PROUD FLESH: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness (2002)
REVIEW: CHEIKH ANTA DIOP. TOWARDS THE AFRICAN RENAISSANCE: ESSAYS IN CULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT, 1946-1960. Trans. Egbuna P. Modum. London: The Estate of Cheikh Anta Diop and Karnak House, 1996. Originally published in French as Alerte Sous Les Tropiques, Paris: The Estate of Cheikh Anta Diop and Présence Africaine, 1990.
Leketi Makalela and Walter Sistrunk
One of the less recognized works in African scholarship remains the sterling work of Cheikh Anta Diop, who charts pathways toward the overall development of Africa. Despite Diop’s contribution to African scholarship in science, language and history, his work has to date been reduced to a cold object of history. In this review, we analyze his collection of essays entitled Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development, a book which catches our attention as a blueprint with clearly spelled-out steps by which Africa can rediscover herself. This work can serve as a model that should influence all forms of revolutionary thought on the continent and elsewhere today.
Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development consists of 152 pages, with 11 chapters, generated from the essays Diop wrote between 1946 and 1960 when he was a student in Paris, France. The book is organized in a user-friendly way denoting the author’s intellectual growth on the issue that dominated his thinking: African Unity. The chronological arrangement of the chapters renders the text accessible in terms of layout and content even for novice readers in African scholarship.
The first two chapters of the book introduce the reader to linguistic relations among African languages. Using lexical analogies and semantic articulations of phrases from a variety of languages, Diop is able to make a linguistic connection between Valaf and other Senegalese languages (i.e., Djola, Peul and Serakolle). The two chapters make one point clear: African languages are more closely related than typically thought when taken at face value.
The third chapter asks a very telling question: When can we talk of an African Renaissance? It gets to the heart of issues that dominate Diop’s thought as an intellectual and a scholar on Africa. While we can talk about African renaissance in relation to music, sculpture and architecture, language remains key to achieving this grand objective for the continent. Relating language to African renaissance explicitly, Diop eloquently notes that “ the development of our indigenous languages is the prerequisite for a real African renaissance” (p.35). To justify this claim, he is quick to remind us of the detrimental effects of using foreign languages as media of instruction in African schools. He states:
The African is forced to make double efforts: to assimilate the meaning of words and then, through a second intellectual effort, to capture the reality expressed by the words (p.38).
In order to develop African languages, Diop charges African writers with the task of writing for an African audience in African languages. This mission will in turn promote people’s political education (Chapter 6, p.77). Further, in chapter 8, he specifically makes useful recommendations for language policy and planning research that aims at establishing relations between African languages, identifying their specific geniuses and studying some aspects of grammar that have thus far been ignored by specialists (p.116). Diop drives the point home on the language question for African states by asking African linguists and policy-makers to avoid easy solutions and to upgrade certain national languages to suit modern exigencies (p.118).
Another step that Africa must take is to develop is an African political ideology, an issue enunciated in chapter 4. To this effect, Diop calls for organization and creation of awareness about Black Africa. Africans from all social strata are called upon to unite and be conscious “there exists a capitalist exploitation which is the cause of all our misery and which cannot stop without the total annihilation of colonialism” (p.48). We interpret Diop’s idea of political ideology as a call for unity that would reverse the divide-and-rule tactics of imperial powers of the West, which masks itself through African elite groups and political leaders that have a “holy alliance” with capitalist Europe. This idea is developed in chapter 5 when Diop claims that “we must oppose coalition with coalition” (p.71).
One of the important requirements for achieving African renaissance is economic independence. Diop reflects on this issue in one of his more detailed articles, “Alarm in the Tropics” (Chapter 7). He begins by comparing the wealth of Africa and her Western counterparts, asserting:
On the one hand, one finds a numerically weak group [Africa] lacking in all the advantages of modern life, but sitting on fabulous wealth. On the other hand is an economically poor group [the West] which is gifted with all it takes to take risks (p.97).
The risks of the West include, among others, exploitation and extermination of “natives” (similar to what Americans did to Indians or what the British did in Australia) as elaborated in what Diop refers to as the “policy of infiltration.” We can easily make connections here between Diop’s work and Walter Rodney’s classic text, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, where Rodney deals with the economic partition of Africa by Europe. Methods of operation in South Africa are portrayed as typical of Western exploitation of resource-rich Africa. From a list of six methods Diop cited on South Africa, the following are economically interesting:
1. Encouraging immigration of Nazis exclusively: Germans, Dutch etc. The French, Italians and even British are refused immigration rights for not being sufficiently racist.
2. Developing its capacity to absorb foreign elements.
3. Practicing a policy of racial segregation in all aspects of existence (Apartheid), hence a series of laws whose grotesque character aimed at reducing Africans to subhuman existence (food scarcity and return to tribal life).
