, the Ghanaian Times warned children “not to be too noisy” while watching television in a neighbor's house (quoted in Merya 1965). However, Martin Loh would leave his window open so that neighbors could come and watch. As a television producer, he liked to hear his neighbors’ chatter and would use their comments “to realign” his “own thinking about things” he was producing (pers. comm., August 18, 2017).

This practice was found not only in Ghana. Nigerians had a similar tendency to share television access with neighbors. In Nigerian Television, Oluyinka Esan shows that “neighbours maintained an open-door policy, and often, family resources such as radio, and, later, television, were placed at the disposal of all” (2009: 40). Communal television viewing, Esan argues, was the result of “transporting to urban living, a rural mindset that respected communal living and sharing of assets” (40). Esan concludes that even though television in Nigeria was a “modern artefact,” it was adapted and used in “still largely traditional societies” and as such, Nigerian television was both a domestic medium and a “group/public medium” (41).

The radical force of Ghanaian television was that it was expected to be communally shared both at official viewing centers and in the homes of private individuals.30 It was, as Esan observes, both a domestic and public medium. This is quite different from the way television was advertised to consumers in capitalist democracies. As Raymond Williams noted in his seminal work on television, the privatized set sold a consumer product to the masses but was never a mass medium. In the United States and Europe, Williams noticed that earlier public technologies, like the railways and city lighting, were being replaced by new private technologies which were “at-once mobile”—connected to the desire to go out and see new places—“and a home-centered way of living.” He calls this tendency “mobile privatization” ([1974] 2003: 19–20) and argues for treating television broadcasts as a social product of this trend.

Yet, Williams also stresses that television might have turned out otherwise (23). When television was new, many people experienced it outside of the home in public commercial spaces like taverns, department stores, and even buses.31 John Logie Baird publicly demonstrated his experimental television system in England at Selfridge's Department Store in the 1920s (Aldridge 2012: 15–17). In the 1950s, people in Mexico City congregated in the streets to watch televisions in shop windows (Bonilla 2019), and in Japan, televisions were placed at railway stations and in parks, offering open-air television for urbanites (Yoshimi 2003: 463). Television, as Milly Buonanno argues, was an initially public medium that had to be domesticated (2008: 14). Even after television became the dominant domestic amusement in homes across the world, it always had non-domestic varieties—in bars, schools, and shopping areas. Television's “slipperiness,” its ability to adapt in different social spaces, is part of what defines the medium. Anna McCarthy has thus argued that the physical space of television reception, which compresses global images within local processes, is critical for defining the medium (2001: 13). Local values and television viewing practices establish television anew in each location. Akan humanism, African socialism, and indigenous media practices all contributed to the unique formation of the medium in Ghana.

In this context, the first seven months of Ghanaian television offer a glimpse of a distinctive televisual alternative that drew on imaginaries of precolonial African social relations oriented toward a liberated pan-African future. Nkrumah's political vision—for African socialism and a United States of Africa—and Du Bois's television system were futurological projects. In his work on Afrofuturism, Kodwo Eshun identifies the collapse of the “planned utopias of African socialism” when Nkrumah was overthrown as influencing a disenchantment with futurism (2003: 288). But before the coup d’état, African counterfutures were not only possible but central to Pan-Africanism, a political project television's arrival on the continent helped herald. In a Ghana Radio and Television Times article, a correspondent offers a prophetic revelation of the future of television in Africa. Television can, according to the article, “present the stark problems of countries still oppressed and the appalling apathy of others neglected”; it can depict the distinct cultural diversity of the continent while also highlighting Africans’ “common denominator as one continent one people” and promote African Unity; and it can provide a means to see “through the intrigues and maneouvres of colonists and their agents” (1965a: 5). Notably, the article begins with the adage, “to see is to believe,” highlighting television as a visionary medium (5). By conjuring its own images of Africa, Ghanaian television could dispel an Africa whose only future existed through Euro-American mimicry. African culture was activated to imagine technological futures that would actualize values like universal liberty, equality, and prosperity, which, during the colonial period, had been espoused by colonial powers but were never intended to extend to those they colonized. The visual work of television could make the possible actual: “With pride, we learn in vivid terms, through the medium of television, the facts of potential Africa” (5). Throughout the article, a future-conditional can does the work of proclaiming a liberated Afrofuture made possible by television.

