Misrepresentation of Women: A threat to attaining a comprehensive and a balanced history of Africa.

The histories of Africa in dealing with gender have told only a single side of the story and the danger of a single story as Chimamanda Adichie (Recorded at TEDGlobal, July 2009,Oxford, UK. Duration:18:49), the Nigerian author,argued in her Ted talk, is that “the single story creates [misrepresentations] and the problem with [misrepresentations] is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete”. This is true of the histories of the African continent. They are incomplete as a result of failing to adequately capture the roles of powerful African women in the writing of the histories of the continent.

Paul Zeleza (1999:81) states emphatically that “women remain largely invisible or misrepresented in mainstream, or rather ‘malestream’, African history.” She supports her arguments by studying the references made to “women” in the indexes of the general, regional and thematic histories of the continent written by prominent authors. Even when there is abundant data and literature (Aidoo 1985; Zeleza 1999) women are generally overlooked or depicted stereotypically thus, in the words of Zeleza (1999:82), they are “cloaked in a veil of timelessness”. It is more worrying that despite the infusion of missing women where they belong like Aidoo (1985) does for the Akans by highlighting the social, economic and political “spheres” of the lives and activities of women, they are still depicted unfairly.

This is not a problem that resides on the African Continent only. It is a pandemic that affects women globally. In a study on the exclusion, misrepresentation and discrimination of women in fifty contemporary American media, Tonei Glavinic (2010) observed that the “vast majority of women shown as subjects of news stories played very ‘feminine’ roles.” Thus women are still “depicted as naturally inferior and subordinate” (Zeleza, 1999:81).  This brings to mind a quote by Michelle Obama (White House), at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders taken out of context, that “…the problem here isn’t only about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs.” Our attitudes and beliefs are bent on undermining the roles of African women. Until a balanced history of Africa is written and embraced, the fight to adequately fairly represent women in history lingers on.

In a nutshell, the misrepresentation of women continues to pose a threat to attaining a much more comprehensive history of the African peoples. To attain a balanced history of the continent, we must be prepared to challenge stereotypes which are determined to present the histories of the continent as a single story. This is a challenge for all, irrespective of gender, to rid minds of stereotypes and restore the worth of the African woman which will in the long run aid in reaching the millennium development goal that seeks to provide equal opportunities for women and empower them.


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozie. (2009, October 7). Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

Aidoo, Agnes Akosua (1985). “Women in the History and Culture of Ghana”. Research Review, NS 1:1

Glavinic, Tonei (2010). “Exclusion, Misrepresentation and Discrimination: Still Prevalent for Women in American Media and Politics”. Student Pulse 2.01 (2010).

“Speeches and Remarks: Remarks by the First Lady at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.” 30 July 2014. Vimeo. Whitehouse.gov. Web. 30 Aug. 2015

Zeleza, Tiyambe Paul. 1999. “Gender Biases in African Historiography.” In Imam, Mama and Sow (Eds) Engendering African Social Sciences. Senegal: Codersria; 80-115.


Owuo Atwede3*

The Ladder of Death

All (wo)men will die. All (wo)men are mortals. S/he born from a woman will one day close their eyes never to open them anymore. This physical death is a necessary end. If it doesn’t end, this life journey is going nowhere.

The death which although is not necessary and worse than the physical death is that of the conscience. If you are consciously dead, you are just like the dead leaf that falls off the tree. It gets blown anywhere and it also just follows the directions of the wind. Unfortunately, many consciousness have perished. One need not belabour this point.

Ba ko bu-doa b⊃⊃ne ye o tiina jei mo
The parents of the only child sit by as his grave is dug 1. – Kasena Proverb

The mentally dead have no ideologies of their own. They are dictated to by the media and mainstream thought. They are easily swayed. They have no idea where they are from or where they are going and like walking zombies they seek to attack the minds of the living consciousness.

All their lives, they have been taught what to think but not how to think. They have no knowledge but acquired facts. Facts can however be disproved.

For lack of knowledge, my people perish.


