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Opinion | Sep 28, 2013

The Poison Ivy Of Ethnocentrism: Prof. Awoonor Asks To Be Left Alone

The Poison Ivy Of Ethnocentrism: Prof. Awoonor Asks To Be Left Alone

Our eulogium to Prof. Kofi Awoonor was merely an attempt on our part to capture the vast expanse of his academic and political life in the best way we possibly could. Of course, it was never our claim or intention to execute a liberal swath across his anecdotal biography, an approach, which, we believed, would have entailed our introducing risqué ingredients of unfounded rumors into the delicious recipe of his fulfilled academic and political life.

Lazy rumors have no place in the creative playfield of intellection. 'What a country needs to do is to be fair to all its citizenswhether people are of a different ethnicity or gender,' declared Chinua Achebe. Against this background, we chose to sacrifice our eulogy to Prof. Kofi Awoonor on the alter of fairness and of moral authority, nothing less.

'I've been trapped since birth, cautious, because I'm cursedAnd fantasies of my family, in a hearseAnd they say it's the white man I should fearBut, it's my own kind doing all the killing hereI can't lie, ain't no love for the other sideJealousy inside, make them wish I diedOh my lord, tell me what I'm living for...Only God can judge,' declared rapper Tupac on the track 'Only God Can Judge Me.'

Well, we are not implying that those two men we just quoted had a perfect life. In fact, we quoted them for a suit of reasons and those reasons would soon be made manifest. However, before we plumb the reasons, let's just say there is psychological and moral urgency to do something about 'eradicating' the problem of 'unhealthy' inter-ethnic rivalries within the body politic, Ghana. The problem has a huge component of collateralized social and developmental cost, negative, for the most part. Indeed, ethnocentrism has put a retrogressive spoke in Africa's wheel of development. To wit, the poison ivy of ethnocentrism is hampering our forwardness.

Our analytic surmises were based on an outpouring of hateful lava, of negative reviews, which we received following the publication of 'A Tribute to Prof. Kofi Awoonor' on Ghanaweb. The reviews were mostly negative. And most of them came in the tattered cloth of ethnocentrism, unwarranted hatred for the great man, his ethnicity. More importantly, we were compelled to conclude that those who had criticized him on Ghanaweb had not read the corpus of Prof. Awoonor's work, the theoretical foundation on which we erected our critique, our tribute. Cherry-picking of evidential textual snippets for singular ethnocentric attack ran through the gamut of negative reviews. Contextual perusal or close textual exegesis meant nothing to his critics, so, too, were critical theory, political sociology, chronology, and political economy!

'I read Awoonor's book and the one he specially devoted to Asantes and Ewes as a follow up to the Ghana Revolution. If he were an Akan hater, Asantes in particular, then it should have come clear in that second book. But since he was full of praises for the Asantes, no Asante or Akan ever mention that book! Or are they bloody ignorant of its existence? The late Dr. Francis Appiah, the grandson of Akoto of the NLM, actually bought two copies of the book for me' my good friend, Andy, wrote in my defense of the academic work of Prof. Kofi Awoonor.

Moreover, the great American intellectual, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, a holder of over hundred awards for scholarship and teaching; a Fulbright scholar; a scholar 'recognized as one of the ten most widely cited African Americans' and acknowledged by Black Issues in Higher Learning 'as one of the most influential leaders in the decade'; a publisher of 74 books (mostly textbooks) and of over five hundred scholarly articles; founding editor of the 'Journal of Black Studies,' the premier online 'Black Studies' journal in the world; creator of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies, the world's first African think tank; a scholar-researcher who chaired the Scientific Committee which oversaw the smooth transition of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union, as well as directed nearly 150 PhD dissertations; a trainer of Zimbabwean journalists (1980-1982); a scholar made a traditional king in Akyem, Ghana; a guest professor at Zhejiang University; and, finally, an intellectual acknowledged by 'Utne Reader' as 'one of the 100 Leading Thinkers in America'had full praise for our tribute. 'This is a wonderful tribute. I knew Kofi Awoonor and I loved his spirit. He was one of the giants of our time,' Dr. Asante wrote to us after we had sent him copy of the tribute. Indeed, Dr. Asante is one of the most influential scholars in the world.

Let's get down to the real issues. For us, we hardly consider ethnicity as an analytic variable in our evaluation of the positive contributions an individual has made to human civilization. We applied the same logic to the intellectual legacy of Dr. Kofi Awoonor. In fact, when we had thoroughly examined the corpus of Prof. Kofi Awoonor's work, we only saw an intellectual with a deep sense of social justice. We also saw genius, brilliance, perseverance, humility, foresight, nationalism, and dignity. We didn't see emotional streaks of 'tribalism,' a Eurocentric coinage I hate to use in reference to African humanity, in his work. I prefer ethnic chauvinism or nationalism instead. In the meantime, we also realized that most of the people who had 'ignorantly' criticized him had not seriously read him, if at all. Our observation is emblematic of the sinister approach Eurocentrists adopt toward Afrocentric scholarship.