An important part of television's role in building Afrofutures was visualizing the existence of African engineers, expertise, and technological aptitude. Before the inauguration of television, Nkrumah visited GBC to explain to broadcasting employees why he decided to set up a television system in Ghana: he had traveled all over Africa and had not seen one Black cameraman. In addition, the programs were all being produced by European staff and were not geared toward the uplift of the continent. According to Loh, Nkrumah “wanted Ghana Television to be different.” He wanted Ghana to “develop television programs that would make our country feel proud of themselves” and to inspire its citizens “to be as good any nation of the world” (pers. comm., August 18, 2017). Part of this pride would come from the visibility of a television station run by all Black technicians, directors, broadcasters, and editors. It would be a new television model in terms of mode of production, the content of what was shown, and the way it was experienced by the general public.

The power that Black men and women in front and behind the television camera imparted was not lost on Du Bois. In a January 8, 1965, speech, she described Ghana Television as “the first indigenous Television System in Africa—indigenous in that the content of our programmes will come out of Ghana and Africa—indigenous in that our System will be manned in all its extended parts by Ghanaians or by workers from Sister African States” (1965). In the introduction to This Is Ghana Television, Du Bois asserts that the invention of Ghanaian television defied “experts”—here coded as white foreigners—and their predictions about the possibility of a “young African country's” ability to “develop its own original television” with “its own trained Ghanaian engineers, producers,” and “cameramen.” As an African American political activist who closely followed the civil rights movement in the United States, she was very aware of the radical implications of the formation of an all-Black television station in the year 1965. William Gardner Smith, a prominent African American journalist and novelist who was invited to Accra to help organize the television news department, was “struck by the visible signs of black sovereignty: the black ministers, heads of corporations, managers of big department stores, customs officials, bank clerks, salesmen, and the producers, directors, technicians, and journalists at the radio and television studios” (1970: 96). Thus, what made Ghana Television different was not just African programs telling African stories but also the powerful statement that Ghanaian ownership and command over “the best equipment money can buy . . . in studios second to none” signaled to the world ([Du Bois] 1964: 3).

The Beginning of the End

Nowhere was the importance of Black technological ability more apparent than in the preparations for and the broadcast of the Organization of African Unity's African Summit Conference, only three months after the inauguration of Ghanaian television. “Hardly had we begun,” Shirley Graham Du Bois wrote to a friend in the USSR, “than we were faced with preparing for a supreme test—coverage of the African Summit Conference, along with presentation of programs which would involve all the independent African States.”32 The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded two years earlier, on May 25, 1963, to promote the emancipation of all African countries and work toward joining all of Africa under one union. By the 1965 conference, Nkrumah hoped that the organization would resolve to become one “United States of Africa.” At the African Summit, Ghana Television would have the chance to prove itself as a fully independent African television station and demonstrate its commitment to advancing the principles of socialism and Pan-Africanism to an international audience.

All over Accra, improvements were made for this important event. In less than a year, a $24 million state house and a twelve-story hotel block containing sixty deluxe three-room suites to house the visiting African dignitaries were constructed (Sanders 1966: 138–46). Ghana's modern splendors were everywhere on display. One enterprising neon company made “a huge, blazing map of Africa” and erected it “overlooking the road coming in from the Air Port” in order to welcome arriving African dignitaries. The sign was notably “designed, manufactured and erected . . . by Ghanaians in 14 days” (Daily Graphic1965a: 4). Describing the sign, Du Bois wrote to a friend, “I have heard the boast that this is the largest neon sign in the world. Remembering neon signs in New York City, I don't know about that. But this map stands out alone against the black sky and certainly is impressive.”33 It was, quite literally, a sign of African participation in global modernity. New technologies, in particular, were central to projecting a confident, modern, African state, and Ghana Television would have an important role to play on this international stage. As Nkrumah said at the inauguration of television, “All who are employed in our Television Service and our Sound Broadcasting Service have a unique opportunity . . . to play a vital role in the development of Ghana . . . and create in the minds of our people, through television and broadcasting, an awareness of the benefits to Ghana of modern science and technology” (1965: 6).

