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06.09.2003 Feature Article

African Consciousness Marred by Colonialism

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When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You don’t have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You need not send him to the back door; he will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary. (Carter Woodson, Miseducation of the Negro) In their analysis of African economic underdevelopment, African development experts focus their attention exclusively on the historic and contemporary exploitation of the continent; inefficient economic management programs; ineffective and corrupt political leadership; and the so-called outmoded and primitive African customs and traditions. Of course, some development experts have also analyze the unequal international trade relationship between Africa and Euro-America and attributed the development problems of the African continent to the protectionist policy of Euro-America. Scant attention, if any, is paid to the enormous psychological damage that colonialism has done to the minds of Africans, both continental and diasporic. That is, I am more interested in the social psychology of colonialism; in particular, how an individual African defines the self or develops the self as a result of series of interactions with in-school education system in the continent. Related to this idea is the formation of colonial mentality, how this mentality is perpetuated on over time, how mental liberation can be attained. The characteristics of the colonial mentality include, but not limited to, rigidity of thinking; the inability to construct original ideas, models or theories to develop one’s own culture; the unbridled tendency to accept anything Euro-America and reject those that are non Euro-America; the behaviour of looking up to Euro-America for solution to our problems; plundering the treasury of one’s country and putting the booty in Euro-American banks; and the thoughts of transforming one’s country into a model of Euro-America. Colonialism, whether subtle or plain, involved the deliberate attempt to destroy African peoples’ economic and political systems and their cultures and religions, and to replace them with European institutions and values. This was, and still, that European institutions and cultural and religious values were and are superior to those of Africans. The principal agent of the colonization processes, besides the church, is the in-school education that the colonial masters established in the colonies. Since the colonial school system was set up to indoctrinate Africans with the colonization processes, it is the single most important location where we have to start any analysis of the mode of thinking of educated Africans. In students’ interactions with our in-school education system we should ask the following crucial questions: Does the individual student or graduate have a positive image of him/herself as an African? How does the educated African view his/her indigenous languages, culture, and institutions in relation to those of Euro-America? What are his/her impressions of Euro-American culture? I venture to say that most individual students, whether consciously or subconsciously, develop a negative image of themselves and of the culture they belong to. Through their interaction with the school system, Africans internalize the colonialization processes and start to believe that they are incapable of intellectual activities and that the colonizers’ degrading images and cultures of African peoples’ ways of being are true. And the more the African moves into internalizing the colonization processes, the more she degrades who she is. This being so the educated Africans become confused when called upon to apply their knowledge and skills acquired in in-school education to solve problems in their own society. Nor is the individual educated African capable of propounding his/her own theories to explain phenomenon in her/his society. He/she is just a salesperson that vociferously “markets” theories that Euro-American intellectuals have produced. As Brian Walker explicitly points out in his little book titled Authentic Development in Africa, Africa can boost of people with strings of MAs, MSs and PhDs, but the economic development trends of the continent is still very dismal indeed. This implies that Walker expects educated African to apply their knowledge and skills to develop the economies of their countries. What is the worth of a MA or PhD if it renders the holder disabled and thus unable to contribute to his/her community’s development? Is the purpose of in-school education merely to obtain “paper credentials”? What benefits have the average African enjoyed from the “paper credentials” that educated Africans possessed? We should note that students interact not only with teachers and school administrators, but also with textbooks and materials a vast majority of which are produced in either Europe or America or both. Even where they are purportedly produced in the continent, they are often over ridden with Euro-American epistemology and worldview under the cloak of objectivity. This often occurs in the field of science, where African students are ideologized to belief that all Western scientific knowledge is objective and universally verifiable. Nevertheless, students’ interactions with teachers and administrators are extremely important because of the authority position of the latter. In fact, school administrators have the power to award scholarship grant and leadership positions to their favourite students, even if there is a democratic process to elect school leaders. Teachers, on the other hand, have the power to assess their students’ academic performances, evaluate such performances, and validate knowledge and behaviour, and the authority to manage their classes. For example, while in secondary school in Ghana I asked my economics teacher in a respectful manner whether the demand/supply laws he was teaching the class were not peculiar to the way society was organized. In his sudden reaction he shouted on me: “Sit down, mad fish! These laws operate everywhere