Sankofa: The Critical Nkrumahist Theory.

Author:Kissi, Evelyn
Position:Insights into disablement through Kwame Nkrumah's ideology - Critical essay

This paper focuses on Pan-Africanism as a critical thought within lens used to engage and critique different approaches to disability of the body. The paper uses the Sankofa (return to the source) conceptualization process as a way to revisit/resurge the Nkrumah's ideology in order to better understand the disabling structures that have created disablement in Africa, which has lead to disabilities for people in Africa. Therefore, it is argued that such a resurgent will lead to a critical Nkrumahist Pan-African disability theory that views disability and disablement from a pre-colonial cultural social political economic context, rather than from a biological or restrictive social lens.


Reading African thought and African knowledge producers has been an enlightenment, as I read in ways that I have never read before and dissected the writings of great critical Pan-African leaders with passion and in-depth connection to the issues uncovered. African thoughts, discussion and reading is a getaway avenue, a place where I can seek solitude away from the whiteness of knowledge production that created an intellectual bankruptcy for those of us not seeking knowledge legitimacy from the hegemony. Walking the shadows of my ancestors was invigorating, but why did it take so long to find this safe space? Why wasn't I taught about my ancestors from childhood, why was this void left within me? Will it take this long for younger generations of African people to find these safe spaces in their academic journeys? Will they be subjected to the current debilitating intellectual bankruptcies, leaving them with only knowing, embodying and using emancipatory tools created by the white hegemony? It is important to interrogate how humanness is constructed from early childhood and carried on in oppressive post-secondary educational systems that continue to deny safe spaces in which to learn or engage in revolutionary theories that could dismantle and break the yoke of white hegemony. However, it is equally important to engage within these non-safe spaces--to prepare the next generation to stand in opposition to spaces that erase their bodies, knowledges and lineage. Critical Disability Studies is well situated to create a door of return that allows African people to Sankofa some of their ways of knowledge emancipation and how they contextualize disability to refuse to be erased from the ever-growing disability discourse.

It is time to engage in a critical Nkrumahist Pan-African disability theory that views disability and disabling from a pre-colonial-cultural-social-political-economic context rather than from a biological or restrictive social lens. Dei (2012) placed a particularly important call for African scholars to "have uncomfortable conversations sometimes about our history and what has happened to us long after some of these ideas [of African freedom fighters such as Nkrumah] were expressed" (p. 44). This call is particularly important as many contemporary African philosophers and knowledge producers are "caught in the seduction of a post-modern, post-racial world" (Dei, 2012, p. 44), being lured away from the critical issues and continuous atrocities that Africa and African people face in today's 'neo-colonial' politics, continuing to bankrupt our intellectual revolution. Dei (2012) also made African scholars aware that "given the post-colonial challenges facing African peoples today, African intellectuals have a responsibility to revisit some of [Nkrumah's] pioneering ideas as we seek to design our own future" (p. 42). It is with this call that I seek to Sankofa, a return to the source, as the Twi language states, but not without a return to the roots to learn, hear and listen to what and how Pan-African nationalists, specifically Nkrumah, envisioned victory for African people and Africa (Dei, 2012). This call is important because "anti-colonial practice begin by asking new and critical questions [which brings] . . . certain questions to the foregrounding of radical African scholarship [therefore] ... the search for answers entails that we engage a critical Pan-African vision and radical African-centered scholarship" (Dei, 2012, p. 42).


