“One Man, No Chop”: Licit Wealth, Good Citizens, and the Criminalization of Drivers in Postcolonial Ghana

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Abstract: This article analyzes the implications of the politics of postcolonial citizenship for Ghanaian commercial drivers. Widely condemned as crooks and cheats today, this article argues that the criminality of drivers is a relatively shift in public perception, the result of a process of criminalization, which altered the status of drivers and introduced new forms of risk into their work. Tracing the changing ways that drivers negotiated the risks of their work and interacted with the public through strikes and shortages, I argue that the incremental nature of this process of criminalization—from “respectable” to immoral to criminal—over the course of nearly 30 years reflects shifting understandings of economic morality, rooted in both the country’s changing economic conditions as well as a public rhetoric of citizenship. The social relationships and expectations between drivers, passengers, and the Ghanaian state were effectively reordered as drivers and driving practice were caught up in attempts to (re)define the Ghanaian nation-state as the new institution of social order. In pursuing their own immediate needs in the context of broader economic crisis, drivers unintentionally transformed themselves into the quintessential “bad citizen”, a postcolonial scapegoat, which shaped both the short-term realities of their work as well as its longer-term possibilities.