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Opinions of Sunday, 11 November 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Beyond James Watson's Row and Ghana

The 79-year-old American scientist Dr. James Dewey Watson?s statement that Africans were less intelligent than Europeans because ?all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really,? has created uproar Ghana-wide. Watson?s view that he is ?inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa? further angered Ghanaians who pride themselves as the ?Black Star of Africa,? and, therefore, bastion of Africa?s confidence and progress. From letters to articles, editorials, essays, and comments, Watson?s apparent racist view opened up the deeply buried feelings of how Ghanaians feel about their progress in the global prosperity arena.
Assessment of most Ghanaians? response to Watson?s statement, viewed variously as racist and that touched a Pan-African nerve, point to the state of progress of Ghana and Africa. Kofi Akordor, an award winning features writer with the Accra-based mass circulation ?Daily Graphic,? said while the outrage and the condemnations were expected, Watson?s alleged view should tell Ghanaians/Africans about their ?mentality? and Ghanaians?/Africans? ?inability to exercise? their ?brain power? for development. Benjamin Tawiah, a London, UK-based journalism teacher, bemoans the linkage of colour to intelligence and progress. Dr. Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, of the State University of New York, said that ?Dr. Watson appears to have too boldly reminded us of what we have known, or even suspected, all along but, for some strange and quite inexplicable reasons, preferred to keep close to our vests.?
The main issue running through all the responses to Watson?s statement is the degree at which Ghanaians/Africans have used their intelligence for progress ? not good as the world?s poorest region. Despite Ghanaians?/Africans? superb endowments (cultural and natural) they haven?t boldly exploited them openly and bravely for progress. And this makes either the ?Ghanaians/Africans are stupid? or the ?Europeans are racist or superior? rants critically a developmental issue. In Michael Adas? ?Machines as the measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies,? the Europeans held the notion in the 19th century that social evolution and phrenology (the shape of the brain to character and morality) determine development.
The Europeans thought that their innate intellectual and moral underpinnings were superior to Africans in developmental sense. Having conquered Africans, and drawing comparatively from human progress, they reasoned that because they are more developed than Africans they have a mission to help develop the ?primitive? Africans ? which, in a sense, became the ?White man?s burden.? Actually, Africans didn?t tell them they want any development. These set off various colonial policies stemming from ?racial inequality? such as ?association,? ?mission civilisatrice,? ?direct rule,? ?indirect rule,? etc all aimed at developing the ?primitive? African, who was perceived as having intellectual and moral deficiencies and need to be corrected via development through European paradigms. The France colonial ?assimilation? policy wanted to make the African like the ?civilized French? based on ?fundamental unity of humanity.? That failed and France floated the ?association,? a policy they drew from the British colonial policy of ?indirect rule? that aimed to develop the African by considering Africa?s traditional institutions. This came under brutal attacks from such elites like Leopold de Saussure, who argued that the assimilation policy cannot work because of racial differences due to varying rates of evolution that had made different races ?attained very different levels of development.? One colonialist?s attempts to develop Africa were in education. Colonial policy-makers such as Jules Harmand charged that advanced Western scientific education not only had done little to develop Africa but that it was ?unsuited to the African mind, ?given their inferior evolutionary development these less advanced peoples lacked the precision, ?moral discipline,? and related values that European school children instinctively possessed??because European ?children are reared in highly mechanized societies and came from more highly developed racial stock.?
Despite the heated colonial arguments that ensured to the extent of the French colonial planner Jacques Novicov dismissing the contention that Africans ?were doomed to wallow forever in ignorance and backwardness,? even after colonialism such feelings still pervaded the world to detriment of Africans? developmental image. One of the mortal mistakes the colonialists did was to impose their development paradigms, which are drawn from their experiences, histories, traditions, norms and values, verbatim on Africa without mixing them with African traditional norms and values as fully as practicable. African elites who came after the colonialists also couldn?t mix the two values, as the Southeast Asians have done, thus making Dr. Watson saying that ?all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.?
One of the errors of the colonialists and Ghanaian/African elites, as Boakye-Dankwa Boadi, features writer for the Ghana News Agency, argued in contesting Watson?s view, citing Jean Piaget, the vicar of cognitive development, was that ?intelligence is always related to an organism?s adaptation to its environment.? A letter writer to the Accra-based Joy FM on Watson?s statement said ?that there is no difference between white and black when it comes to intelligence from DNA analysis. However, Africans have a cultural trait which, when judged from a white man's eye, tend to make people feel they are less intelligent.?
Like in the 19th century, the impression today is that Africans still lack the confidence in their ability to ?rejuvenate their societies through the adoption of Western science and technology? for progress. Africa still lack confident policy-makers and bureaucrats who are able to mix or juggle Africans? traditional values with the neo-liberal ones. Dr. Y.K. Amoako says that Africa is still the only region in the world where foreign development paradigms dominate its development process, thus making some of these ?African are stupid? rants hold water in the sense of the developmental confusion. Ghana?s National Economic Planning czar, the 78-year-old veteran Mr. J.H. Mensah, among others, has observed this and repeatedly spoken about the confidence-progress challenge and the need to resolve it through Ghanaians? foundational cultural values. Nowhere does one see this than in Africa?s education system. Till recently, Ghana?s education system was unbalanced, heavily colonial, with its traditional norms and values virtually absent. This has made many ?an educated Ghanaian/Africa? a fool or foreigner in his/her own environment, lacking the formal holistic education skills to play with their contending values for progress, as the Southeast Asians have done. No doubt, somebody responded to Watson?s view at Joy FM that while the Europeans, Asians and South Americans ?all use their native languages in developing their nation-states, Africans do not and this means Africans can?t develop.?
The contention is, as Dr. James Watson said, all our social policies either by the Western world or African elites to Africans is based on the fact that Africans? intelligence is the same as the Europeans. The issue isn?t whether or not how Africans? intelligence works. It works alright, as Boakye-Dankwa Boadi argues, if viewed from their environment. The inference is how Africans, especially the elites, are able to process developmental policies that emanate from their reality, and that?s intelligence, lack of which has created not only developmental confusion but undermined Africans? confidence, which first of all should flow from their traditional values and norms.
In Watson, the African developmental tragedy is that Africa?s progress is represented as the continent's inability to dispense with the colonial errors and hatch a new development regime that mixes Africa?s traditional values with the neo-liberal ones, even when rural socialist revolutionary programs were attempted, as they were in Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, Tanzania under Julius Nyerere, and Mozambique under Samora Machel.