in the Western world. Who dare you to challenge the universality of these natural economic laws”, he added. I sat down, frozen on my seat and could not say a word to that teacher. At that time, I thought the demand/supply laws were merely social constructs, whose validity were not necessarily universal but had everything to do with the manner in which society was structured. Consequently, different social organization systems would require different set of economic laws and the demand/supply laws are not immutable natural laws as my teacher regarded them. The same teacher once told the class that we should never compare ourselves to Euro-Americans in the sense that Euro-Americans plan everything they do whereas we don’t. Certainly, this teacher thought that his observation of lack of planning in Ghana was valid in generality. At least I knew for a fact that Ghanaian farmers plan their activities and that planning was not exclusively a domain of Euro-American culture. Historically, every society practices some degree of planning. Thanks God, this teacher could not indoctrinate me in the way that he wanted. To some Africans, the possession of MAs or PhDs or other academic designations are enough, because they could use them to prove to the citizens of their countries how closely they have come to being Whites. And for that reason, they deserve special privileges in their societies equal to those given to the colonial bosses. If this observation were erroneous, why is it that most educated Africans demand the privileges of their former colonial masters, including a house boy, cook, bungalow and chauffeur? As well, why do most educated Africans, especially those with university degrees, feel that they are more qualified to be leaders of their countries instead of being followers? Again, why does the average African have special admiration for people with university education, instead of what they can use the degrees to produce for themselves, their families, communities, or nations? I am not suggesting that university educated Africans should not be respected. Everybody deserves respect, regardless of education attainments. On the contrary, what I am suggesting is that African population should start demanding productive efforts from African intellectuals. However, educated Africans who demand special privileges or leadership positions in their societies should have something, beyond their academic or professional credentials, to show that they deserve those privileges. For example, Africans who become managers should have their performances evaluated on the basis of their contribution to the organizations they work for or to society in general. This recommendation is based on my observation that a majority of educated Africans in managerial or leadership positions run their organizations into either bankruptcy or on the verge of bankruptcy. The same recommendation is required for African university professors or lecturers. Their performances should be subjected to periodic evaluation based not only on their teaching skills and knowledge, but also on their research or projects they have participated or undertaken in their societies. The reader may accuse me of regarding in-school education as a utilitarian project, whose sole purpose is to help students acquire knowledge and skills and apply them in service of themselves or communities. Nonetheless, I should be exonerated from the accusation when one critically looks at the fact that education of any variety has a utilitarian purpose. It is a truism from sociological investigations that the objective of African traditional education is about survival: survival of our culture, survival of our identity, and survival of our people. The ultimate objective of in-school education in African cannot be different from that of the traditional education system. Thus, in-school education must be the means to achieve this objective, not an end in itself. Unfortunately, most educated Africans regard in-school education as an end in itself. Africans with strings of academic and professional degrees were mostly educated in the West or in Western- style Universities set up in the former colonies. As a result, these crops of African intellectuals have certain modes of thinking and reasoning for analyzing economic, social and political issues, which are “unafrican”. Many of the Western models or paradigms transmitted to them in the education process do not apply to the African situation owing to the different African social and political matrices; or the models may not be the most appropriate or effective ones available to solve the specific problems of Africans. Surprisingly, most African intellectuals and their Western counterparts that dominated international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank forcibly apply those models in Africa, hence the crises on the continent. No models can be applied in isolation because they always emerge in specific social, political and economic contexts and also they are heavily coloured with the worldview of their designers. In other words, those models are not neutral, for they reflect the values, attitudes, and beliefs of their authors. Therefore, those contexts are prerequisites for successful implementation of the models; or alternatively the models could be expertly honed to fit the special circumstances of the African situation. An interesting analogy is that of organ transplant. Invariably, the body rejects the organ simply because it regards it as a “foreigner” or unfit for the special individual. Indeed, it is the cardinal skill of trimming foreign models to dovetail the African situation or constructing our own models that the Western educated Africans woefully lack. Examples will be used to illustrate the rigid mode of thinking of Africans who label themselves as the intellectual lights of their times. Sometime ago, I told a group of African graduate students of the non-party political system that operates in two Canada’s territories— North West Territories (NWT) and Nunavut. In that non-party system each constituency periodically elects its member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the MLAs intend elect the