|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.
A MELLENIAL’S GUIDE TO OSU
In Accra, no place exercises a stronger magnetic pull on the youth than Osu. It is one of the most visited and dynamic cultural hotspots in Ghana, with people of all ages from near and far flocking to its streets for the restaurants, cafes, clubs, casinos, fast food joints and boutiques.
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Osu is a suburb of Accra, close to the centre of the city. Traditionally, it was a settlement of close-knit coastal fishing communities inhabited the Ga ethnic group. However, it has grown into a network cosmopolitan neighbourhoods. The majority of activity is concentrated around Oxford Street, the main artery running through the heart of district. This street, however, is nothing like the favoured shopping destination in London as it runs through a largely residential area with a good number of stores and office complexes on either side of the road.
Oxford Street, Osu | © lucianf / Flickr
This compact community is the premium cultural spot in Ghana because of the density and variety of activities available. It has seafood restaurants, cinemas, street food stalls, art and crafts stalls in close proximity to one another. Getting there should also be quite straightforward. You can drive, take a taxi, use Uber, or catch a trotro (public minibus) to Danquah Circle, on the Ring Road. This major intersection marks one of the many entry points to Osu.
Food and Drinks
Be sure to check out any of the numerous local and continental restaurants and eateries. Relax and reflect in cafes like Pinocchio or Frankie’s for a light brunch or ice cream. You could also visit Tea Baa, a little cosy restaurant with the best zesty cold teas in an eclectic, African-inspired décor that will embrace you with its warmth. Buka Restaurant and Chez Clarisse are other eateries in Osu where you can buy traditonal Ghanaian dishes like fufu and goat soup. The night market is a great place to find local street food like banku, kenkey with grilled tilapia, crabs, oysters and octopus. The market is open daily from 6pm. It resembles a bazaar and is primarily a food market. Fishermen from nearby communities such as Ladabi and Jamestown come here to sell their catch under sheds illuminated by coloured lights and kerosene lamps. The original fishing settlements are also good places to explore Ga culture and experience the effect of its mixture with British colonial culture in the age-old architecture.
Banku and tilapia | © sshreeves / Flickr
The Republic Bar is a favourite night time destination for many Osu-goers. Their potent cocktails will have you dancing all night under the sky to the live band or to spiritual afro-house and funk sets from some of Accra’s greatest DJs. Shake of the stress of the week in clubs like Bella Roma, Venus, Carbon and Twist (which is just a few minutes outside Osu) to the latest local and international hits, with some of the coolest people in Accra. Kona Bar and Grill is the best place in Osu to go to for live music. Their open mic session is hosted by Kacey Moore and DJ Mitchy every Wednesday. Up-and-coming singers, rappers, instrumentalists and poets all come to get discovered at this incubator of creative talent.
Jojo Abot, a neo-soul artist from Accra | © Steven Pisano / Flickr
Despite its raving reputation for being fast-paced, you can also enjoy the town for its mellow and relaxed moments. Take a scenic walk along Oxford Street and observe the buzzing energy of Accra or do some leisurely browsing and perhaps pick up a momento or two. The paintings and clothing on sale on the side of the road brighten the streets of Osu with their bold and iridescent colours. There are also shops like Christie Brown and Elle Lokko who specialise in contemporary fashion from well known local brands like AAKS, Sophie Zinga and Charlotte Privee. Clothing items on sale range from casual comic t-shirts, to bespoke gowns and suits, pendants, rings, and other accessories.
Osu Mantse advises Ghanaians to promote local Culture
Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona IV, the Osu Mantse, has encouraged Ghanaians to jealously guard and promote their culture, saying any person or country that throws its culture away has no future.
The traditional ruler was livid that with the advent and proliferation of churches, his compatriots no longer want to practice the rich Ghanaian culture, noting that observing and performing culture does not constitute idol worship.
Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona IV, who is also President of the Osu Traditional Council, said “Culture is not an insult to God and culture does not prevent any body from going to church.”
