ON THE NEGATIVE ATTITUDE TOWARDS PHILOSOPHY AND CONSCIENCISM
Here is a personal case to illustrate the difficulties that philosophers go through in being heard. The general attitude towards philosophy tends to close the public mind to profound thoughts throbbing in the hearts and minds of philosophers. Such thoughts, however, enable us to get to the depths of the minds of significant action takers whose activities play a large role in the fashioning of a nation’s destiny. In the deeper recesses of the mind of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah lies a system of ideas that forms the immediate and remote context within which he considered and took every action directed at the liberation and development of Africa away from foreign control and exploitation. The proper understanding of the man can only be deeply grasped in a serious study of his philosophy.
And yet before and after his death the general negative individual, public and institutional attitude towards philosophy has denied the African conscience all opportunities to reach the depths of the mind of that great and foremost African thinker and actor. We are talking about the man whose voice continually booms this axiom across African time and space over the generations, born and this yet unborn: ‘Practice without thought is blind; thought without practice is empty’. While this first part illustrates this negativity at the level of public and institutional reactionary prejudice against philosophy and the philosopher, the second takes the illustration to the level where even sympathetic men and women of the intelligentsia prove to be a contributory factor … in their neglect.
It happened first at the auditorium of the School of Administration at the University of Ghana, Legon. Prof. Kwasi Wiredu was the chairman at the symposium. It was question time and I had raised my hand to make a contribution. I started with a comment on the State in an attempt to briefly define it and relate it to the contribution a panelist had made. Before I could proceed with my second sentence after the first, the auditorium virtually broke into a pandemonium with shouts of ‘Abstract! Abstract! Abstract!’ My voice drowned out. I had to quietly sit down in surprise. This happened in 1978. During that time Professor Wiredu was also supervising my long essay on The Marxist Philosophy of History.
Professor A. Adu Boahen had rejected that long essay project on the grounds that he was expecting me, like all others, to go to the villages for oral traditions from the aged for the construction of the history of Ghana. He was disappointed that I had chosen a project that would confine me to the analysis of texts in libraries. I was also disappointed that he had no faith in the course, Aspects of Intellectual History, under which I was offering to undertake that project. Mr. E.D.G. Sprigge, a Senior Lecturer of the Department of History who had once taught both Adu Boahen and Kwasi Wiredu, handled that course. As fate would have it I met Mr. Sprigge a few metres away in front of Adu Boahen’s office when I came out from there in my disappointment.
Mr. Sprigge asked me whether I had presented my project. I told him that I just did but that Prof. Adu Boahen had also just rejected it. He asked to know what the project was and I told him. He was surprised and said he would have accepted and loved to supervise it. He also appeared disappointed. So that at the Department of History those who were responsible for my development in the sphere of intellectual history, that is, Prof. Adu Boahen, Mr. Sprigge and my humble self, were all disappointed in one way or the other. So also was Prof. Kwasi Wiredu when I went to find out from him whether the Department of Philosophy would accept the project for presentation. By God’s grace, he accepted it and elected to supervise it himself. I was relieved.
Upon self-reflection a few years later I understood why Prof. A. Adu Boahen had nearly frustrated my intellectual confidence; and confidence it was, otherwise without the presentation of that project I might not have had the confidence of ever thinking that I could write and be read at the highest levels of the intelligentsia. I sincerely owe this to Prof. Kwasi Wiredu in the first instance. But what did I say I later understood of Adu Boahen’s reaction? A few months before I submitted that project to him, I had denounced his philosophy of history in his own class and in front of my own mates as being atomistic. Uproar from my mates greeted this as had happened at the auditorium. This time it was not meant to shut me up. It was as if I had said ‘psychological gbengbentus’. That was the second time that the use of a philosophical turn of speech drew a loud reaction.
