A frog does not jump backwards. Twa Omanye Aba.
“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
― Frantz Fanon,
Since the beginning of time, African civilizations have witnessed a variorum of competing ideas. Not one idea has managed to stop the forward motion of time. No matter what ideas dominated socioeconomic plans and educational policy the wheel of time has always churned on leaving nothing but the results of good decisions, bad decisions and indecisions in its wake. Generations have come and gone, and the significant need to pass down knowledge to the next cohort – to put them in the best possible position for the future – is in fact the duty of every generation.
Part of this obligation is rooted in the quality and accessibility of an authentic education by the people and for the people. The substantial component of this education is the fate of the value of the education itself. Indeed, higher learning spaces stand at the pinnacle of the survival and furtherance of the cultural aspirations of a people. West Africa, and in particular Ghana, is no exception.
In Timbuktu, and for the first time in the world, West Africa commissioned the first modern university known to man. The confidence of that period imbues our memory with the bright torch of Sankoré, and leaves our generation with no choice but the belief that again, from out of the dusty roads of Forifori and the mud-huts of Wiamoase, Ghana can fashion out safe spaces for authentic African intellectualism.
In 1957, Ghana was a nation freshly basking in the prospects of a bright future. Having sacked, finally, a brutal exploitative period of British Colonial Occupation the attitude in the country was one of optimism. The hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions of people were at stake. We were set to leave the memory of a violent past behind us.
But, we quickly tread a path quite to the contrary. We became a great example of a parvenu.
We failed to comprehend that during the hundred years of exploitation our traditional systems had been obliterated, and that the foundations of the fabric of a quality, compulsory and fully accessible traditional African education was no longer anywhere found. Relatively, we became pedestrians in the act of maintaining what was left of a Missionary and Colonial educational system.
Instead of a focused concern to restore the foundations upon which a truly African education could be built – even as far as a rekindling of the foundations of Timbuktu – our leaders, themselves ignorant of what this tradition entailed – having been christianized and educated in missionary schools and abroad – sought the contrary, a western education tailored for the 20th century African.
Rather than seize the opportunity to reinvigorate a shining history of a not so distant past, we became tyros amongst nations that were only eager to intimidate the neophytes and spurn unwary. Soon, ideas about a deeply rooted education that permeates every facet of Ghanaian life was all but forgotten. The rest of the world marched on, time passed us, and Ghana was miserably left behind.
With a makeshift educational system obviously hacked from the vestiges of a colonial pedagogy, it took Ghana until 1987 to commission real reforms for Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE). The political climate of that period posed some of the most difficult challenges to implementation. An abysmal economy from decades of neglect, dilapidated infrastructure and a western collusion to artificially lower prices of Ghanaian exports stymied economic growth and thwarted development.
With a concomitant fluctuating political will that was, nevertheless, accompanied by some rapid gains in access to education through out the 1990s, the country’s return to a Free Compulsory Education after almost 200 years reached a plateau by the new millennium.
But, like a tenderfoot, Ghana will suffer the socio-economic pressures of the times. Within the space of decades, governments will window dress education policy without any meaningful reforms. The public felt the pressure. Unsuspecting parents hastily took to the bait and government shifted focus quickly from a free compulsory quality basic education in junior secondary (middle) school to entry into senior secondary (high) school. When that didn’t work so well, the focus shifted once more – a university education. Anything less was unsatisfactory, or worse, undesirable.
When the focus swayed, without the capital to keep a free compulsory basic education flourishing with the quality that it deserved, the penurious lifestyle of the proletariat led to high stakes meritocracy – educational achievement based upon high stakes examinations. This transformation remains important in understanding the educational system that constrains the Ghanaian curriculum. It is vital in comprehending Ghana’s chances at implementing a steady and sustainable educational policy.
At the height of this transformation in the late 1990s, the educational needs of most Ghanaians fueled, in part, the growth of private tuition and demand for private institutions to supplement low quality tutelage at dilapidating public schools – middle schools, high schools and private universities – all of which further disadvantaged the many wonderful poor people of Ghana.
