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 CCSU Professors

Gloria Emeagwali

Gloria Emeagwali:
Challenging Myths about Africa’s History to Create Africa’s Future

 Gloria Emeagwali, professor of history/African studies, has long challenged what she calls “the arrogant self-serving assumptions of the Eurocentric paradigm”—the invidious “view that historically the majority of the world’s countries have been passive recipients of a so-called Western science and technology.”

Now, her forthcoming Africa and the Academy: Challenging Hegemonic Discourses on Africa (NY: Africa World Press, 2004), a work she edited and contributed to, adds to a rich body of scholarship, which includes five other books she has edited dealing with the field of indigenous knowledge in Africa and African economic history. In chapter one, Dr. Emeagwali’s essay, “Africa and the Textbooks,” introduces a “hostility index”—a scale she devised to evaluate the negative reporting on African history in 25 world history textbooks used in American universities.

The book focuses on methodologies associated with Eurocentrism in particular and hegemonic discourse in general and addresses issues of racial bias, intolerance, parochialism, and male chauvinism manifested in historians’ critical methodologies.

Emeagwali deplores “Eurocen-tricism’s view that only the West has engaged in credible achievement in all areas over time.” Thus, five scholars, including Emeagwali, examine “alternative ways of interpreting African society and history, recognizing the indigenous achievements, for example, in building techniques and in architecture.” She points out that one of the world’s oldest boats, dating to 8000 BCE, was recently identified in northeast Nigeria.

Emeagwali, who holds the Ph.D. from Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, and an M.A. from Toronto University, comments, “My work as a historian has focused on Africa’s economic and technological history with an emphasis on the evolution of its indigenous knowledge systems.” She has just returned from a conference on “Formulation of a Policy Framework for Africa’s Economic and Technological Self-Reliance,” where she served as moderator of a panel on science and technology policy options. She maintains that “self-reliance in Africa must be built on indigenous technological techniques. The successful regions tap into these and engage in modernizations based on knowledge techniques not alienated from the cultural base.” In “the contemporary period,” technology in Africa is manifested not only by computerization but also by the indigenous knowledge inherent in food processing, in textiles, and in metallurgy techniques. Scientists have been able to identify which microorganisms were manipulated in the fermentation process to create local cereal-based beverages and this has “led to mass production of the product,” observes Emeagwali. “Also, we want to modernize the process by which the beverage, which is satisfying to local and regional tastes, can be mass produced. We’re engaged in a transformational dynamic built on local knowledge systems.”

Working with a team of scholars to identify potential indigenous product development, Emeagwali indicates that path-breaking research is being done. The active ingredient in the hoodia plant, a recognized appetite suppressant, is being tested by pharmaceutical companies for possible treatment of obesity. An African potato ingredient is being investigated by biologists to authenticate its potential for boosting the immune system.

Indigenous knowledge as a catalyst to transform African society is a concept appearing in other books Emeagwali has edited, including African Systems of Science, Technology and Art: The Nigerian Experience (1993). Hailed as “a pioneering work,” the book identifies, in the African context, science and technology as manifested in such practical activities as “the processing of raw materials for food, the creation of iron-based agricultural implements, military equipment, and textiles, or the production of more aesthetically inclined objects.”

“The challenge ahead will be to bridge the gap between indigenous knowledge and new technologies, between research and product development, making both come together in a meaningful way,” concludes Emeagwali.

A Secondary Theme

“In the forthcoming text, I also challenge the conventional claims of institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank,” explains Emeagwali. She discusses reasons for Africa’s debt crisis and the massive transfer of capital from Africa to the West through high debt repayments. She elaborates, “Structural Adjustment Programs, now called PRSPs, were imposed on Africa by these institutions in the 1980s whereby 40 to 60 percent of the GNP of some countries was earmarked for debt repayment at the expense of social programs in health and education.”

Emeagwali explored some of these issues in an earlier book, Women Pay the Price: Structural Adjustment in Africa and the Caribbean, and in her latest book she examines the financial institutions and interest groups that have had impact on IMF and World Bank policy making; the linkages between corporate lobbyists, Wall Street, and the Structural Adjustment Programs; and the impact of such programs on African economies and Africa’s quest to improve its technological capabilities.

Two Decades of Academic Exploration

After teaching in Nigeria and serving as a visiting scholar at Oxford University, Emeagwali joined CCSU in 1991. In the course of two decades, she has published about 50 articles in professional journals and books and lectured nationally and internationally on Africa’s economic issues and indigenous technology.

She designed a Web site, African Indigenous Science and Knowledge Systems, chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of the top 50 Web sites focused on Africa. For the past 12 years, Emeagwali has been chief editor of Africa Update, a newsletter (now online at www.ccsu.edu/afstudy/archive.html) of the African Studies Program, which disseminates Africa-related research. “Most African Studies programs, including Stanford University, Penn State, and University of Michigan, have Africa Update listed for recommended reading,” says Emeagwali. “I’m proud of that.” She can also be pleased that recent creation of the Center for Africana Studies was a direct outgrowth of work initiated between 1992 and 1997 when she served as founding director of African Studies at CCSU. She finds too that “teaching energizes me to do more research and to communicate my findings to students in hopes that their curiosity will be galvanized to do their own explorations for knowledge.”

— Geri Radacsi

 

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