Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has said that African history had been “distorted and truncated by not only Europeans but by Africans themselves.”
Delivering the 4th Regional Assembly of the African Humanities Programme (AHP) Lecture last week in Abuja, Professor Soyinka said that history was seen as dynamic by many while others saw it as a narrative already predetermined.
He said that African Leaders go into agreement with Europeans without thinking of their own people and eager to discard their history so easily and that this had always come back to haunt them, adding that: “ the African continent had gone through the history of hell.”
He identified some of the challenges confronting the African continent to include: Migration; Apartheid; Xenophobia; Al-Shabab; Islamic State for West Africa (ISWAP); Herders; Boko-Haram and Ethnic Cleansing, which he said, were all employed as a bid to re-write the African history.
While highlighting the negative side of revisionism, which he described as denial usually motivated by racial desire and racial consideration, based on the will to dominate other people by first removing the evidence of the people’s productivity, their creativity, and in fact, the totality of their culture.
According to him, through this, such persons create vacuum into which an invading force can conveniently and morally enter and fill.
Prof. Soyinka cited the example of the lost history of the ancient Nubian Civilization upon the building of the Aswan Dam. Drawing an analogy, he said, if the Nubians were considered a distinct culture and civilization, from that which destroyed their heritage, then obviously a case of external cultural aggression was made.
According to Prof. Soyinka, it was disdainful to offer an utter denial of others humanity. “All these precipitates of human imagination where among the things that defined us as humanity,” he added.
He noted that anytime history was distorted all one would end up hearing was fables sweeter than facts. “As with artificial sweeteners, however, some fables are usually generated with side effect including the cancerous and results to growth that plague the world we happen to inhabit.”
The erudite professor, also said that geography and culture shaped humanity. According to him, geography was part of humanity through which people travelled.
He submitted that by traveling people learnt a lot about people’s history and what had happened in the past.
He concluded with a lamentation that Africa’s culture, geography and history were all embedded in countries outside Africa.
The Honourable Minister of State for Education, Dr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba while declaring the workshop open said that the African Humanities Programme (AHP) had many things to get clear for us, including which language should govern Africa, Swahili or Hausa?
He said that Humanities offer human beings opportunity to look at themselves in terms of behaviors and interaction.
He urged participants to interrogate and advice the government on emerging issues especially capacity building.
He pledged Government support to the Association to achieve its goals.
In his remarks, the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, commended the leadership of the AHP for promoting research in the field of humanities in Africa’s higher education.
Represented by the Director, Directorate of Executive Secretary’s Office, Mr. Chris Maiyaki, Prof. Rasheed described as highly commendable the insistence of AHP that its awardees must spend their grant in Africa and work in the Africa higher education space. He acknowledged that such kind of posture would guarantee an expected outcome and impact.
He noted that due to AHP’s activities and commitment in the continent, the subject ‘Humanities,’ had been reinvigorated to a point where International donors had become enthusiastic about funding its programmes. He stressed that such programmes would help the body to promote and share knowledge in the field.
The Executive Secretary said, “It is in respect of capacity building that we welcome the tremendous work of AHP in Nigeria in the last 12 years. We are delighted that so many Nigerians completed and won Ph.D’s and Post-Doctoral grants of AHP and we hope that more of our people would continue to benefit from this”.
Professor Rasheed informed the participants that the NUS, comprised of 172 Universities and with an offering of a rich diversity of Humanities programmes, at first degree and post-graduate levels. He explained that, on the account of these programmes, there had been continued debates, discussions and contestations which had also produced a vibrant and relevant background for the repositioning and reform of some programmes in the Humanities.
He further told the participants that the Commission would continue to play its role as the flag-ship of ensuring quality university education in Nigeria and would remain committed to strengthening the humanities through systematic curriculum reviews and training of personnel in the NUS.
The Executive Secretary assured the AHP of NUC’s interest to partner with the body in order to consolidate on the achievement recorded so far and replicate the benefits of the interventions to other programmes in the university system.
In his remarks, a representative of American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), Dr. Andrzej Tymowski stated that through the Council, AHP had provided support to the study of humanities in five African countries including, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. He said that AHP, which was now 12 years since its inception, started on a gradual note in 2008 and that at the time, the disciplines in the humanities were not really recognized but the body had changed all that.
He noted with pride, that humanities programmes were now the most productive and recognized in the continent. He emphasized that the next steps and centre piece of the programme was the distribution of fellowships to African Scholars in these five countries for landmark works on dissertations, research projects, and scholarly manuscripts. He said that the programme was being supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Dr. Tymowski asserted that over the last10 years of hosting the Annual fellowship competitions (2008-18), ACLS efforts had stimulated the growth of a robust humanities community in Africa. He disclosed that more than 400 scholars had in their early careers received research support and more than 100 senior scholars at African universities served as peer reviewers and advisers.
He listed the goals of the AHP to include to: encourage and enable the production of new knowledge and new directions for research, strengthen the capacity of early career researchers and faculty at African universities as well as advance the humanities by establishing networks for scholarly communication across Africa and with Africanists worldwide.
The Conference, which is an annual gathering of scholars and all interested in the Humanities, serves as a forum to review developments and rub minds on emerging issues in the field, was attended by the who is who in the Humanities in Africa.