Busia Challenges Africans And Global Humanity – Part 2
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
For the primitivistic African cultural nationalists in the postcolonial era, Busia offers this all-too-pragmatic reality check, as it were: “This is a reminder that cultures are not static. There is no society so custom-bound that its culture does not change, and there is none so changeful [or labile] as to have no cake of custom. African cultures are not tied to a golden age in which there can be found, pure and complete, a priceless heritage that has been overlaid by an irreverent scientific age. It is not a question of peering into the past to rediscover the glory that was Africa [or what Kenyan scholar and political scientist Ali A. Mazrui called ‘Romantic Gloriana’]. Such a conception of Africa fails to take account of the fact that every culture is – at every time – in the process of change. The cultures of African peoples have been growing continuously; they do have their roots in the past, but they stretch into the present, into the happenings of today, and of tomorrow. For culture is built up during man’s continuous struggle to reach his goals – in his quest for knowledge to feed and clothe himself, to build his home, to overcome disease, in the way he orders his social life, the ways in which he seeks understanding and a more satisfying fulfillment of his wants. In the process, African peoples have created, learned, borrowed, adapted, accumulated, and added to their cultures, to their material possessions, their institutions, and their ideas. ¶ There have been contacts with other peoples both within and beyond the continent. Within the continent, there have been contacts and exchanges as tribes have moved from one part of Africa to another in search of food, water, or a place where they might live without molestation. Beyond the continent, there have been contacts with different races, interactions that stretch back thousands of years. Through Egypt, Ethiopia, and North Africa came borrowings from the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean; through Madagascar, the ancient cultures of Asia. In more recent times, the violent impact of European cultures has been felt everywhere in Africa. ¶ These various influences have not affected all parts of Africa uniformly, for the degree of contact has varied from place to place. Survivals of extremely old cultures can be found alongside recently borrowed inventions and ideas. The old and the new are both a part of Africa as it is today. The talking drum belongs as much to contemporary African cultures as does the telegraph or the jazz band; the baby at its mother’s back as much as the baby in the pram; the lineage or clan as much as the trade union or the political party; the chief as much as the president. All have been accepted and incorporated into the ever-changing and growing cultures that constitute Africa’s way of life. ¶ Excessive nationalism should not cause the cultures of Africa to be represented as mysteries that only Africans can understand or share. Any culture can be learned. Africans are a part of mankind, within the stream of human history. They have borrowed inventions, techniques, and ideas from other cultures; and they, too, have contributed to the cultures of other peoples”(The Challenge of Africa 38-40).
On the whole, he concurs with the practical concept of “Africanity,” in terms of palpable cultural commonalities, nevertheless, Busia reprimands those zealous pan-Africanists who would have the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity among continental Africans facilely muffed – or sophomorically wished away – in the dubious name of the need to forging a common reactionary front against global political and cultural domination by external forces of imperialism: “Today, there are more opportunities than ever before for Africans from different parts of the continent to meet and to test in their own experience what others write about them. When they meet, they cannot fail to see that they do not belong to one all-embracing culture. Obvious differences, of language, dress, customs, exist alongside similarities, common interests and experiences, shared aspects of culture. The fact of belonging geographically to the same continent (neither race nor color is uniform throughout Africa) does not make Africans develop the same cultural patterns in all spheres of human activity. In accordance with particular historical situations and particular experiences, Africans have given different answers to universal as well as particular questions. ¶ There is, at the present, a quest by Africans for unity and cooperation on a wider scale than has hitherto been possible. Consequently, attempts have been made to find bases for unity in conceptual formulations. The most prominent of these attempts have given expression to the concepts of African personality and Negritude. ¶ There are wide individual differences among human beings, even among those who belong to the same country and are brought up in the same culture. In a sense, every human being is a unique personality, never completely duplicated. Nonetheless, in sociological and psychological studies, as well as in popular judgment, it is assumed that the members of any one organized, relatively permanent group, such as a nation, manifest personality traits and characteristics that distinguish them from members of other similar groups. Thus Africans may be contrasted with Americans or Indians or Chinese, with Frenchmen or with Englishmen. ¶ When personality is considered as a product of the social environment, it is supposed that those who have shared the same social tradition will manifest in their individual personalities elements that may be described as culturally regular – i.e. as common to all those who have been integrated into the given social tradition. Thus nationals of a sovereign political state are expected personally to embody ‘national’ elements of the culture in which they have been reared. These elements are thought to be correlates of a shared citizenship and of such things as a common language, common economic, political, educational, and religious institutions, moral code, traditions – correlates, that is, of socio-cultural factors that, taken together, are said to affect the personality organization of the individual members of the nation. The common set of conditions and experiences is expected to produce some common general traits and characteristics – thus, national character. ¶ The concept of national character is an abstraction serving, in any given instance, to embody a set of culturally regular traits. The concept of African personality belongs in the same category as that of national character; it, too, is an abstraction embodying a set of culturally regular traits said to be exhibited by nationals who have been integrated into a shared social tradition. But the difficulty becomes at once apparent. What is the shared social tradition with reference to which the abstraction of an African personality is conceived? Where does it prevail? In the whole continent? In parts of the continent? Which parts? In terms of culture, as has been indicated, there is not one social tradition; there are different social traditions. And there are different nationalities. ¶ The concept of African personality is of recent origin and is really an expression of political aspirations. In a negative sense, it is a reaction to colonialism. It is a protest against European domination and the crude biological theories that have been used in efforts to justify European imperialism. In this sense, as will be shown, the concept is an expression of nationalism. As a protest against colonialism or imperialism, it has a wide appeal, for colonial subjection is an experience (in) which many African peoples have shared. ¶ The concept is also a reaction against the disdain that has been shown for African cultures and the stunting they have suffered under European domination, and against the enthronement, conscious or unconscious, of the cultures of imperialist countries. In this sense, the concept of African personality is a claim to and an assertion of cultural freedom. The wearing of traditional attire and the appreciation and encouragement of once neglected traditional art, music, dance, and religion – this too is an aspect of nationalism. It marks an effort to rediscover Africa’s social heritage. It is demanded by national pride. It is a search for roots, for self-confidence. ¶ And more, the concept of African personality is an arbitrary focusing of common sentiments in an emotional appeal for the unity of African states. It provides an emotional basis for the political aspiration toward [the] establishment of a ‘United States of Africa.’ ¶ In the last analysis, the concept of African personality is a political myth; but for that reason[,] it can have a strong emotional appeal and profound social consequences. There have already been extravagant abuses of the concept. It has been appealed to[,] to justify undemocratic practices and ruthless steps toward the establishment of one-party rule, and to excuse such patent injustices as the arbitrary arrest of political figures and their imprisonment without trial. Blatant aggressiveness has been defended as the projection of the African personality. But these clear aberrations are not necessarily inherent in the concept, either as a protest against colonialism or a defense of cultural freedom. ¶ The concept of Negritude represents a philosophical approach, although it, too, is a revolt against imperialism. In particular, it is a revolt against the French policy toward African cultures, a policy that has completely ignored them, on the assumption that, because French culture represents a ‘higher’ civilization, the best thing would be for France’s African subjects to adopt the culture of their rulers. The concept of Negritude has thus been promulgated by African intellectuals for former French colonies – principally Alioune Diop and Leopold Sedar Senghor. ¶ Senghor’s approach is in line with the concept of national character as explained above. He sees Negritude as a pair of common psychic traits possessed by the Negro African – ‘his heightened sensibility and his strong emotional quality.’ ‘Emotion is Negro.’ The concept of Negritude may be regarded as a convenient abstraction, a conceptual tool for researchers who are trying to find common cultural traits that will distinguish the Negro African from other races. But ‘heightened sensibility’ and ‘strong emotional quality’ – those cannot be claimed as the exclusive possessions of Negro Africans, nor as qualities embedded in every Negro African[,] irrespective of his cultural heritage and social experience. The essential problem of the concept is that race and culture do not necessarily go together. People of different races have belonged to the same culture, and people of the same race have belonged to different cultures. Historical circumstances have put Negro Africans into different cultures, and the personality traits conditioned by these cultures cannot be assumed to be identical. Even if they were, it should be noted that the concept of Negritude would express values common to only one of the races of Africa. For not all Africans are Negro Africans”(The Challenge of Africa 42-46).
Africa’s foremost social thinker of the twentieth century also deftly debunks facile attempts by some white/European supremacists to conveniently appropriate Social Darwinian Theory to justify both the European enslavement and colonization of the African continent: “The justification of colonial wars on the basis of Darwinian – hence, scientific – theory may have salved consciences or satisfied national pride. It certainly encouraged and it very probably added support for the jingoism that marked the period when it was popular. But it does not appear to have taken account of the many, and protracted, wars that different countries of Caucasoid Europe fought with each other. In fact, the story of the colonization of Africa is, on the one hand, the story of the relations between different powers of the Caucasoid race, as rivals and competitors for colonies, and on the other, of the impact these powers had on the African countries they colonized. The theory that implied innate inequalities among races has not been supported by the findings of students of human biology”(53).
