Francis Kwarteng, originally from Ghana, has written a very important and ambitious book. The title speaks for itself: “An Intellectual Biography of Africa – A Philosophical Anatomy of African Advancement in the Diopian Way”. (Xlibris, 2022)
By “Diopian,” Kwarteng refers to the late Cheikh Anta Diop, the Senegalese-born giant of an academic 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 groundbreaking books, including the classic “The African Origin of Civilization.” Diop’s work effectively demolished the pseudo-theories of some European intellectual dwarfs who could not bring themselves to accept the fact that all human beings originated in Africa and that the K-Met, aka ancient Egypt, was a African black civilization.
It is 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 work of 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-old Zinjanthropus boisei years – in the Olduvai Gorge. Another scientist later discovered even older remains, such as the 3.2 million year old Dinknesh in Ethiopia. Diop surpassed all scientists; by testing the melanin content of tissue samples from K-Met (Ancient Egypt) mummies, he was able to confirm that they were black Africans. The samples he used came from the tissues of commoners. When Diop asked to test the remains of the royal families, the custodians of modern Egypt – who ironically have no connection to the ancient Egyptians – refused to provide the samples. The saying that the truth will set you free has never been more apt: at the same time, there is a whole global industry – including Eurocentrism – that thrives on keeping people in the dark.
Diop’s work has shown that since all human beings have a mono-genetic origin, there can be no intellectual hierarchies based on “race” – which is itself a social construct. He was able to prove that white supremacy is, scientifically, nonsense. That’s why he faced a formidable challenge from the European academy.
Kwarteng’s book includes essays and commentaries on the work of many historical and contemporary African scientists, writers, scholars, intellectuals and activists. It shows how their pioneering work was often ignored, diminished, or appropriated without giving them credit. He questions why much of the production and dissemination of knowledge should be based on Eurocentric constructions since Diop and other eminent scientists have already established African origins. He criticizes the European establishment – in Europe and the United States – for always anointing leaders that people in the Africana world should look up to. He urges Africana intellectuals to adopt or emulate Eurocentric constructs even when they do not suit Africana communities. He insists that it is only by creating curricula for Africana studies and “centering” knowledge production on the Africana experience that mental “decolonization” can occur. This is the prerequisite for liberation.
It is therefore not surprising that Kwarteng wants the Africana world to adopt the “diopian” way. Interestingly, Diop was as much a Pan-African as Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah were – sometimes this is lost in discussions of this great African due to the emphasis on the “African origins of civilization”; his other works, like “Precolonial Black Africa” which are relatively more political, are equally impactful.
Chapter two revisits the perennial debate over the need for an African university as a way to disrupt the Eurocentric monopoly on knowledge production.
“The decolonization of the African mind is the greatest responsibility of African teachers, curriculum developers and educators…”, the author correctly observes, and adds: “…Africans are addicted to copying others blindly without caring whether these uncritical imitations benefit Africa”. (page 82).
“Asante asks the question: ‘Where is the African curriculum? Where is the African University in Africa? Obviously, Africa has no answers,” adds Kwarteng, referring to Professor Molefi Kete Asante of Temple University (page 83).
Kwarteng spends a lot of 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 many sources at the end of the book alone make this book worth buying. They are a powerful resource for scholars, professors, other educators, and lay readers who want to see the intellectual light. The chapter headings illustrate the contents of the book. 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’, ‘An African Scientist World Class: Contributions of Victor Lawrence”, and many more.
Who is Ama Mazama, the reader might wonder? And who is Victor Lawrence? Well, those are the questions Kwarteng devotes much of the book to answering. It shows readers that there are many African intellectuals and scientists that we should know and study. Kwarteng rightly warns Eurocentric knowledge keepers to ignore or diminish the contributions of Africans like Mazama, Lawrence and many others.
Kwarteng rises to the occasion by highlighting the works of African women, including: Ama Ata Aidoo; Toni Morrison; Edwige Danticat; Leymah Gbowee; Dr. Hawa Abdi; Dr. Gladys West; Tebello Nyokong; and many more. “Often we don’t celebrate women’s contributions,” laments Kwarteng, “This concern, however, is not unique to Africa or to African and black women.” (page 233).
Kwarteng questions the tendency of the European establishment to indicate which intellectuals in the Africana world should be considered the most renowned. He argues that the European establishment has elevated Louis “Skip” Gates and Cornel West above Temple’s Asante because the latter does not adhere to a “…genuflecting position before the altar of whiteness”. Kwarteng, in Chapter 10, highlights the academic achievements of Professor Asante, who established the world’s first doctoral program in African American studies.
Only the victims of mental colonization can free their minds. “Thus, decolonizing the African Academy, the Pan-European Academy and African Studies and opposing the negative portrayal of Africa in Western media, textbooks, films and curricula should be our first priority… ” writes Kwarteng, and adds: “…the field of African studies should be strengthened to meet the historical and contemporary challenges of the continent. Africology plays a key role in this. Maintaining structures of African agency and centering as dominant methodological motifs in the philosophy of African studies…” (page 561).
Kwarteng’s book belongs on the shelf of anyone who wants 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 right questions” to paraphrase the late Walter Rodney, and arrive at the right solutions.
Full disclosure is in order. I regard Kwarteng as a comrade in arms in the struggle for the intellectual liberation of the Africana world. He has 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).
hearts of darkness
Kwarteng’s own work speaks for itself. This review would be no different whether I know the author or not.
An Intellectual Biography of Africa: A Philosophical Anatomy of African Advancement in the Diopian Way