#EOTalks 8: Classics and Africanisation in Postcolonial Ghana

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Everyday Orientalism Talks


Discontent with colonial rule in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) came to a critical point in the years 1947 to 1951. During this period two major political parties—the United Gold Coast Convention (1947) and the Convention People’s Party (1949)—and the first public university, the University of Ghana (1948, then University College of the Gold Coast ), were established. While at the political level there were calls for increased participation of citizens in governance and in public service, there were also calls for university education to have “an African character”. Thus, a move towards Africanisation was a key agenda of the struggle for independence. The project of Africanisation, championed by Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first president), required deconstructing the racially jaundiced Eurocentric narratives and replacing them with critically and contextually grounded alternatives that reflect both the African personality and the true history and civilisation of the African peoples. As the University of Ghana was a key public institution through which this Africanisation agenda would be pursued, how did Classics (as a founding discipline) fare? In this talk, I claim that despite the historical complicity of the field in Europe’s colonisation of Africa, the Classics survived in Ghana because both foreign and local classicists committed to the agenda for Africanisation by showing that no civilisation was superior to the other, and that the values that were held by colonialists as uniquely European were actually universal. I discuss three approaches to this transvaluation and show what lessons they present for decolonising Classics in postcolonial states.

Speaker: Michael Okyere Asante is a PhD candidate in ancient cultures and Lisa Maskell Fellow at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Ancient Studies. His primary research interest is in the history and reception of ancient Greek and African philosophical thought and the border between them. He is currently working on the position of women in Plato’s ideal state through the lens of an Afro-communitarian theory. Michael’s interest also encompasses the presence, history and reception of Classics in Africa, on which he has presented talks at several conferences. 

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