Even as he proved himself to be, perhaps, the most formidable opponent of Nkrumah’s one-party autocracy, with the unarguable exception of Danquah, of course, Busia, ever the astute scholar of colonial conquest and ideology, fully appreciated the grim and stark fact that the departing Western colonial masters emplaced no viable and salutary democratic institutional structures to guarantee democratic governance in their absence. Needless to say, theirs had been a system that unreservedly demanded obedience from the colonial subject, rather than the kind of dialogical symbiosis – or give-and-take – that pertained to the political and administrative cultures of the metropolitan countries themselves. In this sense, even though he definitely cannot be excused for doggedly pursuing a neocolonialist administrative agenda, nevertheless, Nkrumah and his contemporary African leaders may fairly aptly be envisaged to have been veritable victims of a prefabricated administrative machinery: “But one characteristic is common to all colonial systems: all have been authoritarian. All the new nations of Africa have inherited a legacy of authoritarian political structures from their former rulers. This is a fact worthy of note, especially in relation to the political institutions that are being developed by nationalist governments that have succeeded the colonial rulers. ¶ An eminent Africanist (testifying before an official committee of his government in 1960) stated, inter alia: ‘It is reasonable to assume that, in the immediate future, we shall see governments with powers vested in a strong executive, and where one-party systems predominate, if only because of the need to mobilize resources and labor for development along a line which is inimical to the process of debate that in the two-party and multi-party systems must precede decisions as to policies and their implementation.’ He went on to caution that ‘African one-party systems are not to be equated with totalitarianism.’ He might have pointed out that the administrative structures that nationalist governments inherit at independence are bureaucracies in which powers are vested in executives with no tradition of party government or opposition. ¶ There is an element of continuity in the situation. Colonial governments are not democratic governments. Each is the embodiment of the power of an alien country. A colonial government demands obedience; its laws must be obeyed. Those who represent the metropolitan country are top administrators and law-givers, not subject to the will of those whom they rule. They require not that their colonial subjects acquiesce, but that they submit. Accordingly, the administrative structure devised is such as can be used for the effective exercise of authority by the few who are directly appointed by a metropolitan country to rule, on its behalf, the many who are indigenous to the colony. It is important to grasp this point in order to appreciate the current tendencies in Africa”(The Challenge of Africa 66-67).
Then also prevails the paradoxical phenomenon of foreign investors, largely resident in the democratic West, who insist on the existence of authoritarian regimes as a precondition for investing their capital surplus resources in emergent Third-World nations, as a form of security guarantee: “The development of ‘strong executives’ has also been encouraged by investors who insist that, as a guarantee for the security of their investments, they require strong, stable governments, about which they have shown more concern than about the civil liberties of the governed. An African leader who set out resolutely to establish a ‘strong government’ by ruthless elimination of opposition justified his conduct by saying that he wanted investments, and investors did not ask whether there were civil liberties or whether there was an opposition party in his country, but whether there was stability and a strong leader capable of ensuring its maintenance. Indeed, a strong opposition that offered itself as an alternative government and commanded sufficient popular support to constitute a threat to the party in power was deemed to be a disability. The government could not be regarded as stable. ¶ Investors demand ‘strong’ governments, governments with large and comfortable majorities and with ‘strong’ men at their head, governments that can safely be expected to remain in the saddle. Hence[,] some African leaders have been encouraged to believe that it is wise to maintain the authoritarian traditions of former colonial powers – and wiser still to improve on them in the direction of totalitarianism, thus reassuring would-be investors. When this has been done, investments have poured in. The investors in question were themselves citizens of Western democracies, where they enjoyed and cherished their civil liberties, and where vigorous parties offered alternative governments to the electorates. One such investor explained, ‘If we were to ask for democratic systems before we invested, there would be very few areas in the world for our investments.’ All the new nations need investments, and this insidious demand of investors for ‘strong’ governments should not be lightly discounted”(The Challenge of Africa 67-68).
Busia also explains the apparent lassitude, or abject lack of progressive initiative, on the part of the citizens of the newly independent African countries. The virtual liquidation of both their individual and collective initiatives had instilled a pathological sense of lethargy, and dependency, in many an average continental African by the eve of the attainment of sovereignty from European colonial imperialism: “Colonial rule meant the superimposition of a new bureaucracy. Indigenous political systems were either destroyed or radically modified. One general result to which attention may be called was the divorce of many people in villages, as well as in towns, from participation in local government and local decisions. Even where, as in British territories, indigenous political organizations were used, the roles were significantly changed. Chiefs and their councils became subject to the authority and direction of district commissioners or agents representing the imperial power, rather than to the will of their own people. The people were expected not to initiate, but to obey. The psychological result was the breeding of inertia in the general population, which learned to expect [the] government to do everything. Initiative lay with the imperial officers and their representatives. ¶ Destruction of the sense of civic responsibility is one of the most striking effects of direct rule by an alien power. At independence, it presents to the leaders of the new nation one of their most formidable problems. Without the active and massive participation of the people, it is impossible to carry out the required tasks of nation building and development. But the populace has to be roused from the stupor into which it has been thrown by years of political domination, years during which power [had] been so centralized in the hands of imperial officials that the people [had] had little share in deciding even on the local matters that touched their own lives. The legacy of impressive central legislatures and bureaucratic machinery often has no base in local communities, and presents only a deceptive façade of political progress”(The Challenge of Africa 69-70).
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Danquah v. Nkrumah.” E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.