A.B. Assensoh (History) and Yvette Alex-Assensoh (Political Science/Law) of Indiana University (Bloomington) are prompted by what they consider as Professor Rita Kiki Edozie's very enlightened intellectual discussion of the "Useless Disciplines" syndrome to offer their own perspectives on the issue, with casual humor and "rush-to-judgment" side-bars, whereby some African political leaders are concerned.
We promptly wish to commend Professor Edozie (Kiki) for offering a non-partisan but very enlightened intellectual discussion of an age-long issue that President Obasanjo has handled (or mis-handled) without his usual intellectual flair. In our co-authored book on the African military (i.e. "African Military History and Politics, 1900-Present" (St. Martin's Press, 2001/2002) we have, with admiration, quoted President Obasanjo. His quote (which was considered very useful as to be also quoted in Assensoh's "African Political Leadership" (Krieger, 1998) showed, at the time, the then General Obasanjo's abhorrence of the pervading dictatorial insanity that some of his former African military colleagues (and, indeed, some elected African leaders) were exhibiting in many countries on the continent.
Considering Africa's anti-colonial struggles as ethical revolutions, the former General lamented (in 1991) how "no sooner had colonial rule ended than our new rulers set about converting the [nationalist] revolution into one of fire and thunder against their own people." Professor Wole Soyinka has, since then, offered his own sophisticated critique of the same issue in modern terms. Whether General Obasanjo, as Nigeria's two-term elected President, has lived up to his own lamentation or not is another issue.
However, President Obasanjo is not alone in the sad thinking that African scholars, who did not pursue studies in the hard-core sciences either wasted their time or were even misguided. Of course, with comic relief, one can have pity on Ghana's late General I.K. Acheampong, who also reportedly lambasted his cousin's son, who studied Animal Husbandry overseas. As we heard, the late General's cousin brought her son to the General's Osu Castle (Accra) office of the then Supreme Military Council Chairman to see if the son could be favorably recommended by the General for a job in government. Without understanding what "Animal Husbandry" actually meant or represented, Acheampong (in his usual "intellectual innocence and casualness") allegedly retorted: "Young man, I understand that you studied Animal Husbanding, yes or no?" "Yes, I did, General but it is called Animal Husbandry...," the young man reportedly answered back. "Look, we have no jobs for those of you who go overseas to study how to marry animals...", Acheampong reportedly told the young man to the young man's disgust and amazement.
The Animal Husbandry expert did not land any job from the late General. Therefore, on their way out of Acheampong's Osu Castle office, the young man told his mother: "Mama, it seems that the General does not understand what I actually studied. Animal Husbandry is not called Animal Husbanding. It is called Animal Husbandry, which is very important in the area of agriculture, especailly since the General is very big on `Operation Feed Yourslef' campaign of the Ministry of Agriculture of Ghana ..."
"Shut up, Kofi, there is no difference in Animal Husbandry and Animal Husbanding. Listening to General, who is my cousin, I am also disgusted that you would spend five good years overseas to learn how to marry animals. Why didn't you learn how to plan weddings for human beings, so that you could help our children in their marriages? I agree with the General that what you studied is useless. You must go back and learn something better before he can recommend you for a job in his government. I agree with him," Acheampong's cousin said, as she also defended the military supremo (General). Just Imagine!
Well, two friends (a male and female from a particular African country) were scheduled in Washington, D.C. for interviews with the Public Services Commission of their West African country. One studied Geography up to the Ph.D. level at Johns Hopkins University. The other friend studied History of Science at Harvard University. At the interviewing sessions, both faced problems, particularly with the cola-chewing Chairman of the Commission sent abroad to interview and offer jobs to young graduates of their country.
"Young man, what did you study for us to offer you a job to return home?" the Chairman of the Commisson asked. "I studied Geography, and I have my Ph.D.," the young man asnwered. "What did he say he studied?" the Chairman asked another member of the Commission, who already had his Ph.D. in Chemistry. "Geography...", the Commission member repeated it for the Chairman, who has been appointed on partisan grounds (by the government in power to chair such an important Commission).