There is ample frustration now, in a country that, once upon a time, boasted a Television Station way before one of the richest European nations in history – Norway – could even imagine a radio station. Indeed, much despair runs rampant in a country that seems incapable of defining what an authentic Ghanaian education should involve, let alone implement one.
The state Universities of Ghana, Science and Technology and Cape Coast, stand indelibly suspect at the foothills of this heartbreak. Many would agree that since their inception, they have failed to amass the intellectual drive and capacity necessary for a substantive change or way forward that would foster a concerted sustainable development for a better future for all Ghanaians.
There are no more vociferous critics than Ghanaian students and their parents who feel shortchanged. They express the most outrage about the failures of our state universities. The unfortunate truth is simple: the quality of the education in our public schools is prosaic. Many students who have attended the University of Ghana, and then proceeded abroad to Europe or America to complete a masters or a doctorate degree, are candid in their beliefs that the higher education product of America’s corporate liberal arts system is packaged much better. No matter the hidden expenses that some African students on Diversity scholarships are barely aware of, let alone grasp.
Still, the difference is obvious. European, American, Russian and even Cuban colleges stand at the forefront of innovative thinking in academia. Some Ghanaians swear that their children would rather attend a high-end Ghanaian private school or would be shipped abroad to distant lands as far as the Ukraine and China, to obtain, say an American styled education, no matter what its shortcomings might spell for the future and cultural aspirations of the people of Ghana.
Let’s call the spade for what it is. The failures of our public high learning spaces are self-inflicted and homegrown. Our state universities are obsessed with rote learning and a putrid copy-paste style scholarship. Creative thinking, critical thinking and problem solving are scarcely spotted, if at all ever foundational in their pedagogical visions. The culture of higher learning in our state universities actively discourages our communal ethos and encourages the Western, individualist style of a nuclear and personal outlook on life. There is absolutely no interest in nation building in this kind of education.
The University of Ghana and State Institutions of Learning
Take for instance the University of Ghana; one would be remiss to find many students who do not think the professors are bossy and arrogant. They have abandoned any sense of responsibility and accountability. Research and development are completely lacking. Many professors collect conference and book allowances from the poor tax-payer for decades and have yet a 2000 word scholarly article, or a new chimney design to show for it.
Without a direct comprehension for the substance of African customs, these teachers twist and turn the arms of Traditional African cultural ethos and carry it to an untold excess to satisfy the wanton needs of their weighty egos. Often, lecturers and professors imagine they are modern day Traditional Chiefs on Campus. Research, meaningful research, up-to-date instruction and mentorship are absent everywhere. The staff, instead of nurturing the next generation of academics, rather dabble in the notoriety of a modern day Campus Traditional Military Counsel, shamelessly flaunting their authority.
The colonial philosophy left behind is rancid and it undermines a truly African state university culture. Leaders seek a compulsive deference from their students. Mentors demand the institutionalization of a Grey Culture—of unbridled obedience of the elderly— which is carried to wondrous excesses in its demands for an Adult-Can-Never-Be-Wrong mentality and a Do-You-Know-How-Many-Degrees-I-Have mantra.
Could a Ghanaian student challenge a professor in a state university and still be invited to have tea, receive encouragement from that professor, and be asked to explore the limitless bounds of intellectualism? Absolutely not. Do students feel they can come up with original ideas and feel encouraged by the professors? Absolutely not.
Once, the Vice Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the late Prof. Dr. Kwesi Akwansah Andam (as they like to be copiously qualified at all times) furiously challenged Kwadwo Safo of Kantanka that there was no way automobiles could be manufactured by a man who could barely boast of seeing the entrance of a Sixth Grade classroom. Kwesi Adam is known for his ‘genius’ – several school records at the Ghana Secondary Technical School (GSTS – Takoradi), a few more at KNUST’s Civil Engineering School, and a PhD in Structural Engineering at Newcastle University (England) – all by the tender age of 21?
