Busia Challenges Africans And Global Humanity – Part 1
5/13/2012 11:21:19 PM -
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
In his treatise titled The Challenge of Africa (Praeger, 1962), Ghana's second postcolonial prime minister demonstrates his scholastic organicity by deftly contextualizing contemporary African experience as an integral strand of the global human experience. In the main, the late Oxford University professor of Sociology and Anthropology delineates four discrete challenges confronting the primeval continent, namely, 'the challenge of culture,' 'the challenge of the colonial experience,' 'the challenge of [a] common humanity and morality,' and what the scholar purposefully calls 'the challenge of responsible emancipation.'
But that Busia is ineluctably an 'organic scholar' with unfettered cosmopolitan and global imagination, is eloquently evinced by the following paragraphs from the 'Preface' of his aforementioned book: 'Africa challenges by what is known of it, as well as by what is unknown. Its estimated population of 280 million is composed of five races - Bushmanoid, Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid, and Pygmoid - of various shades of pigmentation. They are not all black, and they speak more than 800 different languages. Today, it is African nationalism that challenges. The demands for justice, emancipation from colonial rule, and freedom and dignity for the individual, the aspirations for high standards of living that contemporary science and technology have made possible, and the search for self-confidence and self-respect based on a past rediscovered and reappraised - all these are challenges posed by Africa to herself no less than to the rest of mankind. Dealing with four major aspects - the challenge of culture, the challenge of the colonial experience, the challenge of common humanity and morality, and the challenge of responsible emancipation - I have undertaken to examine the meaning and implications of the challenges posed by contemporary Africa both in the light of the situation in Africa and in the context of international relations and world peace' (The Challenge of Africa 3-4).
For this great thinker, perhaps the greatest challenge confronting the leadership of postcolonial Africa regards how to proactively mesh the vital and existentially meaningful aspects of pre-colonial, or indigenous, African culture with the material imperatives and exigencies of the modern world: 'When African nationalists demand self-government, ask for technical aid, or seek loans for development projects, they seem to belong unquestionably to the twentieth century; but when they talk of African culture or African personality, they seem to be harking back ominously to an anachronistic, primeval Africa. Yet this quest for Africa's own culture, for something that is the unique creation of Africa's own peoples, is as much an aspect of contemporary African nationalism as are parliamentary institutions or development plans. It is one of the signs of Africa's emancipation. Physical enslavement is tragic enough; but the mental and spiritual bondage that makes people despise their own culture is much worse, for it makes them lose their self-respect and, with it, faith in themselves. Nevertheless, there is apt to be more emotion than rationality, more fantasy than objectivity in much that is portrayed as African culture. Africa is a vast continent, inhabited by communities that have had different historical experiences. One should be chary in describing as African culture the traditions and way of life of any one community. But we often understand the greater from the smaller - moving legitimately and logically from the particular to the general - and the experience of one African community may help us to understand, by comparison or contrast, the problems of the larger whole' (7-8).
Conversely, Busia clearly appears to imply from the foregoing quote that any cynical attempt to expediently abridge, or even proscribe, the fundamental human rights of Africans, by their leaders, in the specious name of 'African Culture' and/or 'African Personality' rhetoric, stands to unwisely regress the imperative onward trajectory of the continent's development. In this paradoxical context, nonetheless, it is still feasible for foresighted and purposeful African leaders and governments to both instill a salutary sense of self-worth among their people, as well as bring their respective countries and the continent at large within the ambit of modernity.