In this paper, I will unpack Pan-Africanism to place into context how disability was represented within Pan-African thought; and specifically, the relevancy of Pan-Africanism and Nkrumanist ideas in terms of disability and the disablement of Ghana/Africa. Pan-Africanists such as DuBois, Garvey, Padmore, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Cabral, Thiong'o, Lumumba, among many others, have shaped Africa and African lives (both in Africa and Diaspora) through their struggles to bring independence, social, cultural, economic and political justice, African unity, and decolonization of the mind to people of indigenous Africa. The core critical lens of Pan-Africanism is 'One Africa, Unity,' especially the unification in economics, culture, spirituality and collective consciousness of the African people. To further my research in Pan-Africanism as a critical thought within the Critical Disability Studies discourse, I will specifically draw on Nkrumahist thought and its significance in Ghana and Africa. The goal for this paper is to explore the history of critical Pan-Africanism while unpacking the work of its key theorists in order to clarify how we can Sankofa, reading Sankokin, listening Sankotie, and embracing and anchoring "our analysis in how Euro-colonial processes of knowledge production, interrogation, validation and dissemination has either denied or invalidated our humanity, self-respect and our cultural sense of knowing" (Dei, 2012, p. 47).

The hope is that this will lead to Nkrumah's thoughts, in relation to disability, and the concept of disablement. To start this reflective journey, I begin by contextualizing the emergence of Pan-Africanism, its founding Fathers and its historical mapping followed by critical Nkrumahist ideology.

Such analysis is needed as critical Pan-Africanist and Critical Nkuamahist theory allows for African people to reclaim their humanness, within a 'neo-Colonial' globalized Africa which exploits Her material and intellectual resources creating material, economic, cultural and intellectual bankruptcy. While also creating "violent inter-state and intra-state conflicts, still-born pluralistic governance systems, rapidly deteriorating social services, all of which have culminated in spiraling poverty" leading to disability (Oduor, 2009, p. 1). Oduor (2009) prompted an important question that should awaken each African intellectual: "how does [Africa] ensure [She] is a formidable player in the global scene, without [Her] culture being swamped by foreign worldviews that often encourage ravaging individualism in the place of constructive communalism?" (p. 2). This question which will not be unpacked within this paper and the latter comment by Oduor (2009) is an entry point for African critical disability scholars to re-think the world of disabelism within a broader context. The continuous Westernization of Africa and African countries has brought nothing but a dystopic new-colonial state that has enveloped Africa while draining Her blood through the exploitation of Her land and people. This disablement of the continent is a reflection of the disablement of African bodies, creating several layers of disability. In particular, the extraction of resources and appropriation of lands from rural areas creates is disabling especially because farming and a spiritual connection to their lands is necessary for survival. This paper seeks to 'Sankofa" Nkrumah's critical Pan-African vision as it allows for an "epistemological query, an intellectual and political journey through which the geo-African body comes" to be the central focus for thinking through the complexity of a neo-colonial door of no return ideology (Dei, 2012, p. 52).

Critical Pan-Africanism/critical Nkrumahist theory will guide me through this critical comprehensive stage by centering 'Africanness' while decentering Eurocentric colonial constructions of the African and Africa identities. However, Dei (2012) cautions, "there is a challenge for scholars who embark on such journey, stating that one should, . . . intervene with a more comprehensive concept of Pan-African Personality that reflects the distinct cultural character of African aspirations globally" (p. 45). With this knowledge, it is my privileged position to enter academia and engage with critical disability studies within critical Pan-African and critical Nkrumahist theory especially, to understand how disability and disabelism are conceptualized. And how policies have been systematically structured affecting the continent, the countries within, Her governments, Her people and the knowledge production of Her people, leading to the disablement of the entire continent. Understanding the above, contextualizes how a Pan-African "personality embodies the historical memory . . . collective consciousness, artifacts, social institutions, innovation and creative vision of the composite African people" (Dei, 2012, p. 45).

The question then becomes, how comprehensive is the claim of a critical Pan-Africanism and an African Personality when the disablement of the continent is afflicted through systemic atrocities led by a larger system of imperialism that extends beyond the continent? This analysis of Pan-Africanism, creates a lens that provides a 'multifactorial' vision of the African people; meaning their social institutions and collective consciousness is relevant to the 'humanness or one-ness' of critical Pan-African and critical Nkrumahist ideology while being open to the creativity and fluidity of carefully merging with the critical disability lens from a disabling point in order to find a way forward; a centralized location that produces fecundity which allows for total liberation of the mind, body and soul as it attaches to the land of the...

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