Professor A. Adu Boahen

Historian who shone new light on Africa's past and campaigned for democracy in Ghana


Albert Adu Boahen, historian: born Oseim, Gold Coast 24 May 1932; staff, Department of History, University of Ghana, Legon 1959-75, chair of department 1967-71, Professor of History 1971-75 (Emeritus); twice married (four sons, one daughter); died Accra 24 May 2006.

A. Adu Boahen, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Ghana, Legon, devoted his life to correcting the false impression created by many Western historians of the colonial era that Africa had "no history". Or that, if it had any history, it was full of barbarity and backwardness.

He also taught his fellow Ghanaians by example that it was not enough to know that one's history was full of heroic deeds, but that people must let their knowledge of their glorious past spur them on to accomplish great deeds in their own lives. He bestrode academic and political life. In 1988, he felt called upon to deliver a series of fearless public lectures on "The Culture of Silence" that had descended upon Ghana under the dictatorial rule of Flt Lt Jerry Rawlings. Then - in a move considered by some to be even more foolhardy - he stood against Rawlings in a presidential election in 1992.

Before that, he had, through the Movement for Freedom and Justice, also opposed the military rule of General I.K. Acheampong. This earned him a period of detention in prison - an ironic fate, since he had, a decade earlier, presided over a commission that inquired into the death in Nsawam prison under the Kwame Nkrumah regime of the "doyen of Ghanaian politics", Dr J.B. Danquah.

Adu Boahen published nine books and numerous articles in learned journals on African history. He was known as Africa's foremost historian, respected both by those who disagreed with him because they thought his historical notions were of a "romantic" nature, and those who adored the boldness of his imagination and the wide scope of his research. He was president of Unesco's International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa, and the invaluable eight- volume General History of Africa published by Unesco - the seventh volume of which Adu Boahen edited - will stand as a monument to his work.

It was not by accident that Adu Boahen lived and breathed history all his adult life. For he was born, in 1932, at Osiem, in Akyem Abuakwa (in the eastern region of Ghana) to a mother of Asante extraction, Maame Kisiwaa (a fish-seller) and an Akyem father, Agya Amankwaa (a cocoa-buyer). They had seven children, of whom Adu was the third.

The Asantes and the Akyems, immediate neighbours in southern Ghana, are of common descent. But they parted ways about 500 years ago, since when they have been at each other's throats in battles too many to count. The immediate ancestors of Adu's mother were from Dwaben, in Asante, and had been driven into exile in Akyem, during the civil war in Asante in 1874. So Adu Boahen's birthplace and its environs were a veritable hotbed of political intrigue and historical disputation. Although his father was an indigenous Akyem, Adu Boahen was actually an Asante, because both the Asante and the Akyem trace their roots through their maternal line.

A few years after Adu had started his education at Osiem Presbyterian Primary School in 1938, his mother's brother, Kwasi Asare, who was living at Dwaben and was relatively prosperous, came for his nephew and enrolled him at Asokore Methodist School in 1943. Adu had to walk eight miles to and from school each day, but this onerous enterprise was rewarded when, in 1947, he gained entrance to one of the most prestigious secondary schools in Ghana, Mfantsipim, in Cape Coast.

Adu Boahen was in his second year at Mfantsipim when history invaded his life. In 1948, the Gold Coast (as Ghana was known before its independence in 1957) erupted into a series of riots and boycotts against continued British rule. Six of the country's best-known nationalist leaders - J.B. Danquah, Akuffo Ado, William Ofori Atta, Obetsebi Lamptey, Kwame Nkrumah and Ako Adjei - known as "The Big Six", were picked up by the British authorities and imprisoned without trial. Mfantsipim students, angry at this show of "gunboat diplomacy", went on strike. Although this could have led to expulsions, Boahen joined the strikers.

He got good enough grades to enter the University of the Gold Coast, Legon, in 1951. He chose, of course, to read History. He obtained a BA (Hons) degree in History in 1956 and in the same year, entered London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) to pursue a PhD in African History which he got in 1959. Out of his thesis came a book entitled Britain, the Sahara, and the Western Sudan, 1788-1861 (1964).

At the time Boahen was a student, British scholars, who determined the syllabus and oversaw the work of students of African history everywhere, including the nascent African universities, were largely of the Hugh Trevor-Roper school of thought, which professed (in the words of Trevor-Roper) that "Perhaps in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none: there is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness."

Adu Boahen may not have consciously set himself the task of demolishing Trevor-Roper's nonsense. But when he returned to Ghana in 1959, to teach at the University of Ghana, Legon - where he rose rapidly to take the chair of the history department in 1967 and become a Professor in 1971 - all his work was geared towards shining a new light into Trevor-Roper's "darkness".

Instead of concentrating on what Europeans had done in Africa, he researched and taught what was in Africa both before and after the Europeans came. On colonialism, in particular, the question he addressed, in his own words, was:

What was the attitude of the Africans themselves to the establishment of colonialism? . . . This is a question that has so far not been seriously considered by historians, African or European, but it needs to be answered. The answer is quite clear and unequivocal: an overwhelming majority of African authorities were vehemently opposed to this change and expressed their determination . . . above all, to retain their sovereignty and independence.

Boahen was a prolific writer - "the main weapons in his revolutionary armoury", according to one writer, were "his ground-breaking textbooks": Topics in West African History (1966) and, with J. B. Webster, West Africa Since 1800: the revolutionary years (1967), along with his later African Perspectives on Colonialism (1987), The Ghanaian Sphinx: reflections on the contemporary history of Ghana, 1972-1987 (1989), Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: a centenary history, 1876-1976 (1996), Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1 (2003). He also co-edited the Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh's The History of Ashanti Kings (2003).

Boahen was very jovial and wrote a humorous column under the sobriquet "Kontopiaat" for The Legon Observer, the periodical founded by Legon dons after the 1966 coup.

Cameron Duodu

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

KS1 & KS2 Teacher

£115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: We are looking for infants and...

Secondary Trained Teachers for the watford area

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Qualified secondary teachers - ...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: KS1 & 2 Primary Supply Teac...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?