Promoting Pan-Africanism was a central task of the new television station, and the televised broadcast of the OAU meeting was critical for fulfilling that mission. There were two television studios set aside at the conference to interview the heads of state about “their commitment to African unity and the emancipation of Africa” (Loh, pers. comm., August 18, 2017). This engagement was part of an effort by Nkrumah to use television as a means to demonstrate the capabilities of independent Africans, to break the colonial mentality that presumed that technology could only be wielded by white men. But the crew was also encouraged to casually converse with leaders when the opportunity availed itself. Many of the dignitaries were interested in television and engaged staff in discussions about the medium. As Loh described, “Some of them had television already, but they were just showing films from France. . . . They hadn't developed their own indigenous programs to meet the demands of the day.” Ghana Television staff asked many questions, and an informal exchange on the state of African television and engineering in different parts of the continent developed (pers. comm., August 18, 2017).

Nkrumah took a personal interest in Ghana Television's preparations for the conference. He requested that Loh, who had been tasked with directing the OAU conference coverage, meet him in his office at Flagstaff House to discuss broadcast plans. Nkrumah gave him a lecture about his expectations for Africa and what he wanted the visiting African leaders to gain from the conference. Loh, only twenty-six at the time, remembered that Nkrumah was emphatic that “his vision of African independence and redemption” would “fire on” even after the leaders headed home. Nkrumah insisted that Ghana Television had a duty to demonstrate to the other heads of state “that we as Africans can manage these things and do them well.” Loh explained the feeling of responsibility that he and other Ghana Television employees experienced at the time: “We didn't have any foreign experts supporting us, helping us anymore. We were on our own; we were on our feet. We must show that we can do it. And at an important function like that . . . we couldn't fail” (pers. comm., August 18, 2017).

In addition to covering all the open sessions of the conference live, Ghana Television collected and presented, for the edification of the African leaders and their delegations, programs from every independent African country participating in the conference.34 They also produced a summary and analysis of the proceedings for special news programs. Notably, television personality Sam Morris hosted a show called Today at the Conference every evening after the proceedings. In addition, entertainment programs highlighted a pan-African solidarity with African Americans and the African diaspora more broadly.35 For the opening ceremony, Ghana invited international stars—Josephine Baker from Paris and Mariam Makoba from New York—to perform as “special entertainers.”36 Despite describing them as “temperamental dames,”37 Du Bois declared Baker's performance in particular “a tremendous success.”38 On October 24, during the Sunday conference hiatus, Ghana Television featured a “special OAU audience participation programme with famous Ghanaian comedian Bob Cole, the blind composer-vocalist Dokyi Appenteng, an African theater troupe, and the Black Star Line highlife band.” Later in the evening, the internationally recognized Hamile (1965), a Ghana Film Industry Corporation adaptation of Hamlet, was screened with an introduction by Genoveva Marais.39 To close the night, Du Bois read a poem by her late husband called “Ghana Calls” with charcoal illustrations by African American artist Herman Bailey (Ghana Radio1965e: 14). The entertainment programs effectively presented pan-African unity through its diverse presentation of global Black excellence.

To make sure that the visiting African dignitaries saw Ghana Television's productions, television sets were mounted along the main corridor connecting the hotel where the leaders were staying to the main conference hall (pers. comm., August 18, 2017). There were three cameras in the main hall, two in the on-site studios, and one outside the convention hall to interview people on the street. “We virtually moved GBC to that place,” recalls Loh. The televisions distributed around the conference grounds not only presented what Ghana—and, by extension, Africa—was capable of, it also broadcast a diverse array of African cultures through the newest mass media communication system. As Loh put it, African leaders “would watch all these productions of African concepts” that announced to the viewer, “ ‘You are in Africa, these are Africans!’ ” The aim was that the heads of state would be able to “believe in themselves” (pers. comm., August 18, 2017).

