Critical ‘Sankofaism’ is the answer —says Prof. Gyekye  

Ghana-AccraA retired philosophy lecturer of the University of Ghana (UG,) Professor Emeritus Kwame Gyekye, says to pursue “Sankofa,” Africa needs to critically examine its past with an eye only on what is relevant to our contemporary way of life and goals for the future.

 He made this statement at the opening of a two-day conference on “Normative Disorientation and Institutional Instability” at the University of Ghana, Legon.

He was speaking on the subject “Evolutionary Disconnect: A Major Factor in Normative Disconnect.”

After explaining Sankofa as an Akan concept that means going back for what is in the past, Prof. Gyekye pointed out that there are, in his opinion, two aspects of the concept, naïve sankofaism and critical sankofaism.

He explained naïve sankofaism as a blind adoption of one’s past simply because it used to be one’s tradition without examining the elements of what one is adopting, and critical sankofaism as approaching one’s traditional past with critical eyes to select those elements that would be of use to one’s present life and could also be helpful to building a better life in future.

As the sankofa bird when it turns around to look back will not pick a rotten seed and put it forward, but spit it out, so too must we be critical enough when examining our past traditional culture from the perspective of what we have in our traditional system that could help us deal with the myriad of current problems of development on the continent,” he explained.

Prof. Gyekye pointed out that Africa has suffered cultural disorientation, because “we were in a long colonial period in which the colonialist intentionally ignored our indigenous ways of doing things and imposed his own.”

Today, therefore, we have state systems we are still struggling to build, he observed and added, yet most of the institutions and systems we are trying to build today are establishments Africa had before the general dislocation brought on by colonialism.

He gave examples of consensus democracy and decentralisation.

Prof. Gykye also disclosed that the current dependency syndrome, where every village or city looked to central government is alien to indigenous African culture, for the people in the villages and towns run their economic lives and affairs independent of kings and chiefs.

“The dependency syndrome is a colonial legacy,” he affirmed.

During question time, the Dean, School of Arts at the UG, Dr. Kojo Gavua, explained that some of the features of our traditional systems we observe today, such as chiefs being invested as custodians of lands, are a colonial invention which the Europeans instituted in order to get mining concessions.

“So how do we tell what is truly indigenous from what is a colonial invention,” he asked Prof. Gyekye.

“Think!” the professor answered, “Think!”

The conference is under the auspices of the Lever Hulme Trust Research Network on “Domesticating Global Normative Theorising: Modern African Political Thinking in Global Context.”

It brought together philosophy lecturers from all over Africa and the rest of the world.

They included Prof. Jonathan Lear of the University of Chicago; Prof. Kofi Ackah, Head, Philosophy and Classics Department, UG; Prof. Chandran Kukathas and Prof. Katrin Flikschuh of the London School of Economics; Prof Leif Wenar of Kings College London; Dr. Rose Mary Amena-Etego UG, and; Prof Ajume Wingo of University of Colorado, USA.

The rest were Dr. Patrick Schink; Dr. Uchenna Okeja of University of Nigeria; Emeritus Prof. Pauline Hountondji of Univeristy of Coutonu, Benin; Prof. Kofi Quashigah, UG, and Prof. Catherine Lu of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, Mrs. Nancy Myles, UoG; Dr. Dorothea Gaedeke of the University of Frankfurt, Germany; Dr. Simon Hope University of Stirling; Dr. Caesar Atuire and Rev. Dr. J. Apea Assamoah of the Department of Philosophy, UG.

The conference coordinator is Dr. Martin Odei Ajei of the Department of Philosophy, UG.


Source: Ghana/ LAMPTEY


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