As part of the 20th Anniversary Event of the African University of Communications, Dr. Benjamin Kofi Nutor of A&M University, College Station,USA, interviewed Professor Toyin Falola, his former college professor, on November 25, 2022.
Kofi Nutor: What is the history of your engagement with the Ghanaian state and academy over the many years of your illustrious career?
I have been going to Ghana since the 1970s. To me, Ghana is home. The first is in a research capacity to understand the place; the second is as part of the activities linked to the West African Examination Council; the third is for academic conferences and meetings; the fourth is for policy work; and the final is for social events. Apart from spearheading many academic conferences and partnering with many academics from the country to develop policies and conduct research to advance the collective values of Ghanaian society, I have significantly contributed to their socio-academic issues, which help to increase the possibility of bonding between and across Africa. My history thus goes back into time as much as I can remember, given the awareness that our determination to get Africa on the global map of the knowledge economy is inspired, especially by the work of outstanding Africans, some of whose origin is traceable to this country. A larger part of my engagement with the country’s state is dedicated to throwing research activities open to enhance and redefine people who would understand and not undermine the deepened significance of their cultural values and identity. Many scholars from this place have been a source of inspiration. Therefore, many have been steadfast advocates of liberatory scholarship for Africans in every ramification. The world of modern African academics would be devoid of genuine meanings and values if the works of Kwasi Wiredu were excluded from the knowledge market. African knowledge epistemology will make minimal sense if Ama Ata Aidoo’s relentless works are overlooked. When the contributions of Kwame Nkrumah aren’t accorded the necessary attention, it makes a mockery of the African epistemic worldview. To have organized events in Ghana and attended others there means that I have maintained a deep-seated academic fraternity with Ghana for a long time.
I have written books on Ghana, such as Culture and Customs of Ghana, and republished the major essays of Adu Boahen, whose funeral ceremonies I attended in Accra, Juaben, and Kumasi.
Kofi Nutor: What does the chieftaincy title conferred on you by the Ga State mean to you, considering the many other chieftaincy titles, honorary degrees, and presidential awards you have received from numerous countries over the years?
To say that I am overwhelmed by the conferment of chieftaincy titles by the Ga people does not paint the actual picture of my mood during that time. The conferment of chieftaincy titles to people in Africa holds several sociocultural and sociological meanings beyond what Western education can accurately account for. Apart from the underlying kinship baptism done with that honor, one would realize that it also opens limitless opportunities for the beneficiary and benefactor to extend goodwill and affection. Africans communicate acceptance when they offer you their indigenous titles, which shows that they decide to deepen their relationship with you without expecting benefits. Although, as you have indicated, I have had different titles and numerous honorary degrees, among others, given to me by several peoples and cultures. However, when African people other than my indigenous identity confer such honor on me, it implies they appreciate my contributions to humanity and recognize the bravery put in place for me to achieve these feats. We cannot underplay the fact that such conferment attests to their desire to repose their confidence in me and that they look forward to extensive relations between me and the country. This, therefore, means that they have inadvertently increased my responsibilities. Even though this would naturally increase my efforts and add to the routine of my academic work, it has offered me a clean slate on which I can inscribe my relevance and importance for my benefit. I have developed one personal culture for myself during my academic engagements: the more I work, the more I utilize my God-given capabilities in me. If I now have a people who recognize me with such honor, they have activated my desire to do more because there is this general saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. That serves as a pedestal upon which my energy to accomplish more is constructed. For this, I duly appreciate them and would be forever grateful.
Kofi Nutor: What would be your advice to young African academics who want to use their scholarship to make an impact beyond the academy?
One of the most important things to tell people is that they should understand the crucial importance of time. Understanding one’s time is necessary for the possibility of making use of its attendant values. Every human season has its attendant values and disadvantages. In our own time, for instance, the culture of reading is highly celebrated and even desired, owing to the lack of credible or morally acceptable alternatives to engagement. In essence, once you read, you can be sure of being intellectually resourceful enough to produce content that would transform your world and simultaneously fetch you money. However, with the advent of the current totalizing globalization, this custom received a rapid shift. Definitions of human and economic values shifted with this development. The location of economic opportunities was gradually changing with the emerging realities. The need to move with this trend cannot be underplayed, given that the most important thing in life is access to economic opportunities that can sustain us. As an academic, therefore, one should be flexible in the contemporary time.
Meanwhile, flexibility is possible only when an individual is eclectic in their approach to every engagement. To become relevant in modern academics, one needs to be abreast of happenings around one’s academic field and, by extension, take a couple of other areas too. This would drive the individual to attain more intellectual success, eventually promoting their interests and prompting them to achieve more. Education is still relevant, and young academics should be encouraged if education is not paying them as handsomely as other career choices benefit their contemporaries. As an academic, you are using your intellectual properties to rebuild human society, resulting in your conceptual ideas becoming useful or being something you can observe in the human world. Thus, hang one and do more. The advantages would come.
