Still On Diaspora Academics Talking Down On Nigerian / African Colleagues - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Sunday, January 17, 2021

Still On Diaspora Academics Talking Down On Nigerian / African Colleagues

By Prof Ibrahim Bello - Kano

My colleague, Ismaila Bala, a moment ago gave one obsessed with "talking down" on
Nigerian university teachers. Early last year, I did an essay on his usual attacks on Nigerian professors especially his 
insistence that African academics insist that their supervisees give the "theoretical framework" section of their MA and doctoral proposals a primary focus. Ochonu thinks that that's "old fashioned" and utterly "unmodern" for them to do so. After my critique and another's of his position, (I can remember the other critic), Ochonu made a U-turn and offered incoherent defences of his ill-thought views of the matter. The matter ended there, of course.  The tendency of African academics in Western universities to look down on their colleagues in African/Nigerian universities goes to show that any kind of academic Centrism or any Monist conception of scholarship is very bad for free enquiry and academic freedom. Most so called "scholars in the Diaspora" justify their careers and positions in the Wesyern academe by a sort of Afrocentrism or a kind of "Third Worldism" in which they cast themselves as the gate-keepers or "curators" of Non-Western" forms or kinds of knowledge, at least in the eyes of the Western academic establishment. Such Afrocentric scholars will never be allowed to teach, or publish within, properly mainstream Western branches of scholarship. For example, a close friend of mine in a US university, and who took his degrees in Social Theory from Vanderbilt, was not allowed to discuss a key Western author in the field but only Nkrumah and Amilcar Cabral. Why is that? The reason is not hard to discern: the Western academe gives huge scholarships to Africans, for example, to do "African Studies" because it's non longer possible for native Europeans and white Americans to do the old, 19th century research method of "participant observation" in the light of the huge present changes that have shaped the colonizer-colonized relations of the past. It might be practically difficult or dangerous for a Western researcher to visit many parts of the "third world" in the name of research. To circumvent this difficulty, the Western academe would now grant resources to indigenous academics to get the data out and publish it here and there. Then the Western scholar would use the same set of data to spun epistemic theories and models which the Afrucan scholar would then deploy in their teaching and research! With time, the African academic in the West feels entitled to a parity of sorts with the "master European" scholar. Yet such an academic does not have the linguistic, theoretical, or meta-critical wherewithal to take on the Western scholar but only their own African academic brothers and sisters, those teaching in some of the most abject service and institutional conditions in the world, racked by poor salaries, over-crowded lecture halls, and a government determined to implement the Structural Adjustment Programme in its many guises. This is the basis of what may be called the New Racism---- the entirely shocking process by which many, though not all, African academics in the Western academe look down on their African brothers in the same manner by which racist Western authors, from Carl von Linne, Compte de Buffon and James Beattie to Johann Blumenbach, Georges Cuvier and Hegel, earlier saw Africans as part of a degenerate race, stupid, genetically deformed, unintelligent and perpetually living in the dark mantle of night. That's why Western-driven Afrocentric scholarship is nothing but the other side of a virulent Eurocentrism. Any kind or form of scholarship in which there are monist canons or Centres of dissemination, could potentially end up as yet another intellectual and academic arrogance, a more or less imperfect copy of the worst excesses of Eurocentrism. That's my the inventive African scholar or academic should learn to "master" the canons of the so called Western scholarship in order to critique it from the inside and undermine its untenable cultural baggage. I personally discovered, in my interactions with some Western scholars, that they get extremely nervous and intrigued by African academics who show evidence of deep knowledge of canonical Western scholarship. Most Western scholars have nothing but the heritage of Eurocentrism to lean on. That's the basis of their intellectual arrogance. Once they encounter an African who's pretty well grounded in those canons, they become agitated or outrightly or subtly hostile to such a person. Western scholars and establishments just want to see Africans, for example, esconded in "African Studies", which, more often than not, is an Afrocentrism tout court or by all parameters. So, the Western scholar would happily keep his or her Eurocentrism because the African scholar  is also mired in his Afrocentrism. That's why Moses Ochonu, for example, could attack his allegedly "scholarly deficient" African counterparts because he is just one more purveyor of a dubious Afrocentricism. For example, Ochonu is a Professor of African History and not of American or European History. That's the only status he could ever have in his USA university. He may not even get an academic publisher if he were to write about specifically Western or European History. Thus on the basis of his "ghetto" African History professorship, he can get the licence to denigrate his African colleagues and teachers, even those who taught him History as an undergraduate at Bayero University, Kano in the late 1990s.  To conclude the discussion, at least for now, any kind of academic Centrism is untenable and ridiculous. This is the significance of Jacques Derrida's essay, "White Mythology" (1987) in which he shows the mythological and logocentric assumptions and values behind the Western obsession with ranking all within the hierarchy of "great" and "lesser" figures and systems, an incapacity to free itself from the impulse to hierarchicize all systems of value and cultures and sign systems. A rejection of Centres, myths of origin, and logocentric constructions is at the heart of Deconstruction, which, alas, many African academics have failed to study critically or are hostile to on the basis of their petty preoccupation with centrist research programmes of all kinds. Nothing would stand African scholars in good academic stead more than a consistent and ruthless critique of all myth-making and hankering after an Unaccountable Centre---- of identity, the metaphysics of presence, culture, mind, or origins. One way out of the dead end and epistemic paralysis within Centrist systems, African and other, at least for now, is to adopt the perspective of What Edward Said calls "the amateur", the space of the critical ranging over all kinds of intellectual culture for the purposes of meta-critique AND what Derrida calls "Play" for which there are no essential identities or Centres that must be adopted as a matter of Necessity.  As Derrida writes in "Writing and Difference" (The University of Chicago UP, p. 292), "Play is the disruption of presence... because it plays without security". True and rigorous academics have no need of security, or for a secure, comfortable Centre from which  they may launch attacks on Difference and Multiplicity.

Ibrahim Bello-Kano is Professor of English Studies at Bayero University. He served as Head of Department and member of the Governing between 2000 and 2004. He is a Visiting Professor at Northwest University and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

No comments:

Post a Comment