This is a reflection on a public lecture by Professor Horace Campbell, Kwame Nkrumah Chair in African Studies, University of Ghana at the occasion of the University's 70th anniversary.
This year the University of Ghana is celebrating its 70th anniversary of striving to be a world-class centre of research and learning. As part of this celebration, various colleges of the University have been organising important activities and programmes that showcase their contributions to the institution’s efforts to contribute to the transformation of Ghana and the African continent while realising the vision of the University of Ghana.
The University of Ghana had been established in 1948 as the University College of Gold Coast (now Ghana) following the demands of Ghanaians for university education during British colonial rule. The quest of the people of Ghana for higher education had been born out of much determination to the extent that Ghanaians were ready to self-fund their university when the colonial office had planned to establish only one university in Ibadan, Nigeria for all of British colonised West Africa. [] The farmers, in particular, had been instrumental in the establishment of the University and their contribution has been recognised by the University in having one of its halls named after them – Akuafo (Farmers’) Hall.
Since its inception, the University of Ghana has been one of the key universities, which continue to research and develop the human capital of Ghana and Africa in general for the transformation of the continent. This task continues to be executed through the various colleges of the University.
On its part, the College of Humanities of the University of Ghana organised the 70th Anniversary Public Lecture to reflect on the role of African universities and scholarship in liberating and transforming the African continent. Consequent to this reflection, the theme for the lecture held on Tuesday 10 April 2018 was “African Universities, African scholarship and African liberation”.
Given the significance of the liberation task and the pivotal role of the Institute of African Studies in promoting the liberation of Africa, the College of Humanities unsurprisingly honoured the Kwame Nkrumah Chair in African Studies housed within the Institute of African Studies to be the speaker for the lecture. This important lecture was chaired by Professor Akilakpa Sawyerr, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana and known intellectual in Ghana and Africa.
Cuito Cuanavale and African scholarship
Anchoring the lecture on the victory of the African people and the defeat of the apartheid South African army in Cuito Cuanavale, Professor Horace Campbell, the occupant of the Nkrumah Chair, called on African universities to correct why this important history is not taught in African classrooms. As a test case, the renowned Professor asked the over 100 students and public audience whether they had heard about Cuito Cuanavale. It was clear from the response of the many in the audience that the curriculum of our universities, as the speaker forcefully contended, needs rewriting from an African point of view so that university students and those in the lower circles of the academy in Africa could benefit from the history of the possibilities that could derive from a determined African spirit for freedom and transformation. He reminded the audience about the historic importance of this victory reminisced in Fidel Castro’s assertion that “The history of Africa will be written as that of before Cuito Cuanavale and after Cuito Cuanavale.”[]
The Kwame Nkrumah Chair cited works on Cuito Cuanavale particularly Chester Crocker’s High Noon in Southern Africa, W.W. Norton, 1992; and Piero Gleijeses’s Visions of freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the struggle for southern Africa, 1976-1991, University of North Carolina Press, 2013. From these texts he drew attention to how victories in Africa born from the struggles of Africans are hardly described as anything by Africans. He stressed on this point when highlighting the celebration of Cuito Cuanavale in Chatham House, London in March [this year] as how this victory is celebrated not as the result of an African struggle but the acquiescence and skilful negotiation of apartheid South Africa.
The Nkrumah Chair also confronted historical information regarding the origins of universities in the world. It was from this analysis drawn from the Guinness World Records that it became clearer that Africa had the first university in Fez, Morocco in 859, over two hundred years before the building of the first university in Europe, namely the University of Bologna, Italy. [] The lecturer and peace and justice activist also mentioned the importance of the University of Timbuktu, Mali and the events that had stalled the advancement of African scholarship. The projection of Professor Campbell followed Nkrumah’s affirmation that:
“We have never had any doubt, however, about the intellectual capacity of the African. History tells us of the great medieval civilisations of Africa and the part that higher institutions of learning played in the academic and cultural life of the African. Centres of learning such as Walata, Djenna and Timbuktu had a singular impact on African education in medieval times. There is no doubt that in the University of Sankore, medieval Africa had already qualified to be numbered amongst the foremost intellectually-inspired of the world. If the University of Sankore had not been destroyed; if Professor Amed Baba, author of forty historical works, had not had his works and his university destroyed; if the University of Sankore as it was in 1951 had survived the ravages of foreign invasion; then the academic and cultural history of Africa might have been quite different”. []
Professor Campbell contended that for African scholarship to be liberating it must be rooted in the African environment and that African languages should become mediums of instruction in institutions of learning across Africa. The academic community was further called upon to reconsider the dehumanising aspects of the African education system where African children are whipped or given demeaning punishment for speaking African languages – the so-called vernacular—in schools in Africa. The reactions of the audience gleaned from their paralingual and verbal dispositions were as if to say, “this practice must stop!”
