The Mind of Africa
234 Pages
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The Mind of Africa


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234 Pages


William Abraham studied Philosophy at the University of Ghana, and even more Philosophy at Oxford University. Thereafter, he gained permission to take part in the competitive examination and interview for a fellowship at All Souls� College. The examination was once described, with some exaggeration, as �the hardest exam in the world!� It included a three-hour essay. Following his success in becoming the first African fellow of All Souls, his interest in African politics quickly developed into a Pan-African perspective. The Mind of Africa, written while he was still at All Souls, was a fruit of that enlarged perspective. After several years as a Fellow, he had occasion to visit Ghana in 1962. There Kwame Nkrumah, then President of Ghana, successfully persuaded him to return to Ghana to teach at the University of Ghana, Legon and he subsequently resigned from All Souls. In 1968, he went to the United States as a visiting professor. This was followed by invitations to teach at various academic institutions there, including Berkeley and Stanford. He subsequently settled in California, where he continued to teach and research philosophy in the University of California at Santa Cruz until his retirement. �The Mind of Africa appeared at a time when a number of African countries were obtaining, or fighting for, their political freedom from their colonial rulers and becoming independent nations and expecting to build new societies in accordance with their own visions and conceptions, though not necessarily jettisoning all the features of their colonial heritage. Building new societies requires appropriate ideologies and philosophies fashioned within the crucible of their cultural and historical experiences. Thus, the relation between ideology and society is taken up at the very outset of the book... The Mind of Africa is important for Africa�s future and identity.



