African Democracy Project – WSU – Ghana

23 Aug

Hello World!

My name is Reem Abou. I am a PhD Candidate at Wayne State University  (specializing in Political Theory, identity, Du Bois, and Muslim-Americans). I will be traveling with my class to Ghana come December for the elections through the African Democracy Project. This initial post is supposed to serve as an introduction, I assume, to our expectations with the class and trip.

We’ve had one introductory course into the semester (last monday 8/20, I believe). I honestly do not know what to expect. I have found throughout my life, time and time again, whenever I expect something (or assume something), I am proven wrong. I have learned that a person should assume nothing, until otherwise indicated.

So, what do I expect from Ghana? Honestly, I do not know. I have read some profiles of Ghana, such as that of the BBC. My community leader happens to be Ghanaian, and has told me that he would share some of his first hand accounts; not as a part of my research project, but rather for some informative purposes, maybe for cultural nuances.

My expectations are the following:

1) Ghana will be much more modern than assumed.

2) Ghana will be more politically stable than assumed.

3) Ghana will be more culturally diverse than assumed.

4) On the whole, I imagine that the “African Stereotype” is a myth that will be dispelled upon encounter.

As an Arab/Muslim American, I have found that as Americans we stereotype “others” and create “myths” about them, without bothering to discover truths about them. Furthermore, we “study” people, all in the name of science, but while doing so, we turn people into “objects” to be observed, place them in exhibits to be studied. (A good explanation about this is the introduction of “Colonizing Egypt” by Timothy Mitchell). I learned, upon my early encounters with the Arab world, that the stereotypes of Arabs tend to be gross exaggerations of reality, as well as mythical as fantasy. Moreover, when we encounter “a people” that we endeavor to study, we use our own culturally specific logic, without considering their own. We, without truly explicitly stating it, prefer our own culture (or mechanisms of scientific inquiry) over all others. We take what we think we know and silence the very people and society we seek to explore.

Therefore, in this course, I hope that I can study the history, culture, and political manifestations (ect) of Ghana without being limited by the literature being reviewed. I would like to, upon reaching Ghana, meet with people, let them tell their stories, and allow them to reveal their perceptions of their own reality, while holding the assumption that they must understand the society they live in the best. I would like to bridge that gap between the absolute rigidity of a written text and the oral tradition of sharing narratives and story telling, of explaining perspectives.

What do I want to study while in Ghana?

Well, without being too vague (or preemptive, given that it is only the first week into the class), I would like to study the influence of W.E.B. Du Bois (as well as his interactions with) and Nkrumah on African Democracy, pan-Africanism, and the narrative of Ghana today.   Is this a stretch of the imagination? Can this actually be studied? I do not know as of yet, but as the semester progresses, I think I will discover the questions that I need to ask, in order to discover an atom’s worth of answers.

President Mills                                                       President Mahama

Why the narrative of Nkrumah (and Du Bois), I mean he (both actually) has (have) a “questionable” history? Nkrumah’s end in Ghana was not one that was favorable. Yet, recently, upon president John Mahama’s Address to the Nation on August 15th, 2012, regarding former President John Evans Atta Mills’s untimely death, he quoted Nkrumah. He states:

I am fully confident that greater success is within Ghana’s grasp and we
shall continue to be a beacon of hope and pride to Africa and the world.
Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, our founding father, the first president of the
republic, is famously quoted as saying, “We face neither East nor West. We face
forward.”

Here we find a few things:

1) A message of pan-Africanism — “to Africa and the world”

2) A message of Ghanaian exceptionalism — “within Ghana’s grasp”

3) A message of bridging the old with the New — hence quoting Nkrumah.

4) A message of unity — “we” (this passage doesn’t state the word unity, but the speech contains the theme REPEATEDLY)

5) A message of progress. “beacon of hope” “success” “forward”

— I can only say that had Du Bois or Nkrumah given this speech, it would not be misleading. One would not be able to deny that these themes are much repeated amongst the writings and speeches of both Du Bois and Nkrumah. I believe the influence is there, I would like to explore it, tease it out, and unpack it.

Peace.

-reem

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