Encyclopaedia Africana Project
"A Pan African Dream Come True"

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Date: 1964 September 24

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EAP Editorial Board Archive
1964 September 24

First Annual Meeting: EAP Editorial Board
Part 2

A Speech by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
University of Ghana, West Africa
(continued... from Part 1)

In the Preface to this work Ellis tells how he had sought to widen his knowledge of Africa, before coming to Liberia, by the diligent study of encyclopaedias, geographies, and works of ethnology and anthropology, only to find that much of this information was "unsupported by the facts" and gave a picture "substantially different" from the character of African life which he himself found in West Africa. 

Acknowledging the services of European authors such as Harry Johnston, Lady Lugard and others, Ellis stated that to him:

"it seems more necessary and imperative that the African should explain his own culture, and interpret his own thought and soul life, if the complete truth is to be given to the other races of the earth. "

But there were already men in West Africa who had blazed a significant trail in this direction: Edward Wilmot Blyden, Joseph Casely Hayford and John Mensah Sarbah. Many other Africans in preceding generations helped to lay the basis of our present efforts to project a new African image of Africa. One thinks of such figures as James Africanus B. Horton and his "A vindication of the African Race." (1868) and of Carl Reindorf, Attoh Ahumah, Anthony William Amu, Samuel Johnson of Oyo, Blaise Diagne, Herbert Macaulay and others in West Africa, of Duse Mohammed Effendi of the Sudan, Lewanika of Barotseland, Apolo Kagwa of Buganda, and leaders such as John Tengo Jabavu, Solomon T. Plaatje, and Clements Kedalie in South Africa. And let us not forget the important contributions of others in the New World, for example, the sons of Africa in Haiti, such as Antenor Firmin and Dr. Jean Price-Mars, and others in the United States such as Alexander Crummell, Carter G. Woodson and our own Dr. Du Bois.

All of those whose names I have mentioned believed in and urged the necessity of writing about Africa from the point of view of African interests and African assumptions and concepts - and not from the point of view of Europeans or others who have quite different interests, assumptions and concepts, whether conscious or unconscious. This is precisely what we mean when we say that the Encyclopaedia Africana must be frankly Afro-centric in its interpretation of African history and of the social and cultural institutions of the African and people of African descent everywhere.

It is to be hoped, therefore, that the work on the Encyclopaedia Africana may provide both the forum and the motivation for the development of a virile and salutary new trend in the writing of African history, writing which will rank in scholarship with any other historiography, but which will also be based upon a frame of reference that is independently African, and will lead the way in independent thinking about Africa and its problems.

I am anxious that I should not be misunderstood in my emphasis on an Afro-centric point of view for the Encyclopaedia Africana . There are some who will say that his implies simply reversing the faults and distortions of the colonialist minded writers on Africa, painting everything white that they pictured as black, and everything black that they pictured as white.

I should like to assure our guests, the members of the Editorial Board, that that is in no sense my conception of what the Encyclopaedia Africana should be. Most certainly it must and will set the record straight on many points of African history and culture. But it will do this not simply on the basis of assertion backed by nothing more than emotion, but rather on the foundation of first-class scholarship linked with the passion for scientific truth.

I will not romanticize or idealize the African past, I will not gloss over African failings weaknesses and foibles, or endeavour to demonstrate that Africans are endowed with either greater virtues or lessor vices than the rest of mankind. There is undoubtedly considerable evidence of much that is noble and glorious in our African past; there is no need to gild the Lily nor to try to hide that which is ignoble. But here again it is a question of whose standards and values you are applying in assessing something as noble or ignoble, and I maintain that the Encyclopaedia Africana must reject non-African value-judgments of things African.

It is true that despite the great advances made during the last twenty years in the various disciplines of African studies, so much of Africa's history has yet to be unearthed, scientifically analysed, and fully comprehended. This sometimes gives rise to the question whether enough is yet known to undertake at this time the compilation of an encyclopaedia of the sort envisaged. Those who entertain such hesitation and doubt only expose the extent of their ignorance about Africa's great past.

Before the colonial era in Africa, Europeans had had many encounters with Africans on the cross-roads of history. They had married into African royal families, received Africans into their courts as ambassadors and social equals, and their writers had depicted African characters as great heroes in their literature. In common with the rest of mankind Africans made extensive use of cereals, they learned the art of raising cattle, adapted metal tools and weapons to their own use, and, to quote Basil Davidson,

"undertook mining and smelting and forging on a continental scale, borrowed crops from other lands, introduced soil conservation, discovered the medicinal value of a host of herbs and plants, and worked out their own explanations of mankind and the universe. All this had happened before the first ships set forth from Europe."

Let me give another quotation even at the risk of boring you, this time from Leo Frobenius again, a well-known historian who made 17 expeditions into African, North, East, West and South, in order to learn at first hand of the culture of the African peoples. Frobenius makes a basic statement in his book African Civilisation, which unfortunately has not yet been translated into English. Doubtless, there is reason why no complete translation has yet been made. From a limited translation made by Anna Malise Graves, I quote:

"When they, European navigators, arrived in the Gulf of Guinea and landed at Ouidah in Dahomey, the captains were greatly astonished to find streets well laid out, bordered on either side for several leagues with two rows of trees, and men clad in richly coloured garments of their own weaving. Further south in the kingdom of the Congo, a swarming crowd dressed in silk and velvet, great states well ordered and down to the most minute details, powerful rulers, flourishing industries, civilised to the manner of their bones.

And the condition of the countries on the eastern coast, Mozambique, for instance, was quite the same. The revelations of the navigators from 15th to the 17th century gave incontrovertible proofs that Africa stretching south from the edge of the Sahara desert was still in full flower - the flower of harmonious and well-ordered civilisations. And this fine flowering the European conquistadors or conquerors annihilated as far as they penetrated into the country."