Again, when we closely examined his work, we did not look at his intellectual 'person' from the view point of ethnicity, as an Ewe, that is. Clearly, we did so from the point of view of him as a Ghanaian, an African, a Pan-Africanist, and a human being. In fact, there was nothing, no palpable evidence, in his corpus of work to suggest he was a rabid ethnocentrist, as his mostly non-scholarly critics claim. He fought as ferociously for Ghana as he fought bravely for Africa and Black South Africa.

Furthermore, we find nothing wrong in his claim that 'I am an Ewe first before a Ghanaian.' In fact, that statement is contextually innocuous. 'As for the accusation of being an Ewe firstFor heaven's sake: The man was born in 1935 when there was no Ghana! In fact, I was also an Ewe first before Ghana was born. Asantes were not even members of the Gold Coast colony until 1946 when the Burns Constitution incorporated it. So they could not even claim to be Gold Coasters before 1946. And most Ewes did not want to be part of the emerging Ghana in 1956,' writes Andy, my friend. Here, too, similar to one of our earlier critical comments, Prof. Awoonor's critics failed to use the rainbowy brush of historical context to analytically paint the factual contours of his measured statement.

And here is the shocking truth: Most of us put our individual 'ethnicities' first before Ghanaeven when we consider the place of our ethnicized sentiments beyond historical or sociological context. It's partly, if not mostly, nature. Namely, sociobiology may have a role to play in intra-ethnic and intra-racial solidarity as well as in social magnetism. It's a theoretical approximation to what sociologists and cultural anthropologists refer to as 'homogamy,' 'Bossard's Law' or 'The law of family interaction.' Ironically, most of us are latent (unconscious) ethnocentrists and are not even aware of it, relatively speaking.

Let's avoid the usage of plural voice for analytic simplicity. I am 'hundred percent' Akan but I don't make or choose friends based on ethnicity. I make friends based primarily on their simple humanity, their personality, their humility, and their relative goodness. And why did I parenthesize the hundred percent? It's because I have not done any ancestral DNA assay to confirm or disconfirm my self-serving hypothesis which lays claim to Akan genetic 'superiority'! Who knows if I don't have non-Akan genes? And what is non-Akan genes? What is 'hundred percent,' anyway? Does 'hundred percent really exist like the number 'zero'? Actually, genetic propinquity puts Dr. Asante, Osama bin Laden, Haile Selassie, chimpanzees, ex-President Bill Clinton, and I squarely on the 'animal,' or 'taxon,' of the phylogenetic tree.

Yet racial essentialism and variances in genetics between racial whiteness and blackness put Dr. Asante, Haile Selassie, and I in a different category of social, and even 'biological,' identification. Dr. Asante, for instance, is African American, yet his ancestral genetic constitution derived from Nubia, Northeast Africa, and Yoruba, West Africa. And given the genetic Arabization of 'black' Sudan in both historical and contemporary times, how come he does not have Semitic or Arabized genes? Further, the statistical spread of genetic drift via biological socialization, is, fortunately, quite deterministic, thanks to the advent of DNA technology. Why don't we create a national DNA database for Ghana to determine the relative spread of diversities likely to be harbored within a specific ethnic block?

Given that we have all been trading amongst ourselves and intermarrying with each other before the advent of the white man on our coasts, what is there to show that I may not secretly be harboring the 'genes' of Dagomba, Ewe, Ga, Mamprusi, Fulani, or Mossi ethnicities? Cheikh Anta Diop used comparative linguistics, migration studies, and evolutionary Darwinism to demonstrate how black humanity (humanity in general) spread out from the area around modern Ethiopia to the rest of Africa (and to the rest of the world). Interestingly, the 'melting pot' of intermarriage continues today in Ghanaunabated.

It's no wonder that one study indicates the blood group of an ethnic group in Ethiopia overlaps with that of the general blood group of Ghana, rather than with ethnicities on East Africa and even within Ethiopia itself. Also, Diop, like Theophile Obenga, employed the system of comparative methodology to prove that Wolof, a Senegalese language, is a linguistic cognate of ancient Egyptian. Therefore, claims of ethnic or racial purity is merely anthropological or biological mirage at best. My first girlfriend was an Ewe. And she was one of the most beautiful and intelligent girls I ever dated. Meanwhile, no part of her beautiful anatomy told anyone she was Ewe, Hausa, Asante, Ethiopian, Ga, Akyem, Zulu, or Hausa! Her well-rounded hips, her magical buttocks, her succulent lips, her ghostly gait, and her invigorative breasts were those of general womanhood, not of the particularity of Ewe womanhood.

