The Institute of African Studies was established in 1961 as a semi-autonomous Institute within the University of Ghana (founded in 1948), and formally opened in October 1963 by the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. The mandate of the Institute is to conduct research and teaching on the peoples and cultural heritage of Africa and to disseminate the findings. In addition, the Institute has always emphasized publishing and teaching, particularly at the post-graduate level. At the time of its establishment the notion of Pan-Africanism and nationalism were unquestioned in the academy. The study of Africa and her peoples, both on the continent and in the Diaspora, was considered critical and was pursued with passion.
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Opening Speech on the occasion of launching the Institute of African Studies encapsulates the Institute’s history, vision, mission and the need to embrace humanistic scholarship via decolonization of education. During the launch, Kwame Nkrumah posed the following set of questions: “What sort of Institute of African Studies does Ghana want and have need of? In what way can Ghana make its own specific contribution to the advancement of knowledge about the peoples and cultures of Africa through past history and through contemporary problems? For what kind of service are we preparing students of this Institute and of our Universities? Are we sure that we have established here the best possible relationship between teachers and students? To what extent are our universities identified with the aspirations of Ghana and Africa? You who are working in this Institute — as research workers and assistants, teachers and students have a special responsibility for helping to answer these questions. I do, however, wish to take this opportunity to put to you some of the guiding principles which an Institute of African Studies situated here in Ghana at this period of our history must constantly bear in mind. First and foremost, I would emphasize the need for a re-interpretation and a new assessment of the factors which make up our past. We have to recognize frankly that African studies, in the form in which they have been developed in the universities and centres of learning in the West, have been largely influenced by the concepts of old style “colonial studies,” and still to some extent, remain under the shadow of colonial ideologies and mentality.”
“…One essential function of this Institute must surely be to study the history, culture and institutions, languages and arts of Ghana and of Africa in new African-centred ways — in entire freedom from the propositions and pre-suppositions of the colonial epoch, and from the distortions of those Professors and Lecturers who continue to make European studies of Africa the basis of this new assessment. By the work of this Institute, we must re-assess and assert the glories and achievements of our African past and inspire our generation, and succeeding generations, with a vision of a better future”. The foundation for decolonization of education and promotion of humanistic scholarship were laid with the establishment of the Institute.
From its very inception, and built on the model of Cambridge and Oxford Universities, the University has been a typical encyclopedic, ivory tower, institution. With the establishment of the Institute of African Studies, nonetheless, we see an embryonic emergence of humanistic pedagogy at a typical encyclopedic university established under the British imperial rule.
Over the years the Institute has grown to host several units and today the Institute’s teaching and research units include Societies & Cultures; Language & Literature; Religion & Philosophy; Music & Dance; History & Politics; and Visual Art. Additionally we have a library, a Publications section, an Audio-visual section that includes the holdings of the International Centre for African Music and Dance (ICAMD) inherited from Emeritus Professor J.H. Nketia, and which currently has a discography and video collection of over 3,000, and over 8,000 photographs. The Institute also has a museum with a variety of collections which include Asante gold weights and a lively weekly radio program i.e. Interrogating Africa. The Ghana Dance Ensemble of the Institute is the original national dance company.
Kojo Opoku Aidoo