Nonetheless, Dr. Kwadwo Safo, a simple believer in Ghanaian ingenuity has proven Dr. Kwesi Andam notoriously wrong. In 2015, Dr. Safo begun the production of his Kantanka automobiles – made in Ghana and by Ghanaians.
Across the terrain of our higher institutions, there is a turbulent wind of professors gusting students from key subjects like Physics and Mathematics. Recently, a Professor of the University of Ghana, the late Prof. Dr. Daniel Afedzi Akyeampong, was given a full state burial although he had scared off more students from Mathematics than he had actually spent time mentoring.
For a University that begun in 1948 as the College of the Gold Coast under a brutal British colonial occupation, it took Kwame Nkrumah to actually make the real effort to transform and redirect the cultural framework towards one rooted in an authentic African ingenuity. Of course this was not without the effortless worries and tintinnabulations over the “Bush Medical School” that Dr. K. A. Busia and his raucous tradition derided Nkrumah for trying to establish in Ghana.
This was the kind of insidious perverseness in local opposition that characterized the Nkrumah era.
Since Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966, planned and led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States of America and George H.W. Bush, it has taken until 2012 for the Mathematics Department of the University of Ghana to graduate its first PhD student. This department is not alone. Other departments have also lagged in awarding doctoral degrees.
Even then, Dr. Prince Koree Osei, himself a graduate of the missionary school of Presbyterian Boys Secondary School, had his dissertation research project needlessly co-supervised by a Scottish professor, Prof. Bernd J. Schroers of the Department of Mathematics, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. What is more, Dr. Osei’s research was partly funded by The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Sandwich Scheme.
One would ask, is this intersectionality necessary? How does this bode for the re-emergence of an authentic African educational space for our country?
There is ample reason to celebrate and congratulate Dr. Koree Osei, but our state university leadership’s inaction is nauseating enough that one can easily ignore this milestone altogether and focus on the pedestrian scholarship of our professors. How long should it take for a doctorate degree holder – who joined the Mathematics Department of the University of Ghana since 1966 – to train and mentor a PhD student all on his own, or with the support of his Ghanaian colleagues? How long? He is no exception.
Add to this, the negligence of Ghanaians who have the financial wherewithal to lead an industrial revolution in the country, through the funding of Research and Development in our universities, strikes a chord that vibrates in tune with one of colonial subjugation and backwardness.
The rhythm of higher education in Ghana is not, at any level, rooted in the confident intellectual upbringings of our old Kingdoms and Empires. The lack of verve for an authentic culture of intellectualism in our higher institutions of learning makes the whole nation and her aspirations, hopes and dreams, since Okomfo Anokye, since Ile Ife, since Notsie, look more imprudent than it looks nonsensical at the moment.
Otherwise, how can one fully explain away the wait at the Department of Mathematics at the University of Ghana? A subject like mathematics requires nothing – not expensive lab equipment, not expensive shoes, not fancy coats and desks, not glass strewn buildings – nothing but the mere ingredients of creativity of thought and expression, all of which this land profusely demonstrates.
If it can take the Dogon to compute the masses of stars beyond our vision from mud-huts and cloth scrolls, we should be able to do it from a free government bungalow plus salary, an office, a library and numerous allowances. Otherwise, how shall we reach the pinnacles of Space exploration and Biomolecular Engineering with such an attitude?
Is there a way out?
There is sufficient motivation why Dr. Kwadwo Safo decided to append a home grown doctoral title to his name. He mocks the very foundations of our colonial educational system. He mocks the idiocy that is stooped in the sheer ignorance, the sheer laziness, the lack of creativity, the lack of ingenuity, and the lack of urgency of our state university leadership. If there is one man in the past few decades who has captivated the attention of the youth in our country, since Kwame Nkrumah, it must be Dr. Kwadwo Safo. Not Prof. Dr. Kwesi Andam or Prof. Dr. Daniel Afedzi Akyeampong, no matter how smart they may have been.
