By Francis Kwarteng
I hope you have had enough time to digest the issues I raised in my feature piece “Afrocentricity and the Future of Ghana.” Though I peppered the piece with meandering generalizations, a device I did not purposively deploy, I can only hope that my arguments did achieve its noble objective: Bringing you closer to the doorstep of my Afrocentric thinking. Quite characteristically, the nature of analytic generalizations is such that it sometimes, if not most of the time, makes precise characterological determination of the thinking contours of an analyst or author an onerous exercise. Notwithstanding, it’s all part of the creative framework of narrative license. That is number one.
It is as though the analyst or author is on a Machiavellian quest to submerge the total psychology of the reader under the physics of psychoanalytic musical chairs, more so because conscious and creative puppeteering of a reader’s psychology renders the psycho-spatial interpretive distance between a reader and a writer telling and all the more interesting. The imagism of Wole Soyinka is a perfect exemplar. That was not my ultimate strategy, however. That is number two. Brothers and sisters, that is just by the way.
Now let’s concentrate on more important matters. What is Afrocentricity? Simple. Afrocentricity merely states that the evaluative questions of phenomenology, spirituality, ontology, psycho-culture, materialism, epistemology, historiography, social psychology, economics, and sociology vis-a-vis African peoples must be deeply rooted in the centrality of their collective experience. And that collective experience finds its footing and leverage in the universe of African personality. In other words, the African and his world become the evaluative synonym of “self-reference” or “self-definition.” In this regard, the African world ceases to be a conceptual dildo in the pundic depths of Western analytic frivolities and trivialities.
That is not all, however. Equally interesting is the fact that African peripheralization in Western psychology, epistemology, and historiography—becomes merely a constituent of dinosaurian paleontology. Africa takes center stage in her self-evaluation. When the Westerner or Eurocentrist speaks of “classical music” in the referential context of the musicality of Mozart, et al, for instance, the Afrocentrist, on the other hand, speaks of, say, palm-wine highlife as his “classical music.” That is, there is no universal definition of “classical music.” Put another way, the evaluation of an idea, any idea, becomes a central question of racialized or ethnicized psycho-cultural and historical geography, not merely a central question of personal or community preference/choice. Besides, Eurocentric history of “classical music” excludes African contributions. It, therefore, does not come as a surprise that most pedestrian aficionados of Western “classical music” have not even heard of Chevalier de Saint-George. Wikipedia writes:
“Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George (Sometimes erroneously spelled Saint-Georges) (December 25, 1745—June 10, 1799) was an important French-Caribbean figure in the Paris musical scene in the second half of the 18th century as a composer, conductor, and violinist. Prior to the revolution in France, he was also famous as a swordsman and equestrian. Known as the “black Mozart,” he was one of the earliest musicians of the European classical type to have African ancestry…Exhibiting virtuosic ability on the violin, Boulogne would often “establish themes in different tonalities to the ceaseless delight of his listeners.” He was the first violinist for La Popliniere’s orchestra…In respect of his skill as both composer and musician, Boulogne was selected for appointment as the director of the Royal Opera of Louis XVI.”
Wikipedia’s historical biography of Saint-George continues:
“Despite his position as the only eligible applicant, Boulogne was refused, prevented by three Parisian Divas who petitioned the Queen. Writing against the appointment, the trio insisted it would be beneath their dignity and injurious to their professional reputations for them to sing under the direction of the Mulatto…”
“Saint-George wrote symphonies, roughly 25 concertoes for violin and orchestra, string quarters, sonatas, and songs in the style of Mozart, Hayden and the composers of the “Mannheim school.” He also wrote at least five operas with a possible sixth extra, Le droit de seigneur, disputed among music scholars. Excerpts of his first opera, Ernestine, were also used in an opera pastiche, Recueil d’airs et duos, along with music by other composers.”
Yet Eurocentric historiography completely whitewashes the evolutionary account of Western “classical music.” Remember, this was a black man, the equal of Mozart, et al—all white men. Our children need to know these histories.
Our historical contributions to the arts do not end there. The world-famous author of The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas, another black man, contributed considerably to world literature. “Alexandre Dumas, also known as Alexandre Dumas, pere, was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure. Translated into nearly 100 languages, these have made him one of the most widely read French authors in history,” writes Wikipedia. “In 2002 for the bicentennial of Dumas’ birth, the French President, Jacques Chirac, had a ceremony honoring the author by having his ashes reinterred at the mausoleum of the Panthéon of Paris, where many French luminaries were buried. The proceedings were televised: the new coffin was draped in a blue velvet cloth and carried on a caisson by four mounted Republican Guards constumed as the four Musketeers. It was transported through Paris to the Panthéon. In his speech, President Chirac said: ‘With you, we were D’Artagnan, Monte Cristo, or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castles—with you, we dream’” continues Wikipedia. And this is the sad part: “Chirac acknowledged the racism that existed in France and said that the reinterment in the Pantheon had been a way of correcting that wrong, as Alexandre Dumas was enshrined alongside fellow great authors Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.’ Wikipedia then concludes: “Chirac noted that, although France had produced many great writers, none has been so widely read as Dumas.” That was another black man!