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Published 12 June 2015
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EAN13 9789988860295
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W. E. Abraham
First published in Ghana in 2015 by Sub-Saharan Publishers P.O.Box 358 Legon-Accra Ghana Email:
ISBN 978-9988-550-58-5
©: William E. Abraham 2015
Originally published in the United Stated of America in 1962 by the University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 ISBN: 0-2 26-00085-0 (clothbound); 0-226-00086-9 (paperbound) Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-9733
and by
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, W.1., England © 1962 by W.E. Abraham.
Copyright Notice All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission of the publishers.
Dedicated to us, the African people
Note for the new edition NEW PREFACE ORIGINAL PREFACE (1962) FOREWORD
CHAPTER 1 IDEOLOGY AND SOCIETY Culture and the signiculture—Historicalcance of events: The nature of considerations, humanism and rationality—Humanism and evolution— Essentialist and scientiman: Relations to politics—Thec analyses of foundation of society—The uses of culture: The African contact with Eu-rope—The African contact with the Middle East—The traditional nature of Africa—Blueprint for paradise—Alleged pedigree.
CHAPTER 2 PARADIGM OF AFRICAN SOCIETY Similarity between Cultures—Paradigm of African culture—Its philosoph-ical aspect—Its supernatural aspect—Its theory of man and society—Its theory of government—Its legal system—Its military organisation—Its lit-erature—Its ethics and metaphysics—Institutions and theory.
v vi xiii xv
CHAPTER 3 INDEPENDENCE LOST AND REGAINED 116 The loss of independence: How to gain an Empire: Benecolonial-ts of ism—Evils of colonialism—Aspects of African enslavement—Sir John Fielding’s style—Some remarkable Africans—Africa’s price for revolution— Africa’s development of Europe—The emergence of a new class structure— The political inspiration of economics—Christianity and individualism in Africa—The demand for independence: The bearing of Russia—Liberal democracy—Designing institutions—Political parties—Schisms and uni-
ty—One-party states—Pressure groups—The Settler problem—Extremism and Anti-colonialism—Nationalism and Racialism—Soviet attitudes.
CHAPTER 4 AFRICA REDIVIVA 163 Economic Problems: Economic resources—Virtue of African unity—Po-litical problems—The Revolutionary Party: Identity quests—Problems of Government—Role of Intellectuals: Neutralism: The British Common-wealth—Evolution and ethics: Aims of education—African renaissance— Pan Africanism.
RATHER THAN ATTEMPT a thorough-going update of the original 1962 edition ofTheMind of Africato reect the current situation, I have settled for making limited amendments which are more in the nature of tidying up or clarifying points in the original text. This new edition therefore still reects the situation, hopes and fears ---not to mention the statistics, understandings and misapprehensions--- of the early 1960s. These may have some historic interest, and further, the central ques-tion of developing cultures which provide the sense of shared destiny and common purpose so clearly still needed in most African countries, remains, I believe, a critical issue , that will substantially determine the future success of Africa. I therefore believe the main themes ofThe Mind of Africastill have resonance today, and that others too maynd them worth re-visiting for the light they cast on the issues of today, as well for historic interest. I have, however, included a new and additional preface to this edi-tion, which seeks to briey sketch how certain relatively novel aspects of culturetoday,suchastheinuence of social media, may affect questions of the future cultural development of Africa. Appropriately this new preface benets from contributions from my son Henry Abraham, as the challenge of African development is one now most acutely posed to generations following mine.
W. E. Abraham
It is now more than 50 years since therst publication ofThe Mind of Africa,in 1962.Kwame Nkru-was written at the suggestion of  It mah, theGhana, and published some 5 years afterrst president of GhanagaineditsindependencefromtheBritish,underNkrumahsleadership. During those 5 years, another 22 African countries had also become independent from their colonial masters.Af-The Mind of rica’scentral aim was to show how common themes in existing African cultures could provide a good foundation for cultural developments that complemented the new political orders in these freshly liberated countries, and could underpin their success. It also sought to demon-strate to African readers that they had good reason for condence in their own cultural roots, and to encourage the identication and rejection of those elements of culture and habits of thought acquired during the colonial period, but unsuited to the dignity and needs of independent peoples. Back in 1962, I would have assumed that in 50 years time, the lead-ing task for philosophers considering African national cultures would be assessing achievements, and suggesting renements to successful cul-tural models. Of course, the focus of most current debate is, in fact, on what has gone wrong, and on why there has been such limited progress in building cultures that promote inclusive development across Africa, although there are now also welcome signs of a renaissance in optimism about Africa’s future. An important word for the Akan peoples of Ghana, “sankofa”, speaks of returning to one’s roots. I hope that there will be value for those interested in these questions in revisiting some of the early hopes and thinking captured inThe Mind of Africacourse, it was written. Of at a time when independence from colonial domination was a new and exciting reality for Ghana and many other African states, yet the chal-
lenges we faced then of seeking ways to enable inclusive development and true independence remain central ones today across Africa. One issue which was at the heart both of Nkrumah’s vision andThe Mind of Africathat Africa should unite.Pan-Africanism: the belief  is The obvious failure to achieve such unity might be argued to invalidate the relevance of the book to current debates. However, I do not believe that to be true. Firstly, whilst pan-Africanism has not succeeded, a focus on national and sub-national boundaries and identities has manifestly proved problematic in many parts of Africa. Secondly, the core cultural commonalities across Africa of which I speak inThe Mind of Africastill hold, and in addition one can point to the evident commonalities in the problems that many African countries have experienced over the last 50 years to argue that the challenges of developing national cultures that enable inclusive development remain shared ones. To inform such revisiting of some of the roots of discussions of cul-tures across Africa that were live and pressing matters 50 years ago, it is worth bearing in mind the different schools of thought held since that time on achieving development in Africa. The dominant approach has been to make changes in economic structures aimed at facilitating the growth of private sector businesses (including opportunities for prot of Western owned companies operating in Africa!), supported by in-ternational development institutions and donor countries (often called “the Washington consensus”). The potential dominance of this techno-cratic economic approach, and its bias towards advantaging Western economic interests, was foreseen inThe Mind of Africa.thisIn favour of approach, one can say that in the modern globalised world, there is little alternative to developing a strong private sector if a country is to have a successful economy. Nonetheless, the widespread failure across Africa to achieve this desired outcome is clear, as are the very mixed results from similar approaches in the countries of post-communist Eastern Europe, despite their more economically advanced starting points. As a result of
these failures, in recent decades there has been an increasing emphasis on starting by addressing certain pre-requisites for economic develop-ment: improving education and health, and developing institutions that provide a fertile and dependable framework for economic activity. Yet many of the resulting interventions appear, in practice, to be focussed on physical, and to a lesser extent, legal infrastructure. They pay insuf-cient attention to the “soft” cultural and mental infrastructure that is also essential. No doubt it is easier for the ubiquitous foreign consultant charged by their development agency client with promoting these things to get to grips with the tangible and measurable: with putting up school buildings, rather than the more subtle and long term work of helping people transform their attitudes to education. More recently, there has been a welcome increase in the emphasis put by Africans on their own agency, and the responsibility of African leaders to make better choices for their peoples: in short, to be better leaders. I welcome this return towards understanding Africans to be shapers of their own destiny rather than simply passive recipients of aid or foreign investment, or helpless victims of an unchangeable past or geography. The theme of Africans taking control of their own futures is core toAfricaThe Mind of course also central to Nkru-was of  (and mah’s thinking). Importantly however, inAfricaThe Mind of I took this theme a step further. The book’s focus on identifying a shared culture to underpin successful nation building and development recognises the reality that African leaders are constrained and shaped by the culture which they share with their communities, as well as themselves inuenc-ing that culture. To put this another way, every leader today, in Africa or elsewhere, needs a degree of local support to continue in ofce, and will devote much time and energy to maintain this. Equally, sometimes the same citizens in various African countries who complain of political corruption expect their political representatives to make them signicant cash gifts towards the costs of funerals, schooling and so on, with little
thought as to how the politician is likely to fund this largesse. As great-er (albeit still imperfect) democracy becomes the norm across more of Africa, the inter-relationships between leaders and people will become ever more signicant. Whilst this is generally welcome, the prevailing culturewilllargelydeterminewhatimpactthisincreasedinteractionhas, and whether it helps transform the widespread view (amongst both leaders and other citizens) that the real purpose of political leadership is capturing the nation’s resources for personal enrichment, whilst carry-ing out just sufthe resources captured to becient wider distribution of allowed to maintain power. However, I believe that whilst better lead-ers would be hugely benecial across much of Africa, simply changing leaders is not a short cut that eliminates the need for the arduous work of building national and continental cultures supportive of inclusive development, and that will ultimately help Africa as a whole full its great potential. It is vital to have a shared understanding that the moral reason for seeking political ofce is serving the people and their nation. So how would I seek to answer the vital question of what can and should be done now to help build cultures across Africa that support inclusive development? Myrst point, which I take from the early days of independence, and particularly from the example of Kwame Nkrumah himself, is the immense motivating power of a shared and inspiring vision for the fu-ture. There are honourable exceptions, but in many African countries there is little sense of a clear long term vision to motivate citizens and leaders at every level of society in a shared commitment that is strong enough to prevail over the desire for personal gain, and that can survive changes in political leadership. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, King James Version of the Bible). Secondly, as discussed above, whilst African countries need better leadership, good long term leadership itself comes out of, and requires the support of, a wider culture. Simply waiting for the right leaders to