Now, this is not to say that students, as ingenious as they come, have not succeeded in their own right and on their own terms. Our local institutions of higher learning have produced some of our most brilliant minds out of a coincidence. In that regard, they have played a significant role nonetheless. But these contributions have fallen far short of what has been needed to bridge the socio-economic gap between Ghana and, for instance, Norway.
Still yet, there is no doubt that the educational needs of the people of Ghana far exceeds the capacity of our government. Why that is, is the tale of a serious study!
But, either through luck or sheer brilliance, or a combination of both, some students perhaps inebriated by the prospects of a better life abroad, particularly in Europe or America, embrace scholarships from universities and charities and travel to distant lands to further their education. Some do well for themselves and even return to serve in private practice or public service. In fact, since Kwame Nkrumah was a shining example – having obtained his undergraduate and graduate degrees from schools in the United States – it has become partly customary and partly unofficial to train our great Ghanaian minds abroad.
However, this practice must stop. At some point in our dear future, we must face the fact quite calmly that it is our duty to educate, in full, the next generation of our nation.
While we denounce the hideous cultural practices in our state colleges, the self-centeredness of some professors and lecturers, we must still remain remarkably circumspect. While we bash the all too familiar mode of thought that boxes in our students and wrecks their aspirations in order to save face or protect large egos, we must still remain cautious of the alternatives at hand.
The burdens manifest in our institutions of higher learning might be absent from Western higher learning classrooms, but this does not mean that Ghana must continue to borrow from the West. Since it is this borrowing – an imperfect activity – that sits at the root of the problem.
We must neither use this as an opportunity to invite western corporations into Ghana to shape the future of the brilliant minds of our land. We cannot allow others to do what we must do if we are truly committed to the project of nation building and self-determination.
No economically advanced nation has built an educational system on the minds of others. If Ghana should see a path to sustainable development, if Ghana should charter her own destiny, she must reconstruct an authentic African education from the pivot of her proud past. No one can do this for us.
The solutions are clear and tractable. Yet, many have proposed the need to emulate the United States’ educational system as the panacea for our educational ills. What is frightening is that many of these schemes lack a clear understanding of the premise of the American educational system.
Some policy solutions in this regard have translated into a few transformations – Junior Secondary is now Junior High, Senior Secondary is now Senior High, which sometimes has a duration of three years or four years depending on whether you were born this year or last year. Additionally, new private colleges brandishing an American corporate liberal arts education gallivant the country. This U.S. model stokes an immediate attention since new private institutions in the country are well-bent on singing its praises and even daring to mold the cause of African intellectual history in this millennium in that respect.
The belief in the American model is foolhardy. A notable example is Ashesi University.
We must carefully examine the bandwagon that corporate education is, and what Ashesi University has jumped onto. The scrutiny must be done against the backdrop of the successes and failures of this model in America itself. Not Ghana. The American corporate college system should not escape the brunt analysis of any objective Ghanaian.
If we adopt its widespread dreams, it would be the second curse after colonial occupation. The consequences will be dire. If this fallacy of college corporatism is needlessly accepted in place of an authentic African model in our higher learning spaces, we will sit atop a powder keg.
The picture of corporatism creeping into education vis-à-vis the mission of higher education, to impact knowledge to the next generation, is stark. The evidence for this split in the mission of a university is in the U.S. itself. The gap continues to widen as more corporate money pours into higher institutions and more profit-driven goals are set. This approach cannot bring good outcomes.
Ashesi University and the American Model
Amidst this age-old confusion and struggle to meet the educational needs of our nation has arisen the likes of Ashesi University with the promise of an American styled corporate liberal arts model. With its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, in the United States, this University is built and financed by the Ashesi University Foundation and boasts an 81 percent European/European American Board of Trustees. The matter of whether this model is the solution to our failing higher learning spaces is the crux of the discussion at hand.
A significant number of Ghanaians rose against an earlier piece about Ashesi University. Questions arose about the role of the Seattle Foundation that owns and controls the school in Ghana. The piece erred on the side of caution questioning the integrity and sustainability of the efforts of an American corporate university model in Ghana.