premier. The premier forms a cabinet and gives ministerial assignments to the cabinet members. Any MLA not in the cabinet is in opposition. This system called consensus government aims at promoting democracy at the grass root level and avoiding the division that party system brings about. Thus, MLAs truly represent their constituencies and not any political parties. And they vote in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of their constituencies, not in line with the policies of a political party. Before I could finish my presentation, two of them interrupted saying that no government can be run effectively without political parties and that the system of non-party government works in those territories because the people are backward! What bothers me to date is the speed with which they passed a conclusive judgment on that system. They did not pose any critical, penetrating questions about how that system works. They simply wrote it off in that it was different from the one to which they have been exposed in the school system. Nevertheless, there is no empirical evidence to prove that a political party-system is superior to a non-party system. Both systems have their merits and demerits, and it is important to investigate which one will best serve one’s society. The people in those two territories, many of whom are of aboriginal ancestry, have found that a non-party political system suits their culture better than the political party system. So I am right to say that this group of Africans has internalized a colonial consciousness because of their entrenched belief that dominant Euro-American political system is superior to others and that any society that deviates from that system is primitive. As a matter of fact, one common factor with most African intellectuals is their untrammeled tendency to use Euro-American cultural practices as a yardstick to measure the worth of anything different from those of Euro-Americans. Most educated Africans rigidly and inappropriately apply Western models to situations in which they endeavour to solve their own problems. To illustrate, during my first year in graduate school, I became the president of the African Students’ Association. One day before our weekly meeting, I arranged the chairs in a circular form with an eye to reinforce the unity philosophy of the association. One African graduate student objected to this arrangement on the grounds that the association’s executive members would loose their authority and recognition, if they were not separated from the general membership. That African objected to my African model of arrangement because the colonial masters taught him a fixed way of arranging chairs for a meeting, which reinforces hierarchy, authority and perhaps even intimidation of the general membership. This African had internalized the colonial method of group meetings to the point that he felt it was appropriate for any situation, even those organized and directed by Africans. A proposal I have tested with some Ghanaian intellectuals has to with the interim certification of knowledgeable elders to teach occasionally in our school system. Knowledgeable elders include those in the field of basketry, drumming and drum making, dancing, pottery, herbalogy, land and river navigation, agriculture, and chieftaincy. This proposal has met more opposition and criticism than acceptance. Some people argue that if this proposal were adopted it would lead to a decrease in the respectability of our educational institutions. According to this group of Ghanaian intellectuals people would no longer perceive “school knowledge” as superior to that of our cultural knowledge (the so-called home knowledge) and that our school system would loose its legitimacy in our society. I disagree with any of these arguments. First, school knowledge is a form of foreign knowledge, because it has not been useful in enhancing or developing our culture. Instead, it destroys our culture. Second, the notion of the superiority of school knowledge has not proved practically useful in our society, at least from historical evidence and painstaking observation. Third, in-school education would be respected more, not less, because it would provide an excellent environment for our youth to acquire valuable knowledge and skills that they could work on as they go through the school system. Further, our youth would begin to appreciate their culture and would not feel inferior when they interact with people from non-African cultural background. Finally, we would then reduce significantly the dichotomy between school knowledge and home knowledge, paving the way for the improvement of our cultural knowledge and institutions. Another criticism to my proposal is that knowledgeable elders do not have the necessary teaching training to teach in our school system. Again, this criticism is not convincing enough. The fact is that most university graduates who teach in our schools have no formal training in teaching methodology. Though the teaching practices of most of these university graduate teachers are professionally ineffective, yet they teach without complaints from students or parents. Why not our knowledgeable elders? In fact, I have observed elders effectively teaching young people in apprenticeship programs. The other criticism of my proposal is that our elders give adequate instruction to young people in the home and that it is unnecessary to bring them to teach in the formal school setting. However, I don’t think that our youth receive enough instruction from our elders, considering the preponderant role the school system plays in our society as an agent of socialization. However, the above criticisms against my proposal are anything but red herring. The truth is that most Ghanaian intellectuals do not want any elements of their culture in our school system. As well, they fear that their privileged positions in our society would be diminished and they would loose their respectability. So their reaction stems from unfounded fears rather than practical problems with my proposal. Another example of the rigid mentality of educated Africans, again, occurred in my experience as president of the African