Indeed, the history of Africa goes back into the dim recesses of time and antiquity. There are even scientists in our time who are beginning to claim that Africa was the very cradle of mankind. The fossil remains of man discovered by Dr. L.S.B. Leakey in Tanganyika have been dated by scientific processes as one and three-quarter million (1,750,000) years old. From the head waters of the Nile in Tanganyika let us move swiftly to its mouth on the Mediterranean Sea and the Isthmus of Suez where the great civilization of Egypt was fostered for thousands of years down to the Christian era. There, as we all know, man rose to the phenomenal heights of statecraft, science and religion and the excellence of the arts. Evidence from language, religion, astronomy, folklore and divine kinship, as well as geographical and physical proximity, confirms the basic African origin of this Egyptian cultural eminence.

This great flowering of the mind in Africa was unfortunately scorched by the ravages of the slave trade which encouraged extensive destruction through tribal warfare. Close upon this set in the evil of colonisation and the deliberate effort, to which I have already referred, of painting the African block and backward as a valid justification for colonial rule. I have endeavoured to touch on some of these questions only as a means of making a clear case for justifying our attempts to provide Africa with an Encyclopaedia portraying vividly the glory of Africa's great past.

Shirley DuBois, Kwame Nkrumah, Unknown Man & W.E.B. Dubois "After all,
this is where the work should be done... 
in Africa, 
sponsored by Africans,
for Africa."

-- W.E.B. Du Bois [1868-1963], Founding Director  of the Secretariat Encyclopaedia Africana Project (EAP), Accra, Ghana, West Africa

I should now like to say just a few words on the vital question of how this great undertaking is to be carried through to completion. I must say at the outset that a broad policy having been laid down, the precise plans for achieving it must be left to the Editorial Board and its staff of competent experts. My purpose is only to call attention to the underlying principle - the principle of Pan-African co-operation - which I believe to be indispensable in any concrete plans of work on the Encyclopaedia.

As you are aware, the preparatory work on this project has been carried forward for a little more than two years by a Secretariat here in Accra, functioning under the aegis of the Ghana Academy of Sciences. This Secretariat has not been content to work in isolation; it has been continually active in establishing contacts with scholars and institutions throughout Africa and abroad. A motion declaring "that all African countries should contribute to the work of the Secretariat" was unanimously adopted at a Conference on the Encyclopaedia Africana attended by some 150 persons from Africa and elsewhere in December, 1962. Soon thereafter, the Secretariat undertook the establishment of Co-operating Committees of scholars in various African countries.

The Secretary of the Secretariat, Dr. W. A. Hunton, met with several of these Committees during a tour which he made in East and North Africa some months ago. Following this came the nominations by the Co-operating Committees of their respective representatives to serve on the Editorial Board of the Encyclopaedia. In this way the basis, at least, of Pan-African co-operation in this work has been established.

The members of the Editorial Board now have before them the Secretariat's detailed prospectus of what the Encyclopaedia Africana should contain and how the material should be presented. This is merely a blueprint of what is to be constructed. The Editorial Board members are asked to examine this blueprint with great care, proposing whatever alterations they consider would result in a more perfect plan for the Encyclopaedia. Once this has been agreed upon, the stage will have been set for the play to begin - that is to say, for the work of preparing and assembling the Encyclopaedia articles to commence. I sincerely trust that the deliberations of the Editorial Board at this first meeting will successfully hit that mark.

The progress of the work from that point only will depend in the first instance, as I see it, on the degree of whole-hearted and effectively organised support that can be procured from African scholars in all countries, from the many institutes of African studies and research agencies of various kinds which are to be found today throughout our continent, and from the various independent African governments which are ready to provide the fullest measure of financial support for this work.

So far, the financial burden has been borne by the Government of Ghana alone. As I have already stated, I have no specific proposals to present with regard to these matters. But I am convinced that the task is not insuperable. The fact that we have advanced this far in accomplishing, almost single-handedly, the formation of a Pan-African Editorial Board of the Encyclopaedia Africana augurs success in the further stages of the work. I trust this project will be welcomed by all the African Heads of State, and will have the full support of the Organisation of African Unity. We must now think in terms of continental political unity in everything we do for Africa. Without such cohesion and unity none of us can survive the intrigues and divisive forces of the imperialists and neo-colonialists.

The work of this Encyclopaedia Africana will take us one further step towards the great objective to which we are dedicated - a Continental Union Government of Africa.

Speaking on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Ghana and as Chancellor of our Universities, I can assure the members of the Editorial Board that work on this Encyclopaedia will have the fullest co-operation of our Universities, learned societies and research institutions in Ghana, as well as the financial support of the Government of Ghana.

Distinguished scholars and members of the Editorial Board of theEncyclopaedia Africana , on behalf of the Government and people of Ghana and on my own behalf, I extend a warm welcome to you. May this your first meeting mark the auspicious beginning of your work in a great undertaking for the benefit of mankind.

Return to: First Annual Meeting: EAP Editorial Board - Part 1

Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah
First Prime Minister of Gold Coast
First Prime Minister of Ghana

Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah
(c. September 21, 1909 - April 27, 1972)

While imprisoned for demanding self-government for the Gold Coast, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People's Party (C.P.P.) won the February 1951 election.

He was then released from prison to become a Leader of Government Business.  (continued...)

SOURCE: Encyclopaedia Africana: Dictionary of African Biography®™ Volume 1: Ethiopia & Ghana, Page 183



Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography
Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography

Encyclopaedia Africana Project
1964 September 24
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