Prof. Adu Boahen had since regretted ever giving me the opportunity to read and defend my essay in class in answer to his question as to whether the Anglo-Ashanti wars could have been avoided. He had expected me to read and repeat his view that those wars could have been avoided. I did nothing of the sort. I rather subjected his view to a Marxist1 critique and held that those wars were inevitable. He graded my paper ‘F’ and challenged me to present it to a full session of my class for my mates’ response. My mates responded with applause to his embarrassment upon my presentation. His own response to my classroom presentation was that I had based my paper on some theory of inevitability which Sir Isaiah Berlin had refuted. He had never known that, in favour of the Marxist conception on that subject, I had read and refuted in my heart the effusions in Sir Isaiah Berlin’s book, Historical Inevitability.
In the light of all these events that showed my special interest in both the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history it became a further relief when I came into contact with a number of lecturers at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Nigeria. Today, I can remember them as Ahmed Siddique Mohammed, Raufu, Jibo, Sanusi, Seidu and Dr. Bangura. They were then all young lecturers, who, except the latter, were pursuing their Master’s degrees. They urged me to seek admission to the Department of History, since there was no Department of Philosophy at that university, to pursue a Master’s programme. Thereafter, I went to see Prof. Kwasi Wiredu at the University of Ibadan for a letter of recommendation which he gracefully gave me.
But, once again, Prof. K.B.G. Forson cited my philosophical credentials as an objection to my admission to the Department of History. He was then lecturing at the ABU. He was my first year lecturer in Political Science at the University of Ghana. His reason was that he had never known me as a historian but a philosopher. He refused to acknowledge that with my combined honours degree in Modern History and Philosophy I could read history at the Master’s level. Back in Ghana, Mr. Sprigge had impressed it on me to return for my Master’s at the University of Ghana. I learned that my application became the only controversial submission as it took hours and a break before it was rejected, thanks to Prof. Forson’s resistance. He had finally gone beyond my academic qualifications to falsely claim that I, together with others, had tried to kill him in the heat of the December 31 coup d’état in Ghana.
I could later feel his remorse when I went to him at his office and made him understand that I knew nothing about the alleged threat on his life. It was a pity as he kept talking irrelevantly about other people like Capt. Kojo Tsikata who had allegedly refused to greet him on a train in London. I felt he was feeling lonely and bored. He told me that he usually kept his office’s door locked. He appeared to see phantoms. He died not many years afterwards.
I have had to narrate these stories to illustrate a certain negative general attitude that people at even the highest levels of our intelligentsia exhibit towards philosophy. It should, therefore, not be surprising that we have not adopted the right attitude towards a very important book like Consciencism. On February 22, 2011 a young friend of mine told me on the telephone that the more he read the draft of this manual the more he understood what Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah did. He was one of the young men I was in contact with while developing the manual.
I must, on my part, submit that since I started reading Consciencism in my third year at the secondary school, these past four years are the most fruitful of my life. I wish that my current insight came to me decades ago. I would have acted quite differently and more patiently but also more purposefully though with the same aims in mind.
This is where the youth of today have the advantage with the publication of the manual. I am particularly glad that some young men have found its level of language expression accessible. That was the area where I had my greatest fears since not a few have expressed concern over my style of expression in published articles in some national newspapers and journals.
It is my hope that this manual is not taken as the alpha and omega of the effort to bring Consciencism to the doorsteps of all who seek a deep understanding of society and its environs as well as the intellectual motivations in the mind of the man Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The critical reading of it is the only means by which it can be improved upon for the benefit of society. Yes, I have tried to be honest in my interpretation of the text. But Prof. Kwasi Wiredu observes that all of us have our moments of inconsistency and should be prepared to resolve them when they are pointed out to us. I accept that word of wisdom.
In a first year class of over three hundred students reading Philosophy at the University of Ghana in 1975, only about twelve of the students completed their courses in 1978 in that discipline. Throughout the three-year period, no lecturer formally referred to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s book Consciencism – Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonisation. It was a deafening silence. In fact, it was only while Professor Kwasi Wiredu was discussing this author’s Long Essay in 1977/78 with the author that the venerable professor referred to the book. However, there was no formal discussion of it between them.