4. Avoiding all manner of education for Africans, especially military and political education.
All these policies are bent on exploiting Africa’s resources for the benefit of Europe. The reason for economic exploitation is simple: Africa has vast reserves in hydraulic energy, uranium and other minerals whereas “Europe is an empty box” (p.117). Since Africa is the energy center of the world, its economic independence from the West adds another requirement for renaissance. Importantly, Diop ends this essay by discussing how an economically independent Africa should have relations with the Caribbean Islands.
The last three chapters (9, 10 & 11) reiterate the dire need for linguistic, political and economic consciousness among Africans and a cultural unity that is deeply rooted in African history. For example, he argues that historical Africa has a culture of matriarchy, as opposed to Western patriarchy, which needs to be revived as we enter into the domain of renaissance. In this connection, intellectuals (chapter 11) are mandated “to study the past not for their pleasure but to learn useful lessons.” One such lesson for Africans is that:
Our history has been falsified to suit a certain cause, that our traditions have been misrepresented and our culture ridiculed in order to arrange our allegiance to the wishes of the different European countries which had shared our land amongst themselves (p. 138).
Diop’s Towards the African Renaissance is, in a word, “The Blueprint,” a title most befitting this book. If a remix or bootleg version were to be made and circulated on the street, tattered copies of "The Blueprint" would magically appear in barbershops next to the cover-torn copy of Robert Beck’s The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim. “The Blueprint,” however, would solely be associated with the writings and ideas of a Diop. “The Blueprint” would not be associated with the immature babblings of a thirty-something year old man about “GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS.”
In other words, this book truly represents a culture which has survived the attacks of a hostile society whose main intent is to completely eradicate it. This book is the answer and lays out the floor plan on which to build African Unity and, more importantly, to make the struggle for independence. Diop does not hide behind the fact of the matter, concerning where the problem lies when dealing with Africa. From the onset, Diop recognizes the problem of Africa is an external colonial one. Diop reiterates that “political education” is needed to eradicate the constructs of colonialism and that this political education must adapt to new colonial formulations. Diop maintains: “We are therefore obliged to review our strategy and tactics in order to adapt them to this new situation if we desire to enhance our chances of success” (p. 71).
Furthermore, this book provides a context to guide the reader when reading other works by Diop. Throughout the book, the author reiterates that his intentions are about fostering political education that builds on the idea of African Unity, which in the end will eradicate colonialism. As a result, the reader knows beforehand that Diop’s numerous works are just additions to a growing arsenal. This sets Diop apart from other scholars who claim to be remedying Africa of its problems.
Diop identifies with the hardship of Black Africans worldwide and demonstrates an immense understanding of how colonial terrorism affects its dispersed populates. In “Alarm in the Tropics,” Diop’s discussion of “American Involvement in Black Africa” echoes the contemporary saying made popular by Hip-Hop group Public Enemy, who said the Klu Klux Klan don’t wear robes anymore but shirts and ties. Here, Diop reiterates how America is at its core racist and fascist by citing Stetson Kennedy’s essay on how the Klan’s doctrine embraces whites from all social classes and how the Klan’s involvement in U.S. governmental organizations is as fundamental to “America” as waving of “Old Glory.”
Diop addresses the problem of race in Africa head on with historic and linguistic inquiry. What Diop illustrates is that linguistic and cultural diversity comes about in Africa the same way it comes about in Europe, as a result of migration or isolation. In chapter 2, Diop takes his own language of Valaf and shows that its origin is not confined by an origin of race, an origin that is not confined to time and space. In other words, the notion of race does not take into account the historical phenomena of migration and isolation which lead to developments of linguistic diversity. On the other hand, race exits only in a cultural vacuum where diversity stands in as the real point of origin. Diop concludes: “The Valaf race, in the conventional sense, is a myth” (p.31). By showing how various African languages share a common origin, Diop dispels the conventional notion of race and sets up an environment that favors African Unity.
Again, Diop’s intentions are to convince Africans that African Unity is possible and that divisions made by colonialists cannot be substantial. Reading Diop’s Towards the African Renaissance is mandatory; and the absorption of its contents is the prerequisite to understanding the task at hand. Diop’s work not only stands in as “The Blueprint” but also as the gauge by which to measure our progress. As a gauge, it serves to measure the effectiveness of certain proposed doctrines and to tag those who blatantly contrast in effort and in intent.
Copyright 2002 Africa Resource Center, Inc.
Makalela, Leketi & Sistrunk, Walter (2002). Diop Cheikh. Anta (1996). Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development, 1946-1960. Trans. Egbuna P. Modum. London: The Estate of Cheikh Anta Diop and Karnak House. Originally published in French as Alerte Sous Les Tropiques, Paris: The Estate of Cheikh Anta Diop and Présence Africaine, 1990. PROUD FLESH: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness : 1, 1.