Kwame Nkrumah: The African Genius 1

Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah delivered this speech at the University of Ghana, Legon, on October 25, 1963 at the launching of the Institute of African Studies. It is our submission that this presentation represents one of the profoundest and most powerful speeches ever delivered by a philosopher-politician of the highest caliber (see the book “Africa in Contemporary Perspective.” Editors: Esi Sutherland-Addy & Takyiwaa Manuh). Read on:

“I am very happy to be with you on this occasion and to welcome you to this official opening of the Institute of African Studies.

“I regard this occasion as historically important. When we were planning this University, I knew that a many-sided Institute of African Studies which should fertilise the University, and through the University, the Nation, was a vital part of it.

“This Institute has now been in existence for some time, and has already begun to make its contribution to the study of African history, culture and institutions, languages and arts. It has already begun to attract to itself, scholars and students from Ghana, from other African countries and from the rest of the world.

“The beginning of this present academic year marks, in a certain sense, a new development of this Institute. Already, the Institute has a team of seventeen research fellows and some forty post-graduate students—of whom about one-third come from Ghana and remainder from countries as diverse as Poland and the United States of America, Nigeria and Japan. We hope soon to have students and fellows from China and the Soviet Union.

“This Institute is no longer an infant, but a growing child. It has begun to develop a definite character of its own; it is beginning to make itself known in the world. This, therefore, is a moment for taking stock and to think afresh about the functions of the Institute, and of the University within which it is set.

“What sort of Institute of African Studies does Ghana want and have need of? In what way can Ghana make its own specific contribution I to the advancement of knowledge about the peoples and cultures of Africa through past history and through contemporary problems? For what kind of service are we preparing students of this Institute and of our Universities?

“Are we sure that we have established here the best possible relationship between teachers and students?

“To what extent are our universities identified with the aspirations of Ghana and Africa?

“You who are working in this Institute—as research workers and assistants, teachers and students have a special responsibility for helping to answer these questions. I do, however, wish to take this opportunity to put to you some of the guiding principles which an Institute of African

“Studies situated here in Ghana at this period of our history must constantly bear in mind.

“First and foremost, I would emphasise the need for a re-interpretation and a new assessment of the factors which make up our past. We have to recognise frankly that African studies, in the form in which they have been developed in the universities and centres of learning in the West, have been largely influenced by the concepts of old style “colonial studies,” and still to some extent, remain under the shadow of colonial ideologies and mentality.

“Until recently, the study of African history was regarded as a minor and marginal theme within the framework of imperial history. The study of African social institutions and cultures was subordinated in varying degrees to the effort to maintain the apparatus of colonial power. In British Institutes of higher learning, for example, there was a tendency to look to social anthropologists to provide the kind of knowledge that would help to support the particular brand of colonial policy known as indirect rule.

“The study of African languages was closely related to the practical objectives l of the European missionary and the administrator.

“African music, dancing and sculpture were labelled “primitive art.” They were studied in such a way as to reinforce the picture of African society as something grotesque, as a curious, mysterious human backwater, which helped to retard social progress in Africa and to prolong colonial domination over its peoples.

“African economic problems, organisation, labour, immigration, agriculture, communications, industrial development were generally viewed from the standpoint of the European interest in the exploitation of African resources, just as African politics were studied in the context of the European interest in the management or manipulation of African affairs.

“When I speak of a new interpretation and new assessment, I refer particularly to our Professors and Lecturers. The non-Ghanaian non-African Professors and Lecturers are, of course, welcome to work here with us. Intellectually, there is no barrier between us and them. We appreciate, however, that their mental make-up has been largely influenced by their system of education and the facts of their society and environment.

“For this reason, they must endeavour to adjust and re-orientate their attitudes and thought to our African conditions and aspirations. They must not try simply to reproduce here their own diverse patterns of education and culture. They must embrace and develop those aspirations and responsibilities which are clearly essential for maintaining a progressive and dynamic African society.

“One essential function of this Institute must surely be to study the history, culture and institutions, languages and arts of Ghana and of Africa in new African-centred ways—in entire freedom from the propositions and pre-suppositions of the colonial epoch, and from the distortions of those Professors and Lecturers who continue to make European studies of Africa the basis of this new assessment. By the work of this Institute, we must re-assess and assert the glories and achievements of our African past and inspire our generation, and succeeding generations, with a vision of a better future.

“But you should not stop here. Your work must also include a study of the origins and culture of peoples of African descent in the Americas and the Caribbean, and you should seek to maintain close relations with their scholars so that there may be cross fertilisation between Africa and those who have their roots in the African past.

“The second guiding principle which I would emphasise is the urgent need to search for, edit, publish and make available sources of all kinds. Ghanaian scholars who at an early period were actively concerned with the study of Ghana’s history and institutions and helped to prepare the way for the creation of this Institute—such as Carl Reindorf, John Mensah Sarbah, Casely-Hayford, Attoh-Ahuma, Attobah Coguano, Anthony William Amu – understood how much the development of African Studies depended on the recovery of vital source material. Indeed, the search, publication and our interpretation of sources are obviously processes that must go hand in hand.