The president of the school has been quoted on various media aping the need for his students to rise and ‘join the rest of the world,’ no matter the cost. But within the brouhaha, he failed to exercise any intellectual composure to charter a clear case of benevolence or even of mutual benefit for such an American corporate enterprise on Ghanaian soil.
Notwithstanding the surreptitiously equivocal statements strewn across websites and media outlets hiding the fact that Ashesi University is not a home grown liberal arts college, the news of its origin and ownership caught many honest observers with surprise. Clearly the ideas of a neo-missionary or neo-colonial educational model in Ghana are issues that raise thick eyebrows over a long and treacherous history with Europe and America. Nothing could be further from an honest concern for such an enterprise.
For instance, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has shown that the major source of funding for this American college in Ghana – that is MasterCard – is a well-known tool of U.S. Foreign and Corporate policy around the world.
However, the persistent effort today in the training of Ghanaian minds by foreigners in Ghana or for Ghana – either by way of foreign control over curriculum or by foreign financed brass metal-glass institutions on Ghanaian soil – is not new. The historical precedence is the old story of Missionary Education during an animalistic colonial occupation of our dear country.
Kwame Nkrumah may have tried his best to wean the nation off this embarrassment. By and large, the reality in Ghana paints a certain picture of the failure of that effort which in many circles can be linked to the era of political subterfuge and clandestine foreign invasions into the safe and vibrant spaces of a true Ghanaian effort at self-determination in a newly independent nation.
Private universities aping the Ashesi model now abound and continue to increase in number across the country’s higher educational terrain. Many pundits are even more concerned that their model would creep into the safe and humble spaces of tax-payer subsidized education. Without much effort, one can characterize the present atmosphere in Ghana’s higher learning spaces as one of diverse competing paradigms with absolutely no effort on the part of government or private enterprise to promote and safeguard an authentic Ghanaian, African education.
One school of thought is set to win the debate when the sheer forces of capital and the free market economy come to bare on the realities and practicality of an authentic Ghanaian education. This is the shift in paradigm that uses capital, particularly foreign funding, to bully all competing educational models out of existence. But why should an independent nation ever consider a model that is essentially inimical to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the minds of the nation?
Never mind the old traditions of Sankoré or the Nubia Temples of antiquity. If the diversity in deliberations in government and in public do not result in practicable solutions to foster the unique type and substance of what higher education in Ghana should mean, it will be inevitable to observe Ashesi’s convictions rise and be hewn into place by the cultures and ideas of foreign lands.
American Universities offer Education as a Commercial Product with Customer Service Support
The American corporate educational model at Ashesi University must be correctly understood for what it is. Many other colleges springing out of every corner in the country are quick to copy from an anemically misunderstood model in Ashesi. Most critics of our current educational system are also woefully disillusioned about the quick fix they envision. The Corporate American liberal arts model cannot be the fix to our imperfect higher educational system.
Corporatism never fixed anything. It makes things worse.
The evidence is clear in America itself. Failing schools in the U.S. are the lackluster examples in themselves. The model in the U.S. is at best a customer service based educational system where students are coaxed and hoaxed into untold debts – buying an education as if it were a product in a shop; babied along with it, using a strong customer service crew in toothless professors, lecturers and administrators; and given grades to assuage the addiction to a terrible financial commitment.
The objective of capitalism itself within the space of higher learning is no more than to create corporate value in generating strong financial and investment potential in universities and colleges worth the trek for prospective investors – that is, mostly students. Can students gain a brand education that is apt to supply the corporate analyst position needed to pay back in full, plus exorbitant interest, on the loans used to acquire that education?
The goal of American corporations in any so-called liberal arts schools in Ghana will be to simply accumulate material values. This will quickly overshoot into the side effect of satisfying basic material needs of administrators and financial institutions like MasterCard that provide the funding for student loans. What follows is an arduous journey down the road of corporatism that subjugates all other values of higher learning and a true education, let alone an authentic Ghanaian education; quality of relationships as a community and environment, time prosperity, creativity, autonomy – in the process, will all be squashed.
