Kwame Nkrumah: The African Genius 2

Fri, 4 Sep 2015 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

This is Part 2, the concluding part of the speech “The African Genius” (see the book “Africa in Contemporary Perspective.” Editors: Esi Sutherland-Addy & Takyiwaa Manuh). Please read on:

“It should also be possible for individual Lecturers and Professors on their own, initiative to give lectures on subjects of their own choosing, to which the whole University and others outside it are invited. This would make possible, the greatest freedom in discussion and the widest contacts between our Universities and the general public. I would like to see this become an established practice in our Universities.

“Furthermore, I would stress the need for the Institute to be outward looking. There may be some tension between the need to acquire new knowledge and the need to diffuse it—between the demands of research and the demands of teaching. But the two demands are essentially interdependent. And in Ghana the fact that we are committed to the construction of a socialist society makes it especially necessary that this Institute of African Studies should work closely with the people—and should be constantly improving upon its methods for serving the needs of the people of Ghana, of Africa and of the world. Teachers and students in our Universities should clearly understand this.

“What in practice does this mean? In part this objective of serving the needs of the people can be achieved by training this new generation of Africanists, equipping them through our Master of Arts and Diploma courses, with a sounder basis of knowledge in the various fields of African Studies than former generations have had. It is because of the great importance that I attach to the training of well qualified Africanists who can feed back this new learning into our educational system that—in spite of the serious shortage of secondary school teachers—I have agreed that teachers who are selected for these post-graduate courses should be released for two years to take them.

“An Institute of African Studies that is situated in Africa must pay particular attention to the arts of Africa, for the study of these can, enhance our understanding of African institutions and values, and, the cultural bonds that unite us. A comparative study of musical systems, for example, or the study of musical instruments, drum language, or the oral traditions that link music with social events, may illuminate historical problems or provide date for the study of our ethical and philosophical ideas. In studying the arts, however, you must not be content with the accumulation of knowledge about the arts.

“Your researchers must stimulate creative activity; they must contribute to the development of the arts in Ghana and in other parts of Africa, they must stimulate the birth of a specifically African literature, which, exploring African themes and the depth of the African soul, will become an integral portion of a general world literature. It would be wrong to make this a mere appendage of world culture.

“I hope that the School of Music and Drama, which works in close association with the Institute of African Studies, will provide this Institute with an outlet for creative work, and for the dissemination of knowledge of the arts through its extension and vacation, courses, as well as through regular full-time courses. I hope also that this Institute, in association with the School of Music and Drama, will link the University of Ghana closely with the National Theatre movement in Ghana. In this way, the Institute can serve the needs of the people by helping to develop new forms of dance and drama, of music and creative writing, that are at the same time closely related to our Ghanaian traditions and express the ideas and aspirations of our people at this critical stage in our history. This should lead to new strides in our cultural development.

“There are other fields in which a great deal remains to be done. In addition to publishing the results of its research in a form in which it will be available in scholars, the Institute must be concerned with its diffusion in a more popular form among a much wider public. While there are many channels through which this new learning can be spread—including radio and, in the very near future, television. I am particularly anxious that the Institute should assist the Government in the planning and production of new textbooks for use in our secondary schools, training colleges, workers’ colleges and educational institutions generally.

“I have attempted to indicate briefly some of the principles which should guide the institute in its work. It is for you to develop, amplify and apply these in relation to the actual possibilities that present themselves to you. Of one thing I am sure, that Ghana offers a rich and exciting field of work and a friendly and sympathetic environment for scholars and students from any part of the world who wish seriously to devote themselves to a study of African and African civilisations.

“Hence, it will, I hope be possible to say of this Institute—and indeed, of our Universities - as the historian Mahmut Kati said of another famous centre of learning—16th Century Timbuktu, I quote: "In those days, Timbuktu did not have its equal from the province of Mali to the extreme limits therein of Maghrib, for the solidity of its institutions, its political liberties, the purity of its morals, the security of persons, its consideration and compassion towards the poor and towards foreigners, its courtesy towards states and men of learning and the financial assistance which it provided for the latter. The scholars of this period were the most respected among the Believers for their generosity, their force of character, and their discretion."

“Finally, I would hope that this Institute would always conceive its function as being to study Africa, in the widest possible sense - Africa in all its complexity and diversity, and its underlying unity.

“Let us consider some of the implications of the concept of African unity for the study of African peoples and cultures, and for the work of your Institute. It should mean, in the first place, that in your research and your teaching, you are not limited by conventional territorial or regional boundaries. This is essentially an Institute of African Studies, not of Ghana Studies, nor of West African Studies. Of course you are bound to take a special interest in exploring the history, institutions, languages and arts of the people of Ghana, and in establishing these studies on a sound basis, as indeed you are already doing.

“But these investigations must inevitably lead outwards—to the exploration of the connections between the musical forms, the dances, the literature, the plastic arts, the philosophical and religious beliefs, the systems of government, the patterns of trade and economic organisation that have been developed here in Ghana, and the cultures of other African peoples and other regions of Africa. Ghana, that is to say, can only be understood in the total African context.

