“Caught between the anvil and the hammer
In the forging house of a new life,
Transforming the pangs that delivered me
Into the joy of new songs”
These lines kick off Kofi Awoonor’s poem “The anvil and the hammer”. The poem speaks of a new life forged between old and new, indigenous and foreign. This is a sentiment that is not far off from what individuals in the world, which is fast becoming a global village, experience, with the anvil representing all things indigenous, and the hammer non-native, particularly colonial, things.
Written whilst Ghana was still a colony, Awoonor and many of his contemporaries across the continent and beyond considered themselves to be in between the anvil and the hammer. Fast forward a couple of decades and it is fair to say that some forging is still going on in various spheres of life for Africa and its diaspora.
In a conversation between our director, Apeike Umolu, and esteemed Pan-African scholar, Dr John Marah they discuss Pan-Africanism and education as set out in Dr Marah’s seminal book, “Pan-African Education, a Must for the African Union”,
But what was education like in Africa before the advent of colonisation and why is Pan-African citizenship education being presented as a solution to the deep structural challenges, material and intellectual, the continent is facing.
Related Lecture: Dr Marah Discusses Pan-African Education
When we think about education, it is curriculums, assessments, the quest for knowledge, schedules, and teachers that are foremost in our minds. When people think of Africa and education they tend to lean towards 19th and 20th century missionary teachers, volunteers attending to children in pitiful states, or some data talking about the high percentage of out of school children in various parts of Africa. Not many people envisage pre-colonial systems that fulfilled the core aims of education i.e. to learn one or several skills or become knowledgeable about one or several subjects. From such skills and knowledge, people felt fulfilled, they became functional adults, contributed positively to society and, from said skills and knowledge, sustained themselves through subsistence or by way of trade-by-barter or other means of payment.
Thus, education was present, though largely informal. It was carried out through avenues such as the age grade system, apprenticeships, and inter-generational family training, resulting in the flourishing of several trades such as the decorative and religious arts, herbal medicine, music, commerce, farming, weaving, production of clothes and more. More formal education was carried out via targeted instruction, reading and writing, the learning of rituals, completion of initiations, and religious learning, in particular in Islamic communities.
Presently, formal education across the continent is built largely on the legacy of colonisation, not necessarily in relation to its content but more so in the structure. It could be argued that in various regions across the continent and beyond, individuals view each other not just as a function of their various cultural and national backgrounds but also as former colonial subjects of “so-and-so country”, with regional exams set in the language of former colonisers. If we are in pursuit of the African personality, should this not be an issue? Do we need to rethink everything, even the language of instruction? Is a failure to shape Africa’s education in its own image a catastrophic mistake? And what does Pan-African education have to do with all this?
The Africxn Review: Black Bodies, White Classrooms
In Dr Marah’s book, he pushes for the African Union to look into and address education through a Pan-African lens. But why? This is what we probed with Dr. Marah in our conversation. Particularly, we discussed where the gains and losses for education fell during colonisation and to what extent we should seek to re-appropriate or find space for past educational practices. And what of globalisation, what opportunities and challenges does it present and how can Pan-Africanism work as an alternative to global citizenship theory as a trans-cultural trans-national framework for development?
“Make ourselves new flags and anthems
While we lift high the banner of the land
And listen to the reverberation of our songs
In the splash and moan of the sea”
These lines conclude “The anvil and the hammer” and convey the poet’s wish for something new, for “ourselves” to be made out of the forging that has occurred, something that we can be proud of and lift high. Is Pan-Africanism or even Pan-African education that “something”?