Interview with Dr. Kofi
Dr. J. S. Kofi Gbolonyo is a scholar, music educator and performer who has taught at different levels of education in 18 countries around the world. He is also the founder and director of the Ghana school project and Nunya Music Academy at Dzodze, Ghana. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in Ethnomusicology and in the UBC African Studies Minor program.
Why did you decide to teach African Studies?
“Because I am an African.” Dr. Kofi says that he wanted to learn more about the greater Africa and not just Ghana his home country. He wanted to understand why Africa is perceived in such a negative light. By educating himself he has been able to tell the full story of Africa through the African studies courses he teaches.
“It’s a combination of knowing myself as an African and trying to let other people know of Africa in our terms”
Does the content of African studies courses that you teach tell a balanced story about Africa?
“Absolutely!” Past and current African studies students can attest to that and also by the fact that the African studies courses are very popular and get filled up as soon as registration opens.
What has your experience in teaching African studies been so far?
Dr. Kofi has realized that people are hungry to hear about Africa from a scholarly perspective and not from a journalistic perspective. Most people know about Africa from a very narrow perspective based on the fact that they hear about Africa from people that have vested interests in the continent. For example: Most western countries talk about Africa in a way to protect their own interests. They start the story of Africa by talking about corruption but wouldn’t talk about what contributed to that corruption by say mentioning the fact that Africa was deprived the opportunity to develop on its own for instance by taking out millions of Labour force.
Why was African studies introduced to UBC?
A past UBC student, Veronica Fynn, wanted to create a community amongst the very few African students on campus. She mobilized these African students and other non-Africans who are interested in Africa to form the Africa Awareness Initiative.
The second person was Gloria Onyeoziri, a Nigerian professor, in the department of linguistics who collaborated with Veronica to start the African studies minor. The first program started with 4 or 5 professors who taught AFST 250 as co teach and they were not getting paid for it.
Gloria and her husband worked so hard to establish the minor that by the time Dr. Kofi got to UBC, she was fade up with the bureaucracy and the negative way that she was being treated. Dr. Kofi has since been trying to get her back on board.
Why was there so much resistance?
It was because of the general university bureaucratic system and the attitude in UBC by then was “What can Africa give?”
“Why would UBC spend money on establishing an African program when there was so much coming from other parts of the world?”
Why would we encourage students who are not affiliated with the African continent to take a course in African studies?
Despite the struggles of Africa, Africa has the largest young work force and still has virgin natural resources. If this pool of young work force is trained we can rest assured that we have talent for the future. Africa is changing rapidly in many sectors including technological and entrepreneurial sectors. Young Africans are setting up businesses everywhere. Many big companies are looking to do business in Africa and they want to hire people who are knowledgeable about Africa. Unless you were born and raised in Africa the only way you can become knowledgeable is by taking a course in African studies.
Students in all disciplines can and should strive to take African studies courses. Because you never know where the market will be by the time you graduate.
What are the benefits of taking a course or minor in African studies?
Companies looking to establish business in Africa want to hire people who are knowledgeable about the continent.
For your own self so as to able to speak more intellectually on an African issue and to discern whether news about Africa is true, partly true or not true.
To be able to have an open mind about the role of Africa in globalization. This will enable you to be able discern whether what your government is telling you about the African continent is worth supporting.
Do you think the African continent is well represented in UBC?
“Not at all!” Veronica, The founder of AAI, driven by her passion for Africa returned to UBC after her Masters degree to do a research on the representation of Africa here in UBC. Her research shows that there are a lot of small groups doing projects about Africa independently of each other. In that perspective we can say that there is indeed so much interest in Africa here in UBC but as a formidable group not so much partly because the central university administration is not aware of this interest.
In your time at UBC has there been change or growth on how Africa is represented?
There has been progress. We now have an African minor and 3 courses running and 2 more courses that have been approved but not yet sponsored. The physical presence of African students on compass has also significantly increased. The more African students are here the more African courses would be offered. I would encourage all African students on campus to take a course in African studies because you never know how much you don’t know about your continent until you take some of these courses. The problem is we haven’t come as far as we had hoped.
What is your perspective on the future of African studies and representation of Africa in UBC?
I see African studies growing irrespective of the challenges and eventually becoming a department with a major program.
An African Center in UBC? What are your thoughts?
That is a dream of anyone that has the interest of Africa at heart here in UBC. We know that it is a farfetched dream but, it’s good that we have thought about it and we need to start working towards it today. We will eventually get there no matter how long it takes.
“If UBC counts itself as one of the top universities in the world then it should engage seriously with Africa because all the top universities have well established African centers.”
What is your call of action for the UBC community? How can they contribute towards better representation of Africa in UBC?
I would encourage all UBC students to be open minded in learning about Africa. Because it’s only then that we can realize the great potential that Africa has.
African studies doesn’t have a professor on a tenure track and the one of the ways that we can achieve the dream of having an African major is by having a full time professor. The current AFST professors are employed on a part time basis and is thus at risk of lack of continuity.