In Conversation with Dr Obadele Bakari Kambon on Racism, white supremacy and caste system
Dr Ọbádélé Bakari Kambon, Ph.D. is an Afrikan anti-amerikkkan. In India, he has been known for advocating vociferously for the removal of the statue of Gandhi, from the University Campus in Ghana which was gifted by the government of India. He had famously advocated that ‘we need Ambedkar and not Gandhi’. It is refreshingly interesting to hear him about Dr Ambedkar. His calls Gandhi as racist and his has his strong position which come after reading Gandhi’s world view on Africans. In our conversation, he copiously quotes Gandhi’s position on Africans when he lived there and calls them nothing less than racist.
A highly acclaimed academic, linguist as well as dedicated person to African culture and literature, Dr Kambon faced racial discrimination in the United States from child hood and he could never ever consider him as an American even being a born citizen of that country. In the year 2007 he was arrested wrongfully and tried in Chicago. He was charged with having a loaded firearm under his car. Dr Kambon was shocked and he said, “Never again will I allow myself to be in a jurisdiction where corrupt white police officers and a judge will take me away from my family, wife and kids just on a whim.” He fought his case to clear his name from the wrongdoing of the police and decided to relocate to Ghana in 2008. Since 2009, he has been teaching at the Institute of African Studies in Accra.
Dr Kambon was born in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of one, his family relocated to the small village of Wendell near Raleigh, North Carolina. Upon completing high school, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta Georgia on a full academic scholarship where he majored in African American Studies. Upon graduating magna cum laude from Morehouse, he went on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UW-Madison, he majored in African Languages and Literature on a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship. Also, he was teaching assistant for Introductory Yoruba, Intermediate Yoruba and Introduction to African Literature courses through the Department of African Languages and Literature. While at UW-Madison, Ọbádélé focused on linguistics and within three years completed two Master’s Degrees; one in African Languages and Literature and one in Linguistics.
His profile gives an idea of his in depth understanding and scholarship which he gained through his wide range of experiences of working with various universities and colleges. After three years in the Chicago area, Ọbádélé moved to Ghana to pursue his PhD in Linguistics at the University of Ghana at Legon. While completing his doctorate, he also taught at African University College of Communications teaching Pan-Africanism, African Diaspora Studies, African Biographies and African Spiritual Systems. Ọbádélé completed his PhD at the University of Ghana in 2012 earning the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Best PhD Thesis in the Humanities. He is now Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies (IAS) and coordinator of the UGRC African Language Program (2nd Semester), (2014-2015) coordinator of the revamped IAS Thursday Seminar Series and coordinator of the new graduate African Thinkers/African Thought (2015-2019) program in which he teaches the core course Foundations of African Thought. In 2016, he was awarded the 2016 Provost’s Award for Best Publication in the Humanities for his 2015 article entitled “Theory of Endogenous and Exogenous Motivation in L2 Migration,” published in Per Linguam. From 2016-2019, he coordinated the IAS Mdw Ntr Study Group, IAS Thursday Evening Film Series and Black History Month Film Festival. As of 2019, the Black History Month Film Festival is now hosted at the National Film and Television Institute.
The Ghana government gave him full citizenship in December 2016, and was instrumental in the historic restoration of Ghanaian citizenship for 34 Africans of the Diaspora. In July 2017, he was enstooled as the Ban mu Kyidɔmhene of Akuapem Mampɔn, where he is currently building his residence.
Dr Kambon has deep knowledge about both Gandhi and Ambedkar as well as the caste system prevalent in India and how it treat the Dalits and blacks. He has been very critical of the hierarchical brahmanical system and terms it worse than racism. He came into limelight in India after he crusaded to remove the statue of Mahatma Gandhi from the Ghana University Campus which was installed by the Government of Ghana after the then President of India Mr Pranab Mukherjee inaugurated it. On 13th of December 2018 this statue of Gandhi was removed from the University Campus after lots of protest petitions by the African students who considered Gandhi as racist. The lead figure behind this campaign was Dr Obadele Kambon who emphatically suggested that Gandhi might be the hero of India’s freedom movement against colonization but for African he remained racist. He is emphatic that for India as well as Africa, Ambedkar is more relevant than Gandhi.
As a linguist, Dr Kambon speaks against the culture of the vocabulary of dominance and does not feel that Europe should be called a continent. He is vehemently opposed to white supremacists and feel that Africans have everything traditionally which can make that continent an alternative to the current capitalist model superficially imposed by the Western World. Whether it was Christopher Columbus or anybody else, these people were basically exploiters and killers of the indigenous people mainly native Indians and Africans. There are so many references about the whole global politics and dominance of the Western world or white supremacy that you can only understand once you listen to the entire conversation. For millions of those who suffered from the marginalization as well as racial and caste based oppression listening to such new ideas and alternative viewpoints is important even when many might find ‘offensive’ but then they are a reality as people are asking questions and none can remain sacrosanct as those who have been victimized and demonized by so-called leaders can not go unchallenged from those communities and leaders who faced the insult and humiliation. Dr Kambon says he knows the Indian critique of his statement and he quotes from Gandhi’s own writing particularly from his collected work and his writings from Gujarati.
Interestingly, Dr Kambon refuses to accept even Martin Luther King or Malcom X or even Nelson Mandela as he says these are leaders imposed on the Black people by the colonial powers. As I wrote, people might disagree and differ with his critical analysis but one thing is certain that he has tremendous energy and knowledge which continue to work on to provide it to his people. Ghana today is asserting and even opening its door for African Americans who want to return to Africa.
We look forward to your comments and reactions to this conversation.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist. Twitter @freetohumanity