Now let's switch from the singular voice to the plural voice. Whether we like it or not, Prof. Kofi Awoonor was one of the world's greatest scholars to have come from Ghana. Ironically, the world didn't see him as an Ewe. Instead, it saw him as a Ghanaian, an African, a Pan-Africanist, and a human being. Similarly, we have never bothered to look at Adu Boahen's work from the standpoint of ethnicity, unless, of course, the particular work of his which we are interested in borders on the scientificity, sociology, or anthropology of 'ethnic' history. Maybe one day he shall be guilty of the same crime of rabid ethnocentrism we associate with Prof. Awoonor. Sociology of knowledge is a relatively successful gateway to 'objective' historiography as well as to social, cultural, and political thought. This was what we saw in Prof. Awoonor's work.

But partisan ethnicization and racialization of scholarship are not! Yet we did not ignore the fact that a scholar's or researcher's total detachment from his or her biases, ethnicity, race, political partisanship, class, ideology, among others, did not play any 'signal' role in his or her intellection. They do, in fact. Usually, open prefatorial admissions of biases removes the fog of doubts hovering around a scholar's work! We bore these factors in mind as we evaluated the corpus of Prof. Awoonor's work. Clearly, the work and person of Kofi Awoonor transcended ethnic pettiness and emotional trivialities. Unfortunately, his shameless critics are trapped by and in it. In the end, he passed on admirably not as Ewe, but as African and Pan-Africanist. And as a graceful human being.

Indeed, Prof. Awoonor may have accomplished more in life, intellectually and socially, than most individuals in our own families. So, rather than spend time criticizing him for what he obviously wasn't, let us use that time to outdo what he did in life, that is, writing more poetry and books than he did, as well as doing more than his fair share of positive contributions to the politics of social democracy. The political obituary of Aparthied is never complete without the activist politics of Prof. Awoonor's poetic psychology. Mandela knows this. The contemporary history of South Africa knows this. Dr. Molefi Kete Asante knows this. Africa knows this. The United Nations knows. And the entire world knows this. Why then do we allow our trivialized ethnocentrism to drive the elephantine coffin of the resting professor through the 'needle eye' mud of social 'double jeopardy'?

Finally, sometimes I wonder why both 'death' and 'birth' are five-letter words, why the letters 'b' and 'd' are mirror images of each other, why they rhyme, and why they both end with the digraph 'th'! Obviously, if you have a 'b' then you automatically have a 'd' as well. Further, 'b' and 'd' alternatively define 'the beginning' and 'the end' of the journey of one's humanity. We all have 'b' and 'd' coded in our genes. The rest is only a matter of time. If there is an important lesson in life for us to learn from, it's this: Kwame Nkrumah and George Alfred Grant (Nzema), J.B. Danquah and Akufo-Addo (Akyem), Kofi Abrefa Busia (Bono)all passed on without their ethnicities coming to their aid.

Death is unlike hunger which one easily quenches with food intake. Moreover, death is neither an elephant nor an ant though both end with the three-letter word 'ant.' In fact, death is more like death, nothing less, nothing more! Therefore, let's learn to appreciate the aesthetics of Prof. Kofi Awoonor's poetic and literary minds and leave the phenomenological closet of his private life for his personal God to hang his judgmental clothes in, for it's not our place to judge our 'fallible' fellow humans. That is the province of his personal God. No one says Prof. Awoonor was a saint, neither are you, his saintless critics! 'Only God can judge me,' declared the rapper Tupac. In fact, if we were each other's personal Gods, then there would not be the need for a Unitarian God.

The harsh reality of American racism has taught me never to discriminate against my own kind, whether Ewe, Ga, Dagomba, Luo, Fante, Asante, Ga-Adangbe, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Oromo, Zulu, Wolof, Kikuyu, etc. Why can't we all do the same? Ethnic pettiness won't get us anywhere. 'Tribal war ain't solve the problems,' screamed the throaty voice of roots reggae Culture's Joseph Hill. Let's learn to love and to appreciate one another. We must also have to learn to build upon his legacy.

'Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I amand what I needis something I have to find out myself,' said the late Chinua Achebe. Incidentally, both Achebe and Awoonor have asked us to tell you, particularly Awoonor's critics, to mind your own business of self-analysis. The blood of self-analysis is thicker than the water of lazy gossip and of psychological idling! Think about and for yourselves!

Please leave the great professor to rest in peace!

Francis Kwarteng
Francis Kwarteng, © 2013

This author has authored 549 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: franciskwarteng

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