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  • Sankofa and the Nation-State
  • Harry Odamtten and Trevor R. Getz

The nation-state. Is there any more significant, more storied sign of the modern? Our lives are shaped by our membership in the nation-state, in our citizenship, or, for a few, our lack thereof. To be without a nation in today's world is a dangerous thing indeed.

Sankofa, the artistic embodiment of the mythical Akan bird with its splayed feet facing forward to the future and its head looking back to the past, with "food" or knowledge nestled in its mouth, has come to represent in many ways a Ghanaian philosophy of history and national development. For many Afrocentricists, nationalists, Pan-Africanists, politicians, and theoreticians of nation building, the bird symbolizes the past as prologue to planning and executing national development. It, therefore, articulates the national viewpoint on development that the nation should plan its future on the lessons of the past.

This issue of the Journal of West African History commemorates the birth of a nation-state. The five articles in this volume follow the substantial literature pioneered by greats like A. Adu Boahen, Francis Agbodeka, and F. K. Buah. Over the years, this study of state and nation has expanded and grown into new areas. Some scholars locate the origins of the Ghanaian nation in nineteenth-century episodes such as the Fante Confederation. Others are concerned with understanding how it is appropriated, interpreted, and made usable by politicians and communities today.

Sankofa's place as memory and archive or repository, as well as agency, of the nation can be discerned in the following selection of articles commemorating these events. Forms of historical memorialization is undoubtedly the case with Edem Adotey's "A Matter of Apostrophe? Founder's Day, Founders' Day, and Holiday Politics in Contemporary Ghana." Adotey shows that Ghana's current ideological debates concerning the founding of the nation run deep into tensions [End Page v] and fractures that ensued between the country's political elite during the immediate precolonial era, concerning strategies for independence as well as debates over the nature and function of the nation following independence. At the center of the debate is the country's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, who also in this rendering epitomizes another mythical Akan bird, Santrofi anoma, Sɛ wofa no a, wafa mmusuo wogya no nso a wegya seradeɛ. This bird is a dilemma to the hunter who finds it in the forest. If the hunter leaves it behind in the forest, he leaves a rare treasure, but carrying it home also brings misfortune to the household. Thus, while his opponents are quick to dismiss or lessen his significance, the dialectic created by their opposition generates narratives that further embed Nkrumah's place as a founder with or without the apostrophe. What is clear is that both of the leading political parties are reaching back into the past like the Sankofa bird, to legitimate their present circumstances.

Nana Osei-Opare's article "Uneasy Comrades: Postcolonial Statecraft, Race, and Citizenship, Ghana– Soviet Relations, 1957– 1966," may be interpreted to use a Sankofa archive and a Sankofa gaze. A Sankofa archive through its insistence on examining Ghana's past through a triangulation of "local, regional, and national African archive[s]," while not neglecting non-African or foreign archives. A Sankofa gaze by placing direct emphasis on an "Afrocentric" and Ghanacentric narratives. In other words, centering his gaze on Ghana, and gazing at Ghanaians' own interpretation of the dynamic diplomatic relationships that ensued between Ghana and the two superpowers, the USSR, and the USA, during the Nkrumah years. Opare demonstrates how Ghanaians' personal and political experiences in the diplomatic realm helped them to forge a collective sense of their identity as a nation. In particular, students, diplomats, and other Ghanaians' experiences with racism, whether in Alabama or Moscow, not only brought them together, but also stimulated the state to assert itself in defense of its citizens abroad.

Jarvis L. Hargrove's article, "Ashanti Pioneer: Coverage of Growing Political Developments in the Gold Coast, 1946– 1949," turns the Sankofa gaze inward. Like schools, newspapers have frequently played an important role in the formation of the nation-state. The Ashanti Pioneer...


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