ANN: The Toyin Falola Interviews: A Conversation with Honorable Kojo Yankah

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THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

 

A Conversation with Honorable Kojo Yankah

 

 About This Series

In the Toyin Falola Interviews series, Dr. Falola interviews scholars, politicians, and policymakers whose work and research are particularly relevant for the African continent and its peoples, including the Diaspora. Dr. Falola also discusses the scholars' most recent books with them. The ultimate goal in this series is to promote the work of great minds and to spread knowledge to the general public about current intellectual projects that these great minds are pursuing. Discussion points can include but are not limited to African affairs, migration, religion, culture, history, development, women's rights, disability rights, postcolonial society, the Global South, and globalization. 

 

Biography of Kojo Yankah

The Honorable Kojo Yankah is a journalist, scholar, and author from Ghana. He founded the African University College of Communications (known initially as the Africa Institute of Journalism and Communications). He was a member of Parliament and the Minister of State. He served on the National Media Commission, the Board of the New Times Corporation, and the Law Reform Commission. He has also served as Chairman of the Boards of TV3 Network, Public Agenda newspaper, Vodafone, Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust, and the Ghana Book Trust. He is a member of the Ghana Association of Consultants, former president of the Institute of Public Relations Ghana, Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations Ghana, and the West Africa Representative of Crestcom International. He has written nine books, including Crossroads at Ankobea (novel); End of a JourneyDialogue with the NorthThe Story of NamibiaThe Trial of JJ RawlingsOtumfuo Osei Tutu II-the King on the Golden Stool; and Our Motherland-My Life. He has won several awards as a creative writer, poet, and journalist, including the Langston Hughes Award; the Davidson Nicol Award; Afro-Asian Writers Award; World Education Congress Award for Outstanding Contribution; and the 2012 PR Personality of the Year (Ghana). He has published several articles in local and international papers and magazines and has made enormous contributions to the growth of Ghana's public relations profession. 

 

THE INTERVIEW

 

Toyin Falola: 

What can the members of the African Diaspora contribute to Africa's development? Ghana is doing massive recruitment of those abroad to visit Ghana as tourists, investors, and residents. What are the expectations behind this? 

 

Kojo Yankah

 It all boils down to policies. Our governments, through the Ghana Investment Promotion Council have, over the years, organized "Homecoming" conferences and events to attract the African Diaspora back home – not only to tour and invest but also to consider relocation. In 2019, the Government took it to another level by declaring a YEAR OF RETURN for all people of African descent to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans on the shores of Virginia, USA. It is estimated that about 1million diasporans visited Ghana.  

I don't know about percentages, but about a billion dollars went into the economy. I am also aware of large numbers who planned to follow up to Ghana in 2020 but for COVID-19. But I also know a significant number who have made inquiries about Citizenship and relocation and are waiting for COVID to subside.

Toyin Falola

The influence of China is rising in Africa. What are the short- and long- term consequences? 

Kojo Yankah

I am concerned about any moves by any foreign power to control the resources of Africa. The Chinese, the Europeans, the Americans have been vying for space in Africa since our independence because of our resources. And the reason they have their way is that African countries, individually, do not have the muscle to negotiate with any superpower. The solution lies in a united Africa speaking and negotiating with one powerful voice.

 

Toyin Falola

Should Africa adopt a single language to promote harmony? 

 

Kojo Yankah

That is ideal, but Europe, with all their languages, found a common platform to form a common union. It takes time to convince any people to abandon their cultural 'tongue' for somebody else's, but we know that even with all its challenges, the Organization of African Union, now African Union, still does business. It is political will that is needed for the harmony required.

 

Toyin Falola

 Why did you take to writing, and why the emphasis on Pan-Africanism?  

