Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Kwame Nkrumah, African Studies, and the Politics of Knowledge Production in the Black Star of Africa

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Kwame Nkrumah, African Studies, and the Politics of Knowledge Production in the Black Star of Africa

Article excerpt


On February 24, 1966, Kwame Nkrumah, whose Convention People's Party led Ghana to independence in 1957, was deposed in a military coup. Over the next decade, scholars debated the coup's significance,1 but their focus was almost exclusively on politics: on parties, governance, and the political economy of development. Although four and a half decades have passed since Nkrumah's ouster, historians, for their part, have not yet taken up the 1966 rupture in any detailed or sustained way.2 They have neither interrogated the varied conclusions first drawn by political scientists in the immediate aftermath of the coup, nor prized open new perspectives on the events of 1966. This article is aimed at turning an historical lens on one small, but not insignificant, aspect of Nkrumah's panAfricanist agenda in the 1960s and assessing the impact of the 1966 coup on that vision and its realization. My focus is on postcolonial knowledge production about Africa and two of Nkrumah's specific efforts to transform both scholarly and public understandings of African history and culture locally and globally: the Institute of African Studies and the Encyclopaedia Africana.

Numerous scholars have, of course, detailed the long, conflicted, and fractured history of African Studies or knowledge production about Africa.3 Of special note is Paul Tiyambe Zeleza's recent two-volume edited collection on The Study of Africa-a landmark contribution, which details the disciplinary and interdisciplinary groundings of African knowledge production transnational^ and globally4-and William Martin and Michael West's edited collection, Out of One, Many Africas, which explores the multiple paradigms that have sought to bring meaning to the idea of "Africa": European colonial, U.S. area studies, pan-Africanist, and African/continental.5 The particularly vexed history of African Studies in North America-anchored to the obdurate racial politics of the United States, tailored to the requirements of the Cold War, and tied to the emergence of the United States as a world power-has generated especially lengthy discussion, including as the subject of more than one presidential address at the annual meeting of the U.S. African Studies Association!6 But across the board what is perhaps most striking about this troubled intellectual history, as Zeleza points out, is the marginalization of Africans and the African academy in knowledge production about Africa:

the terms of global intellectual exchange, like the terms of trade ... are decidedly unequal: African studies in the North is a peripheral part of the academy, whereas the Euro-American epistemological order remains central in the African academy. Since the colonial encounter, the construction of scholarly knowledge about Africa has been internationalized both in the sense of it being an activity involving scholars in various parts of the world and the inordinate influence of externally generated models on African scholarship.7

But was this outcome already and always inevitable? Perhaps. It is also important to recognize, as Martin and West have recently argued with regard to African Studies in the United States, that "Resistance by African scholars and institutions to domination ... deepened over time, a story that for the most part remains to be written."8 This article is aimed at taking one step toward reconstructing that story. Its focus is on a moment in Nkrumah's Ghana, short-lived though it may have been, when no course seemed charted; when it was at least possible to imagine forms of knowledge production about Africa that challenged colonial categories and the conventions of academic disciplines; that was Africa-centered, Africa-based, and globally engaged; that sought to transcend the politics of the Cold War and defy the hegemonic impulse of U.S. racial politics.

The Institute of African Studies: Facing Forward

At the center of this story is the University of Ghana's Institute of African Studies, which was officially opened as a semi-autonomous unit within the university on 25 October 1963. …

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