Let’s Question Written History -Elizabeth Ohene

by Dr. E. Obiri Addo

African historians and academics have been challenged to take writing and re-writing about Africa seriously because what they write today will be the “history of tomorrow.”

Ms. Elizabeth Ohene, a former Minister of State of Ghana and veteran journalist offered this challenge in a keynote address at the Second Biennial Conference of the African Association of Africa (ASAA) at the University of Ghana, Legon, on October 12-14, 2017. She opined that history is a set of “sacred facts” on which many people agree at specific time and place. But these facts should be subject to questioning by another generation. “History belongs to the victors; the winner writes the history books, but the victor- written history needs to be consistently questioned,” she stated. She also cautioned that the distortion of history occurs when we don’t take enough interest in current affairs, adding, “when we don’t take adequate interest in what is happening around us now we will be teaching distorted history in the future.” Ms. Ohene observed that if Africa is unfairly portrayed in the media today it is mainly because African people do not tell their own stories. “The ways in which we define ourselves make it cumbersome for us to sell ourselves,” she explained. She also lamented that the African story has been left to be told by outsiders, hence the massive distortion of history the continent continues to experience.

Addressing the Conference as a Special Guest of Honor, Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Omanhen of Essikado Traditional Area, observed that every historical discussion is mere entertainment if it doesn’t promote survival, self-reliance, and human growth. “Whose experience do you bring to the table – your own mind or  what others think? he asked. Nana Nketsia lamented that contemporary African people seem to have “an Euro-African studies of Africa, rather than African studies of Africa.” He maintained that culture should be the bedrock of history, for it is a “protective skin for survival.” He encouraged African historians in particular and academics in general to put the experiences of their ancestors at the forefront of their conversations, rather than those of the colonizers. “Knowledge should be centered in African realities,” he concluded.

In her Welcome Address, Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, former Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, and Vice-President of ASAA highlighted the conference theme, “African Studies and Global Politics.” She explained that Africa seems to be silent in the discussion of Global politics. “Knowledge about ourselves is silent and buried in the global knowledge-production industry. If we don’t know how the great African empires such as the Oyo, Zulu, Asante, Dahomey, and others managed themselves, how can we manage our contemporary politics?” she queried. Professor Ampofo reported that 260 academics from all over the world registered for the conference; this included 142 from the African continent. There were 27 Sessions and 63 panel presentations. Presentations covered topics including beneficiaries of global restricting, migrations within Africa, gender and development, dependency and conditionality, and the role of African Studies in African renewal. Conference participants and plenary speakers included Professor Takyiwa Manu, Director of the So- cial Development Policy Division at the United Nations Economic Forum for Africa; Professor Jean Allman, Director of the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis, and Profes- sor Seth N. Asumah, State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor.

photo credit: Dr. E. Obiri Addo

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