Kofi Nutor: How can African states leverage the humanities and social sciences for national development in addition to the current emphasis on STEM disciplines?
STEM emerges from the scientific knowledge economy, which does not include the humanities and social sciences. To ask how African states can leverage these two areas of knowledge economy is to euphemistically lament society’s declining leaning on them. One will be miffed if a completely disconnected society from social sciences and humanities becomes a model because it is nearly impossible to achieve desirable success when a country refuses to integrate subsequent ideals fermented from social sciences and humanities. In many human societies, quite many people still ask about the importance of these aspects of knowledge to the advancement of human civilization. The regrettable shortcoming is that such people or society suddenly believe that advancements in scientific accomplishments naturally become the indices of evaluating progress. That would be incorrect because you can make most attempts to travel to the moon and build numerous robots to do your job for you. Still, when you lack basic human values, moral principles (as defined by your identity), and ethical ideals, you are already on the path to ideological degeneration. The fact that many African leaders and states do not understand this has brought about unwholesome social decadence in our human world. To realize that one needs empathy so that one can make efforts to better the lives of others with whom one shares the planet, one needs the civic education that is inherent in different African proverbs, moonlight stories, and wise sayings, all of which are now fading into oblivion in our collective environment. If your child can make an airplane but would not mind impounding what belongs to the public for their own personal use, it does not matter if their own airplane fetches them money; what they would be looking for when they attain political offices is how they would convert state resources to their pockets. In fact, the declining force in associating with humanity and social sciences has produced many African leaders today. You might ask, why would someone take monies they know they cannot exhaust in their lifetime while the masses of people are suffering? What distinguishes them from the gluttonous ijapa (tortoise) that stores what he’s incapable of eating in his throat?
Kofi Nutor: What were your thoughts when Nigeria asked Ghanaians to leave Nigeria?
Great sympathy, great objections. Indeed, it formed part of the preface to a new book, African Refugees, by Indiana University Press. My thoughts remained negative about the event, knowing that humans should naturally not be hindered from migration or prevented from association, given the understanding that migration and movement are two natural things that cannot be disconnected from humans, animals, or even plants. Studying nature would lead us to discover that we are animals that move at will. Asking Ghanaians to leave Nigeria is an attestation of our misunderstanding of who the real enemy is. The population of Ghana and Nigeria was not even up to a quarter of the Indian population during the politically forced exodus. Meanwhile, India is doing fine as a single country. In essence, sending people out of the country was a political schema to cover the leadership inefficiency and administrative incapacity of the leaders. How do you believe Ghanaians are the problem after independence, which you all fought shoulder-to-shoulder to force from the hands of the colonists? In what language would you justify the intellectual emptiness inherent in the argument that Ghanaians are mopping up your economic opportunities when you don’t create quality-aiding structures? Apart from the fact that there is a need for mutual friendship (noting that the commitment of people differs) among many African countries, the understanding that free migration is needed within and across African countries makes it appalling that Ghanaians are ushered away from Nigeria. It shows that people are running away from responsibility.
Kofi Nutor: Is it possible to develop Africa through the contributions of African-Americans?
Yes. Sources of development are many, internal, external, a combination of both. When developmental ideas, no matter who the producers are, come from exogenous sources, their influence may be limited and may not be problematic, as in the case of the European legacies. However, when ideas come from a people or a movement, they could potentially have a very great impact. This is the secret behind human civilizations that have stretched far in history. Africa faced development issues the moment external civilization infiltrated their philosophical, political, and economic space. Africans are one of the few races in the world whose history of development, advancement, and quality improvement spans beyond millennia. The fact that the last 500 years of their history have been marred by stagnation and underdevelopment does not suddenly deny their potential for rapid and upsurge rise into stardom; what they require to be great is the ability to make difficult decisions and stand in unison. Admittedly, African Americans’ contributions can consolidate Africa’s development, but, in reality, they cannot solely inspire it. In other words, whatever they decide to bring would always have an important impact on their development plans, including the benefits derived from history and culture.
We raged themselves as Africans; thus we share in the challenges. What Africa needs is the identification of its challenges and the provision of solutions to them. These solutions must reflect contextual thinking and values that span multiple generations to withstand future pressures. African-Americans can send money to African governments, but they cannot devise ways by which African leaders would spend the funds. There is a need to conceive what development means to various African leaders and, therefore, give the necessary political support for their desires to instigate actions that can bring about the required improvements and development of the continent. As in the case of the alliance between Kwame Nkrumah and De’Bois, we need ideas, knowledge, and concrete actions.
Kofi Nutor: What do you think about the negative ideas about Nigerians in Ghana?
