Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Kwasi Wiredu's Critique of Marxism: Its Philosophical Application to the "African Socialism" Via Nkrumah, Nyerere and Touré

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Kwasi Wiredu's Critique of Marxism: Its Philosophical Application to the "African Socialism" Via Nkrumah, Nyerere and Touré

Article excerpt


For a long time in postcolonial Africa, Marxism was the default philosophical and ideological temperament. Contemporary African philosophers were largely sympathetic to leftist ideologies, and this sympathy reflected in their attempt to fit their ideas into Marxist categories. One reason for this Marxist bent was the political influence wielded by Communism/Socialism after World War II and the ensuing Cold War. Another reason - and I think this is more important in our present context - was the larger-than-life influence of postcolonial African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Sekou Touré of Guinea, who themselves leaned towards socialism. The charisma of these African leaders contributed greatly in giving a general Marxist coloration to the intellectual and political atmosphere of the young African nations in the 60s and 70s. In this paper, I focus on Nkrumah, Nyerere and Touré, who called their own brands of Marxism "African socialism," perhaps to underline the supposed distinctiveness of their species of Marxism.

It is against the backdrop of the influence of Marxism on the Continent that we must appreciate the intellectual courage of Kwasi Wiredu, who challenged Marxism in his 1980 groundbreaking work: Philosophy and an African Culture. Two important chapters of the book are devoted to the critique of Marxism. Wiredu's critique touches upon the notions of truth, ideology, philosophy, morality and historical materialism, which he considers fundamental to any analysis of Marxism. He analyzes these notions in order to draw attention to aspects of Marxist philosophy that "provide the fundamental explanation of the tendency to authoritarianism hitherto noted in many Marxist regimes" (Wiredu, Philosophy and the African Culture, p.86, henceforth abbreviated as "PAC").

My main objective in this paper is to use Wiredu's critique of Marxism in Philosophy and an African Culture as a paradigm or framework for a thoroughly fundamental critique of "African socialism," as professed by the trio of Nkrumah, Nyerere and Touré. In his critique of Marxism, Wiredu explores the questions of truth, ideology, morality and the unrealistic promises of a 'perfect' or 'near-perfect' society.

Therefore, I shall critique "African Socialism" exploring these same aspects. Regarding the notion of truth, I argue that the three proponents of "African Socialism" - Nkrumah, Nyerere and Touré - subscribed to the belief in "absolute truths" which they equated with their personal ideas, and that this explains the high-handedness and zeal with which they suppressed dissent. On the issue of ideology, I maintain that the three leaders sustained highly ideological systems, despite all pretentions to the contrary. Their muting of dissent, subscription to one-party system, centralization of state instruments of coercion, use of propaganda machinery and a host of other measures all played into the ideological templates of these supreme leaders. Concerning morality, I maintain that, despite their propensity to 'moralize' (as seen in their lengthy discourses extolling "African values"), the ideologies of the three proponents of "African Socialism" were rather morally deficient in some respects. Finally, I challenge their claims that "African Socialism" is the 'best' system for Africa on the ground that there is no concrete evidence supporting the presumed 'perfection' of the pre-colonial African society. And, even if there were, I argue that it would be impossible to re-enact such a pristine situation in a postcolonial Africa, 'corrupted', as it were, by diverse foreign influences. My critique will focus mainly on their theoretical constructs, but will also make reference to concrete policies insofar as the policies are directly informed by the theoretical constructs of "African Socialism."

The present study is significant for the project of African Contemporary Philosophy in two interrelated ways. …

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