Ghana Television's coverage of the OAU meeting was considered a success. Nkrumah personally came to GBC to congratulate the crew and nominated each of them for a raise. Du Bois was also impressed. “Television did me proud!”40 she wrote to friends and family; Ghana Television “won praise for itself”41 and “established itself as the first real African Television Service on the continent.”42

During the next four months, Ghana Television settled on a weekly program that focused on education and continued to expand the number of programs it broadcast. On weekdays, children's programming began at 6:00 p.m., followed by educational programs like I Will Speak English and the news, before nightly entertainment shows. Educational programs included topics like public health, agriculture and fisheries, homemaking and maternal health, and cultural heritage. The most popular programs, on Saturday and Sunday, were those that featured live performances by Ghanaian musicians and the Sunday soccer match at the Accra Stadium. On Monday, January 31, 1966, educational programming expanded to include morning educational broadcasts with secondary school lessons at 10 a.m. and technical school lessons at 10:45 a.m.

The height of success Ghanaian socialist television celebrated after the OAU conference seemed like a distant dream on the morning of the February 24 coup d’état. Television announcer Samilia Karji described being woken by gunshots on that morning. The broadcasting flats, where GBC employees were housed, were located next to the president's offices at Flagstaff House and the Accra police living quarters, two locations targeted by the NLC military. To avoid being harassed and assaulted by the military, GBC employees painted the letters G-B-C on the outside of their homes (pers. comm., July 18, 2017). Du Bois was put under house arrest until her lawyer negotiated permission from the new military government for her to leave Ghana on March 12, 1966.43 On the morning of the coup, Quarmyne was on his ham radio, as he often was during his time off. He had made contact with a man in England when he heard in the background a radio broadcast from GBC announcing the overthrow of Nkrumah's government. Shocked, Quarmyne reported the news to his radio contact in England. The Englishman called the British authorities, and the news broke internationally that the Convention People's Party had fallen (pers. comm., July 13, 2017). Nkrumah, who was out of the country at the time, had been overthrown, and Ghanaian socialism ended.

The socialist status of television was bound up in the political transformation of the state after the coup d’état, though how much it changed is itself part of its contested legacy. Socialism had rarely overtly entered the content of Ghana Television, except in some documentaries and news programs, complicating the realization of Du Bois's project. The news magazine program Ghana ’65 featured occasional episodes like “The Role of the Press in Socialist Ghana” and “The Role of the Co-operative Movement in Socialist Ghana,” and Loh remembers producing documentaries on the significance of grassroots African socialism in cooperatives (pers. comm., August 18, 2017). Other former Ghana Television employees have denied that Ghana Television was socialist, and GBC's institutional histories have removed Nkrumah's assertions about the socialist goals of Ghana Television from the history of television's founding.44 In a speech that launched the eightieth anniversary celebrations of GBC, the GBC board chairman transformed Nkrumah's famous words—“Television will be used to supplement our educational programme and to foster a lively interest in the world around us. It will not cater to cheap entertainment nor commercialism. Its paramount objective will be education in the broadest and purest sense. Television must assist in the Socialist transformation of Ghana” (1965: 3)—in paraphrase. In the tribute, listeners now heard a different vision: “Ghana Television was to supplement the country's educational programmes and foster a lively interest in the world around the people at the time. Its paramount objective was to provide public education in its broadest and purest sense without any element of commercialization” (Asante 2015: 18). In a related television documentary made to commemorate the first eighty years of GBC, Nkrumah's language is again reworded: “The basic aim of Ghana Television would be to supplement Ghana's educational programme and to foster an interest in world affairs. It would not cater for cheap entertainment and communication” (Mahama 2015). While the phrase parallels the language of the first two sentences of the Nkrumah's speech, this time, in addition to leaving out television's role in the socialist transformation of Ghana, the word commercialism has been changed to communication, further removing Ghana Television from its socialist origins. The change was significant since GBC commercialized their content shortly after the 1966 coup d’état.