"I know about Chemistry, like what you studied, Commissioner; I also know useless subjects like History, Politics and Sociology, but not Geography ..." the Commission Chairman added. "Sir, I specialized in Climatology..."
"He said he specialized in Toto, our own Toto back home?" The Commission Chairman said to the amazement of the young geographer. "Sir, I said, Climatology, not toto or tolology. We learn and talk about the weather...," the geographer elaborated. "Look, my 98-year old grandmother back home never went to school, but she can tell you a lot about the weather back home. She knew when it would rain, when the sun would shine, and things like that. Do you need a degree or a Ph. something to tell anyone about the weather?" the Commisison Chairman, chewing his cola aggressively, underscored.
"Look, we can't employ you because Geography is a useless subject. Also, when others are attending Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, you attended school formed by somebody called John Hopkins. That makes it worse for you...," the Chairman affirmed. The Commission member, with a Ph.D. in Chemistry, knew the Chairman was out of line, but he did not want to lose his hefty daily monetary allowance in "almighty" dollars, hence he did not challenge his boss (the Chairman).
Now, the female historian entered the interviewing room, well dressed and her credentials in their originals ready to be shown to the Commissioners. "Young lady, congratulations that attended Harvard. You went to the university that we like to hear about. Anyway, what do you say you studied?" the Commission Chairman said and asked in his opening remarks. "I studied History of Science at Harvard...," she started.
"Stop there, Madam. You say you studied History of Science, not Science itself?" the Chairman asked.
"Which one is that?" the Chairman sked again. She explained as best as she could. "Look, we are looking for those who studied real Science, not history of it. It is good that you attended Harvard, but you studied the wrong thing. You should have studied Physics, Chemistry or how people are going to the moon, not history of anything..." the Chairman said. The young woman left very disappointed that the Chairman of her country's Public Services Commission did not understand the History of Science.
These nuances reminded us of an incident we read about in Ghana of February 1966, immediately after the overthrow of the governemnt of the late President Kwame Nkrumah. To ridicule the Nkrumah government, then Colonel A.A. Afrifa (as the right-hand man of the coup leader, the late General Kotoka) looked at the picture of Miss Martha Vroom, who had won the "Miss Ghana Beauty Contest" under the Nkrumah regime. "So, this is Miss Ghana? If this is how the C.P.P. government saw beauty, I would say that even my wrinkled grandmother back at Mampong could easily have won the contest, if she participated in it...," Afrifa reportedly said, just to ridicule the contest Judges from the deposed Nkrumah regime. After all, it is not only the physical beauty that counts in beauty contests but also the poise and intellectual precision of the contestants.
Also, one could contrast the personalities and political styles or acumen of two Ghanaian leaders like Ghana's late President Kwame Nkrumah and the late Prime Minister K.A. Busia: one was America-educated in economics, philosophy or politics, and the other was Oxford-educated in anthropology or sociology. Indeed, regardless of some people admiring ex-President Nkrumah's charisma and Pan-Africanist zeal, many people could also admire the poise and intellectual precision of e-x-Premier Busia, just as we have noted in our forthcoming co-authored manuscript that is to serve as a sequel (book) to our 2001/2002 St. martin's Press book on the African military.
To cut a long story short, we also feel very strongly that a society or nation is like the human body: every part fo the body is important. It is similar to what citizens study generally, as we need scholars in the sciences, in the humanities, and also those in the social sciences. That was why we co-authiored and subsequently presented an empirical paper, this past summer, on the importance of the humanities in America and Africa at the annual humanities international conference at New Hall, Cambridge University (August 2-5, 2005). Did we present a useless paper or a paper on a useless theme or topic? Over to those who believe in the "balkernization" of academic subject areas to make sure that many of us would acquire degrees in only the sciences, not in communications or sociology, although they (as political leaders) will always employ speech writers, who studied in the social sciences and the humanities, just to make sure that such writers write well! Interesting, isn't it?