*During the 2015 Chale Wote street art festival, I read this excerpt, nervously, from a larger piece of writing in my journal I call Interviews with Loneliness to an indifferent crowd. Stepping down from the stage, I had three people come to say to tell me they enjoyed it. It is based on their commendations that I put this out to the world. After all, three is a crowd. Leave your thoughts in the comment box.
“The loss of a youth is regarded as a painful misfortune for the community and the immediate family. For the parents, it is a devastating blow and if it happens to be an only child who has died, the sense of tragedy is almost complete. Under these circumstances, it is not unusual for the bereaved to be heard lamenting how unjust fate has been;…The death of an only child nullifies the hopes of the parents. There is a feeling that their security in old age and the expectation of immortality that only the survival of offspring can guarantee have disappeared.
Paradoxically, the death of an only child is associated with feelings of guilt in the community as it begins to be suspected that the parents have themselves a hand in the death of the youth. Kasena society deals with the tragedies of premature deaths by quick burials; often no grave is dug, rather an old one is opened for the interment of the corpse. The sight of the corpse maddens the child’s parents. The distraught parents are likely, according to this proverb, to remain on standby even as the child’s grave is being dug…In most cases, the dear ones would have to be forcibly removed from the compound to allow burial to proceed.” (pp  197-198)
(Awedoba, A. K. (2000). An introduction to Kasena society and culture through their proverbs. University Press of Amer.)

Into the Past: Reflections on Traditional Akan Democracy

A chief in state. specialcollections.blog.lib.cam.ac.uk
A chief in state. specialcollections.blog.lib.cam.ac.uk

Nigeria went to the polls and peacefully elected a new leader recently. Many hailed this as a big step towards the democratisation of politics on the Afrikan continent. Congratulations. I however seek to dismiss the erroneous view that the concept of democracy never existed on the continent and was only the final slap or blessing by the colonialists before they gave back our land.  The ancient (or the past) has something to say (tete wo bi ka -Akan saying) and a critical look at the traditional Akan political structure will dismiss the view held above.

Democracy has been said to be by Lincoln as government by the people, of the people and for the people. Thus the representation of the people ruled or governed was and is essential to the definition of a democratic state. According to Gyekye -the erudite Ghanaian philosopher- it(democracy) revolves around the centrality of the people.

It is important to emphasise that the Akan political structure surrounded the chief with council of elders. The council has been described by Danquah -the Ghanaian statesman, Pan-Africanist, Scholar, Lawyer and a Historian- as the great legislative assembly of the state. Where did these elders come from? The elders were the heads of clans (mbusuapanyin) and clans (abusua) are lineages. One of the clans that had its forefathers found the village or town constituted the royal family. The clans came together to form a village and the villages came together to form the state (oman). The council of elders were the real governing body of the town. The chief was obliged to listen and act according to his council. Failure to do so was grounds for destoolment. For this reason, publicities by the chiefs spokesperson (okyeame) would begin with “The chief and his elders say….” (Nana no ne mpanyinfo se….)

The elders discussed all matters affecting the state. They were easily approachable as they lived amongst the people and they mainly voiced out the popular opinion of the people.

Gyekye makes it known that unlike the England monarchial system where the one to ascend the thrown is immediately known, it is not the same amongst the traditional Akan. Usually, there is more than one person who are all equally capable of being chief thus electing a chief required rigorous consultation with the elders and members of the lineage. The one selected must also ultimately pass the test of appealing to the people.

I found it more interesting learning that the Kasenas who can be found in the Upper East of Ghana, actually have elders who publicly vote for a chief (Pe) by standing behind the one they prefer. It was an open contest thus sons and nephews of the dead chief could all contest.

Upon election, the new chief swears an oath during his installation. The oath defined the terms of his political office. A series of injunctions (Rattray,1929) were read to which includes:

We do not wish that he should be disobedient (or refuse to take advice)

We do not wish that he should treat us unfairly (nkwaseabuo)

We do not wish that he should act on his own initiative (out of his own head i.e. acting without reference to the view and wishes of the people)

Thus the political head had no reason to have the dead goat syndrome.

It is evident then that politics amongst the traditional Akan was only a rule by the people. Concepts of democracy can also be found in the sayings and proverbs of the people. A few stated below:

One head does not go into council (ti koro nko agyina): This is a well known Akan proverb that expresses the essential value of consultation. The chief therefore had to at each time consult his council.

If a chief reprimands you for doing something, he does so by the authority of his citizens (ohen bedi wo kasa a, na efi amanfoo)

It is when the state kills you that the chief kills you (oman kum wo a, na ohen kum wo)

In conclusion, it is evident upon a critical look that the traditional Akan cherished democratic values in their political structure thus it is erroneous to think democracy has existed on the continent only in recent times. A critical look into the multiple, diverse indigenous political structures may reveal democratic concepts only if one is willing to eschew all biasness and approach them with an open mind. The observation of Rattray (1929),the British anthropologist, is worth noting:

Nominally autocratic, the Ashanti constitution was in practice democratic to a degree. I have already on several occasions used this word `democratic’, and it is time to explain what the term implies in this part of Africa. We pride ourselves, I believe, on being a democratic people and flatter ourselves that our institutions are of a like nature. An Ashanti who was familiar alike with his own and our [that is, British] Constitution would deny absolutely our right to apply this term either to ourselves or to our Constitution. To him a democracy implies that the affairs of the Tribe (the state) must rest, not in the keeping of the few, but in the hands of the many, that is, must not alone be the concern of what we should term The chosen rulers of the people, but should continue to be the concern of a far wider circle. To him the state is literally Res Publica; it is everyone’s business. The work of an Ashanti citizen did not finish when by his vote he had installed a chief in office. . . . The rights and duties of the Ashanti democrats were really only beginning after (if I may use a homely analogy) the business of the ballot-box was over. In England, the government and House of Commons stand between ourselves and the making of our laws, but among the Ashanti there was not any such thing as government apart from the people.



  • Gyekye, K. (2004). Beyond cultures: Perceiving a common humanity : Ghanian philosophical studies, III. Accra, Ghana: Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • Rattray, R.S. (Robert Sutherland), 1881-1938. Ashanti law and constitutionOxford: Clarendon Press, 1929 (OCoLC)581145500

Mansa Kankan Musa



After the fall of the Ancient Ghana* empire, a new powerful and bigger state succeeded it. This was the empire of Mali. Although accounts vary the Mali empire stretched around today’s countries of  The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. “The authority of the people of Mali became mighty”, wrote the great Berber historian, Ibn Khaldun in about 1368: “All the nations of the Sudan** stood in awe of them, and the merchants of North Afrika travelled to their country.”



Mansa Kankan Musa, the grandson or grandnephew of Sundiata (sometimes known as Mari Diata), came to power in about 1312 and his reign brought about peace and order into the chaos that ensued following the collapse of Ghana. He carried Mali to the height of its power and fame far across the world. By the time of his death in 1337***, Mali had grown into one of the largest empires of the world.

What Mansa Musa did was to repeat the success of Ghana on an even larger scale. He had firm control of the trading routes to the gold lands in the south as well as some authority within those lands.  He brought the lands of the middle Niger under his control and enclosed the trading cities of Timbuktu and Gao within his empire. Southern Saharan trading cities like Walata also felt the imposition of his rule. His armies were also pushed northward till their influence was felt as far as the salt deposits of Taghaza on the other side of the desert. He also sent them eastward beyond Gao to the very formers of Hausaland. In the west, Tekrur and the lands of the Fulani and Tucolor also came under his dominion.

Mansa Musa established all these parts under a single system of law and order. He did this so well that Ibn Batuta, travelling through Mali some fifteen years after his death found ‘complete and general safety’ in the land. He political success was grand and thus earned him one of the greatest statesmen in the history of Afrika.

What made him famous across the world was his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. Islam had first come into the Sudan, in the eighth of ninth centuries, as a religion practised by Saharan traders. This new way of worshipping God and new way of life won many converts amongst the Western Sudanese.  The spread of Islam helped join the civilisation of North Afrika and Egypt ever more closely with that of Western Sudan. Pilgrims, traders, and scholars travelled back and forth. Trade and Islam grew together and so did scholarship.

Travelling from his capital of Niani on the Upper Niger River to Walata (Oualâta, Mauritania) and on to Tuat (now in Algeria) before making his way to Cairo, Mansa Musa was accompanied by an impressive caravan consisting of 60,000 men including a personal retinue of 12,000 slaves, all clad in brocade and Persian silk. The emperor himself rode on horseback and was directly preceded by 500 slaves, each carrying a gold-adorned staff. In addition, Mansa Musa had a baggage train of 80 camels, each carrying 300 pounds of gold.

