Proceedings Of The First Annual Conference Towards A Global Congress Of World Religions - Edited by Warren Lewis - 1978
William Jones: For our final session today, the lecturer is Dr. Francis Botchway, Professor of International Law and Political Science and head of the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati. He received his B.A. degree from Columbia University in public law and government. He has also earned certificates in Russian, Eastern European and Chinese area studies. He received an M.A. and Ph.D. in International Law and Organization at the New School for Social Research. Dr. Botchway's title today will be the "Triadic Experience of African People, A Search for the Universal Synthesis."
The members of the panel for this session are Professor Dr. Deotis Roberts, Howard University. We have a new panelist, Professor Gladys Gray, who is at the Hofstra Community College of the City University of New York in the Department of African Studies. She received both her B.A. and M.A. from City University of New York, and is currently a doctoral student in their Ph.D. program in sociology. Father Primeaux we've already introduced, as well as Professor Gyekye.
Francis Botchway: Thank you very much, Bill (Jones). I have a difficult task this afternoon, having heard Dr. Roberts and Dr. Erivwo. It is difficult to follow in the footsteps of giants, but if we can stand on the shoulders of giants, I think we can look very far into the future. So, with the basis that you have provided, I will try to stand on your shoulders, and see if I can look into the future.
We all come from different tribes in Africa. I was once in Accra, having just arrived from the U.S., and was talking to a taxi-driver. He wanted to know which tribe I come from. I told him I am a Ghanaian, but I don't belong to any tribe. He said, "Are you really a Ghanaian?" I said, "Of course I am a Ghanaian." He said, "No, it's impossible; you couldn't possibly be a Ghanaian without belonging to a tribe." My tribe, I admit to you, is Ewe; and usually before we do anything, we pour libation to our ancestors, to our forebears. I'd like to read one prayer for pouring libations, as Dr. Erivwo did a little while ago, just to invoke the blessing of my forefathers, their protection and their guidance:
Oh, ye fathers of the universe, who occupy the ontological state, we bring ye our offerings, ye are dawn, ye provide us with the mystical ties that bind us with the living dead, ye have not vanished out of existence, ye have entered into the state of collective immortality, we walk on the grave of our forefathers, the land providing us with the roots of existence, binding us mystically to our forefathers. Oh ye fathers of the universe, we will not disturb the ontological harmony. Grant us cosmic durability, grant us a state of personal immortality, externalize our collective immortality through the physical continuation of the family so that our children bear the traits of our forefathers. We offer thee communion, fellowship and remembrance.
I must try to deal with some of the issues that are disturbing the younger generation of Africans. Those of us who are not theologians, but who are social scientists, and who look at the totality of Africa and the role of Africa in the world political arena, we must concern ourselves with the problem of how to extricate ourselves from the dependence that forces us into a state of submission to the super powers.
I'll be drawing on works of Dr. Edward Blyden of Liberia, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Frantz Fanon, Senghor, Sekou Toure, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Rohio and the rest. Essentially, I intend to look at three different trends of experience of the African, that is, the traditional African experience itself, the Euro-Christian experience, and the Islamic experience, to find out if it is possible, given these three different types of experiences, to develop a system of thought which would enable us to transform and alter our societies radically, and if so, what is going to be the nature of the emergent value system in Africa? Can we honestly talk about an authentic Islamized African, or an authentic Euro-Christianized African?
For the traditional African coming into contact with Christianity, the Bible seems to be full of contradictions. If he comes into contact with Islam or Judaism, the laws of the Qur'an and the Torah seem too arbitrary. Like Benedict Spinoza, the traditional African believes that nature and God were one; and that knowledge of nature was therefore knowledge of God. By understanding the cosmology of traditional Africans, of their holistic view of the universe, we can then understand why, for traditional Africans, their socio-cultural and political institutions and the web of social and natural kinship are said to be in a state of systemic equilibrium, while the intrusions of Euro-Christian values brought about systemic disequilibrium.
The traditional African's historic and metaphysical encounter with himself and with Euro-Christian and Islamic civilizations, his soundless dialogue with himself trying to understand his triadic existence, his search for a primordial existence projected into the future as "civilization" is not only a metatheoretical conceptualization in the abstract but also a sophisticated quality of introspective imagination.
What, then, is the African's triadic experience of civilization that foreshadows that level of historical knowledge, that new historical affirmation, and that universal synthesis? For the African this is not mere abstraction. This search for the universal, this prospective trend in political and social theory, this evolutionary thrust into the future is also related, dialectically, to a retrospective concern with a more permanent definition of man and of the realization of man's needs in an equilibriated social system. This search for the universal synthesis is really a return to the past in order to develop a more meaningful future. Senghor, Nkrumah, Fanon and Nyerere have all devoted most of their energies to the retrospective search for the means of attaining a more humane society; they have all addressed themselves to the role of human volition in the formation and acceptance of new political institutions in Africa. But despite their concern with the traditional African past, they have not postulated a return to any historically specific "state of nature" in the African past. Such a return, they have all argued, is not worthy of the ingenuity of the modern African. Like Rousseau, they all believe in the "perfectibility" of man and in the possibility and necessity of progress. They also believe in the theoretical-instrumental unity of thought and action.
What, then, is the African's triadic experience? It is 1) traditional African experience and values; 2) Euro-Christian experience and values; and 3) Islamic experience and values.