Among the challenges facing postcolonial Africa is that of ontology - or existential perspective on the universe - and the mortuary or funerary protocol that goes with the same. In recent years, this aspect of Akan-Ghanaian culture, particularly its increasingly capital-intensive tenor, has come up for much public discourse. Almost invariably, such discourse has focused on the critical side, with little account taken of the history and evolution of such funerary protocol. In his Challenge of Africa, Busia gives a far more productive explanation as to why Akan-Ghanaian funerary rites continue to be relatively and unremittingly so expensive: 'Cultural changes result from choices made between available alternatives. Some alternatives are more quickly accepted than others. Changes in funeral rites are usually among the more strongly resisted ones, for they are bound up with people's view of life and of the universe. In the treatment of the sick, the traditional healer no longer has the field entirely to himself, but he has a surprisingly large part of it. European patent medicines are peddled even in remote villages; clinics, dispensaries, maternity homes, and hospitals, though in inadequate supply, are available; nurses, midwives, and doctors, African and non-African, vie with the traditional healer to bring healing to the sick. The traditional healer has not yet been ousted. He tries to answer questions the others do not answer. Behind medicine is the universe in which it works, to whose laws it must conform. Body and spirit are parts of a whole. Can health be attained when they are separated? Should they not be treated together? Science is clearly needed, and more and more doctors, and the knowledge and skill they bring. But the continued acceptance of the traditional healer shows that he meets a need - he helps people cope with problems of their universe. The traditional healer poses a challenge'(32).
It thus appears that latter-day politicians and policymakers would do themselves and the country great good by taking a more informed and educated stance on this issue, rather than facilely reducing this definitely significant aspect of Ghanaian culture to a mundane and vulgar question of dollars and cents, or the 'junk science' of economic affordability. The foregoing observation is, of course, not in any way to suggest that there is anything remiss with frugal economic counseling. Rather, what is being suggested here if the equally significant need to fully appreciate the psycho-cultural foundations of such funerary praxis before any acceptable and meaningful attempt to canonically rationalize it is instituted.
The author of The Challenge of Africa poignantly observes that another challenge confronting Akan-Ghanaians, even as they cross over into the largely technologically advanced and cosmopolitan milieu of the postcolonial era, regards the inevitable rupturing of the hitherto largely rural and intimate kinship bonds upon which the culture was established and developed. This turning point has naturally brought in its wake a level of crisis whose ultimate resolution may likely transform Akan society and culture in ways hitherto unforeseen: 'The funeral rites of the Akan introduce us to some important features of Akan culture. Conditions are not idyllic. On the contrary, the people are seen in a grim fight for life. We observe gaps in their scientific knowledge, and we observe the prevalence of disease and human suffering. But the close-up also shows some fundamental values of the Akan peoples. There is, everywhere, the heavy accent on family - the blood relatives, the group of kinsfolk held together by a common origin and a common obligation to its members, to those who are living and those who are dead. For the family is conceived as consisting of a large number of people, many of whom are dead, a few of whom are living, and countless members of whom are yet to be born. The individual is brought up to think of himself always in relation to this group and to behave always in such a way as to bring honor and not disgrace to its members. The ideal set before him is that of mutual helpfulness and cooperation within the group of kinsfolk. Each member should help the other, in health or sickness, in success or failure, in poverty or plenty. We have observed the family constantly around the sick member, and prominent, too, at the funeral rites. There is always the overriding importance of one's membership in the kin group. There can be no satisfactory or meaningful life for a man except as a member of this group, his family. We have observed the family constantly around the sick member, and prominent, too, at the funeral rites. There is always the overriding importance of one's membership in the kin group. There can be no satisfactory or meaningful life for man except as a member of this group, his family. Cooperation and mutual helpfulness are virtues enjoined as essential; without them, the kin group cannot long endure. Its survival depends on its solidarity. Such a concept of group life makes for warm personal relationships in which every individual has a maximum involvement in the life of the group. This is hardly congruous with life in a large, heterogeneous, competitive society. When a person reared and prepared emotionally for cooperative life with near kinsfolk is thrust into an impersonal, a severely competitive and acquisitive society, the psychological readjustment demanded of him can be traumatic. For in the kin group, the emphasis is on helpfulness and generosity, and a member fulfills his obligation not by what accumulates for himself, but by what he gives to the other members. The donations at funerals and the publicity given to them illustrate ways in which the enjoined virtues of active concern and generosity are encouraged by the group. Esteem and prestige depend on what a member gives to his group. There is emphasis on ancestors. Belief in the continuity of the family lies at the basis of obligation, of law and custom, of behavior. It guides and regulates individual conduct. The ancestors continue as members of the group. They watch over it. They reward those who do well, and they punish those who do not fulfill their obligations to the group. For the life of the group, this is an important sanction, ensuring conformity to the mores; for the individual, it is of considerable importance for mental health. Far-reaching consequences can be expected when the solidarity of the group is strained or broken. Its destruction can be a social catastrophe'(The Challenge of Africa 33-34).