His magnificent journey through the Egyptian capital of Cairo was long remembered with admiration and surprise throughout Egypt and Arabia. It is said that he gave away so many golden gifts that ‘the people of Egypt earned incalculable sums’ thanks to his visit. So lavish was his visit that he upset the price of goods on the Egyptian market as gold became abundant thereby causing a decline in its value. The effect could still be felt a decade after his visit.

Of all the Muslim rulers of West Afrika, it has been written of him by Al Omari, the North Afrikan scholar who lived in Cairo a few years after Musa’s visit, that Musa was ‘the most powerful, the richest, the most fortunate, the most feared by his enemies and the most able to do good to those around him’.

Niani, the capital has long since disappeared yet as late as the sixteenth century, the Moroccan traveller Leo Africanus (Hassan ibn Muhamed al-Wazzan az-Zayyati) could still describe it as a place of ‘six thousand hearths’ and its inhabitants as ‘the most civilised, intelligent and respected’ of all the peoples of Western Sudan.

Today, Musa has been named the first of the twenty five richest people to have ever lived.


*There are two reasons why the modern state of Ghana, though far away from Ancient Ghana, has the same name. First, the old traditions speak of a movement of some of the  people of Ancient Ghana southward into the region of Asante. Also, the modern leaders of Ghana wished to celebrate the independence of the country -formerly the Gold Coast – by linking their new freedom to the glorious traditions of the past.

**The word Sudan is from Arabic: it came into use when the Berbers of North Afrika began changing to the Arabic language after the Muslim conquest of the 8th Century AD. The began to call the southern grasslands the Bilad as-Sudan, the Country of the Blacks. 

***The year of Musa’s death is often given as 1332. The writings of Ibn Khaldum (1332-1406) has recorded that Musa was still alive in 1337. 


Davidson B. (1975). The Growth of African Civilisation: A History of West Africa 1000-1800.   Longman Group Ltd. London.

Musa. (2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved                           fromhttp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/398420/Musa

Musa, Mansa (1280-1337). (2015). In BlackPast.org. Retrieved from http://www.blackpast.org/gah/musa-mansa-1280-1337



In western states, the month of February aside being the month of love has also become a month where the myopic eye suddenly shifts to the past, achievements and contributions of the Black race to mankind. This history of ours although on the mainstream does not go beyond times before slavery and colonization or the civil rights movement of the Afrikan-Americans, times the Black race is made to seem as only passive players in their histories and not necessarily the active players.

Of course it becomes a burden to step outside of these times, further beyond the former  as written records are not kept of how we lived before the advent of these savage times.

The tenets, triumphs, and troubles of the cultures of the people of the Afrikan continent has been transmitted from generation to generation mostly through word of mouth or tradition. Unfortunately, Afrikans in the diaspora do not have access to these completely; like a puzzle, most pieces have gone missing. They however seem  to have the loudest voice when it comes to issues affecting blacks. We have been wounded but those in the diaspora feel it the most. Their screams echo loudly.

It is up to us, those still on the continent with a larger piece of the puzzle -as some of our oral traditions remain intact- to reconstruct the unwritten past of those before us.  Whiles our brothers and sisters in the diaspora fight for freedom and equality, we must boost them and motivate ourselves with the knowledge of who we were/are (self-definition). Knowledge of this will not only enhance our global -which will go past victims of racial injustice- but will also uplift our self-esteem and egos.

The knowledge is amongst us waiting to be sought. We must play an active role in finding it. I implore all Afrikans both on the continent and in the diaspora to make consciousness of ourselves  be an all year round thing. For lack of knowledge, my people perish.


Sankofa Bird. “Return and Get It” A symbol of learning from the past.


*Afrikan is spelled with a “K” because the “C” is a European invention. Afrikan more accurately captures authentic language as the letter “C” cannot be found in the writers local language and most, if not all, local languages and is also a symbol of self-definition. It is used in all the writers posts.

**Black is used interchangeably with Afrikan.