“Let me illustrate this point:

“As you know, Ghana has always been one of the great gold producing areas of the world. Much of the gold from our mines was exported by our people, who conducted this trade as an exclusive state enterprise, to Jenne on the Niger, whence it was transported by canoe down the Niger to Timbuktu—the great entrepot and meeting place of river-borne and desert-borne traffic. At Timbuktu, the gold was transferred to the camel caravans, which carried it across the Sahara to the commercial centres of Western Maghrib—whence part would be re-exported to Western Europe.

“It was normal for African trading firms to have their agents in Jenne and Timbuktu, in Marrakesh and Fez with trade northwards as far as England. This, in the early nineteenth century we find in Timbuktu, the home of the University of Sankore, merchants visiting their business colleagues in Liverpool, while merchants from North Africa took part in trade missions to Kumasi.

“Another distinct commercial network had grown up around the cola trade, linking Ghana and its neighbours with the Hausa State and Bomu, and thus by the central Sahara trade routes—with Tripoli and Tunis.

“These commercial contacts were naturally reflected at the level of culture. The languages, literature, music, architecture and domestic arts of Ghana have made their import in a great variety of ways, through these ancient links on the wider African world, and beyond.

“Very few of you may know, for example, that Baden Powell based the idea of the Boy Scout Movement, including the left-hand shake, on the concept of Ashanti military strategy and youth organisation.

“Consider a Ghanaian writer like Al-Hajj ‘Umoru, who lived from about 1850 to 1934, some forty of whose Arabic works, in poetry and prose, have so far been collected by the Institute of African Studies. Al-Hajj ‘Umoru, belonged to a family of Hausa traders and scholars—his great-grandfather had taken part in ‘Uthman dan Fodio’s revolution. Born and educated in Kano, he travelled along the kola route to Salaga where he settled as a young man and built up a school of Arabic and Koranic studies; at the time of the Salaga wars, he migrated to Kete-Krachi, well-read in classical Arabic Literature, he collected around him students from various parts of West Africa, and described in some of his poems the disintegration of African society consequent upon the coming of British.

“Similarly, we cannot hope to understand adequately the medieval civilisations of West Africa; ancient Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Kanem, Bomu, Oyo—without taking full account of the civilisations which emerged in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa—Meroe, Aksum, Adal, Kilwa, Monomotapa, Mogadishu, Malindi, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Pemba, Chang, Amir exploring the problems of their interconnections, their points of resemblance and difference. In North Africa, too, powerful enlightened civilisations had grown up in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

“These cities, states and empires developed their own political institutions and organisations, based on their own conceptions of the nature and ideals of society. These institutions and organisations were so efficient, and their underlying ideas so valid, that it is surely our duty to give them their place in our studies here.

“Nor must the concept of African unity be thought of in a restrictive sense. Just as, in the study of West African civilisations, we have to examine their relationships, by way of the Sahara, with North Africa and the Mediterranean world, so, in studying the civilisations of Eastern and Southern Africa, we have to recognise the importance of their relationships, by way of the Indian Ocean, with Arabia, India, Indonesia and China.

“The 11th Century Arab geographer, Al-Bakri, who gave the first full account of the ancient Empire of Ghana, also gave the first description of the Czech city of Prague. When we turn to the study of modern Africa, we are again confronted with the necessity of thinking in continental terms. The liberation movements which have emerged in Africa have clearly been aspects of a single African revolution.

“They have to be understood from the standpoint of their common characteristics and objectives, as well as from the standpoint of the special kinds of colonial situation within which they have had to operate and the special problems which they have had to face. So, while of course no single institution can possibly attempt to cover the whole range of African Studies in all their multiplicity and complexity, I hope to see growing up here in this Institute a body of scholars with interest as many-sided and diversified as our resources can allow.

“We should in time be able to provide for our students here opportunities for the study of the history, the major languages and literatures, the music and arts, the economic, social and political institutions, of the entire African continent?so that, though individual students will necessarily have to specialise in particular fields, there will be no major sector of African Studies that will be unrepresented here.

“This is not, I think, too ambitious an aim. And I am glad to know that the Institute is already taking steps to develop research and teaching both in, North African and in East African History with their prerequisites, Arabic and Swahili.

“At the same time, we must try to ensure that there is the same kind of diversity among the student body. While we are glad to welcome students from Asia, Europe and the Americas, we have naturally a special interest in developing this Institute as a centre where students from all parts of Africa can meet together and acquire this new learning and thus take their places among the new generation of Africanists which Africa so urgently needs; where the artificial divisions between so-called "English-speaking," "French-speaking," and "Portuguese-speaking" Africans will have no meaning.

“The Encyclopaedia Africana, sponsored by the Ghana Academy of Sciences, should provide a forum for African scholars working together and seeking forth the results of their research and scholarship. Scholars, students and friends, the work on which you are engaged here can be of great value for the future of Ghana, of Africa and of the world. Here let me pay tribute to your Director, Thomas Hodgkin, for the energy and thought with which he has carried out his work. It is to his credit that such a firm foundation has been laid at this Institute.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I now have great pleasure in declaring the Institute of African Studies formally and officially open.”

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis