The 2nd Kwameh Nkrumah Pan-African Intellectual and Cultural Festival was held in Accra, Ghana, 25 June to 1 July 2017. The festival served as a vehicle for reflection and a springboard for new efforts to promote Pan-Africanism and transformation of the African world. Here is the experience of one youth volunteer at the event.
The whole week I was part of a Pan-African conference in Accra as a volunteer. It was a joy working together with the people of the Institute of African Studies of the University of Ghana. In the beginning I was freaking out, not used to the academic world anymore I was finding myself a bit stressed and tired everyday. I was used to the village life in Ashanti region. Even though I read books, the intellectual stimulation at the conference was kind of challenging again. Things were also completely differently structured to what I was used to. It was a good lesson in letting go, as normally I have the tendency of “taking over” to do it more efficiently.
It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by the global African family: people from different African countries and from the diaspora (Barbados, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Jamaica…). I saw a lot of different hairstyles, ways to dress and jewelry that inspired me. But most of all I saw very beautiful, proud and intellectual people, who were and are seeing the importance of coming together, of bonding and learning from each other. And Nkrumah, Sankara, Lumumba… They were present in every talk. They were there.
I was surprised that I found myself crying at the opening ceremony. The first day of a whole week yet to come. Different people were giving speeches but it was the keynote speaker, Hilary Beckles, who really moved my heart. He talked about the enslaved Africans and how they tried to resist and about the revolutions that took place in the Caribbean and South America.
At a certain moment he told us that one time former British prime minister David Cameron came to Jamaica, the land where his forefathers enslaved people and took land. There was a conversation held about reparations there, Jamaicans wanting justice for what happened to them. The way Cameron reacted tells us exactly how deep things are rooted. He said: “yes, slavery was an awful thing, but it’s time y’all get over it”.
While Beckles was telling this, I could not stop my tears. Not any recognition of the suffering of the Jamaican people. Not any recognition of the incredible giant privileges this minister was having BECAUSE of slavery, standing there as a rich man… I could feel the struggle was real and that we are indeed members of a global family, able to support each other. Because even if our cultures might be different, our race is the same. We are the human race. Part of the human race but experiencing similar things because of our African roots. It takes unification to feel you’re not alone and to stand strong. The way Beckles made statements, the way he explained history, was so simple; the way he was fighting for a people that suffered and is still suffering. We need more of these figures. But I know they are out there. Just because of who he is, he is capable of putting seeds in people’s brains, he is capable of bringing the core points of awareness to our minds.
And as the struggle is real and in many parts the same, it reminds me of Belgium. When I told some people a lot of Belgians don’t know who Lumumba is, they were shocked. It shows how much important information is kept away, to know the true colonial past and therefore also the present. It reminded me also of Belgium in another way, because for some people it still seems to be difficult to take people of African descent seriously, to listen to them. To listen to them for real.
African people have a voice. But it takes someone who is eager to listen to be heard. Many stereotypes, convictions and judgments prevent real listening. And fear of giving up privileges creates strong resistance to true equality. We need open minds that are willing to change and reflect about themselves.
For me it was heartwarming to hear about pre-colonial African life again. I am read about it, but it gives so much strength to talk about it with people. It makes it a true experience. Like my soul re-lives. A sister at the conference reminded me of what Mutabaruka once said: “slavery is not part of African history, it interrupted African history. We are not and never were slaves, we were enslaved”. It’s difficult to explain to white people why all this is so comforting. Let’s say that this conference was food for my soul; it reinforced me in a way I even couldn’t imagine. And I’m so grateful for that.
It has to do with knowing my real roots - the real knowledge of my roots, not the knowledge I’ve been told or kept from - and the strength that lies in there. And knowing that, therefore, the strength also lies in me.
Knowing about the pre-colonial ways of living, the living of our ancestors: their architecture, their healthy food, their medicine, their calendar and alignment with the stars, their way of calculating and communicating, their living in rhythm and through rhythm (knowing it as the vibration of life), their traditional way of education, of justice, the prominent role of women, the strong women that fought against colonial forces and kept their pride, the importance of family and community, their knowledge of nature…
And seeing images of strong African men and women of different communities; seeing kings that couldn’t be kings without their strong queens at their side; seeing so much gold pouring out of the African soil, seeing drawings and reconstructions of how towns were build in alignment with the universe (fractals) and created out of great mathematical thinking… It makes you think, doesn’t it? It makes you think how one-sided our information sources are. And how that, basically, creates our imaginary and therefore our life.
If we grow up without having this knowledge or imaginary, without legit information about history/herstory, it creates our identity, our way of being and behaving. I can see this in ‘white societies’ where people of African descent are still not treated equally by the system, aren’t present in the public platforms or spaces, aren’t taken seriously or listened to. And white people who are ignorant or not wanting to change. Of course it is not all that black and white. There are always people who are open in their mind and willing to listen or to change, but a few individuals is not enough. A few individuals won’t break the system. It takes the unification of more individuals to change.
I also see this in ‘black societies’, where people tend to forget their own roots and have ‘their memory’ starting from colonization.
And that brings me to education. All this could change with education, but as long as our school systems are still based on strong colonial influences, it takes strong adults in the environment of children and youth to decolonize their minds.
During one of the evenings at the conference, I started talking with some young Ivorians. A bit later there were more Ivorians and Burkinabe coming to have the discussion with us. As we were standing there in a circle, an Ivorian history professor also joined us. I was really enjoying this. These young Ivorians were conscious in a very energetic way. And they were good speakers. Also, the professor, the elder of the group, was transmitting so much knowledge. I was experiencing real African tradition, knowledge was transmitted orally by an elder. Something so powerful but forgotten. Learning from the elders, the more experienced ones in life, the wise ones. Only the baobab tree was missing. But the spirit was so alive. I think we should try to create more of these spaces and moments, where we can learn from each other and from the elders. There is an African saying that ‘when an old man dies, a whole library dies with him’. There lies so much truth in this.
I truly believe we would all feel freer if we educate ourselves, decolonize our minds and strive for justice for everyone. Even the one with privileges can never feel completely free if they know that at the same time their privileges are giving other people a difficult or unfair life. It would be true healing to change what needs to be changed or even better: build what needs to be build.
The closure of the week was incredible. Eating and dancing together with all the participants, speakers, professors who attended the conference. It gave me so much joy to dance aside a professor shaking her hips or to see some speakers move in a way I’d never expected. Dancing on the nice rhythms together was bonding. We understood at that moment, that creating unity and connection not only comes with intellectual work, but also happens while dancing together and having fun.
I believe in building, constructing, creating. I believe in this more than ever. I believe in building the African community, the global family, awakening young souls, connecting, studying and learning from each other, instead of bashing what we hate. It takes some courage and power to overcome. It’s a learning process to overcome emotions that arise out of injustice. But I believe that the spirit that comes with building the new with positive intention is one of the strongest. It is creation energy, it’s Light. And where there is Light, Darkness cannot be.
* HANNAH BOAKYE is a Ghanian-Belgian who has lived in Peru, Brazil and Ghana. She is a writer, a shiatsu therapist, an educational consultant and a professional coach. Hannah has her blog, mixedsoulsociety.com, where she shares her life experiences and poems in Dutch and/or English.
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