Of course, Ghanaians of Akan descent are not unique in terms of their stressful confrontation with this form of crisis; they have been selected by Busia primarily because as the dominant Ghanaian cultural sub-nationality, the Akan are fairly representative of the country's culture writ large. And by extension, the Akan are also fairly representative of other major continental African cultural polities such as the Yoruba, Hausa and Ibo, of Nigeria; the Gikuyu, Luo and Masai, of Kenya; and the Xhosa and Zulu, of South Africa, for the most obvious examples.
Busia also raises salient questions bordering on traditional African ontology and phenomenology - theories of existence and the nature of reality - that need to be productively resolved, if, indeed, postcolonial Africa is to be able to effectively maximize its access to Western technology for the rapid development of the continent. The preceding also, of course, necessitates an effective appreciation of the universe or worldview (cosmology) of the primary Western cultures that originally developed such technology and/or perfected the same to the enviable level that it is presently. This is a salient epistemic vista where 'Afrocentric' pseudo-nationalism would be of no meaningful assistance, short of a quixotic gratification of the decidedly obsolescent and effete in the spurious name of existential and/or historiographical antiquity: 'Is the reverent attitude merely an expression of ignorance of material substances and natural causes? Or of importance before the immense forces of nature? Or do the rites imply a theory of reality? Behind visible substances, does the Akan find their invisible essence, a power or energy that constitutes their true nature? Until recently, writing was unknown; it is not part of the inherited culture; and such reflections, if any existed, went unrecorded. It is left to posterity to seek the meaning behind the remaining rites and traditions. Noteworthy, too, is the apparent absence of any conceptual cleavage between the natural and the supernatural. In the search for the causes of an illness, we observed that connections were conceived both in natural and supernatural terms; physical and magical linkages were involved. This is not unimportant to those who are trying to modernize Akan society. If a society is to move from a homogeneous, pre-technical state to a state of heterogeneity and industrialization, it needs minds that understand modern techniques and the kind of thinking that lies behind them. A scientific age demands scientific minds. This is a task of education. The sense of dependence manifested in Akan rites is also unmistakable. A sense of dependence on God, the Creator, on lesser deities, on numerous unseen agencies, on the ancestors. Many powers claim attention, fear, and reverence. Implicit in these claims are assumptions about the character of the universe, about God and man and nature, about the physical and social worlds. It is a universe of spirits. Knowledge of the physical universe (and the control of nature that comes from such knowledge) has been, as we may deduce from the treatment of disease, manifestly rudimentary. The 'diagnosis' and treatment of diseases display large elements of experimentation and guesswork - in which the natural and the supernatural are bewilderingly commingled. One could select many societies in Africa similar to the Akan, from whose funeral rites we have had a close view of some aspects of a culture in which kinship ties are strong and are manifest in all activities of life. In all of these societies, reverence for the ancestors has a counterpart in the high prestige that the old enjoy in the community. As there is no tradition of writing, the older generations are educators of the young; the elders are looked up to as those who possess the wisdom and accumulated experience of the tribe, and it is to them that the young turn for instruction and guidance. The introduction of reading and writing into such a society accentuates the gap between the generations and upsets the traditional balance between young and old, for when the young are taught to read and write, new doors to wisdom and knowledge are opened to them. They are no longer dependent on the old man's memory. Formal education has unsuspected consequences for an illiterate community'(The Challenge of Africa 36-37).
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of 'Danquah v. Nkrumah: In the Words of Mahoney.' E-mail: email@example.com.