Africa: UNESCO Completes General History of Africa, 4/14/99

Africa: UNESCO Completes General History of Africa, 4/14/99

Source: UNESCO Web Site:


Paris, April 12 {No.99-72} - The complete edition of UNESCO'S General History of Africa - a 3-million-year history of the entire African continent - has been presented in Tripoli by the International Scientific Committee responsible for the publication (People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) at its final meeting held April 10-12, ending over twenty years of work by nearly 350 scholars.

The complete edition of the General History of Africa - eight volumes of 800 to 1,000 pages each - is now available in three languages (Arabic, English and French). Parts have already been published in Spanish (five volumes of the complete edition), as well as four volumes in Portuguese, Chinese (also four), three in Japanese, two in Italian, Hawsa, Peulh, Korean (two volumes of the abridged version) and Kiswahili (one volume).

During the meeting which will end this evening with a ceremony in the presence of the Libyan head of state, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, and UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, the President of the Committee, A. Adu Boahen (Ghana), took stock of the publication and considered its potentials.

"Despite the long delays, limited distribution and popularity, there is no doubt that from the scientific and academic viewpoints, the General History of Africa has been a phenomenal success and has had an extraordinary impact on higher education," declared A. Abu Boahen who added: "Although it is a scholarly work, it is also, in large measure, a faithful reflection of the way in which African authors view their own civilisation. While prepared in an international framework and drawing to the full on the present stock of scientific knowledge, it should also be a vitally important element in the recognition of the African heritage and should bring out the factors making for unity in the continent."

The members of the Committee celebrated their success, and expressed relief at the end of such a weighty task. "We leave behind a monument that will be a testimony to our time," declared Diouldé Laya of Niger adding that "future generations will decide whether it is to be revised and how." Hichem Djait (Tunisia) echoed this feeling: "We have laid the foundations. It is up to the other generations to make [the project] evolve!"

During the debates which included the participation of publishers and translators of the Kiswahili and Hawsa versions, the obstacles that stood in the way of the different versions of the work and of its distribution were examined closely. Avenues for future development - other works and ways of increasing the exposure of the General History of Africa - were also discussed, although the Committee scrupulously avoided embarking on "a new major project." The publication of school books inspired by the General History and drawing on its principles was discussed.

While it stressed the need for such books, the Committee chose to leave it to others to develop them. Joseph Ki-Zerbo of Burkina Faso, a veteran who already took part in the Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) meeting of the Committee in 1966, argued that such school books should be compiled in a regional rather than national perspective. He said that such regionally-based books would "be at once faithful to past reality, like the General History, and suited to the needs of the future, notably to the demands of globalisation."

In its final recommendations, the Committee requested UNESCO to launch, under its aegis and that of the Organization of African Unity, an appeal to raise the funds needed to complete work on the language versions of the General History by calling on African and non-African Member States, international and regional institutions, foundations and banks, businesses and individual donors. The Committee also exhorted them to contribute to the launch of new translations into other African languages and languages of regional and inter-regional communication. The Committee further requested the establishment, within UNESCO, of a body to be charged with follow-up to the General History of Africa and the setting up of an ad hoc experts committee to ensure that the standard of work remains exemplary.

The meeting continues today with a Forum on the Contribution of the General History of Africa to a Culture of Peace.


Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 14:55:19 -0300 (GMT+3) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: AFRICA: UNESCO completes general history of Africa [19990414]

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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