On June 23rd 2004, Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, joined Ashesi Founder, Mr. Patrick Awuah for a presentation on the on links between Africa and African-Americans.
Prof. Gates discussed the genesis and significance of the Encyclopedia Africana project. Prof. Gates through a series of engaging and often humorous stories explained how W.E.B Du Bois's vision for an Africana Encyclopedia was brought to fruition.
In his presentation, Prof Gates explained that W.E.B Du Bois's primary motivation for creating an Encyclopedia of African history and accomplishment, was his deep belief in the importance of such work, not only to document African history, but to serve as a means of alleviating racism and improving relations between blacks and other races. Dr. Du Bois believed that a document of African accomplishment would help make Africans more respected in the world. Unfortunately, because of funding constraints, W.E.B Du Bois was unable to complete the encyclopedia. Prof. Gates and co-author, Dr. Anthony Appiah of Princeton, took on the challenge, and after 25 years of searching for funding, accomplished Dr. Du Bois' dream thanks to investments from Microsoft Corporation and Perseus Books.
Prof. Gates and his colleagues have created an educational curriculum that has been distributed to teachers throughout the United States to encourage them to use the Encyclopedia Africana and teach black history in their classrooms.
Following Prof. Gates, Patrick Awuah, Jr., founder of Ashesi University, shared his thoughts about the role higher education can play in Africa's future development. Mr. Awuah decided to start Ashesi University, in a vision similar to that of Dr. Du Bois and Dr. Gates, to help spur accomplishment on the African continent. Mr. Awuah described the need for a phenomenon in Africa similar to the development of the Asian Tiger economies in Asia (Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong), whose success changed the way the world perceived Asians, and fundamentally made the world a better place for Asians both in Asia and abroad.
In his presentation Mr. Awuah referenced a recent study by the World Bank which found that higher education was of critical importance to the economic success of the Asian Tiger nations (click here to read more about this report). Drawing parallels between South Korea and Ghana, which had very similar economic standings in the 1950's & 60's, Mr. Awuah showed how investments in higher education, specifically private higher education in South Korea, led to long-term economic growth and the development of a skilled labor pool that were not matched in Ghana over the same time period. If similar investments in higher education are made in Ghana, Mr. Awuah believes that similar results can be achieved.
Mr. Awuah discussed how Ashesi University seeks to serve as a catalyst for future accomplishment in Africa. The mission of the University is training a new generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers that will have the skills to succeed in the global economy. Mr. Awuah noted that Ashesi's achievements to date have been made possible mainly through the philanthropic contributions of individuals around the world who believe strongly in the power of higher education. He believes such investments in higher education in Africa must continue for lasting change in Africa to occur.
Following the presentation there was a lively question and answer session featuring queries from the audience. Prof. Gates signed books and chatted with audience members in the lobby to conclude the evening. (Click here to view more photos of the event)