DAY 67 – Scorpio

November 1st, 2013 § 0 comments

Indeed, readers, this time a week ago I was in Accra’s University Hospital A&E (not currently threatened by government cuts to the best of my knowledge), recovering from a scorpion bite. (I was bitten in the toe while waiting in the lunch queue. ‘Have your lunch anyway’, said some; ‘Go straight to hospital’, countered others. The pain, I must admit, was such that I passed up the fish, jollof rice, garri and plantains and tottered into a waiting cab.)

scorpionBy a strange coincidence this (to the credulous readers of papers such as the Evening Standard) was just about the moment when the sun moved out of the sign of Libra, and into the vicious and unbalanced Scorpio. I’ve pointed out a while back what’s wrong with this sort of low-grade astrology – (i) only the sun sign is counted and worse (ii) even that’s wrong, since owing to the precession of the equinoxes the sun isn’t in Scorpio anyway but (I think) in Libra, or even in Virgo. I appeal to readers to clear the details up.

Anyway, the hospital, to which I’d been transported by the efficient and caring Institute of African Studies, shot me full of painkillers, and by the evening I was dancing hilifes. The emperor scorpion (which it probably was) is not reckoned particularly venomous, and many of those internet weirdos seem to keep them as pets.

Nonetheless, in my perhaps biased opinion this attack was a neoliberal plot, occurring as it did hours after I had given a brief invited address in memory of my father; the occasion being the fiftieth anniversary of the IAS, which he

IASThe Kwame Nkrumah Institute of African Studies

helped to found. I append my text, and you may see why it seemed worth putting a 75-year old ex-academic out of action. [I'm sorry if this post is a bit over the usual wordcount as a result. Moreover, the style is more formal than my standard vernacular, being designed for all these dignitaries and what not.]


 [Your Excellency Mr. President, Your Excellency the Vice-Chancellor, Director of the Institute of African Studies…, fellow rank and file toilers in the fields of African studies:][1]

First, greetings to this conference on behalf of Thomas Hodgkin and his family, 600and my gratitude to you for your invitation. It gives me great pleasure to be here, all the more since this is my first visit to Ghana. When, fifty years ago, my father Thomas was involved in the setting up of the University, and more particularly of your Institute, I had hoped to visit; but the 1966 coup put a stop to that, and to  Thomas’ presence in Ghana. I have long wished that I could make my own African journey.

Here I’d like to insert a self-indulgent memory. In 1956, when I was a schoolboy of 17, my father – for reason best known to himself – took me to accompany him to the Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris. I was amazed. I can recall Jacques Rabemananjara, Aimé Césaire, Richard Wright… and Frantz Fanon was there, making contact with Thomas on behalf of the Algerian FLN. What extraordinary beginnings those were – and what a flowering of all things African we have seen since then, as this conference witnesses. It led, as we know, both to a renaissance in African culture, to the movement to overthrow eurocentrism in history and the social sciences (and hence to your Institute); but also, of course, to a further development in continental solidarity against colonialism. For the figures  have mentioned, like many African writers of today, were political activists. Study, creativity and politics went hand in hand.


From Michael Wolfers’ biography of Thomas we see clearly that he and Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah collaborated in bringing the Institute of African Studies into being, seeing it as vital to the new University; its aim being that of ‘studying the history, culture and institutions, languages and arts of Ghana and of Africa in new African centred ways’. This was an early attack on what we now call eurocentrism. My father would, I know, be overjoyed to see the Institute not only surviving but flourishing in such diversity – with a range that extends to philosophy, to music, dance and visual arts – and to gender studies, not yet in their cradle in 1963.

As a close friend of Nkrumah, who in his last writings warned against the scourge of neocolonialism, I am sure that Thomas would, on the other hand, support you in your struggles against the wreckage that its modern counterpart, neoliberalism, is imposing over all of Africa – indeed worldwide – in the form of a ‘hostile global order’. I found this appropriate term in the declaration of the 2002 CODESRIA Accra conference on ‘Africa’s Development Challenges’. This statement, born in Accra, is an impressive testimony to the work of African scholars who wish to reassert people’s power in the global economy.

Near the end of Thomas’ time at your university, Comandante Che Guevara

chepaid it a visit of solidarity; at that time a continental guerrilla movement against imperialism was on the agenda. Today perhaps our hopes are focused on a less military mass movement within civil society, and the work such as your institute promotes can show the way forward. I wish you strength and hope in the continuing fight for international justice, for an end to racism, to class and gender exploitation.


[1] I found as I was waiting to give the address that you had to start with this sort of preamble, so adapted it slightly with the pseudo-Maoist extension to the toilers.

Well, as I’ve already said, this post is overextended, and if I’ve moaned too much about my pain, which is infinitesimal in relation to the pain of the world, then tough. However, as a result, I think I’ll skip the poetry slot; I have used a poem by Kofi Awoonor in an earlier post; and Ngugi wa-Thiong’o, at the closing banquet, read a poem for Awoonor which I can’t access. So, just to conclude with some non-academic music, here‘s a gospel track from Mercy Ohemaa.


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