Students’ Association. Ever since I became president of the Association some members were demanding that I dress in a suit and tie to represent the Association in meetings with the university. Do I need to dress in a suit and tie in order to do my duties as president of a student club? Certainly not! A final example was found during a meeting where an African, who claimed to be a legal scholar, insisted that it was improper for the meeting to commence unless the members voted to accept or reject the agenda. This objection was made though every member present was informed of the agenda and voiced no complaints. Was this motion to accept or reject the agenda necessary in this case? Certainly not! It seemed that this African, having learned and internalized the meeting procedures of his colonial masters, thought that those Western procedures MUST be followed regardless of the circumstances of the situation. Africa is the only continent that has failed to incorporate elements of its culture into the modernization project, partly due to the fact that many Western educated Africans hold the African culture in contempt. In the education enterprise, for instance, traditional African education values such as holistic learning, child-centred learning, co-operative learning, performance-based assessment, applied learning and community involvement (It takes the whole village to educate a child) have been cast to the pigs by Western educated Africans. However, these fine concepts of traditional African education model are now important “new” innovative features of Euro-American education system. To illustrate further, in African epistemology, there is no separation between “knowing and doing”. The two components are inseparable in any learning setting. An expert farmer, for example, does not only explain farming techniques and procedures to prospective farmers, but she/he actually does farming. The implication of this statement is that in the school system students should be provided with practical environment to apply their knowledge and skills, so that the two basic components of African epistemology could be integrated. Similarly, educated Africans who claim expertise in any field of knowledge should find practical environment to apply their knowledge and skills instead of hiding behind the maze of academic walls. For instance, if you are a professor in automotive engineering you should be involved in designing some engines. Alternatively, you should have your own garage set up where you fix cars. As well, if you are a historian we should see you documenting and publishing our histories from an Afrocentric perspective. As a wood technologist you should be involved in wood design of all sort for building, furniture, sculpture, toys, bridges, and fencing. In the same way, if you are an agriculturist you should apply your knowledge to produce crops with better yields, cheap source of meat, and to maintain soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilizers. I am sick and tired of educated Africans who claim expertise in something without having done anything practical to show for their knowledge and skills. This is unafrican! It may surprise the reader to learn that before the advent of Western colonialism Africans had its own array of intellectuals – philosophers, linguists, sociologists, medical doctors, counselors, storytellers, poets, agriculturalists, teachers, politicians. These indigenous intellectuals, whom the colonial master despised and indoctrinated their African students to despise, made invaluable contributions to their societies. In Ghana, my country of birth, the indigenous intellectuals invented the kente and adinkra cloth, created the ananse folktales, made unique art works and medicines. As well, they were able to smelt iron and forge simple manual tools that were used for different purposes in their communities. They were also able to make wines and beers, and grow food to feed themselves. What have the Western educated Africans added to all these? Nothing! The worst of all, Western educated Africans have created societies that are economically and culturally tied to the umbilical cord of Euro-America. Even Africans are compelled to depend on Euro-America for everything including the written language. Are you not ashamed of this? The consequences of all these is that African societies are declining, scoring the lowest marks on every index of human development. The time is long overdue for African intellectuals to construct their own worldview and models to analyze their societies, instead of being copy-cats, and willing tools for Western neo-colonial propaganda and cultural hegemony. Western colonialism has bequeathed to the African intellectual a mental legacy that that is antithetical to African progress. This colonial structure was once maintained through a variety of direct political, economic and social structures established in the colonies directly by Europeans. Now the presence of the colonial master is not needed at all in Africa, for the Western educated Africans are the social engineers indirectly charged with the maintenance of the colonial structures through our educational institutions, orthodox churches and government organizations. Carter Woodson (Miseducation of the Negro) is right in his assertion that Western education system enslaves rather than liberates Africans mentally, making it hard for them to apply their minds to develop their societies. Woodson also states that Western educated Africans lack self-confidence when interacting with Euro-American Whites. This is so because the Western educated Africans have failed to develop or enhance their own cultural institutions and have internalized the belief that their cultures are inferior compared to that of Euro-American. In their interaction with Euro-Americans, thus, most African intellectuals have nothing valuable to be proud of except take a docile posture. The author is a mathematics educator in Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Y Fredua-Kwarteng
Y Fredua-Kwarteng, © 2003

The author has 16 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: YFreduaKwarteng

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