 

Kojo Yankah

I have always loved writing. I wrote my first poem in a secondary school in the early 60s when Amilcar Cabral was killed. I was a member of the Young Pioneer Movement during the Kwame Nkrumah years, and we were taught the principles of pan Africanism; we were ahead of our peers in current affairs. Love of country, Respect for our culture, Protection of state property, and striving towards Excellence were the pillars of our code. I was editor of our school magazine, and I wrote both prose and poetry. This I took along to the University of Ghana, where I read English Literature, French, and Swahili. I formed with others the International Black Alliance, which sought to bridge the gap between African students and those from the Diaspora who increased in number on campus. My literary exploits became more evident in the Writers Society, and I walked away before I earned my first degree with the coveted Langstone Hughes Prize for Poetry in my second year and the David Nicholson Prize for Creative Writing in my third year. 

 

Toyin Falola

What books inspired you to write your books? 

Kojo Yankah

The writer who got me more interested in writing about African society was Chinua Achebe, and then I studied the new crop of African literary icons in the 60s/70s like David Diop, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Kojo Awoonor, Ayikwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Buchi Emecheta, and many others.

 

Toyin Falola

Africans now read the Bible and the Quran a lot. Is there a way we can convince them to read books on development?

Kojo Yankah

That tradition came with 'formal education", but now it is only the Ministries of Education which should take the lead to prescribe books on development and biographies to divert the trend.

 

Toyin Falola 

In general, what do you see as the growing role of Pentecostal churches in relation to Africa's economic and political development?  

Kojo Yankah

Pentecostals have won the hearts of the youth because they are preaching short-cut to wealth and prosperity. However, if their messages turn more liberating, and they get involved in practical economic activities like farming, as a few have started, they can contribute more to economic development.

 

Toyin Falola

On September 21, the Pan African Heritage World museum was launched. What is the vision behind it? 

Kojo Yankah

To retrieve Africa's lost history, ideals, indigenous knowledge, and civilization and hold it up to teach the youth of today and tomorrow, to give them inspiration for the future. In my school days, we learnt Africa had no history until the white man arrived. There is a lot to unlearn and to relearn for the sake of the future of Africans. With that, all people of African descent will feel more confident bridging the gap created by false history and bring them closer to unity for the ultimate development of Africa and black people in general. 

 

Toyin Falola

You once served in government, how can the state deliver development? 

Kojo Yankah

The state can deliver development by going back to borrow from indigenous knowledge, traditions, and philosophies. Often, politicians have seen development as imported from western institutions and delivered to the people. That has been terribly expensive, unproductive, and ineffective. Poverty has reached higher levels because politics has reduced ordinary people into beneficiaries of largess conjured from elsewhere. Dependency on government has been on the ascendancy and has been detrimental to progressive growth among the people.

 

Toyin Falola

You have established your university, what are the ideas behind it? 

Kojo Yankah

I created and founded the African University College of Communications, with a strong bent on Africana Studies, to orient the students towards communicating more with a better understanding of the positive sides of Africa – its true history, its ideals, and its potential for independent growth with all its rich natural, mineral and human resources. We have added the Business and Creative Studies Departments to unearth the enormous talents we have on the continent to inspire our future.

Toyin Falola  

How was cultural life when you were young? 

Kojo Yankah

We loved proverbs; we looked forward to local festivals so much that when churches started frowning on 'idol worship' at these events and even converted our chiefs to change their customary practices, I felt 'our culture' was lost. Sadly, it has not improved with time. Festivals were occasions for a family reunion and time to dedicate to new development projects. Now, few educated people go back to their villages for festivals, except in a few communities, and so the pattern has been waiting for a government official to come and announce the next project. In the past, the resolution to build places of convenience and other projects was taken at festivals by the chief, elders, and people. Today, the chief appeals to the Government official to come and build toilets for the people. Development turned upside down.

 

Toyin Falola

Can you track the socio-cultural changes in your lifetime since the British administration in Ghana? 

 

Kojo Yankah

It has been a progressive degeneration of traditional social life, an increasing alienation from the traditional culture on the whole with Ghana. Still, I have tried very hard not to be swallowed by western culture and mental colonization. My awareness level for mental liberation and decolonization has risen very highly with time. 

 

Toyin Falola 

Any hobby?

 

Kojo Yankah 

I read a lot of African writing – whether it is books, magazines, or articles; I observe what goes on around me, and I write at the least opportunity on any subject. When time permits, I watch movies with African or pan African themes. But, in all this, I enjoy travelling – having travelled extensively on all five continents.

