Kissi Edward provides the beef:
The Akans of Ghana say that when you pluck a mushroom from the forest, you must tell your kinsmen the hillside from which it came. They also say that in the forest, when lions have historians, hunters cease to be heroes. They also assert that it is the wise, balanced and judicious that a society sends to present its purposes, but not the loud and fleet-footed. They also proclaim that when one person eats a barrel of honey, it clots in his stomach. These are the native thoughts that have shaped my approach to knowledge, and my reflections on Professor Ayittey's production of knowledge about Africa.
Let me put it on record that I have never met Ayittey (at least not yet) and I look forward to meeting him someday over some calabashes of palmwine. So my disagreements with him on the roots of Africa's crises and the solutions to them (and there are many) are not based on some distant or recent clashes with him or vendetta. Besides reading his books and articles and listening to him on television---all encounters on papyrus reed and screen---or in the spaces of ideas, I have no sense of who Dr. Ayittey is, in person. Hence, my disagreements with him are based on my feeling that SOLUTIONS that are based on blanket and fictive assertions and faulty premises are no solutions at all.
The first SOLUTION to Africa's problems is for anyone who thinks deeply about the continent to challenge scholars and other writers whose prescriptions for the continent are based on faulty analysis. I learned this from Dr. Ayittey. What Professor Ayittey left out of the DEVELOPMOBILE KAPUT, which I enjoyed reading, is that mechanics like himself who have claimed ability to fix the automobile have worsened it because they came to it with solutions that were based on a clear misunderstanding of what was wrong with the contraption in the first place. So, first, a critique of faulty ideas is SOLUTION NUMBER ONE. It inoculates us against the bacillus of presumption.
I study Africa within the context of international relations, especially Africa's relations with the United States. I have, therefore, seen in the US archives what faulty analysis, (or should I say faulty intelligence) can do to nations and nationalities. My disagreements with Ayittey are based on what I see as the obligations that I have to challenge misplaced assumptions and assertions about nations and nationalities in Africa (and have mine challenged too) from colleagues whose unrestricted access to the Western media and American policymakers make them producers of ideas or knowledge about Africa that would ultimately creep into international policies that would affect ordinary people in my village. Today, the assertions of journalists like Robert Kaplan about Africa find themselves in US policymaking towards Africa. His famous, but later debunked article about West Africa, some years ago ("The Coming Anarchy"), was sent to many US diplomatic missions in Africa. I have also read articles of scholars that are attached to policy files in Record Groups 59 and 84 in the US National Archives. So someone somewhere is listening.
We may never know what impact Kaplan's article and other such articles may have had on US policy towards Africa. My point is that those of us who are frequently on television and in the Western press owe it to ourselves and the African peasants to get our facts straight even if our figures and statistics are skewed.
I spent five months in the US national archives in Suitland, Maryland, in 1993, to explore the bases of US thinking about Ethiopia, from 1950 to 1991 in the broader areas of agriculture; peasants and rural conditions; famine; famine-relief and the appropriateness of US famine-relief aid to Ethiopia. I wanted to know what was happening in US policymaking circles about the above subjects before I arrived in Ethiopia to explore them myself and speak with peasants and visit their "tukuls" (huts) and Ethiopian archives. Ethiopia fascinated me because of its unique history in Africa.
In the 1970s and 1980s---periods of intense famine in Ethiopia---there were many African scholars and Africanist scholars who appeared before the US Congress to testify about Ethiopia----the causes of the famine; the state of human rights and other issues. Some of their testimonies became the bases of the policies of the Carter and Reagan administrations toward Ethiopia, especially relief policymaking. The testimonies of the African experts also shaped the assumptions of the USAID Mission to Ethiopia. They also affected the thinking of the AID office in Washington. The Office of Management and Budget of the US Government also read these testimonies before Congress and drew some ideas from them. My own year-long research in Ethiopia and numerous taped conversation with peasants and Ethiopian officials on the ground raise critical questions about the testimonies of the scholars who appeared before the US Congress. What some of them said and what was actually going on, on the ground in rural Ethiopia, were completely different. Here is my beef with people who appear before policymakers with skewed facts. In the production of knowledge about Africa and in the making of international policy towards Africa, some ideas that we have produced as scholars with access have negatively affected people on the continent. So when we point a finger at the politicians, we should also consider what the impact of our ideas on television and in the press may have been. Are we part of the problem or part of the solution?
These scholars who have access to the Washington Times; the Wall Street Journal and who testify about Africa to American policymakers are the "hunters" in the Akan proverb I have mentioned above. They have sharp quivers, arrows and hunting-ware. They speak well. They are well-funded by Foundations. They theorize. They write books every two weeks and the media and policymakers love them. The lions (the ordinary people in Africa and their conditions) are their prey in Africa. The scholar-hunters study or hunt the Africa-lion for a living. But when these lions have people or historians like Ochonu, Abaka and Emetulu and others like these three to speak for them and tell their story as they experienced it and are actually experiencing it, the hunters may cease to be heroes to their benefactors. OR, they may "clarify" their positions. Such clarifications are what we all need. If they lead to balanced and persuasive analysis, better solutions would emerge and my mother in the village would be better for it.
I owe it to myself and Africa, as a scholar and an African, to raise the red flags when someone is pulling a fast one on the road to Africa. It is a long and complex road. There are many drivers on it. Some are slow and careful. Others are fast and careless. We should be vigilant lest some of the think tanks and some of the policymakers who want simplified and simplistic versions of Africa and some in the media who want sound-bites consume such misplaced ideas from those who thrive in journalistic caricatures of the African continent.
There may be many hunters in a village. There are others who prefer to sleep while the rain is dangerously pelting. There are others who prefer to restrain those hunters who might want to wake up in the midst of the thunder to pursue their craft. Sometimes, it takes only one brave hunter to get up, brace the storms to kill an elephant for the entire village to feast on.
I have seen the terrible impact of blanket and toxic ideas in my study of the Holocaust and genocide. Ideas matter and I challenge those that are so bad they might threaten the safety and security of ordinary people in Africa. I have seen how misplaced analysis can lead to terrible policymaking. My point has always been that let us try to tell it as it actually happened. If not, let us learn from one another and let us change our thoughts when others provide us evidence too compelling to ignore and too persuasive to deride.
We have a responsibility to Africa and Africans that should permit us to untie those who, for some ideological reasons, tie themselves in confounding knots or nuts. The study of Africa's affairs is too important to be left to only one or a few for if one person eats a barrel of honey, it clots his systems.
Here is my beef.
PS. I have read George's latest clarification on his indigenous thesis and his reference to my previous mail. He has promised more. I shall look forward to reading his clarifications with pleasure and with a view to learning from it. If I need to respond, I shall OR move on.