In researching on the technological achievements that shaped human history, writing was fifth out of thirty on the list. The art and craft of writing it is believed, was first invented around 3400 – 3200 BC. This is significant because with the invention of writing systems amongst people of the Orient such as Mesopotamia and Egypt as well China, human communication systems changed, leading to the spread of knowledge and civilization.
Through the ability to communicate by literate forms of self-expression and to document experiences, writing transformed every aspect human life. Though there are evidences of literacy in African culture and history, it has not been wide spread and oral communication continues to be the predominate mode of self-expression.
This follows on the invention of the printing press in fifteenth century, which started a revolution in the spread of knowledge, information and ideas which directly led to the age of enlightenment, social and cultural changes that transformed the Asiatic and Western worlds. Many socio-political and philosophical ideas that triggered technological, industrial and scientific revolutions around the world in the 19th century were all communicated through the medium of literacy. Writing served as catalyst in the spread of new forms of knowledge systems, technologies and ideas. Subsequently, we are all witness to the introduction of computers as a writing system in the 20th century and since then the world has dramatically changed.
What is noteworthy in this discussion is to point out how and why the evolution of a new culture that is based on literacy would be very important to the process of national development. In this case literacy can be defined within the context of reading and writing and its role in the process of social and national development.
Within the context of history it can be stated that writing and reading forms the central component for the creation of a literate society. It is the mechanism by which the individual or society constructs the cognitive infrastructure of the mind to perceive reality in a constructive sense. It is the psychological instrument by which literate societies are able to transform thoughts into things and redefine reality based on what is yet to come, instead of what already exists.
Central to any civilization stands the phenomena of writing, in its rudimentary or advanced form. Writing serves as a communicative device and as a means for the codification of thought, documentation of history, the transformational instrument for analyzing reality within the state of nature or in the metaphysical realm of thought and perception.
In this case, writing is the means for the evolution of scholarship, scientific thinking, technological creativity and socio-cultural innovation. Writing serves as the means for the transference of what is orally communicated into text. It is therefore the mechanism for communicating knowledge and information within a literate context.
Central to the idea of civilization is the phenomena of writing. In this context, writing is the act of using the hand to hold any instrument of choice – i.e. pen, pencil, art brush, or electronic keyboard, or instrument for writing, calculating, scribbling, designing etc, to put on papyri, paper, screen, sheet, stone, wood, bamboo or any other for instruction; to express or communicate an idea, thought or image.
Writing in this case is the entire process of using the handheld instrument to inscribe ideas, thoughts, visions or impressions to communicate to a wider audience. Therefore in literature, art, sciences, scholarship, technology and all other creative and innovative endeavors where the use of the instruments of writing is necessary, literacy becomes a crucial mechanism for social and national development.
Furthermore, writing serves as a means for the framing of the infrastructural work involved in the development or advancement of society. It is the means by which the social, scientific and intellectual characteristics of reading, research, writing and arithmetic, drawing, calculating, designing, inscribing, documentation and codification of what is thought about, is give actual or physical representation beyond the realm of the mind. It is given reality evidence. Writing serves as a liberating tool for the development of an enlightened society. No society can consider itself liberated unless it is a literate. Writing actualizes thought and creates a sense of permanence, through the medium of text.
If Ghana is to liberate itself from the shackles of illiteracy and to develop a sense of national consciousness; then the radical process of transforming our cultures from orality to literacy must proceed with a sense of urgency. What is significant in Ghana’s case is that the need for literacy is a matter of cultural and human existential necessity within a knowledge based world of today. Ghanaians must learn to read and write not as part of the pre-requirement of enrolling into the formal sector of the national economy, but as a requirement of human self-improvement and self-transformation.
Ghana is at a point in history where we must require of ourselves to become a literate people, more than ever. The need for literacy on a national scale is as urgent as the call for national education at every level of the human development ladder of life. We must develop our cultures around the need for full literacy where by writers and readers would develop a relationship that is based on communicating ideas, dream new visions of what is possible for the nation and to encourage ourselves to advance the course of liberating Ghana from an enslaved mentality as a people.
The saying that to hide something from an African, put it into a book is not far from the truth. The statement by Hampete Ba, the late oral archivist and Malian scholar mourned the fact that, every time an African elder, statesman, chief, linguist or traditional orator dies,”a library in Africa burns down.” This brings home the salient truth that there is so much at stake in this discussion about the long and short term challenge of orality in a world that functions on literary.
African leaders, statesmen, chiefs, academics, scientists, sages and politicians must start writing down their thoughts and ideas for posterity. The intergenerational gaps in knowledge transfer over a long time in history has created a long and drawn out culture of illiteracy for Africans over the centuries. The failure of African leaders of the past to write down their thoughts can account for the void we are now experiencing within the national conception of human knowledge. We must bridge the knowledge gap between
Africa and the rest of the world and force ourselves to adopt literate cultures that would help to transform the cultural, social and economic consciousness of the race. This is a task that is imperative, Africans have to become a literate people, free itself from the crippling condition of illiteracy and become civilized in new ways that would lead our nations forward, united and secure as we advance towards the 21st century.
Ghanaians have to become a literate people, to extricate ourselves from the many challenges of life which can be solved through the development of literacy at every level of society. A national agenda to make Ghanaians literate must become a priority of government. The mental liberation of Ghanaians is the perquisite for transforming our country form the neo-colonial society to a self-reliant and independent state. Literacy liberates, literacy redeems, and it is through the power of mental salvation that a nation can save itself from the prison of history.
Book clubs, reading societies, establishment of regional public libraries, creative writing courses, biography centers, etc must be set up within every community to encourage Ghanaians to read and write as a way to liberate the Ghanaian mind from the poverty of thought, backwardness, superstition and tribalism.
Kabu Okai-Davies, PhD,
Senior Lecturer, African University College of Communications, CPP Candidate for Korle Klottey