 

Toyin Falola

Africa has a youthful population, how do we empower millions of our young people. 

Kojo Yankah

First, let them know their history – formally or informally—design vocational programs to unearth their talents. And let them drive their passion for Technology. Innovations are the future for African youth.

 

 

 

 

Toyin Falola

Should Africa adopt a single language to promote harmony? 

 

Kojo Yankah

That is ideal, but Europe, with all their languages, found a common platform to form a common union. It takes time to convince any people to abandon their cultural 'tongue' for somebody else's, but we know that even with all its challenges, the Organization of African Union, now African Union, still does business. It is political will that is needed for the harmony required.

 

 Thank you

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW ANALYSIS AND REFLECTIONS BY TOYIN FALOLA

 

 

Overall, it is evident that Honorable Kojo Yankah understands the wealth and experiences the return migrants from the Global North countries add to their home country, contributing to its development and peacekeeping. He illustrated with the example of Ghana, which constitutes one of the largest diasporas worldwide, and it is not best known as a "diaspora-driven economy' like some other countries in the continent. Therefore, there should be more advocacy for an unbiased study on the potential and actual impacts of diaspora activities. Also, Kojo Yankah's position has spurred a potential gap that there should be emerging research that encompasses many academic disciplines that will seek to understand the dialogue between the stakeholders within this transnational field. Similarly, there is a need to uncover and associate with African migrants originating from Africa, currently residing in Europe and actively engaging in the country. As a result, the objective is to bridge the gap between community development and diaspora action. The goal of the policies he highlighted is to enhance and expand contributions Ghanaians and Africans make in the Diaspora to African's development through programs and projects in education and training, knowledge transfer, and capacity building to ensure the steady growth of the continent of Africa.

To solve this, African leaders can deliver development by opening up key leadership positions to influence better decisions and policies in advocacy, charities, and international organizations to give Diaspora entrepreneurial initiatives to displaced people in Africa to improve their standard of living. Also, there should be gained knowledge about past and current debates in the development of global governance and geopolitics to understand the relationship between the diaspora and grassroots development to proffer solutions to the problem of community development by Africans in the Diaspora by starting volunteering NGOs, whose objective is to bridge the gap between community development and diaspora action. The goal of this foundation is to enhance and expand contributions that Africans in the Diaspora make to Africa's development through programs and projects in education and training, knowledge transfer, and capacity building.

Concerning this, the African continent's underdevelopment is painfully becoming a worrisome state despite the abundance of numerous natural resources that the continent is blessed with. In Yankah's response, it is deducible from his tone that the consistent help and aids that most of these superpowers tend to offer to African countries might be a Trojan horse, which is to control struggling African countries eventually in the long run. However, to avoid this from happening is to form a united African voice, as stated by him. Thus, the 'united African voice' inadvertently shows that there should be a rewiring of the human resource in Africa, which can be a possible solution to Africa's underdevelopment and will invariably stop the dependence on foreign aids from superpowers to reshape and rebuild it. His statements have thus brought to mind that most African countries need policies and ideologies that will guide the development of Africa; educational revamping that will be of standard and leaders should realize that there are no quick fixes, but gradual steps should be adopted that will cut down the over-reliance on foreign aids from First World countries.

In furtherance, his comments on the universal language adoption for the African continent show that there should be a revision on the notion of group identity, self-definition in most African countries, and how internal conflicts can be resisted among indigenes and non-indigenes. It is evident that a common language in countries and continents is essential and can be a vehicle for development and harmony among different ethnic groups. Most local communities like in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast who had gone through conflicts generated due to the resistance of subjugated people and how they fail to assimilate them due to language and has led to ethnic prejudice, which can be avoided. Consequently, the government instruments can engineer a culture that will accept the universal principles that will allow accommodation of language and result in harmony amongst various groups of people. Thus, most African countries should not defy who to align with based on predetermined group identity and choosing their group identity alone. They should take advantage of the similarities between the culture of the group identity and that of a new group identity, which will promote a sort of universal citizenship through varying languages.

