In this contribution to the discussion of Ahmed Sékou Touré’s Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism we need to first of all acknowledge the fact of Sékou Touré being a Marxist. In an entry of Wikipedia, we find a statement to the effect that
Touré’s early life was characterized by challenges of authority, including during his education. Touré was obliged to work to take care of himself. He began working for the Postal Services (PTT), and quickly became involved in labour union activity. During his youth and after becoming president, Touré studied the works of communist philosophers, especially those of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin…
During his presidency Touré led a strong policy based on Marxism, with the nationalization of foreign companies and strong planned economics. He won the Lenin Peace Prize as a result in 1961. Wikipedia
This, it seems to us, helps to understand the methodological essence of his thought processes. In particular, his employment of Marxist usages help us not to see logical contradiction in his assertion, for instance, that culture being the creator of man is itself created by society. This assertion, for those conversant with Marxist usages, is made on the basis of the Marxist concept of dialectical contradiction which validates it.
We are obliged at this early stage to state this acknowledgement in view of the emergence of a certain concept of Afrocentricity or Afrocentricism within a particular scholarly trend in Pan-Africanism. That trend, which we have had occasion to christen as The Sankofa Tendency, implicitly rejects the use of Marxist categories in the analysis of African reality. When pushed to the wall, its younger advocates defensively refer to those categories having originated from African sources. They cite the Arab African Ibn Khaldun as one of such sources. We must confess that we are at a loss as to the point of their contention: is it the categories that they are disputing or their authorship?
Whatever it is that The Sankofa Tendency is contesting, we are certain in our mind that both Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sékou Touré hold on to a concept of Afrocentricity that asserts the universality of culture. By this, they hold – if we are to quote, firstly, from Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s 1944 dissertation Mind and Thought in Primitive Society where he has a citation from his 1943 article ‘Education and Nationalism in Africa’ (published in Educational Outlook, November, 1943) – to effect that
In the educational process of the African the best in Western culture should be combined with the best in African culture. In this respect there should be collaboration between educators, sociologists, and anthropologists, whose findings should enable those who are responsible for African education to prevent destruction of the best in indigenous African culture and at the same time to acquaint the African with the best in his own as well as in foreign civilizations. Any system of education is impossible without respect for the educand.
Whatever may be the political and educational trends and potentialities, education in Africa should produce a new class of educated Africans imbued with the culture of the West but nevertheless attached to their environment. The new class of Africans should demand the powers of self-determination and independence to determine the progress and advancement of their own country. They must combine the best in western civilization with the best in African culture. Only on this ground can Africa create a new and distinct civilization in the process of world advance. Ibid p.212
Dr. Nkrumah reiterates the essence of this1943 statement in an October 23, 1960 speech ‘To The Students of Ghana College’, Tamale, when he tells the students that ‘Culture is universal, but every country adds a specific flavour and a unique contribution to the heritage.’ (Samuel Obeng, Selected Speeches –Kwame Nkrumah, Vol. 1, p.195). Endorsing and elaborating on this dimension of the definition of culture, Sékou Touré states at page 13 of Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism, that ‘The Peoples of Africa, emerging once again to the world of responsibility, must collectively and resolutely rank under the banner of African Culture the humanistic values, moral and material richness of which will constitute their contribution to the universal cultural heritage’.
In spite of their admission of the universality and particularity of culture, both Dr. Nkrumah and Sékou Touré resist foreign domination of African culture and suggest how the particular should relate to the universal. In their resistance, they assert a concept of Afrocentricity. In this respect, as to which aspect of the cultural mix must be dominant, Dr. Nkrumah asserts the centrality of African reality in thought and practice at pages 78-79 of his 1964 book Consciencism in these clear terms:
Our attitude to the Western and the Islamic experience must be purposeful… Our philosophy must find its weapons in the environment and the living conditions of the African people. It is from those conditions that the intellectual content of our philosophy must be created.
