Prof. Horace Campbell Delivers Lecture

Prof. Horace Campbell, Kwame Nkrumah Chair delivering a lecture on ‘African Universities, African Scholarship, African Liberation’.

The College of Humanities has organized a lecture as part of activities to mark the 70th anniversary celebrations of the University of Ghana. The lecture was delivered by Prof. Horace Campbell, Kwame Nkrumah Chair for African Studies, on the topic: African Universities, African Scholarship, African Liberation. The Provost of the College of Humanities, Prof. Samuel Agyei-Mensah, welcomed the audience and introduced Prof. Akilagpa Sawyerr as the Chairman for the lecture.

Prof. Samuel Agyei-Mensah, delivering the welcome address

Chairman for the occasion, Prof. Akilagpa Sawyerr.

The central thesis of Prof. Campbell’s lecture was that African universities should become spaces for research, emancipation, reparative justice and African unity. He mentioned that the task of the universities was to inspire hope among young African people regarding the possibilities available to a determined African spirit.

The lecture was anchored on historic victory at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola that would lead to the end of apartheid and independence of Namibia through the struggles of African peoples. It was from this springboard that the lecture contended that given the forms of education on-going in African universities, many young people of Africa are not familiar with the form of history and research that could strengthen efforts towards mental liberation and the re-ignition of that vibrancy required in academia to shape the thinking about how Africa could move forward in this century.

Cuito Cuanavale

He noted that between October 1987 and June 1988, in one of the fiercest conventional battles fought on African soil, the troops of the South African Defence Forces (SADF) fought pitched tank and artillery battles with the Angolan army (FAPLA) and her Cuban supporters at Cuito Cuanavale. This small base located in South eastern Angola (in the province of Cuando Cubango) became important in the military history of Africa, for the South African apartheid army, supposedly one of the better equipped armies in Africa was trapped more than three hundred miles from its bases in Namibia, a territory which it was illegally occupying. The Apartheid South African army was decisively defeated in Cuito Cuanavale in March and routed by June 1988.

There has been denial within the western academy about this victory by Africans. In particular, the scholarship of Dr Chester Crocker, former Assistant Secretary for Africa represented the release of Mandela and the independence of Namibia as the culmination of the diplomatic efforts of the West. This was represented in his book, High Noon in Southern Africa: Keeping Peace in a Rough neighbourhood where Crocker highlighted the ‘success of American diplomacy.

Prof. Campbell noted that by downplaying the agency of the African, African scholarship might perpetrate a tendency to produce domiciled and supine scholars and labour force that may see dependence on external forces as the only possibility available to them and the continent.

The University, Business and African Scholarship

From the analysis on why there is very little teaching on African liberation in the universities at present, the lecture focused on the new mantra of promoting linkages with North American and European universities. The lecture drew attention to how many American Universities had been built from direct exploitation from the bodies of enslaved Africans. Prof. Campbell gave the example of how 272 enslaved Africans slaves were sold to sustain Georgetown University in 1838 from bankruptcy. Because of the lack of understanding of the role of enslavement in the political economy of the USA there is fumbling within the academy over the glaring facts of the linkages between enslavement and the endowments that made possible the building of the Ivy leagues in the USA.  These universities are at the forefront of side-lining the deliberations of the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) and the need for reparative justice.

Elaborating on how the ideas of white supremacy informed the knowledge system of North American and European universities, the lecture drew attention to the foundations of eugenics and how eugenic ideas are being reformulated under the banner of neo-liberalism. This was the heart of the lecture that highlighted the impact of lowering expenditures on tertiary education. In making reference to the 1987 meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe where the representatives of the World Bank claimed that Africans do not need tertiary education, the lecture brought out the impact of that kind of thinking on African societies today. Low spending of higher education and a system starved of funds have turned African universities into a shell of its former self. Reference was made to the role of US foundations in ‘promoting governance’ in order to deflect from a real understanding of the protracted struggles for economic self-determination and for social transformation. It is within this web that universities in Africa are drawn to the business model of university system where the institutions become consultancies and submit scholarship to the interests of corporations, foundations and institutions that are ready to provide funding in the midst of minimal public funds.

This trend is inimical to generating knowledge about the reconstruction of Africa. Liberation is an ongoing historical process and not a single action which can be completed and have that completion celebrated annually. Drawing from the work of the former President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, four main aspects of liberation were highlighted, namely.

  • 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.

 

African University have vital role to accelerate the realisation of these forms of liberation.

The Mission of the African Universities in the next 70 years

The lecture contended that the historical beginning of universities is not set in Europe and the activities of Plato and Aristotle but rather in Africa. It also highlighted the intellectual activities of great scientists from Egypt to Fez, Morocco to Timbuktu. The contributions of these centers of learning were highlighted in the lecture.

This lecture also emphasized that African universities should break away from enlightenment and eugenic ideas about humans. These ideas define the African as non-human or properties and potentially fuel genocidal thinking.  Out of genocidal thinking emerged genocidal politics and actual acts of genocide. The genocide of the First Nation peoples in the Americas was presented as one instance of genocide celebrated as progress. If the University is guided by the morals and ethics of the enlightenment, will it be possible to break with the celebration of genocide and move to a new era of human solidarity and cooperation? Can the African University end the dehumanization processes? These questions were posed and answered with the call for the University to be grounded in the African languages and African knowledge system. Professor Campbell drew attention to the importance of African fractals and fractal wisdom in charting a new direction for African universities.

Prof Campbell reiterated that one of the central tasks of African universities in this century is to become spaces for emancipation of African peoples. The local population in Legon, some of whose efforts he mentioned, had contributed to the establishment of the University want a University that is not alienated from the community.  He said, African youths today are desirous of knowledge that will end the hacking of the African brain.  Drawing attention to the dangers and possibilities offered by Artificial intelligence and the new digital technologies, Prof. Campbell called on African universities to be at the forefront of the fight against robotization.

The curriculum of our universities, he pointed out, needs rewriting to recognize the agency of the African. Younger Africans need to be taught the history and culture of Africa along with the realities of the worldwide contribution to new understandings of the world. Such forms of scholarship must be rooted in the African environment and African languages should be advanced as mediums of instruction across the academy. All dehumanizing forms of the African education system, e.g. punishing Africans for speaking African languages – the so-called vernacular- in schools in Africa must be abolished.

 

The lecture praised the symbolism that was represented in the film, the Black Panther and the mythical kingdom of Wakanda.  African universities have the task of preparing the youths to move the idea of a technologically advanced Africa from fiction to reality. Students and faculty were encouraged to embrace the technological possibilities in the bioeconomy.

 

Conclusion

In his concluding remarks, Prof Campbell indicated that African scholarship should free the African from domination and subjugation. He encouraged students and faculty of the University of Ghana to give real meaning to the anthem of the University.

“Arise, arise O Legon

Defend the cause of freedom

Proceed in truth and integrity

to make our nation proud”

From left to right; Prof. Akilagpa Sawyer, Prof. Horace Campbell, Prof. Samuel Agyei-Mensah, Prof. Daniel Ofori

In his closing remarks, Professor Sawyerr called on the audience to reflect on Cuito Cuanavale and the importance of this victory for the liberation of Africa.  He equally underscored the fact that that the understanding of Cuito Cuanavale should inspire confidence among young people on what could be done through determination.  He further called on universities in Africa to rise to the task of raising the intellectual cadre that would meet the challenge of liberating the African continent in the 21st century. 

A cross-section of the audience