Dr. Edward Kissi regards the Moses-George debate as energizing, and wants more:
Moses and George ought to be congratulated and rewarded for a worthy and insightful debate. In the intellectual history of the world, there have been times when two or more people have offered their thoughts on two or more of the complex issues of their time. George's and Moses' s thoughtful debate here should be published in a journal or made available to a wider reading public that are interested in African Affairs. Some of the points bear reiteration. Moses raises a question that is consequential: At what point did Africa ever possess a normative essence subscribed to by all Africans? This question should be at the core of policy debates on Africa and should guide policy proposals from the diaspora. The fact that majority of Africa's population is black and therefore the same in complexion does not mean they think alike or have always had the same history and common aspirations. A racialized view of Africa may be the fantasy of an age and a conquering people that needed a vision of a singularized Africa in order to dominate it and justify their purpose-----a "tribal" and "primitive" "Africa" that was awash in chaos and hungry for "civilization." Some Ghanaians may be familiar with a famous statement in a popular song. In English that statement suggests that a forest may seem like one big tree only to those who look at it from a distance and with a distorted view. But as one gets closer to it and with a clearer view, one notices that that forest is but a collection of different trees---some short, others long, some luxuriant, others wilted and stunted and each tree is located in its own distinctive space----PERHAPS EVEN UNMINDFUL OF THE OTHERS (caps mine). For an "educated" and "modern" surveyor impatient about this realistic ordering of the forest, a policy of legibility and "reordering" may be imposed. A past essence in which all the trees in the forest were one big tree and none long or tall may be imagined for a transformation of the forest so that it might look like the one big oak or eucalyptus tree on the banks of the river on the other side. That policy choice may neglect the natural history of that space. It is a forest for goodness sake---a collection of different trees. Perhaps, no surveyor can succeed in making the forest look like one big tree without using the axe and cutlass to mow down the short and wilted trees in the hope of sustaining the long and healthy ones. In human affairs, some surveyors have tried that. It was called eugenics; ideologies of purity and racial cleansing. Today we have a word for it: genocide. That reordering might require conquest and imperialism of the kind that we have suffered in our own history and I wonder whether any in our midst might suggest it as a policy issue. Moses's question above that I have reflected on could even be extended further: Can there ever be a common goal or policy for organizing Africa that all Africans today can endorse or accept? This is a question on which we should focus some attention in this forum. Moses may have offered clues to an answer when he states that "Why can't we accept Africa as is: a multi-racial and multi-cultural complexity? I might add that this Africa (a continent), because of its complex nature, (multi-racial and multi-cultural ) may not have to aspire to be like Korea, the United States, Taiwan (all countries). Thus, to compare the fortunes of countries in the global system to that of a continent is a comparison that many of us make in bad faith. George's idea that "one notable feature of African traditional polities was great devolution of authority and great decentralization power" needed the important qualifier "some." Some African polities may have done that at some periods for some reason, but certainly not all. Like today, the preoccupations were different and the institutions created to address them were products of the era. I doubt that anybody would valorize human sacrifices that took place in the Asante kingdom in the past when chiefs passed away. That was part of traditional Asante. Might the Nigerian government of today ask the commander of a unit in the national army that loses a battle or a Minister of State who errs in his functions to commit suicide as historians of the Kingdom of Oyo tell us the Oyo Mesi requested the Are-Ona-Kakanfo (military commander) to do in that kingdom. In traditional Africa, when institutions outlived their usefulness, new institutions were created or borrowed. That reality of change means that our search for a traditional essence may be as elusive as a mirage. Idea of commonalities may drive a quest for some common solutions to our present troubles. That way of framing the debate drives many historians nuts. George is a well-meaning African thinker who, like all of us, want to see a successful Africa in his time or someday. But sometimesthe aspiration and hope that undergird his thoughts belie the actualities of our situation. And perhaps, Africa's past and present may be so unique in human history, in comparison to other histories, that our policy proposals and our entire analysis should be informed by that reality. A reality that we may not be able to forge the Africa that we want from the furnaces of our wishes until many things (continental and global) change. And how we may cause that change to occur even continentally? I have read George's classics (Africa in Chaos and Africa Betrayed). I have used both in my courses on Africa and I have followed his thoughts on how we should proceed. But, I wonder whether George is not drawing his conception of the African past and what the African future ought to be from the Africa that he is more familiar with: Ghana, his home country and the Ga, his possible ethnic group. Even in Ghana, how the Ga, Asante, Ewe, Akyem, Akwamu and Dagomba thought and organized their societies were completely different. George's point in the George-Moses debate that "the chiefs are Africa's most important human resource" may be a linguistic stretch since not all Africans, in their past, deemed it necessary to repose authority in one centralized figure---a chief. Not all even cared to form a kingdom or chiefdom. The Ga and Asante may have had a "chief,"-----"Mantse" for the Ga and "Ohene" for the Asante, but the Tiv and Ibibio (Nigeria) and Hawiye and Issaks (Somalia) and the Konso (Ethiopia) are Africans too and did not have chiefs. Even today, the conduct of a King Mswati of Swaziland makes the entire chiefly institution not an important human resource, but a joke, a wasteful relic of the past in transforming present. Chiefs as human resource? Trade and the distribution of resources in old Ghana was controlled by the state. At the very least that is what Battuta tells in his memoir if he grasped what he describes. And the master plunderers of the Mutapa states in southern Africa were just as rapacious as their contemporaries today. How many of the Asante subjects in the old Asante kingdom could keep their gold nuggets without incurring the wrath of the Asante chief?. Has anyone heard of the Ga chief (Dode Akaibi?) who, legend has it, forced his subjects to dig a well for him with their bare hands? The angry subjects went to him to complain that a man deep down the well had asked them not to dig any further. Tempestuous Ga chief asked to be lowered into the well to lambast that buffoon. Once lowered into the well, the angry subjects covered with the well and thus buried him alive. The oral tradition or legand may have been made-up. But the kernel of the story may underline the tyranny of a Ga traditional leader. So, a focus on the social and military history of Ghana alone can offer us more lessons about some of the untold causes of war----products of chiefs seeking the property and fortunes of their subjects. My point is that let us be careful not to make Ga and Akan or Ghanaian traditional precepts representative of African traditions. At a meeting of Africans for a solution to Africa's problems, that kind of analysis and comparisons will lead to war. Professor Charles Maier offers some thoughts on the benefits and pitfalls of comparisons. He argues that "comparison is a dual process that scrutinizes two or more systems to learn what elements they have in common, and what elements distinguish them. It does not assert identity; it does not deny unique components. The issue to be resolved is under what circumstances comparison adds to knowledge. First, it must have a plausible basis in fact. Just as important, however, comparison should go beyond mere taxonomy and offer perspectives that the single case might not suggest. Then it might reveal a wider historical process at work." (The Unmasterable Past, Harvard U.P., 1988, p.69.) Maier does not have the last word on the purpose of comparison. But for our purpose, perhaps the more we read George's and Moses's inspiring conversation on Africa, the more we will realize that we need to draw the comparisons between our past and our present with a sense of care. We will also understand that the historical processes that have shaped our troubled present may incline us towards a far different model of human organization than those that have inspired the Asian Tigers. As an African, I am asking the questions Moses has asked. I am also thinking through George's thoughts and I am left wondering. Given the nature of Africa, can there ever be a common prescription that can cure all of our "diseases" and they are many and complex. And should we frame the debate in broader continental terms or do that in simpler national terms? Let the debate continue!