And what of Alexander Pushkin, the “Father of Russian Literature”? Didn’t he, too, like the others, have African ancestry, with his great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, being a Black African, possibly from Ethiopia? And why am I bringing up the “archeology of knowledge,” to borrow one of Foucault’s book titles, for analysis? Three things: (1) to draw our attention to the social and political implications of inter-ethnic Balkanization in Ghana and elsewhere on the continent, (2) to challenge the African mind as well as to neutralize vestiges of inferior complex, and (3) to decolonize the African mind. Let’s note that this river of thinking flows directly into the ocean of thinking that went into the composure of “Afrocentricity and the Future of Ghana.”
That brings us to the next question: Why did Prof. Jean Vercoutter, one of Europe’s respected archeological Egyptologists, attempt to lure the Senegalese scientist, Cheikh Anta Diop, one of the world’s notable thinkers of the 20th century, to France, but denied pedagogical opportunities by Leopold Senghor in Senegal (See Asante’s Cheikh Anta Diop: An Intellectual Portrait)?
Why did successive Ghanaian presidencies refuse to listen to Prof. Allotey’s pressing demands for the progressive scientization and technologization of Ghana’s education? Why must our humanities departments waste time and resources studying classical Greece when Germany and France practically underwrite Greece’s national economy, even giving the Greek state shillings to buy toothpicks, toilet rolls, Q-tips, and toothpaste for its needy citizens? Why does the citizenry of Ghana sit down nonchalantly while the leadership carries themselves in a manner characteristic of the titular theatrics of the Orwellian characters of Animal Farm?
If charity indeed begins at home, and if we truly want to study our past for its creative, progressive, and transformative lessons and ideas, why don’t we spend more time studying ourselves—our classical civilizations—ancient Egypt, Nubia, Aksum, for instance? Or the empires of Ghana, of Mali, and of Songhai? After all, wasn’t Egypt the teacher of Greece, the fount of Western wisdom and civilization? Again, why don’t we train our children to learn to read psycho-culturally transformative books such as Robert Bauval’s and Thomas Brophy’s Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Egypt and Imhotep the African: Architect of the Cosmos—the world’s first multi-genius in recorded history—an “octopusian” African genius who passed via the maze of recorded history as an intellectual polynomial, indeed, as a functional polytmath whose intellectual totalization is derived from the summands—Galileo, Newton, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci. Isn’t it true that the work of Imhotep and Egypt as a whole predated those of Galileo, of Copernicus, of Kepler, and of Newton? Why don’t we teach our children that Mansa Musa l, king of the ancient Empire of Mali, and not King Solomon, is “the world’s richest man of all time”?
Finally, rather than uniting us, why does democracy divide us? Why does our neocolonial democracy, a foreign product, set one brother against the other brother? Is majoritarian democracy by nature problematic? If so, can we try minoritarian democracy? And what is that? Why are we refusing to heed to Progressive People’s Party’s Paa Kwesi Nduom’s calls for the appropriate bureaucracies to investigate sources of external underwriting of Ghanaian politics, particularly those of 2012 elections? Since when did special-interest politics become a defining feature of Ghanaian politics? Why don’t we encourage innovation and Research & Development in our tertiary institutions where the government and the private sector provide the funding? Why don’t we vigorously pursue the course of South Africa’s Jeanette Ndhlovu’s “Afro-pessimism”? Why don’t we reconsider the sociological benefits of community as opposed to arctic individualism? The extended family versus the nuclear family? The family versus the individual? Why must we entertain Judeo-Christological terrorism from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and Mohammedological terrorism from Al-Shabaab? Why do Western institutions study us in order to place them in strategic position to effectively exploit us while we merely study the West to dress, speak, walk, dance, and eat like them? Do we have the necessary legal structures in place to make multinational more socially and financially responsible to the Ghanaian state? How enforceable are our corporate tax laws? Are we supporting local entrepreneurship? Are we contemplating the social benefits that accrue to the political economy of inward-looking progressiveness vis-à-vis outward-looking dependency or neocolonialism?
The African American poet, Lansgton Hughes, asked himself a question: What is Africa to me? And I ask us: What is Ghana and Africa to us?
Ngugi wa Thiong’o wants us to look at the new Africa via his Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance. Kofi Awoonor, on the other hand, wants us to do the same but through his This Earth, My Brother…An Allegorical Tale of Africa. Whose perspective do we adopt, Thiong’o or Awoonor? I have my answer: Ivan Van Sertima’s Cheikh Anta Diop: Great African Thinkers! What about you?
I await your Solomonic response!