January 2007 Interview: Ama Ato Aidoo

Download the interview in mp3 format

Update: Ama Ata Aidoo Interview Part 2!!!


Ama Ato Aidoo is a world-renowned author, poet and playwright. Ama graduated from the University of Ghana and wrote her first award winning play in 1964. Her work has pioneered, addressing the tension between Africa and the western world, and advocating for women’s liberation in an international context. Ama has won several literary awards including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book. Ghana’s former Minister of Education, she is currently a visiting professor in Africana Studies at Brown University. Blackademics, it’s 2007. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence from colonialism; let’s celebrate by honoring one of Ghana’s legends, Ama Ata Aidoo.

Pierce Freelon:
You talked about the plight that women are facing, you mentioned how that’s invisible, kind of, to African Americans, so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what black women are going through in Africa and how we can go about raising consciousness about what’s going on, here.

Ama Ata Aidoo:
in talking about women in Africa, one thing I would like to make absolutely clear, please is that this whole business about African women and how docile or oppressed or whatever is a lot of garbage, you know that. In the sense that I think African women are no more oppressed than women elsewhere or marginalized, right? I mean I wanted to get that one out of the way. But what I also would like to fess up to is the fact that right now, African women especially young African women are going through some nasty stuff. Earlier I told you about young women who were kidnapped and sent to these camps where the guerillas, the rebels were. All over the continent, you know? And made into sexual slaves, or so-called wives, raped, raped and raped over and over and then when the war is over, they come home and they face rejection by their own families, who out of a need not to face what has happened to these young women actually pretend to regard them as some kind of whores who are not allowed home. So that is going on, things like that. Of course there are areas in Africa where there are no wars, right? So then young girls are going to school, going to college and so on and so forth. The fact that they may not have jobs when they graduate form college – that one is not necessarily limited to their fate as women, because it is also happening to young men. I mean, the lack of jobs and so on and so forth.

Okay, so you talked about when you were growing up seeing these castles and these forts, where enslaved Africans were then shipped into the trans-Atlantic slave trade, I was wondering if you could talk again a little bit about your experience growing up around that and how that’s defined the Pan-Africanism in your work and the need, especially in The Dilemma of a Ghost and some of your other plays to really establish that connection between Africans and African Americans and people of the African Diaspora.

But then what, you’ve already said it, so what do you want me to add? (laughter) What I’m saying is that you’ve actually summed up where I was coming from. The fact that I grew up in an area of Ghana where there are these slave forts, and traveling up and down the coastline with my mother when I was a kid, I always would see the castles. And I suppose it bothered me greatly that nobody talked about it, and I suspect, like I said earlier it’s a consequence of people not being willing to actually articulate what was on their minds or what they knew about these things. To compensate, I probably just absorbed all the information, any piece of information that I could get about the slave forts.

Were you aware.. I heard that in Ghana, celebrating it’s 50th year of independence this year, they were apologizing to African Americans for their part in the transatlantic slave trade, Africans apologizing to their African American brothers and sisters, have you heard about that?

I have not heard about that but you know me, I have always been concerned about the lack of real communication between Africans on the continent, us, and the African Diaspora. It’s something that obviously, has bothered me, again from the way that I wrote The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa, and so on. So anything, I wouldn’t have thought of an apology because it’s not as if the Africans who were left on the continent had a nice life, you know what I mean? On the whole we were colonized, we too were colonized by these same characters. But my point is that, if apologizing will make us begin to communicate meaningfully with one another, then I’m all for apologizing. What I’m saying, anything to get us talking and being realistic and facing up to what has happened to us as a people. Because I have a feeling, especially out there in Africa, part of what is timing our development is also this unfinished business about slavery and colonization. We don’t want to face it. And if you don’t want to face up to what happened to you yesterday, how are you going to go forward into the future?

Thank you so much.

You are most welcome.

I appreciate you coming by.

(questions from students)

Sundiata Salaam (student):
Do you think it was for economic reasons that they were inviting people back (to Africa)? Or was it sincere that they were inviting African people back?

Ama Ata Aidoo:
To Ghana? Well you know, Ghana has always.. I suppose part of (pause) the whole business of facing up to our role in the slave trade, we were late. All Africans have been late in coming to a realization of what this thing really did to ourselves as a people and what it has meant in the lives of those who were carried here and the Caribbean and so on and so forth, you know? Part of the reason is that we have always had some kind of leadership in the country, you know the political leadership, who have been vaguely aware of the African Diaspora and some measures have been taken, you know, like now Ghana has become the site for some kind of jubilee, you know? The coming home of the children of the African Diaspora and stuff like that. A number of prominent African Americans have always found their way to Ghana. I have already mentioned WEB Dubois. There were others, even Stevie Wonder has been to Ghana. And so it is not just what Ghanaians say, which I would always want to examine properly. But it’s also the impulse. Literally the body language that is coming to Ghana from the African Diaspora it’s like people really like Ghana, maybe because they always want come becuase of the castles.

And I think that anything that will get us talking, anything that will get us communicating, dealing with one another, I am for. Even if-you know how impractical Africans can be. What I mean, I’d be very surprised if somebody decided soberly and clearly that they would invite African Americans to come, to help with development and commerce, that’s the kind of decision we should take, because it’s clear. It is not just sentimental. But I doubt very much that this decision has been taken. Contrary to your fears, even if the decision to invite the African Diaspora to come is based on some kind of enlightened, self-interest like commerce or development, that’s not a bad thing, you see? That’s not a bad thing. Then of course if it was to invite people to come in because they think we owe them, or we owe you some gesture like that, it’s all they better. As far as I’m concerned, none of that is wrong. I know I’m trying to be very practical. Some of these decisions are going to have to be very practical, do you see? There’s nothing wrong with this. If I were an African American I would say that I’m not even so sure that I want to associate with just one county, the whole of Africa is my home. You will choose where to come and live. Who will stop you?

I genuinely think, I am one of the people who think that this whole business of the relationship between Africans and the African Diaspora has to be handled. Not on sort of, country to country basis but right there at the African Union. Something has to be done. Going all the way back to Marcus Garvey, before you. The impulse to come to Africa has also always existed. It’s just that somehow the conditions have.. no specific effort has been made to formalize such a return. What I’m saying is that-such a formalization has to be done even if it’s based on self-interest.

Leave a Reply