The lecture also examined the neoliberal basis of modern universities in Africa, particularly the pressures on governments to let universities pay for themselves, emphasis on deregulation and commodification of higher education and how these are being interpreted as freedom or liberation in neoliberal terms.
The attention of the audience was drawn to the on-going campaigns of students in South Africa - #Rhodesmustfall, #Feesmustfall, #Sciencemustfall.
Drawing from these campaigns, the Professor questioned the basis for ranking universities in Africa amidst the need for correcting the forms of education and structures that have followed the business model of neoliberalism.
The distinguished Professor further elaborated how universities have become consultancies instead of centres for generating liberating scholarship. He also highlighted how several foundations continue to shape research and curriculum in Africa through funded research in communities in Africa and the effect of these trends on the academy in Africa.
The Nkrumah Chair also underlined the technological capabilities that could be developed in Africa through liberating scholarship and the role women could play in the changing face of Africa. Professor Horace Campbell suggested that discussions about Wakanda, the Black Panther and the capabilities of Africans should move beyond iron and steel to embrace the technological possibilities in the bio-economy.
The Professor also hinted on the growing realisation of the plan to construct a 2,400km multipurpose Pan African Canal from the Democratic Republic of Congo through the Central African Republic to replenish Lake Chad and open up the heart of Africa, a move envisaged to completely transform the infrastructure and integration outlook of Africa.
The College of Humanities, University of Ghana’s 70th anniversary public lecture redefined liberation in the context of the four aspects of liberation identified by Julius Kambarage Nyerere:
- Freedom from colonialism and racial minority rule
- Freedom from external economic domination
- Freedom from poverty, injustice imposed on Africans by Africans
- Mental freedom- an end to mental subjugation which makes Africans look upon other peoples, or nations as inherently superior, and their experiences as automatically transferrable to Africa’s needs and aspirations
Professor Horace Campbell stressed on the fourth aspect of liberation as the most vital and urgent liberation needed to facilitate the realisation of the preceding forms of liberation. The speaker further outlined 16 important issues on liberation that confront Africa today. These questions comprised
- End of colonial rule in Africa including Western Sahara and territories including Mayotte, Ceuta, Melilla etc;
- Control of natural resources/ Liberation of Africa’s economic wealth from colonial/foreign powers;
- Emancipation of women and humanisation of the male;
- Farmers and liberation/ the role of regenerative agriculture in liberation;
- The role of social movements in accelerating the pace for liberation/ Trade unions, students, cultural workers, cyber experts, patriotic entrepreneurs and links with liberation;
- The Non Aligned Movement, Bandung and liberation/ How non-western powers helped to advance the liberation agenda in global Africa;
- United Nations and liberation/ The UN’s response and reaction to liberation and democratisation of the UN system;
- Socialist alternatives and its links to liberation;
- Neo-colonialism and liberation/how neo-colonialism harm the cause of liberation;
- Intergovernmental bodies and liberation/ Association of African Universities, African Union, Pan African Parliament etc;
- The promotion and cultivation of Pan African scholarship and the role of progressive intellectuals in the unification tasks;
- Control over media narratives/ Africa’s struggle to present itself to the world without the lens of whiteness;
- Special case of the Congo/ The destruction of the heart of Africa and its on-going struggle and how it is central to the canal systems;
- Tactics for the process to bring about liberation;
- Unification of the African continent;
- Reparative justice
In his closing remarks, the moderator of the lecture, Professor Akilakpa Sawyerr, underscored that it would be important for the audience to reflect on Cuito Cuanavale.
The Provost of the College, the College Secretary and other senior members of the College and the University community who participated in the public lecture also showed their appreciation for a timely lecture that could change the course of university education in Africa.
In the concluding part, the lecture called on African universities to arise and defend African freedoms and transform the African continent through research and scholarship that frees the African person from domination and subjugation. Professor Horace Campbell used the refrain of the anthem of the University of Ghana to drive this message home.
Arise, arise O Legon
Defend the cause of freedom
Proceed in truth and integrity
to make our nation proud
* Peter Bembir is Senior Research Assistant to the Kwame Nkrumah Chair, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.
 Agbodeka Francis, A History of University of Ghana: Half A Century of Higher Education (1948-1998). Accra: Woeli Publishing Services, 1998.
 Horace G. Campbell. Mandela and the African liberation struggle. Pambazuka, 19 December 2013. https://www.pambazuka.org/pan-africanism/mandela-and-african-liberation-struggle (accessed 11 April 2018)
 Kwame Nkrumah. Flower of Learning. Speech at his installation as the First Chancellor of the University of Ghana. 25 November 1961.