Annual Convening 2022
Accra Marriott Hotel
Prof. Angela Owusu-Ansah, Provost, Ashesi University

16th June, 2022

Our distinguished special guest of honour, Dr Vincent Ogutu, Vice-Chancellor of Strathmore University. Our special guests who are joining us for the first time, and our consistent participants who make up the 200+ individuals from 23 countries, 60 higher education institutions and over 40 industries and regulatory bodies in Africa, including presidents and Vice-Chancellors, provosts, faculty, students and staff of African universities, distinguished guests, members of the media and social media, ladies and gentlemen. 

On behalf of Ashesi University and its Collaborative, co-organizers; Strathmore University, Botho University, Riara University and iBizAfrica, welcome to the Education Collaborative 2022 Annual Convening. 

As most of you know, The Education Collaborative was established by Ashesi University with a simple but powerful charge: Convene African universities to share best practices and identify member strengths that each member can mentor others in so that together, we grow stronger as both a collective force and an independent institution. So much has happened between the last year’s Convening and today’s Convening. The details will be covered in our outcomes report shortly by the director of The Education Collaborative, Rose Dodd. 

Permit me to mention a few highlights, and they include the impressive emergence and establishment of the East Africa hub, the soft launch of the West Africa hub two days ago, as part of the goals of this Convening, the exemplary Giving Voice to Values (GVV) case-based program online to name a few, all forming a primary network of several networks and together expanding our reach and interconnection, moving steadily towards our collective vision and elevating us all. And doing so with genuine respect, admiration and appreciation of each other. The theme this year is “Building the capacity of institutions to improve African higher education institutions”, with a focus on ethics and leadership, entrepreneurship pedagogy, entrepreneurship development and employability.

The theme itself is not new but digging deeper into the terms we often assume we understand, such as “African” and “Ethics”, causes us or causes me to seek a better understanding of the overlap of the two. It led me to the works of African philosophers such as Wiredu, Gyekye and ethics analysts, such as Bertrand Russell, Aristotle, Oluwola, as well as Africanists such as Kenneth Kaunda, JB Danquah, Kofi Busia. 

Excerpts of their work in relation to our work as members of The Education Collaborative is what I will attempt to do in the next five or 10 minutes. Permit me to use the term “African ethics”, even though I will be referring to Ghanaian examples, particularly of the Akan tribe. While Ghana Akan ethics is not a microcosm of African ethics, there is nevertheless evidence, both empirical and conceptual that indicates that the values, beliefs and principles of Ghana Akan ethics reverberate, allowing for necessary variations and adjustments on the moral terrains of all or most African societies. 

First, in search specifically of the word for “ethics” in a few African languages, it was noted right from the outset that a substantial number of sub-Saharan African languages do not have words that can be said to be the direct equivalence to the word “ethics” or morality instead, “character” is used to refer what others call ethics or morality. The implication here is that ethics or morality is conceived in terms of essentially our character. It is noteworthy that the Greek word ēthike, from which the English word, “ethic” is derived also means character; ethos. What we call ethics Aristotle also calls the study of science or character. In Islamic moral philosophy, the word used for Ethics, “Akhlaq”, means character.

For the Greek, as for the African and the Arab, the character of the individual matters most in our moral life. African ethics is character-based ethics. 

“One is not born with a bad head, but one takes it from the earth”, the maxim means, among other things, that a bad habit is not an inborn characteristic. It is one that is acquired. It would be worthless to embark on moral instruction through moral proverbs and folk tales, as it is done in African societies if our character or habits were inborn. But the belief is that the moral narratives would help the young people to acquire and internalize the moral values of the society including specific moral virtues embedded in those ethical narratives. In African moral systems, generally good or moral value is determined in terms of its consequences for humankind and society. 

All this can be interpreted to mean that African morality originates from considerations of human welfare and interests; the good or the right builds up society. The bad or the wrong tears it down. In the African society, when an individual’s conduct tears down, when their acts are cruel, wicked, selfish, ungenerous or unsympathetic, it would be said of that individual that he is not a person: “Ony3 nipa” as said in Twi, a local Ghanaian dialect.

An individual can be a human being without being a person. And it is the individual’s moral achievement that earns him the status of a person. Additionally, there is some affiliation between humanity and brotherhood in African ethical conceptions. If we are human, we are brothers; in the capacious comprehensive sense of the word, “brother”.

“Humanity has no boundary.” That’s a proverb. “Honam mu nni nhanoa,” as said in Twi. The African maxim literally means, in human flesh, there’s no edge of cultivation, no boundary. The maxim can be interpreted as meaning that all humankind is one species. Thus, that humanity has no boundary. For example, when the farmer cultivates his land, he does it up to a limit, an edge, where he has to stop, otherwise, he would trespass on another farmer’s land. There is thus a limit to the area of cultivation of land. 

But what the maxim invites us to realize is not the cultivation of the friendship and fellowship of human beings. The boundaries of that form of cultivation are limitless. For humanity is of one kind, all humankind again is one species with shared basic values, feelings, hopes, and desires. A practical translation of the idea of brotherhood is seen in African hospitality. Hospitality is one of the most sacred and ancient customs of all Africans, Bantaland and Ghana, etc, and is found everywhere. A native will give his best house, his evening meal to a guest without the slightest thought that he’s doing anything extraordinary. 

This leads to the notion of the common good, which features in African ethics. An African moral vivid art motif that shows a crocodile with one stomach and two heads; symbolizing the common good, is not a surrogate for the sum of the various individual goods. It does not consist of or derived from the goods and preferences of particular individuals. It is that which is essentially good for human beings, as such, embracing the needs that are basic to the enjoyment and fulfilment of the life of each individual. 

African social ethic is expressed in many maxims. And they emphasize the importance of the values of mutual helpfulness, collective responsibility, cooperation, interdependence and reciprocal obligations. Here are a few:

 “Man is not a palm tree that he should be complete or self-sufficient”.  “Onipa nye abe na ne ho ahyia ne ho,” as said in Twi.

The proverb points out the inadequacies of the human being, that makes it impossible for him to fulfil his life, socially, economically, emotionally psychologically and so on. It is evidently true that in the context of society, in terms of functioning or flourishing in human society, the human individual is not sufficient for her capacities, talents, and dispositions are not adequate for the realization of her potential and basic needs. It is only through cooperation with other human beings that the needs and goals of the individual can be fulfilled. 

The right arm washes the Left arm, the Left arm washes the right.” “Wo nsa nifa hohorow benkum, na benkum nso hohorow nifa,” as said in Twi. That the Left arm cannot wash itself, is a matter everyone experiences every day. It is when the two arms wash each other that both become clean; the need for interdependence. 

“Life is mutual aid.” Obra ye nnoboa,” as said in Twi. The Akan word Noboa means helping each other to work on the farm. In the farming communities of rural Ghana, when a farmer realizes that work on the farm cannot be completed within a certain time, if he did it single-handedly, he would request the assistance and support of other farmers in the community. 

The other farmers would readily lend a helping hand to that farmer who would in this way, achieve his productivity goals and do so on time. The same request would be given to him also. Need I share more?  We, as members of The Education Collaborative, are only expressing our African ethical values. 

I now understand the joy and the enthusiasm with which we come to these meetings convenings, and our interactions. We are being who we are. Let’s continue to become the best of ourselves in the Collaborative and beyond. Welcome to Ashesi Education Collaborative’s sixth Annual Convening.