He appealed to Ghanaians to speak their respective Ghanaian language at home and English language while in school rather than the current unbridled and offensive promotion of the English language both in schools and homes. He said Ghanaians should not be ashamed to speak their dialect.
Speaking at the launch of Kids in Tourism Project at the forecourt of the Osu Mantse palace in Accra, he admonished parents, guardians and care givers to teach their children the Ghanaian culture and urged them to encouraged them to know their current and past chiefs.
Ms. Nana Akua Afriyie, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Melshe Travels and Kids in Tourism Ghana, on her part, said the objective of her outfit is to educate and inculcate the rich tourism potentials in Ghanaian kids hence the formation of Kids in Tourism Clubs in schools in Ghana. It current membership, according to her is about 4490 from over 52 schools spread across the Greater Accra region and parts of Eastern region and counting.
She stated that their objective is cover the 10 regions of the country, citing activities such as folklore, excursions, knowing Ghana, kids sanitation, tourism quiz, debates, paintings among others as their focus. Ms. Nana Akua Afriyie opined that Melshe Travels and Kids in Tourism Ghana intend to make the tourism sector the number one foreign exchange earner by getting Ghanaian children appreciate the sights and sounds of mother Ghana.
Constitution of the Republic of Ghana
(1) The institution of chieftaincy, together with its traditional councils as established by customary law and usage, is hereby guaranteed.
(2) Parliament shall have no power to enact any law which-
(a) confers on any person or authority the right to accord or withdraw recognition to or from a chief for any purpose whatsoever; or
(b) in any way detracts or derogates from the honour and dignity of the institution of chieftaincy.
(3) Nothing in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with, or in contravention of, clause (1) or (2) of this article if the law makes provision for-
(a) the determination, in accordance with the appropriate customary law and usage, by a traditional council, a Regional House of Chiefs or a Chieftaincy Committee of any of them, of the validity of the nomination, election, selection, installation or deposition of a person as a chief;
(b) a traditional council or a Regional House of Chiefs or the National House of Chiefs to establish and operate a procedure for the registration of chiefs and the public notification in the Gazette or otherwise of the status of persons as chiefs in Ghana.
(1) There shall be a National House of Chiefs.
(2) The House of Chiefs of each region shall elect as members of the National House of Chiefs five paramount chiefs from the region.
(3) Where in a region there are fewer than five paramount chiefs, the House of Chiefs of the region shall elect such number of divisional chiefs as shall make up the required representation of chiefs for the region.
The National House of Chiefs shall –
(a) advise any person or authority charged with any responsibility under this Constitution or any other law for any matter relating to or affecting chieftaincy;
(b) undertake the progressive study, interpretation and codification of customary law with a view to evolving, in appropriate cases, a unified system of rules of customary law, and compiling the customary laws and lines of succession applicable to each stool or skin;
(c) undertake an evaluation of traditional customs and usages with a view to eliminating those customs and usages that are outmoded and socially harmful;
(d) perform such other functions, not being inconsistent with any function assigned to the House of Chiefs of a region, as Parliament may refer to it.
(1) The National House of Chiefs shall have appellate jurisdiction in any cause or matter affecting chieftaincy which have been determined by the Regional House of Chiefs in a region, from which appellate jurisdiction there shall be an appeal to the Supreme Court, with the leave of the National House of Chiefs or the Supreme Court.
(2) The appellate jurisdiction of the National House of Chiefs shall be exercised by a Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs consisting of five persons appointed by that House from among its members.
(3) A Judicial Committee of a National House of Chiefs shall be assisted by a lawyer of not less than ten years’ standing appointed by the National House of Chiefs on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.
(4) A member of a Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs shall be removed from office on the ground, of proven misbehaviour or of infirmity of mind or body by the votes of not less than two thirds of all the members of the National House of Chiefs.
(5) A Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs shall have original jurisdiction in any cause or matter affecting chieftaincy-
(a) which lies within the competence of two or more Regional houses of Chiefs; or
(b) which is not properly within the jurisdiction of a Regional House of Chiefs; or
(c) which cannot otherwise be dealt with by a Regional House of Chiefs.