“Among non-African students of Ghana’s history and institutions, one of the most distinguished was undoubtedly Captain Rattray. By his intellectual honesty and diligence, he was able to appreciate and present to the world the values inherent in a culture which was, after all, foreign to him. It is impossible to respect an intellectual, unless he shows this kind of honesty. After all, Academic Freedom must serve all legitimate ends, and not a particular end. And here, the term, “Academic Freedom” should not be used to cover up academic deficiencies and indiscipline.

“I would therefore like to see this Institute, in cooperation with Institutes and Centres of African Studies in other African States, planning to produce what I would describe as an extensive and diversified Library of African Classics. Such a library would include editions, with translations and commentaries or works whether in African, Asian or European languages which are of special value for the student of African history, philosophy, literature and law.

“I can think of no more solid or enduring contribution which the Institute could make to the development of African Studies (on should lines) during the second half of the Twentieth Century, or to the training of future generations of Africanists.

“Here in this Institute of African Studies, you have already made a useful beginning with the collection of a substantial body of Arabic and Hausa documents. This collection has revealed a tradition of scholarship in Ghana about which little was previously known, and I hope that it will throw a new light on our history as part of the history of Africa.

“I also regard as important, the work which you are doing in the collection of stool histories and other forms of oral tradition—of poetry and African literature in all its forms—of which one admirable expression is Professor Nketsia’s recently published book entitled “Folk Songs of Ghana,” and Kofi Antubam’s latest book on African culture. Other Ghanaians have done equally admirable work in this field. I may mention here Ephraim Amu whose work has created and established a Ghanaian style of music and revived an appreciation for it. Our old friend, J. B. Danquah, has also produced studies of Akan culture and institutions.

“Much more should be done in this direction. There exists in our Universities, Faculties and Departments, such as Law, Economics, Politics, History, Geography, Philosophy and Sociology, the teaching which should be substantially based as soon as possible on African material.

“Let us take an example. Our students in the Faculty of Law must be taught to appreciate the very intimate link that exists between law and social values. It is therefore important that the Law Faculty should be staffed by Africans.

“There is no dearth of men and women among us qualified to teach in the Law Faculty. This applies equally to other Faculties. Only in this way can the Institute of African Studies fertilise the Universities and the Nation.

“The magnitude of the changes taking place in Africa today is a positive index of the scale and pace necessary for our social reconstruction. Our Universities should provide us with the force and impetus needed to maintain this re-construction.

“After years of bitter political struggle for our freedom and independence, our Continent is emerging systematically from colonialism and from the yoke of imperialism. The personality of the African which was stunted in this process can only be retrieved from these ruins, if we make a conscious effort to restore Africa’s ancient glory. It is only in conditions of total freedom and independence from foreign rule and interferences that the aspirations of our people will see real fulfillment and the African genius find his best expression.

“When I speak of the African genius, I mean something different from Negritude, something not apologetic, but dynamic. Negritude consists in a mere literary affection and style which piles up word upon word and image upon image with occasional reference to Africa and things African. I do not mean a vague brotherhood based on a criterion of colour, or on the idea that Africans have no reasoning, but only a sensitivity. By the African genius, I mean something positive, or socialist conception of society, the efficiency and validity of our traditional statecraft, our highly developed code of morals, our hospitality and our purposeful energy.

“This Institute must help to foster in our University educational, institutions the kind of education which will produce devoted men and women with imagination and ideas, who, by their life and actions, can inspire our people to look forward to a great future. Our aim must be to create a society that is not static but dynamic, a society in which equal opportunities are assured for all. Let us remember that as the aims and needs of our society change, so our educational institutions must be adjusted and adapted to reflect this change.

“We must regard education as the “gateway to the enchanted cities of the mind,” and not only as a means to personal economic security and social privilege. Indeed, education consists not only in the sum of what a man knows, or the skill with which he can put this to his own advantage. In my view, man’s education must also be measured in terms of the soundness of his judgment of people and things, and in his power to understand and appreciate the needs of his fellow men, and to be of service to them. The educated man should be so sensitive to the conditions around him that, he makes it his chief endeavour to improve these conditions for the good of all.

“As you know, we have been doing a great deal to make education available to all. It is equally important that education should seek the welfare of the people and recognise our attempts to solve our economic, cultural, technological and scientific problems. In this connection, it will be desirable for your master’s degree courses to be designed with such problems in mind. It is therefore important and necessary that our Universities and the Academy of Sciences should maintain the closest possible liaison in all fields.

“This will result not only in the efficient planning and execution of research, but also in economy in the use of funds and resources. Let me emphasise here that we look to the Universities to set an example by their efficiency and their sense of responsibility in the use of public funds. They must also set an example in loyalty to the Government and the people, in good citizenship, public morality and behaviour.

“In order that the students may obtain the maximum benefit from their education in our Universities, it is imperative that the relationship between them and their teachers should be as free and easy as possible. Without this close interaction between mind and mind and the common fellowship of a University, it will be impossible to produce the type of student who understands the larger issues of the world around him.

“Are we really sure that our students are in touch with the life of the nation? That they and their teachers fully appreciate what is going on in our society? The time has come for the gown to come to town.

“In this connection, I can see no reason why courses should not continue to be organised at the Law School in Accra for Lay Magistrates, Local Government staff and other officers both in government and industry, who wish to acquire knowledge of the law to assist them in their work. The staff of the Law Faculty in this university should be able to organise such courses for the benefit of the people in the categories I have mentioned.”

Please expect Part 2.

Francis Kwarteng

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