Socialist television in Ghana had mediated two seemingly divergent ambitions: to produce a radically novel African socialist media system that would promote empowering images made by and for Africans and to ensure that Ghana television met modern global standards. It was the latter ambition that allowed subsequent accounts of GBC to emphasize the continuity of the organization over the rupture following the 1966 coup d’état. The socialist origins of Ghana Television may now be treated as little more than a false start in GBC's institutional narrative of technological advancement, but the first seven months of Ghana Television is an example of a media system explicitly designed to oppose—at the level of content and production—the dominant assumptions about the capitalist domesticity of the medium and its implicit whiteness.

New Media Afrofutures

If Afrofuturism were a methodological approach to media studies, it would share some characteristics with media archaeology. Both excavate the past to critique a narrative of scientific and technological progress that has been central to the history of Western Enlightenment. Both are interested in excavating the history of “old” technologies. A driving force of Afrofuturist thinking across the Black Atlantic has been, according to Ytasha Womack, “to unearth the missing history of people of African descent and their roles in science, technology, and science fiction” (2013: loc 233 of 2265). Accordingly, Afrofuturism is about the enunciation of an African past, one that Hegel famously denied, in order to engineer a liberated Black future.

Afrofuturists draw on the long history of science, technology, and innovation in Africa to push the limits of what is conceivable for Black technological futures. Like steam punk, whose nineteenth-century steam-engine-powered alternative worlds have been evoked as a symbol of the “media-archaeological spirit of thinking the new and the old in parallel lines,” Afrofuturism also thinks the old and new in tandem (Parikka 2012: loc 171 of 4641). In the case of Ghana Television, there was an intentional reworking—a remediation—of older African media (talking drums, double flanged bell) to imagine a new television system. Media archaeology, especially as an artistic practice, also invokes alternative histories to “offer critical insights into the assumed-natural state” of various media (Parikka 2012: loc 3110 of 4641).

The crucial difference between the two is that Afrofuturism makes a commitment to contemporary racial justice central to its engagements with the past and its projections of the future. If “media archaeology has been interested in excavating the past in order to understand the present and the future” (Parikka 2012: loc 171 of 4641), Afrofuturism time-travels to change the present. As Kodwo Eshun writes, “Afrofuturism may be characterized as a program for recovering the histories of counter-futures created in a century hostile to Afro-diasporic projection and as a space within which the critical work of manufacturing tools capable of intervention within the current political dispensation may be undertaken” (2003: 301). In other words, the technologies of Afrofuturism are unambiguously politically engaged.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, without describing herself as a media archaeologist or Afrofuturist, nevertheless identified and retooled African media and cultural practice to fabricate a new media system that would undo the symbolic work that media technologies have historically done to entrench white supremacy. While some contemporary media archaeologists project upon media technologies a nonhuman alterity that excuses their human theorists from acknowledging the racial politics embedded within media (Ernst 2011), an Afrofuturist media archaeology would make the racial politics of new media technology and its use explicit. Thus, by manufacturing television through a process of indigenization, television was remade in Ghana for the advancement of a more equitable Black future.

The Afrofuturist and media archaeological project of Ghana Television demonstrates the imaginative process in which media are constantly made and remade through use outside of the presumed centers of innovation in ways that demand historical attention. As long as the “new” is tied to the formation of the material components of media objects, instead of in the interpretive reading, translation, and application of that material within cultural-historical contexts—especially those within new media geographies that have been neglected—it will be impossible to separate the “new” in new media from the double “neo” in neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The geography of media archaeology makes the racial politics of media history fundamental to media theory and to understanding contemporary global media.45 In a moment when, as Mark Fisher puts it, “capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable” (2009: 8), turning toward the emergence of television in Ghana shows that the failure of more familiar media innovators, like those in Silicon Valley, to move beyond a techno-Darwinist survival of the newest and fittest stems from an absence of genuine and radical imagination. The Afrofuturist project of Ghanaian television to actively disentangle new media technologies from racial capitalism offers an optimistic reminder that media technology that resists the neoliberal “mobile privatization” can still be invented.

Portions of this essay were first presented as part of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference panel “The Beginnings and Ends of New Media.” I am grateful for the comments and feedback given, especially from fellow panelists Andrew Lison, Kyle Stine, and Paul Benzon. I am also thankful for Daniel Morgan's skillful editorial work.

Notes

1.

