Inaugural Keynote Speech for the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of African Studies, Montreal 2019!

Published on: 10 May 2019

Curiosity transcends boundaries and foments African epistemologies

Professor Michael P.K. Okyerefo
University of Ghana (Nelson Mandela University)


The global knowledge hegemony is self-evident even within postcolonial contexts. Though the division of intellectual labour that followed in the wake of the diverse trajectories of the various forms of colonialisms was not uniform, a discernable pattern emerged around the larger recognition of scholarship and how credit is allotted. As such, the specific division of intellectual labour had very well-defined characteristics whereby credit is, for example, given to the 19th-century French Scholar Auguste Comte as the founding father of sociology whereas the pioneering work of the 14th-century Islamic Scholar Ibn Khaldun is often relegated to a footnote of sociological scholarship. The deliberate relegation of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis to obscurity points not only to the politics of knowledge but also to the vestiges of colonial and neocolonial practices in the academy. To that end, the great but unsung contributions of Africans at home and in the diaspora to the development of social thought finds a good candidate in W.E.B. Du Bois, a hero in the establishment of his little-known Atlanta School of Sociology whose limelight was usurped by the Chicago School. Indeed, the politics of knowledge which seeks to posit knowledge as a preserve of the West was exacerbated by the vestiges of colonialism with far-reaching consequences in our times. Although the situation is changing, the dominant pattern of knowledge production continues to reflect a very stratified global division of intellectual labour. In consonance with this year’s CAAS conference theme “Thinking World-Africa: Originality and Innovative Practices”, my keynote address draws on the thought processes of the Bakpεle of Ghana to underscore the fact that curiosity and its resultant knowledge production is an eternally universal human art, making it imperative to rethink how global knowledge is produced.