The philosophy that must stand behind this social revolution is that which I have once referred to as philosophical consciencism; consciencism is the map in intellectual terms of the disposition of forces which will enable African society to digest the Western and the Islamic and the Euro-Christian elements in Africa, and develop them in such a way that they fit into the African personality.
Hence, the Afrocentricity adumbrated by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is not only dialectical and therefore non-exclusivist but also revolutionary in intent and practice. It accepts the presence and reality of Western and Islamic cultures in the African milieu. But it asserts the dominance of African culture over those cultures within the African framework with this latter as the base that enriches itself through a digestion of the others. And what is digestion but the extraction of what is useful and rejection of that which is harmful within what is taken in for one’s healthy living and development!
In his work at hand Revolution, Culture and Pan-Africanism, Ahmed Sékou Touré elaborates on the universal when he explains that ‘The universal becomes thus a set of guiding laws considered a common language, and which express themselves both through all languages of culture of various social dimensions and human qualities, and through means and conditions of existence that are as diverse, and different as the standards of historical development of human societies.’ (Italics added) He states one of such laws in these terms:
Human societies necessarily act on the basis of means and forms peculiar to them; this explains at once the universal character of the People’s aspiration to the same ideals of grandeur, happiness, justice and peace, as well as their peculiarity, particularity and specificity which, in turn, express the authenticity of their past, their social, historical context and means. Page 13. (Italics added)
It is in this spirit of contribution to the universal that Revolutionary Pan-Africanists assert their right and feel no sense of being dominated when they dip their hands into the universal culture fund to avail themselves of what is useful for their purposes. This is why Dr. Kwame Nkrumah feels no sense of shame when he says that
For the third category of colonial student it was especially impossible to read the works of Marx and Engels as desiccated abstract philosophies having no bearing on our colonial situation. During my stay in America the conviction was firmly created in me that a great deal in their thought could assist us in the fight against colonialism. I learnt to see philosophical systems in the context of the social milieu which produced them. I therefore learnt to look for social contention in philosophical systems. (Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism, p.5
In fact, it is from this learning that he could be seen to pursue the truth about the African reality from the living conditions of the African people but not those of American or European society – leading to his brand of Afrocentricity which does not invalidate the appropriation of laws, universally contributed to in a long process of debates and polemics, like those of Marxism in particular (contrary to the practice of the neo-colonial elite who equate the universal with the particular and go around bleating out statements like this: ‘You see, in America or the UK this is how it is done; so it’s wrong to think otherwise’).
At this point, we make bold to assert that this is scientific and revolutionary Afrocentricity as opposed to the undialectical, unscientific and metaphysical as well as racist Afrocentricity or Afrocentricism that The Sankofa Tendency in Pan-Africanism promotes with such pitifully misplaced scholarly audacity. It is this scientific Afrocentricity that Revolutionary Pan-Africanism projects. It is that Afrocentricity that shares in the universal appropriation of universal laws that peoples of all cultures and climes, including Africans (be they Black Africans, Arab Africans, Indian Africans, Boer Africans [Afrikaners] and African Americans), have made and continue to make their contributions to.
In this respect, let us remind those Sankofa metaphysicians that their opposition to Marxism is oblivious of the fact that Marxism was in the 19th century a culmination of philosophical materialism’s struggles against idealism from the 18th century waged by materialist philosophers in Germany, including the African philosopher from Ghana, Anthony William Amo, who taught in German Universities in Halle, Jena and Wittenberg and wrote the book De Humanae Mentis Apatheia. To deny the African the use of universal laws they have contributed to in the process of discovery is the quintessence of a nonsensical neo-colonial scholarly reactionary profile.
It is in the face of such reactionary profile that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah boldly asserts his ideological system as Marxism-Nkrumaism. (Check June Milne, Kwame Nkrumah: The Conakry Years p.196). This is the ideological system that guides and informs Revolutionary Pan-Africanism and finds its elaboration in the works of Africans like Sékou Touré, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Felix Moumie, etc.
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