Specifically, Siegfried Zielinski, whose archaeologies, as deeply historical as they are, are forward thinking and future oriented.

2.

With the exception of Oluyinka Esan's detailed history of Nigerian television in Nigerian Television: Fifty Years of Television in Africa (2009).

3.

For instance, Nkrumah pursued negotiations with Kaiser Industries and Edgar Kaiser to build his signature infrastructural development project, the Akosombo Dam, despite the doubts of some of his advisors. Financial support from the World Bank, the United States, and Britain had to be negotiated since Ghana remained unaligned, but Nkrumah increasingly drew closer relationships with the Eastern bloc. Kaiser had to convince Nkrumah to soften his anti-imperial rhetoric to sustain the United States’ economic support for the project. See Miescher 2014 for a detailed account of how Nkrumah pursued a type of African socialism that remained nonaligned.

4.

The relationship between British royalty and new media spectacle in Africa has a long tradition. Film screenings by the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment in Tanganyika, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, Kenya, and Uganda concluded with the British national anthem and an image of the king (Rice 2011: 137). The planned television demonstration, even if it would have brought the royals into Ghanaian homes, would not provide the intimacy that André Bazin attributes to the broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's coronation when it entered domestic spaces across Europe because the symbol of the Crown was used to promote British superiority and white supremacy in African colonies (2014).

5.

G. W. Marshall to A. B. Savage, October 24, 1959, GHA 382/6, Dominions Office, and Commonwealth Relations and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices 1959–1960, The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.

6.

On the February 21, 1966, C. C. Lokko wrote a long letter to Shirley Graham Du Bois about the loss of talented Information Services Department (ISD) officers to television. These staff members that were trained by ISD applied for positions at Ghana Television without passing their applications through ISD. One employee, R. M. Adu, apparently applied for a job at Ghana Television without telling his superiors at ISD to avoid a post to Northern Ghana. C. C. Lokko wrote, “I only wish the various constituent organisations within the Ministry of Information would come to some working agreement to halt, at least, the rapid movement—I am almost tempted to say, drain!—of staff which can be quite embarrassing to departmental plans and programmes sometimes” (C. C. Lokko to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Ghana TV,” February 21, 1966. MC 476 Box 44.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University). Shirley Graham Du Bois wrote back with complete support, but it is certain that given her closeness with Nkrumah, Ghana Television was given certain privileges over other Ministry of Information departments (Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Ghana TV,” February 22, 1966. MC 476 Box 44.13, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University).

7.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Mikhail Kotov, “Correspondence 1965,” November 7, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

8.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Mikhail Kotov, “Correspondence 1965,” November 7, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

9.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Report on Television Survey,” December 15, 1963, 1. MC 476 Box 44.7, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

10.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Report on Television Survey,” December 15, 1963, 1–2. MC 476 Box 44.7, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

11.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Report on Television Survey,” December 15, 1963, 13. MC 476 Box 44.7, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

12.

See Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Report on Television Survey,” December 15, 1963, 12. MC 476 Box 44.7, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

13.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Radio Report to Japan,” Tokyo, March 14, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

14.

Ghana Television Puppet Theatre, with the comedian puppet Kofi Brokeman, could be seen at 6 p.m. every Wednesday from December 1966 to at least July 1968 (Ghana Radio1967: cover).

15.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Radio Report to Japan,” Tokyo, March 14, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

16.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Radio Report to Japan,” Tokyo, March 14, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

17.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Minister of Information and Broadcasting–Memorandum, “Ghana TV,” March 16, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.13, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

18.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Radio Report to Japan,” Tokyo, March 14, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

19.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Radio Report to Japan,” Tokyo, March 14, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

20.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Radio Report to Japan,” Tokyo, March 14, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

21.

William Baidoe-Ansah to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Trip to Japan, 1964; includes clippings, itineraries, correspondence, lists, receipts, report,” December 9, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

22.

K. Funabashi to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Correspondence 1966,” July 4, 1966. MC 476 Box 19.4, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

26.

K. Funabashi to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Correspondence 1966,” July 4, 1966. MC 476 Box 19.4, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

27.

