Ryan Lenora Brown is the South Africa correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. She has written for The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, and U.S. News and World Report.
Nicole Amarteifio’s popular show about well-to-do young women in Ghana is back for a second season.
They sip martinis and browse designer duds, reel from sticker shock at the cost of renting a hip urban condo (a cool $5,000 a month), and debate the merits of going dutch on dates.
Close your eyes, and this might seem like a rerun of Sex and the City. But the five women in this TV show aren’t traipsing the streets of New York City: Their glam playground is the city and suburbs of Accra, Ghana.
Welcome to An African City, and maybe not the one you were expecting. (The Season Two trailer below contains some NSFW content around the two-minute mark.)
“There’s one story we very often hear about Africa—war, poverty, famine—but when you look at a city like Accra today, it’s really cosmopolitan, hip, and modern, and I wanted to put that version of the continent on the map,” says Nicole Amarteifio, who launched the popular show on YouTube in 2014. “I’m trying to start a different conversation.” The show’s second season, with 13 half-hour episodes, will debut online on January 24.
Indeed, the show’s premise is a twist on the common trope of impoverished African migrants risking everything to start a new life in Europe or the United States. Amarteifio’s five leading ladies are—much like herself—part of
Western stereotypes about Africa are familiar turf for Amarteifio, who was born in Ghana but attended school and worked for several years in the United States. Living in the U.S., she says, she grew wearily familiar with what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie has termed the ”single story” of disease and suffering the world often hears about Africa. But it wasn’t until she moved permanently back to Ghana in 2012 that she came up with a way to flip that script.
“I was watching a lot of old episodes of Sex and the City, and one day I thought—this is how you fight those stereotypes, with an African version of this,” she says. “Sarah Jessica Parker would probably be really surprised to learn she was my answer for how to bulldoze Africa’s ‘single story.’”a growing movement of highly educated Africans returning to the continent after time in the diaspora.
Huddled around the tables of expensive Accra night clubs discussing sex, love, and money, An African City’s five “returnees” speak with accents unmistakably steeped in the American suburbs. Among them they hold a Harvard MBA, an Oxford law degree, and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia. They work in finance, development, and business, and regularly drop lines like, “Dad is now the Minister of Energy, so it’s a good time to be back [in Ghana].”
They hang out in the trendy district of Osu, and live and work in areas such as Labone and the suburban neighborhoods of Cantonments and Airport Residential. (One thing you see here and not in Sex and the City: characters driving around town on their daily business.)
Like the New York of Sex and the City, though, this Accra is a high-gloss, high-priced theme park, where characters flit from expensively furnished bachelorette pads to high-end restaurants, and practically the only poor people we see are the small army of service personnel—maids, drivers, gardeners, waiters—orbiting around the edges of their lives.
But Amarteifio (who rescheduled her interview with CityLab to deal with the fact that her water had been out for an entire weekend) says she isn’t trying to sugar-coat life in a city that can be difficult for even the most privileged.
Indeed, many of the show’s storylines are set in motion by life crises in a city where landlords demand a year’s rent up front (upwards of $60,000 in posh neighborhoods), regular access to water and electricity are never guaranteed, and the roads are choked with traffic and cratered with potholes.
Accra “is the sixth girlfriend in our group, who gives the five of us a lot of tough love,” says MaameYaa Boafo, whose character Nana Yaa is a Carrie Bradshaw-esque writer recently returned to Accra from New York City. But whether or not the show’s fans have been to Accra, she says, they relate to the issues of urban life the show drills into. They “see themselves in our shoes, or should I say our heels,” she says.
That fan base has grown steadily since the show launched on YouTube in March 2014. The first season’s 10 episodes now collectively have close to two million views.
Billie McTernan, a Ghanaian cultural critic and arts writer, says she believes the show has “touched a nerve” for many viewers, some who idolize and others who revile the fashionable, materialistic, and money-obsessed Accra they see on the screen.
“Ultimately, what’s still missing in our media is the huge middle ground between the very poor and the very rich—not everyone is one or the other,” she says. “To have a show like An African City is an improvement. But we don’t just need a couple new narratives about Africa, we need thousands. This is just one of them.”