Francis Kwarteng, who hails from Ghana, has written a very important and ambitious book. The title speaks for itself: “An Intellectual Biography of Africa—A Philosophical Anatomy of Advancing Africa the Diopian Way.” (Xlibris, 2022)
By “Diopian,” Kwarteng refers to the late Cheikh Anta Diop, the Senegalese-born giant of a scholar who died prematurely in 1986 at the age of 63. Diop, a scientist, linguist, historian, anthropologist, political economist, among other professions, was the author of several path-breaking books, including the classic “The African Origin of Civilization.” Diop’s work effectively demolished the pseudo-theories of some European intellectual dwarfs who couldn’t bring themselves to accept the fact that all human beings originated in Africa and that K-Met, a.k.a. ancient Egypt, was a Black African civilization.
It’s because we live in such a Eurocentric world that Diop’s name is not as well known as that of other eminent scientists like Albert Einstein. He built on the works of the European Kenyan scientists, the Leakeys, who established that human beings originated in East and Central Africa after their great discoveries of fossil remains—including the 1.7 million years old Zinjanthropus boisei— in Olduvai Gorge. Other scientist later discovered even older remains, such as 3.2 million years old Dinknesh in Ethiopia. Diop surpassed all scientists; by testing the melanin content in tissue samples of mummies from K-Met (ancient Egypt) he was able to confirm that they were Black Africans. The samples he used were from tissues of commoners. When Diop asked to test remains of the Royal families, the gate-keepers in modern Egypt—who ironically, bear no relations to the ancient Egyptians—refused to provide the samples. The saying that truth will set you free had never been more appropriate: at the same time there is a whole global industry—including Eurocentricism—that thrive on keeping people ignorant.
Diop’s works showed that since all human-beings have a mono-genetic origin, there can be no such thing as intellectual hierarchies based on “race”—which itself is a social construct. He was able to prove that white supremacy is, scientifically, nonsense. That’s why he faced formidable challenge from the European academy.
Kwarteng’s book includes essays and commentary on the works of many historical and contemporary Africana scientists, writers, academics, intellectuals, and activists. He shows how their pioneering work have often been ignored, diminished, or appropriated without giving them credit. He questions why much knowledge production and dissemination should be based on Eurocentric constructs since Diop and other eminent scientists have already established African origins. He criticizes the European establishment—in Europe and in the United States—for always anointing the leaders that people in the Africana world should look up to. He admonishes Africana intellectuals for adopting or emulating Eurocentric constructs even when they may not be appropriate for Africana communities. He insists that it’s only through creating Africana curricula and “centering” knowledge production on the Africana experience that mental “decolonization” can occur. This is the prerequisite for liberation.
So it’s no surprise that Kwarteng wants the Africana world to adopt the “Diopian” way. It’s interesting to note that Diop was as much a Pan-African as Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah were—sometimes this is lost in discussions about this great African because of the focus on “African Origins of Civilization”; his other works, such as “Precolonial Black Africa” which are relatively more political, are just as impactful.
Chapter Two revisits the perennial debate about the need for an African university, which is one way to disrupt the Eurocentric monopoly on knowledge production.
“Decolonizing the African mind constitutes the greatest responsibility of African teachers, curriculum developers, and educators…” the author correctly observes, and adds, “…Africans are addicted to copying others blindly without regard for whether this uncritical imitations benefit Africa.” (page 82).
“Asante asks the following question—‘Where is the African curriculum? Where is the African university in Africa?’ Obviously Africa has no an answers,” Kwarteng adds, referring to Temple University’s Prof. Molefi Kete Asante (page 83).
Kwarteng spends much ink analyzing the works of many of our Africana ancestors and contemporary contributors. His book is divided into 12 chapters. The references at the end of each chapter, and the numerous sources at the end of the book, by themselves, make this book worth purchasing. They’re a powerful resource for scholars, professors, other educators and lay readers who want to see intellectual light. The chapter titles are illustrative of the book’s content. They include: “The Power of Critical Thinking—Unclosing The African Mind,” “On The Intellectual Map: Molefi Kete Asante Advances Africa,” “Ama Mazama: An Intellectual Warrior for Africa,” “A World Class African Scientist: The Revolutionary Scientific Contributions of Victor Lawrence,” and many others.
Who is Ama Mazama the reader might ask? And who is Victor Lawrence? Well these are the questions Kwarteng devotes much of the book to answering. He shows readers that there are many African intellectuals and scientists whom we should be aware of and studying. Kwarteng, correctly, admonishes the Eurocentric gatekeepers of knowledge for ignoring or diminishing the contributions of Africana people like Mazama, Lawrence, and many others.
Kwarteng rises to the occasion in highlighting the works of Africana women, including: Ama Ata Aidoo; Toni Morrison; Edwidge Danticat; Leymah Gbowee; Dr. Hawa Abdi; Dr. Gladys West; Tebello Nyokong; and many others. “Often times we do not celebrate the contributions of women,” Kwarteng laments, “This concern is not unique to Africa or African and Black women, however.” (page 233).
Kwarteng questions the tendency for the European establishment to point out which intellectuals in the Africana world are to be regarded as the most renowned. He argues that the European establishment has elevated Louis “Skip” Gates and Cornel West over Temple’s Asante because the latter doesn’t adhere to a “…genuflected position before the altar of whiteness.” Kwarteng, in chapter 10, highlights the academic achievements of Prof. Asante, who created the first doctoral program in African American Studies in the world.
Only the victims of mental colonization can liberate their minds. “Thus decolonizing the African academy, the Pan-European Academy, and African Studies and opposing the negative portrayal of Africa in the Western media, textbooks, films and curricula should be our first and foremost priority…” Kwarteng writes, and adds, “…the field of African Studies should be strengthened to accommodate the historical and contemporary challenges of the continent. Africology is instrumental here. Maintaining the structures of African agency and centeredness as the dominant methodological motifs in the philosophy of African studies…” (page 561).
Kwarteng’s book belongs on the shelf of all those who want a guide to the “Diopian” way of charting a more constructive body of knowledge that will help the Africana world understand the origins of our current predicament. Only then can we “ask the correct questions” to paraphrase the late Walter Rodney, and arrive at the correct solutions.
Full disclosure is in order. I consider Kwarteng a comrade in arms in the struggle for the intellectual liberation of the Africana world. He’s written brilliant reviews (see below) of my own books, “The Hearts of Darkness—How White Writers Created the Racist Image of Africa,” (Black Star Books, 2003) and “Manufacturing Hate—How Africa Was Demonized In Western Media” (Kendall Hunt Publishing Co., 2021).
Kwarteng’s own work speaks for itself. This review would be no different whether I knew the author or not.