If you come from, or you are a student of, Africa, you will know that much of the history of the continent has been passed down orally. Oral histories are of the the upmost importance to securing culture and understanding Africa’s history. Despite their importance, there seems to be less and less focus on learning from ones elders.
After doing interviews for my thesis, may of which were of elders that could give me an understanding of pre independence Ghana. Some of the very old were able to even tell me snippets of information about pre colonial times. It is this age group that spent time listening to their grandparents, and therefore they have knowledge of over 150 years ago. They can real off the names of their ancestors, and they know the can history inside and out. It is a rather fascinating example of incredible memory! For me as an Englishman, it was not always easy to get information and it is the same for others who go into Africa to research. (Anne Bailey had the same problem when researching her fantastic book African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade) It is time for Africans to start interviewing their elders!
Since then, 10 years ago, I have been pleading with Ghanaians and other Africans to speak to their grandparents about their family history, record it, and write it down. For us historians, this knowledge is invaluable, but it is swiftly disappearing as one by one our African elders become ancestors. So much information has not been written down and it will be lost forever.
I studied in Ghana, and getting access to such information was extremely difficult. I had the university library, but often the books or documents I needed were no where to be found. I had access to a few journal sites like Jstor, and that helped, but I never had access to a pool of information to make my studies that little bit more efficient and information rich. And never a specifically African platform.
I am happy to see that this issue is now being tackled. Raadaa is a portal that has been developed to enable people to upload, read and share African oriented content. The content is available to anyone, free of charge, and those that uploads papers can actually get paid a small amount each time their content is read. It is not only open to research papers and academic studies. If you have fictional work it is also possible to upload it to the portal. It is also possible for others to offer reviews of work, which in these era of #FakeNews is very important to make sure the content is relevant and factual. (if it isn’t fiction that is!)
This is an important step for African content. Most of the content I had access to was created by people from outside of Africa. (Even my own research paper fits into that category) Aside from that, journal sites usually require subscriptions, which can be costly, unless the school or university has its own subscription. Even so, it is very few high schools that would fork out for all the different journal subscriptions. Raadaa enables everyone from anywhere to access African content of all varieties. With MOOCs and the current trend of offering education to everyone online, this is a novel way of enabling students, and anyone else, access to detailed information, and for free.
African’s now have a portal to showcase their work and Africa and the world can access it. I think there is still some work to be done. Firstly, at the moment, there is not a lot of content on the site. If Raadaa could sign partnerships with all universities to get all bachelor, masters and PhD thesis up on their platform, that would be an incredible library of information. Secondly, I see an opportunity for them to pool oral histories from the elderly around the continent, and publish them in written form. (Someone should set up an African Oral history project!)
Access to information is very important, for education, for democracy, for health care and for legal rights (Check out the African Law Library, which is also a portal that will house legislation from across Africa). If you have any other examples of cool online information why not guest blog about it for Inventive Africa. Get in contact with us on Twitter @InventiveAfrica or email, and please also share the blog with your network on Twitter and Facebook.
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