11 May Creating an American Island: The Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO) in Ghana, 1964-2000
Stephan F. Miescher (History, UCSB)
Friday, May 11 / 1:00 PM
In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War in Africa, Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah launched the Volta River Project which included a hydroelectric dam at Akosombo and an aluminum smelter, operated by Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO) and owned by Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Company. The Volta project was at the center of Ghana’s modernization program. The smelter was not only the largest U.S. investment in West Africa, but VALCO became a U.S. outpost in Ghana, economically and politically, socially and culturally. This talk explores how VALCO promoted labor regimes that emphasized efficiency, informality, and productivity, and offered incentives in the form of refridgerators, stereo systems, and other consumer goods. The talk argues that this American island was of great benefit to Kaiser and to VALCO employees who embraced the “VALCO culture.” The losers were the Ghanaian state and most Ghanaian people, since VALCO received highly favorable electricity rates and consumed half of the power generated at Akosombo.
Miescher is the co-editor of Africa After Gender (2007) and author of Making Men in Ghana (2005).
Sponsored by the Colloquium on Work, Labor, and Political Economy.