Following Yankah's ideas and contributions to Africa's development and its relations to ensure peace, it is not surprising that the centrality of his writings is attached to Africanity, which its identity has stirred up kaleidoscopes of ideologies, discussions, and debates. From the inception of most African writings, the outlays and questions have metamorphosed and gone through diverse phases ranging from the Francophone Negritude movement to Pan-Africanism, Afrocentrism, Black Nationalism, among other ideologies and movements. It is not surprising that his ideas align with the description of Pan Africanism, which is a political movement, is created to invoke the concept of Africa unity tied to African states' decolonization. In recent times, some scholars have interpreted and redefined the Pan African movement. Yankah believes that earlier intellectuals aimed to write themselves into a re-vision of black people globally; hence Pan Africanism is about the unity of subjectivity as cosmopolitanism coupled with its maintenance that the purpose of Pan Africanism is equivalent and relevant to current Africa.

The influence he received from prominent writers shows that Africa, as a continent, is discussed against history's backdrop. The history of colonization, subjugation, and struggle has informed Africa and Africans' global perception and reception. His views support the scholarly notion that Africa, as it is understood globally, is a Western political and philosophical imagination. This perception is mostly understood concerning the condescending image imposed on it by the West. Hence, to be African attracts a set of clichés and impressions. The quest for an African identity and authenticity emerged when black intellectuals sought to contest racist dispositions to the continent. Yankah's definition and description of Pan-African foregrounds the African identity goal of creating unity amid diversity as the twenty-first century has witnessed a lot of migration, breaking of borders and boundaries, cultural intermingling, and interpenetration. This new and indispensable effect of modernity and globalization should ultimately attract new paradigms for the African identity.

In the instance of how Africa can develop through the youthful population coupled with how they can be motivated and divert their energy on good things, they must first detach themselves form prioritizing money and material things over practical things which is due to the contributions of the government, religious leaders and political leaders whom these youths look up to. For instance, religious hypocrisy and its effects on youths are alarming. One of the salient issues assailing the African postcolonial era is religious hypocrisy. Religious leaders who should be upright, decent individuals in society are revealed to be nothing more than fraudulent crooks who simply use religion to cover their dishonest activities. Time and time again, there have been reports of religious leaders who use their influence to exploit their unsuspecting followers. Sometimes, the programs organized by most churches today feel like they should just add the word "Consulting" to their name. Everywhere it's Maximize, Upgrade, Break Limits, Exponential Increase, and the likes, which are not logical enough for the engagements of youths positively and delve into meaningful endeavors.

In addition, Yankah's views on the comments of culture and how it can be related to development is pertinent as well as most leaders have lost priority by not focusing on what culture can bring to the society or nation when major features of the culture are given priority in most African countries. His comments reveal that culture will ensure that ethnicity can be expressed in peaceful multiculturalism and transculturalism or violent inter-ethnic confrontation. If the socio-cultural identifiers in a nation are paid more attention, the beneficiaries from this will include the governments of all nations to ensure bilateral and multilateral relations with other countries, especially under the aegis of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO); they will benefit by promoting international peace and universal respect by promoting collaboration among nations through co-existence of different cultures. In addition, because of migration and immigration in this global age, the Diaspora people will also learn to adopt and adapt to other cultures for peaceful co-existence. Furthermore, ethnic organizations, clubs, and gangs will benefit from cultural development. Seemingly, there is the rapidity of change in everyone's culture, whereby some parents everywhere explain how things were different when they were young. Yet African cultures are in the process of changing more rapidly than most. Westerners' economic and political changes have made it impossible for most Africans to follow the ways of life which their people had worked out over the previous centuries. 

  1. Although many Africans have chosen a way of life radically different from that of their generation, Yankah’s position is that we have an attitude of tolerance, regarding the beliefs, values, and practices of a culture and African also avoid cultural bias and slow to judge another culture by the standards of their own. This idea of cultural relativism and the belief of peaceful co-existence of cultures in this global world has been considered an attempt to avoid ethnocentrism and embrace hybridization.