On Feb. 16, Geneseo's Ghana Project hosted a panel discussion featuring faculty fellow for international studies Wes Kennison and education professor Glenn McClure. The discussion examined the political and social realities of modern-day Ghana.
Throughout the discussion, Kennison and McClure, brothers who have traveled extensively in Ghana, shared insights into the social situation of the country as well as the role of Western colleges – including Geneseo – in supporting the development of African nations.
"When we flew into Ghana together two years ago and I was looking down at this huge expanse of green, one of the things I noticed was that there were many houses without roofs," Kennison said.
"Everywhere I looked in Ghana I saw … unstable equilibrium," Kennison said. "I saw people who had a tremendous amount of skill at balancing things." He cited a Ghanaian man who perched precariously on a pile of soda cases in the bed of a pickup truck. "There's a sense of living closer to the edge," he said.
Unstable equilibrium was the overriding theme of Kennison's and McClure's discussion of Ghana.
McClure gave a brief overview of Ghanaian history, beginning with the 1884 Berlin Conference at which the European colonial powers apportioned the African continent amongst themselves. "In 1884, in Berlin, they carved up the African continent," McClure said.
He argued that the history of colonialism and slave-taking has left an indelible mark on a continent that already includes some of the most poverty-ridden nations on the planet.
McClure also said that the average European today is 20 times richer than the average sub-Saharan African. He noted that in 2000, the Irish economy out-produced the entire sub-Saharan continent.
In addition to widespread poverty, Africa suffers from near-constant warfare; in the 1990s, McClure said, three-quarters of the African nations were at war.
In the midst of this hardship, Ghana has become an example for African potential. So far, it has seen 54 years of democracy. "They're doing a pretty good job at it," McClure said.
One of the problems facing American-African relations is an arrogance born of our own successes. There's an overriding attitude of, "Come on, why can't they just get it together?" McClure said, noting that Americans ought to recall the foundations of their country's own rocky history.
To illustrate the point, McClure related the story of a Ghanaian woman named Beatrice Lokko who said, "You Americans and Europeans, you don't take pictures of my country, but of your ideas of my country."
Dispelling these myths and aiding the developing world has become a mantle that colleges like Geneseo should take up, Kennison said.
"Universities, colleges … that insist on going forward as gated communities … probably [have] 30 years tops before [they are] gone off the face of the earth," Kennison said.
Kennison and McClure said they would like to see Western colleges like Geneseo get involved in providing support for education and development on the African continent given our affluence and the availability of technology.
In the end, this involvement would help our school, Kennison said. "It may very well be essential to this college."u