Everything boils down to the wrong understanding of what Africa should be and how it can achieve continent-wide greatness. There is a need for African solidarity. Such cohesion cannot be underplayed, as it would underpin the establishment of systems that would be useful in rejuvenating their economic and political values and transforming them from the very captivity of colonization-induced declination that has become a bane of their development. Africa is indeed destined to be great, but that greatness can only be activated when they accept themselves as one, which they are. Many African countries can trace the genealogy of their languages to a similar background, while their cultural ideals also share a common identity. In essence, they have more things binding them together than separating them. If Nigerians are perceived as enemies in Ghana, it will generate unnecessary controversy that would open the door to unnecessary and avoidable vendetta. Conscious efforts should be made to discourage such negative perceptions created against Africans within African countries, irrespective of their differences in ethnic or cultural identity. Except for those involved in diabolical activities from which they derive financial gain, there should be no reason to stir problems where none existed in the first place. In all places in the world, governments make extraordinary efforts to ensure that individuals, insiders or outsiders, do not contaminate their good name with their economic engagements. If you have Africans with legitimate sources of income, xenophobic hostilities are not the best way to receive them. Otherwise, we would shoot ourselves in the legs while feeding our egos. We need to be accommodating of other Africans if we want people across the world to respect us.
Kofi Nutor: In what way is Ghana expected to champion development in Africa?
In the current global order, reaching monumental development is impossible without the humongous financial resources to spend; however, true development can occur without having vast financial resources at one’s disposal. Money is needed to drive progress, as the exceptional development of a people can be significantly driven by the level of money in the country. But the fact remains that not every country with money is well-developed, and not every developed country has money. In essence, one can achieve striking developments in different dimensions. There are different things that Ghana can do to make itself the frontline state in Africa’s developmental issues. One, Ghana should conceptualize development within the appropriate context of cultural and financial capacity, which would penetrate the crucible of their civilization without leaving many indigenous people outside of it. This means that when they are sure of what they call development, they should now use their cultural and financial capabilities to construct it in a way that would factor in the decisive majority of the country. For example, if the development of intellectual capacity is what individuals conceive of as development, they’ll need to contextualize their financial strength and seek ways in which it can be used to achieve very strong results in that domain. If you think human development is important but the first thing you build is infrastructure, undeveloped humans will soon misuse the infrastructure you create. Also, Ghana can decide to become the food basket of the continent. Once they are confident this is their ambition, everything they do will be geared toward actualizing this agenda. That way, they would have saved the continent from the significant challenges that would arise if it relied solely on other continents for its consumables. The list goes on.
Kofi Nutor: How can Ghana revive the African knowledge economy and political transformation of the past?
Today, Ghana has made itself known for creating awe-striking materials that represent a vibrant aesthetic culture by making kente fabrics. Wherever you find kente, you can be certain that it originated in Ghana. That attests to the fact that they have something from which they can exert their intellectual ingenuity to create and derive copyright values. Ghana has produced historians of international repute in Professor Ogot Adu Boahen, among others, and philosophers of global standards in Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Nkrumah, who doubles as a profound political figure ever produced in the country. There are many other areas where they have also made similar significant contributions to the continent’s knowledge economy. Therefore, it is important at this level for Ghana to revive this culture by being deliberate about its actions. The knowledge used to make kente fabric can also be replicated in other areas of human experience, possibly producing ideas and values that would become global commodities. What would never be in contention is that countries that have made exceptional transformations are deliberate in their engagements; they are conscious about their activities. They do not arrive at their conditions through wishful thinking. Instead, they put their minds to work and encourage discipline among their leaders, which will forever take them on the right trajectory. Barring the global arena being overtaken by economic challenges and ecological problems, Ghana has demonstrated that it can pull important stunts that would lead to its greatness. If they remain steadfast, they can arrive at the expected level of greatness they deserve as a country.
Kufor Notur: Are there areas where Ghana can pioneer efforts to advance the continent’s civilization?
Of all the African cultural identities that have ever built sustained civilizations with exceptional records of manpower organizations and resource management, coupled with native technology that helped preserve the people’s civilization and their defense against external predators, Ghana has a profound record. This means that they are actively capable of creating exceptional content needed to enhance their civilization, as that has been done sometimes in the past. The fact remains, for example, that such civilization would always serve as a motivation for something more elaborate and greater than what they have done. What inspires greatness is generally simple. For instance, people are inspired to be great when they are energized by the history of greatness that has been recorded once by their predecessors. They take inspiration from it and consider how they can best incorporate it. Let us consider how they organized their political system to preserve their civilization for centuries. Ghana can therefore begin to reconsider how they would generate the necessary ideas that would be used to build strong political systems that would fit the emerging realities of their area. Western colonialism has brought new systems and, as a result, recalibrated different things that border on the people’s progress. If their evaluation of the inherited systems reveals that they are not functioning to the maximum as a result of the system that they use, it is not illogical to therefore create ones that would fit their political exigencies in the current time. What is needed for a continent-wide transformation is to see some other countries making substantial progress due to the system they built so that others would join the bandwagon and begin to devise ways by which they would be saved from their challenges. If centuries-long dependence on exogenous ideas is not bringing the desired results, taking alternative measures would be good in light of the current development.