Some of the adverse effects of corporatism are already being felt across the globe. In the European Union, working hours increased again by 8 percent between 1995 and 2005 simply because graduates of such corporatized universities have to work more to pay back loans. According to a poll conducted by Gallup, in the U.S. 70 percent of American graduates who are employed are unengaged with their workplaces or even actively disengaged. More and more students become increasingly alienated from their true desires and ideals and instead become addicted to consumption – again, a habit the banks are happy to encourage.
In the U.S. alone, 24 million individuals are affected with the compulsion to shop. This is a pandemic. In Austria, almost half of young people aged between 14 and 24 years are “significantly at risk of becoming shopping-addicted,” with 10 percent “strongly endangered.”
This is a kind of success in corporate terms: the U.S. economy invests more than 11 billion dollars in its publicity attack on children to consume. Of course, the most exorbitant consumption bill is the one most college students in the U.S. pick up the first day they step into a college classroom.
It cannot be farfetched to envision a nation of disengaged workers, whose true desires and ideals are simply synonymous with shopping.
How can our culture survive to dominate our higher learning spaces?
At this point, it will suffice to spot the conflicts in mentality, in culture and even in aspirations amongst a generation who are largely educated abroad; or within the walls of private colleges with foreign curricula; or at public schools still stooped in a colonial pedagogy.
But Ghana, like many African nations, can no longer be torn apart by intellectual cultures foreign to the land, between the West and the East. The benefits are too few and far between and the devastating consequences are overwhelming. This is why our 21st century higher learning topography and the prospects of fashioning out an authentic African education must be examined with an utmost understanding of African Culture and Intellectual Traditions.
Of course, times are different, but the current practice of training our highly accomplished, academically talented students within the walls of other cultures must stop. We can only garner a clear appreciation for a common destiny as a nation if real discussions on the clear paths to self-determination are laid out by generations rooted in their own material and intellectual culture.
The culture at a foreign establishment is only skilled in flattering and cultivating emerging leaders with a mindset that is entirely beneficial to that culture. A foreign academic culture in Ghana can only impress its own image on our children and from imitation of manners, dress and style of living, develop a deeper strain of corruption.
This kind of foreign educated leader will only acquire the white man’s contempt for the ordinary African, the ordinary Ghanaian. Martin Luther King Jr. says it best: this kind of Ghanaian is “often more at home with the middle-class white than he is among his own people. His language changes, his location changes,” and ultimately he changes from the representative of the Ghanaian to the white man into the white man’s representative to the Ghanaian.
The tragedy is that too often such educated Africans do not recognize what has happened to them.
What questions would be asked of identity and of self-determination? What obligations can the people of a country fulfill to their nation when simultaneously they have cumbersome obligations to a different nation—to pay back their loans, to maximize profits for the very American or multinational corporations where they work? How can this populace stop the milking of her fellow country men and women – poor Ghanaians – out of every drop of blood and shed of skin?
How would we bridge the gap between these diverse outlooks on space and in time?
As a student of history, Shaka kaSenzangakhona (born 1787 – assassinated 1828) and the story of his South African nation quickly jumps to mind. Whenever the call is made by the shortsighted in deliberations involving what the future of an African nation should look like, I call on our shared history. How can a nation, through an authentic African or Ghanaian education, enforce an unpardonable Ghanaian identity in her children?
When King Shaka was paid a visit by an Englishman sent by their King, George, to propose a settlement for the English on the South African Coast, the King looked into the sky and asked rather studiously, “Is the sky so beautiful in the land of this George?” The Englishman quickly assured King Shaka that the sky wasn’t exactly beautiful in England, “You’ll see stars that you do not see. And we see stars that you do not see.”
Shaka quickly quipped, “Amazing. Everywhere we look, down, up,” showing the stranger from England his palms and turning it in the moonlight, “our peoples are different. Yet you ask that we come together.” The Englishman was stupefied but Shaka continued, “Oh. This nation you speak of – the fruits of our lives, who will govern it?”
