Sending western fiction: exploring identity (part 4)

Ahead of reading this analysis, please read part 1part 2 and part 3 of this series of blog posts which offers an introduction to the topic and theories. 

Through these posts, I exploring the issue of exporting/importing western fiction to Ghana or indeed other countries with a previous colonial relationship, with a view to informing EduSpots ongoing strategy in this area. 

This post focuses upon identity. Postcolonial theory and the capabilities approach are used as tools within the process of interrogation of key ideas and issues. 

The cover photo is taken from the EduSpots website.

Postcolonial analysis 

The postcolonial approach would highlight the fact that reading western fiction rather than African fiction in a local dialect, or in English, might lead to a confusion of identity. Identities are constantly reformulated by the constant power context in which they exist, and humans at any age are so often unaware of the ‘hands that are writing us’ (Andreotti, 2011:222).

It is clear that relevance to one’s own situation and community is key. There has been much criticism of the educational leaders in previously colonized states taking too long to move syllabi away from Euro-centric content towards an African-focused syllabus. Thiong’o argues that this delay in Kenya led to a separation between a child’s education and his home environment, where ‘bourgeois Europe was always the centre of the universe’ (Thiong’o, 1983: 17). Adjei (2007) stresses the extent to which the Ghanaian curriculum was suffused with knowledge that was irrelevant to his own environment, giving the example of Geography lessons requiring him to study rivers ‘seven thousands miles away from his Ghana’, and History lessons that failed to acknowledge the existence of any Ghanaians who played a positive role in the country’s past. The oral tradition that was a central part of his childhood education was left out of the curriculum, and the lack of relevance and reference to local traditions led Adjei to a sense of alienation, a crippling loss identity and a lack of national pride (Davison, 2017a, Dei, 2000). In Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga (1988) describes the relationship between a girl and a relative who has adopted white ways, who she struggles to interact with. The implication of this story is that through reading western fiction many Ghanaians might start to feel what Fanon recognizes as a ‘hybridized split existence’ (Young, 2003) whereby they try to live as ‘two incompatible people at once’. 

It is clear that if pupils are reading books that only contain white role models, that this may further consolidate the notion of white supremacy within Ghana. For example, statistics from a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that in a sample of 3600 children’s books published in the US, only 3.3% were about African-Americans. Indeed, Adichie states that she ‘did not know that people like me could exist in literature’  (Adichie, 2009).This may reinforce the idea that pupils are to look to Europe ‘as her teacher and the centre of man’s civilization’ (Thiong’o, recommendations of the Working Committee, p7.). Bush and Salterelli (2003: 3) highlight that ‘children do not come to the classroom as blank slates’ – they have lived through their children adopting various practices, behaviors and attitudes; this it seems vital that these practices are represented in the fiction they access. 

Freire (1968) argues through his notion of ‘conscientization’ that education should be used as a means to empower individuals, and sees active participation in creating syllabi as vital to the freedoms enjoyed by individuals. This could translate to Ghanaians taking an important role in not only choosing the material that they read, but also the importance of all Africans having the opportunity to contribute to the literary canon available. 

Capabilities Approach

It would be impossible for a full set of freedoms to be given in relation to reading material in order to ensure that every socio-economic context in Ghana was represented. No matter what books are contained in a bookcase, there will always be some minority experiences, which are not represented and this could lead a loss of identity. However, as access to the Internet is improved, more pupils are gaining increased freedoms with respect to their ability to access knowledge that may be better tailored to the environment and upbringing of an individual. The African Storybook Project has been formed to create a digital library for early grade readers with stories that are uploaded by individuals and translated into various local African languages such as Twi (African Storybook Project, 2016). This will enable individuals to advance their learning in the mother-tongue independently from parents, which will assist with the later development of the ability to read in English (US Aid, 2014).

Others might argue that the very notions ‘capabilities’, ‘rights’ or indeed ‘freedoms’ are in themselves western ideas in part, and assumptions are thus being made in its implied usage as a universal doctrine; indeed, Andreotti points to less positive consequences of the concept of rights as an ‘alibi for… types of intervention’ by countries with ‘ambiguous aims or interests’ (Andreotti, 2011:212). It may also be seen that some Ghanaians do not prioritize freedoms, or indeed the preservation of identity, over the basic economic gains they might see their children make through investing time in improving their English through reading. Fanon himself asserts that the most important thing is the need for the redistribution of wealth, rather than various political debates (Fanon, 1963).  Bhaskar (2008) might similarly suggest through his ‘critical realism’ that the underlying causal factors that lead to the lack of most important capabilities, need to be addressed first, before the preservation of culture is considered, which Maslow (1943) might suggest to be the ‘physiological needs’ of water and food. However, those using the libraries usually already have the basic requirements of food and water, and thus it seems that enhancing their education, in line with their context, is the best way to maximize their chosen capabilities, boost use of the facility and reduce a sense of alienation. 


Some recommendation from this series of analysis for EduSpots’ work and the work of other organisations will follow in the next blog post, linking to EduSpots’ 2022 mission of ‘A Year of African Books’.


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Online Resources 

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