(6) An appeal shall lie as of right in respect of any cause or matter dealt with by a Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs under clause (5) of this article to the Supreme Court.
(1) There shall be established in and for each region of Ghana a Regional House of Chiefs.
(2) A Regional House of Chiefs shall consist of such members as Parliament may, by law, determine.
(3) A Regional House of Chiefs shall –
(a) perform such functions as may be conferred upon it by or under an Act of Parliament;
(b) advise any person or authority charged under this Constitution or any other law with any responsibility for any matter relating to or affecting chieftaincy in the region;
(c) hear and determine appeals from the traditional councils within the region in respect of the nomination, election, selection, installation or deposition of a person as a chief;
(d) have original jurisdiction in all matters relating to a paramount stool or skin or the occupant of a paramount stool or skin, including a queenmother to a paramount stool or skin;
(e) undertake a study and make such general recommendations as are appropriate for the resolution or expeditious disposition of chieftaincy disputes in the region;
(f) undertake the compilation of the customary laws and lines of succession applicable to each stool or skin in the region.
(4) The original and appellate jurisdiction of a Regional House of Chiefs shall be exercised by a Judicial Committee of the Regional House of Chiefs consisting of three chiefs appointed by the Regional House of Chiefs from among its members.
(5) A Judicial Committee of a Regional Chiefs shall be assisted by a lawyer of not less than five years’ standing appointed by the Regional House of Chiefs in the recommendation of the Attorney-General.
(6) A member of a Judicial Committee of a Regional House of Chiefs may be removed from office on the ground of proven misbehaviour or infirmity of mind or body by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the Regional House of Chiefs.
A person shall not be qualified as a chief if he has been convicted for high treason, treason, high crime or for an offence involving the security of the State, fraud, dishonesty or moral turpitude.
(1) A chief shall not take part in active party politics; and any chief wishing to do so and seeking election to Parliament shall abdicate his stool or skin.
(2) Notwithstanding clause (1) of this article and paragraph (c) of clause (3) of article 94 of this Constitution, a chief may be appointed to any public office for which he is otherwise qualified.
In this Chapter unless the context otherwise requires, “chief” means a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage, has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queenmother in accordance with the relevant customary law and usage.
OSU HAS A MAJOR ROLE TO PLAY IN GHANA’S TOURISM SECTOR—OSU MANTSE
The township of Osu plays a major role in the tourism sector of Accra and Ghana as a whole, His Majesty DF Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona VI, Osu Mantse and President of the Osu Traditional Council, has noted.
Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona VI, said tourism could be effectively employed as a tool for employment, revenue generation and local infrastructural development in Osu.
Nii Dowuona VI, who was speaking at the launch of this year’s Homowo Festival in Accra, yesterday, noted that Osu had a lot to showcase in terms of tourism.
Nii Dowuona VI mentioned the Seat of Government (State House), Parliament House, Banquet Hall, the Christiansburg Castle (Osu Castle) and the Accra International Conference Centre as some of the tourist attractions of Osu.
He said apart from these, Osu also hosted the Accra Sports Stadium, the Ministries, Embassies and High Commissions in Ghana.
Furthermore, he said, Osu also boasted of the famous Oxford Street, Osu Night Market, Klottey Shrine inside the Osu Castle and the Osu Royal Mausoleum.
Nii Dowuona VI said it was the realization of Osu as a key tourism destination that this year’s Homowo Festival was being celebrated on the theme: ‘Tourism—A key component in Community Development’.
He, therefore, urged all stakeholders including the media to promote Osu Homowo as a tourism product.
Activities earmarked for the celebration include a Homowo Lecture, Health Walk, General Clean-up Exercise and Clean-up of the Royal Mausoleum.
The others are Soo Ntang or Yellow Day, Homowo Day or the Sprinkling of Kpokpoi and in, and outdoor games.
The rest are a Cooking contest, Miss Osu Beuty Pageant and a Church Service.