William Baidoe-Ansah to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Trip to Japan, 1964; includes clippings, itineraries, correspondence, lists, receipts, report,” December 9, 1964. MC 476 Box 44.18, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

28.

From a speech delivered to television workers on January 8, 1965 (Du Bois 1965: 4).

23.

K. Funabashi to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Correspondence 1966,” July 4, 1966. MC 476 Box 19.4, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

24.

K. Funabashi to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Correspondence 1966,” July 4, 1966. MC 476 Box 19.4, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

25.

K. Funabashi to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Correspondence 1966,” July 4, 1966. MC 476 Box 19.4, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

29.

They also recall the role of the cinema commentator that accompanied mobile cinema vans. The commentator would translate films into local languages and explain government policies to film audiences.

30.

It bears noting that the communal viewing at official television centers did not always result in the access to the medium that Ghana Television employees imagined. Shortly after the start of television, the Ghana Radio and Television Times reported that citizens had been complaining about problems with access. These problems included claims that sets were locked up or turned off before the end of broadcast; sets turned toward the wall when programming other than music was being broadcast so that music could be played to attract customers for the sale of drinks; the public not being allowed in when important people visited centers; and “big men” allegedly removing sets and moving them into their own homes. Enterprising individuals were, apparently, able to monetize state assets by transforming community centers into drinking spots, and the control of access to “communal” television sets became important assets to establish and maintain local power structures (Ghana Radio1965c: 2). Warnings in the Ghana Radio and Television Times about the illegality of removing television sets from viewing centers continued from October 1, 1965, to January 21, 1966.

31.

William Boddy notes that only 6,500 television sets were sold in 1946 and were mostly used in taverns and the homes of media professionals. According to Lynn Spigel, a television receiver was installed in a California bus line in 1950 (Boddy 1998: 131; Spigel 1992: 196).

32.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Mikhail Kotov, “Correspondence 1965,” November 7, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

33.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Berny, “Correspondence 1965,” November 21, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

34.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Berny, “Correspondence 1965,” November 21, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

35.

The artistic presence of the African diaspora was also felt at the conference through the fine arts. For instance, in addition to being featured on Ghana Television, African American artist Herman Bailey also had an art exhibition for his work during the Organization of African Unity's African Summit Conference. See Shirley Graham Du Bois to Vivian Schuyler Key, “Ghana TV,” October 14, 1966. MC 476 Box 44.13, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

36.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Berny, “Correspondence 1965,” November 21, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

37.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Berny, “Correspondence 1965,” November 21, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

38.

Shirley G. Du Bois to Josephine Baker, “Correspondence 1965,” November 14, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

39.

The film was written by Terry Bishop, a British expatriate, and was produced by the Ghanaian writer, Joe de Graft. It stared Kofi Middleton-Mends as Hamile/Hamlet, Mary Yirenkyi as Habiba/Ophelia, and Ernest Abbequaye as Abrahim/Polonius. As Camela Garritano puts it in her exceptional book on Ghanaian film, “The Africanizing of Shakespeare by well-educated members of the African elite was meant to demonstrate Africa's civility and humanity” (Garritano 2013: 52).

40.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Berny, “Correspondence 1965,” November 21, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

41.

Shirley Graham Du Bois to Mikhail Kotov, “Correspondence 1965,” November 7, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

42.

Shirley G. Du Bois to E. Ablade Glover, “Correspondence 1965,” October 28, 1965. MC 476 Box 18.15, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

43.

T. K. Impraim to Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Correspondence 1966,” March 12, 1966. MC 476 Box 19.1, Shirley Graham Du Bois Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

44.

Quarmyne and Smilia Karji objected to claims that Ghana Television was socialist, while Loh heartily affirmed its socialism. The ideology of Du Bois and the state only minimally shaped content allowing multiple perspectives on what Ghana Television was like during this era (Karji, pers. comm., July 18, 2017; Loh, pers. comm., August 18, 2017; Quarmyne, pers. comm., July 13, 2017).

45.

For instance, it is not hard to see the shift in contemporary international development discourse from supporting community information and communication technology centers to their support for educational applications for individually owned mobile devices in the early 2000s as a move away from the support of public infrastructure to that of mobile phone privatization.

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