Sensing that Shaka had fastidiously caught on to fallacies in logic that he had been presenting to the King, the Englishman jumped quickly in defense, “There will be representatives sent out from our king. Who, together with you, will sit down, deliberate, make laws, and see to the needs of the people.”
Shaka then asked in complete amusement, “Your people would know the needs of my people?” The Englishman replied, “We would learn, learn each other’s needs.” So Shaka, now curiously playing along retorted, “How would we live in this nation?”
The Englishman would demonstrate that Africans, in this case, Zulus, would live as neighbors, to Englishmen, village near village. A skeptical Shaka asked again, “And, how will these villages be placed – Zulu, English, Zulu, English, Zulu?” To which the Englishman finally replied and said candidly for the first time during the conversation, “The land is vast Baba, there’s plenty of room for all, without crowding?” Still, Shaka unsatisfied with the answer became even more curious of the Englishman’s logic, “Without crowding Englishman, you mean, Zulu… English…” and to gesture space with his two hands Shake demonstrated, “… English?”
The Englishman seeing that Shaka did not believe in the fallacy of his future projections of a Zulu-English community side-by-side, finally conceded, “Until our needs become fair.”
Shaka smiled with a definitive frustration. He was disturbed by the Englishman’s inability to quickly understand that he could not mislead him on the matters of the future. “I see,” Shaka said now perturbed, “but what will happen if after many generations the children of your children were still unable to learn the needs of my people? If their stars remained different. Would they then leave to go back to the lands where you came from? Or would they have learned to love this land so deeply that no other land would be home? What will happen Englishman, if this land without crowding, became crowded? Which of those unborn children will then become African? Yours or mine?”
The facts of history will paint the skeptical words of Shaka in African flesh and blood. Europeans will come to brutally invade Southern African lands and refuse the equal humanity of Africans in it. The side-by-side neighborhoods impressed on a distrustful Shaka became one rooted in white inferiority and a serpentine apartheid. It will be impossible and well-nigh unnecessary to recount the violent history in all its gore in Zululand and in Southern Africa in general.
But suffice it to say that Ghana daily encounters reverberating echoes of a similarly violent brand of this historicity. The story of South Africa and Zululand are frighteningly related to that of the Gold Coast, the Asante and Dahomey, although this narrative played out on a much larger terrain, where more men like Shaka once walked and died. Unrelenting in its ruthlessness, the character of this European brutality on the Gold Coast would come to be known around the world as the most brutal slavery and slave trade the world had ever known.
In post-colonial West Africa however, it is not clear who the Shakas of our lands are. Yet, it is within this worrisome context that we once again invite a foreign idea into our midst – into the safe, pared down spaces where our brightest minds blossom, evolve and self-determine.
Like the Englishman who paid Shaka a visit, America’s corporate invasion into the safe space of higher learning in Africa should unmistakably be examined against the backdrop of this shared brutal historical context across the continent and the world. Much like Shaka’s brothers who connived with the English to bring about his demise and the diminution of Zulu influence, would Ashesi and its ilk, become that Trojan horse for the American invasion into the empire of the African mind? Will this be the final blow to any hope for an authentic African renaissance in this new millennium?
As a nation of people, our forfeiture of the failings of our past cannot forever haunt our existence in the 21st century. The University of Ghana is not perfect. No state university is. But, neither is any foreign educational product of any private university. At least, our public schools are our own, Ashesi is not. This is our land, and in order that we might yet make it better, we intend to keep it that way.
A frog does not jump backwards. Time is ticking, we are moving along with it. How will posterity remember us?
With a definitive resolve and concertation, we must reform ours colleges. We must fashion them into ideals of a genuine African intellectual space. There is work to do, and we have a noble reason to do it. For how infinite in faculty, and in form will that be? How moving, express and admirable; in action and in apprehension how like a God – will be the beauty of an authentic African education in Africa herself – the paragon of civilizations?
Our generation too “must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
Twa Omanye Aba.