The 1970s were a period of massive Marxistdiscussions at the University of Ghana. Such leading lights like Dr. Ebo Hutchful, Dr. Emmanuel Hansen, Mr. Chris Hesse – all of the Department of Political Science – Dr. Akilagpa Sawyerr, Dr. Kwesi Botchway, Mr. Fui Tsikata and Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata – all of the Faculty of Law, mounted every available platform either at the auditorium or lecture halls, which were filled to capacity, to render enlightening Marxist analyses of issues of national relevance. Marxist study cells were informally created amongst students. At lecture halls and seminars at those two sections of the university handouts with Marxist analytical insight were distributed. In all of these endeavours, however, not a single symposium, that we are aware of, was ever held on Consciencism. We might say in measured humour that the said leading lights held Kwame Nkrumah’s philosophy in interment with his bones.2
The leading lights of Marxist thought at the University of Ghana’s neglect of the philosophical-ideological work of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah had a telling effect on the study of radical philosophy. For some of the students of that period an attempt even to discuss Marxist philosophy got them ridiculed at study cell sessions. No doubt, then, that when Professor Atta Beretwum said that Consciencism was irrelevant in present day Ghana not a single word of disapproval was heard as he reduced that entire philosophy to a reference to the political programme of crystallizing a new culture out of three cultures. He was responding to a question posed to him at a symposium that he addressed during the 50th Anniversary of Ghana’s independence at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana in 2007.
It is interesting to observe the importance that Nkrumah places on both history and philosophy in his formulation of policies of State. This has assured the everlasting nature of the positions he had on issues affecting the African continent in general and Ghana in particular. The passion with which he held his views emanated from his fundamental grasp of history and philosophy. Thus, even today we, all of us, listen to his recorded speeches with the same attention and in the same spell-bound silence that the country (Ghana), the continent (Africa), and the world (at the United Nations General Assembly) accorded him. The philosophical and historical grounding of his positions was conscious – that being the assurance of the solidity of his immortality.
Today, the Historical Society of Ghana laments over diminishing interest in the study of history in our schools and universities. Blame it not on the student but on your own lack of application of historical thought in daily discourse. Nevertheless, can history arrest our interest when its presentation is founded on raw empiricism3 – thus exhibiting lifelessness, showing no relationship with exciting national and continental aspirations? Let the study of history be founded on the Consciencist principles extracted from the real movement of history itseif. Likewise, should the philosophical foundation that makes history understandable as it gives it its life be erected on those principles. To enable the student of Consciencism an easier grasp of those principles in the book is our primary concern here.
But the grasp of philosophical principles is not an end in itself. Such principles are like a map to guide us to understand unfolding reality. They are applied to real situations in analyses that do not just portray the dynamics of such situations but open up to us possibilities in resolving complicated problems as well. It is regrettable to observe that many of the youth of today within the Nkrumaist tradition, in their contributions to national debate on various issues, exhibit a pathetic lack of enthusiasm for changing the neo-colonial state of affairs – and this is not their fault. Nevertheless, reality is that they appear so much in love with efficiency as such that the best of their time and energy are expended on finding system-solutions for the social engineering of the neo-colonial state rather than finding the solution and details of that solution for the neo-colonial system problematic – that is, the scientific dissolution and replacement of neo-colonialism everywhere.
In this endeavour, Africans and Africans of the Diaspora as well as adherents of the African Cause among all other races in all disciplines are joined!
[Since new forms of society emerge from but are not imposed on the old a process of evolution and revolution is always involved. It is the task of the revolutionary to discern the evolutionary moments of the newly emerging and progressive trend so as to promote its development and dominance over the old and dying trend. The decisive moment, the revolutionary moment, is when the final act is undertaken to formally assert and constitutionalize the predominance of the new and the demise of the old. Evolution is thus involved in the revolutionary process as its initial stage.]