The idea of Africa is as old as civilization because civilization itself first began in Africa. Homo Erectus Africanus, compelled by the circumstances of his existence, made it a point to understand and master his environment. In his efforts, he generated systematically the vision of civilization itself. Writing in 1954, Richard Wright in his Black Power paid a glowing tribute "to the Unknown African who, because of his primal and poetic humanity, was regarded by white men as a 'thing' to be bought, sold, and used as an instrument of production; and who, alone in the forests of West Africa, created a vision of life so simple as to be terrifying, yet a vision that was irreducibly human..." In seeking to understand his universe, he also sought an understanding of his own actual and potential experiences, a task which did not only require conceptualization in the abstract, but also introspective imagination. Nothing was alien to him. He was a thinker and an intellectual who combined the bios-theoreticus with the bios-practicus. He was holistic. The universe was his laboratory. His history, though denied, is still the authentic history of mankind. The ensemble of his experiences in the words of Stanley Diamond, "constitute the only authentic definition of history." The African was simultaneously homo economicus, homo religiosus, and homo politicus. He stood at the center of a synthetic, holistic universe of concrete and abstract activities, interested in the causal nexus between the bios theoreticus and the bios-practicus.
Traditional political scientists tend to emphasize formal structures and institutions. In the opinion of the great majority of modern-day political scientists, cosmology does not properly belong to the realm of political science. They argue that politics should stay clear of questions of ontology, epistemology, and cosmology -- and that politics should confine itself to an objective and scientific analysis of the authoritative allocation of values. I am not so convinced. I consider myself more of a social theorist than a political scientist. Political science has interested me primarily as a science dealing with the totality of the social system, of human experience, and it's astonishing capabilities to elucidate the problem of large-scale historico-philosophical consciousness.
In political science today, "value-free" inquiry and mathematical equations have become the prime constituents and the proper "scientific" representation of social reality. There is no place within this scientific paradigm for the analysis of non-quantifiable social values, the particles of nature, or for those ineluctable intrasystemic forces for which no mathematical equations or measurement can be found. Those elements of social valuation and the normative aspects of society that are central and intrinsic to the processes of societal transformation are excluded from the concerns of the present-day political scientist.
What is needed as a corrective in political science is a new paradigm that will permit the broadening of a political science in the true Aristotelian sense. It is in this spirit that I look at African cosmological ideas with reference to traditional African values and experience.
The structure of African cosmology is shaped by an essential belief in an ontological equilibrium.1 Within this cosmic equilibrium one perceives the real and the unreal, the positive and the negative, hope and despair, absence becoming presence, and the humanistic vision of life here on earth.
In African cosmology there are no specific theoretic formulations of the nature of the social universe; but a social universe, with its own motor force, uncontrollable by man, has no basis in traditional African thought.
Cosmic forces in the social universe are in fact controllable by man for his own benefit. Since the natural order is of interest and importance to man, and since man can manipulate the natural order for the benefit of the social universe, African cosmology rejects the proposition that there is a world order unrelated to man's activities and desires. Cosmologically, therefore, the traditional African believes that the order of nature is a controlled one and that the forces of nature can be manipulated through properties intrinsic in various objects found in nature -- animate and inanimate.
Man being a social animal, his relationships with other men in the social universe are important in determining and shaping his destiny. The traditional African, using social equilibrium as the main motor force of the social universe, was able to evolve a sophisticated social system which placed the emphasis on "fairness and moderation, wisdom and the ability to get on with others, generosity and helpfulness, not merely among his kin, but in the wider circle of his friends and neighbors."2 One may hazard the guess that the traditional African was on his way to concretizing his cosmology and developing a paradigm that would account for those elements of social valuation and normative aspects of society that are central and intrinsic to an understanding of the worldview of the African, but that Euro-Christian and Islamic culture contacts arrested this development. One is not therefore surprised at the ignorance displayed by Arnold Toynbee, when he wrote that, "the black races alone have not contributed positively to any civilization" or the historical fallacy of Trevor-Roper, when he noted that the African past comprised, "only the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes." Such is the ignorance of some of the learned men of Europe.
One final point of interest. This concerns the phenomenon of time. As most Africanists are aware, Mbiti has argued that for the African, "time is simply a composition of events which have occurred, those which are taking place now and those which are immediately to occur. What has not taken place or what has no likelihood of an immediate occurrence falls in the category of 'no time.' What is certain to occur, or what falls within the rhythm of natural phenomena, is in the category of inevitable or potential time."3
Mbiti's view of "the African concept of time" is controverted by Dr. Kwame Gyekye, who has rejected the thesis that "the African concept of time" is the key to our understanding of the basic religious and philosophical concepts of African peoples. Dr. Gyekye postulates that "the African concept of time which for Mbiti is essentially two-dimensional -- cannot be the key or the basic category in the African religious and philosophical orientation... Time, qua a metaphysical category, is certainly a fundamental concept, but this does not warrant its being made the key to such other metaphysical concepts as cause, mind, substance etc... There is also no philosophical justification for making it (time) more significant than other metaphysical categories."4
This time orientation in the cosmology of the African, governed as it were by its multi-dimensionality, is not a pre-condition for an understanding of African religiosity or of the political and social institutions of traditional Africans. African historico-philosophical consciousness moves beyond history. For the traditional African, the "whole of mankind is a vast representation of the Deity."5 The traditional African was a humanist, he was holistic, and in communion with nature, he developed his practical wisdom and genius; and in his understanding of the forces of nature and of God he evolved a cosmic religion which in itself was total. Since for the African there is a holistic understanding of the universe of man, with his unique historical experiences, he is better able to embark on a search for the synthesis of the universal. And given the religiosity of the African, and his simple but powerful vision, his fundamental sympathetic harmony, I dare to advance the suggestion that "there is no people in whom the religious instinct is deeper and more universal than among Africans."6 Africa, Dr. Blyden postulated:
May yet prove to be the spiritual conservatory of the world...when the civilized nations, in consequence of their wonderful material development, shall have had their spiritual perceptions darkened and their spiritual susceptibilities blunted through the agency of a captivating and absorbing materialism, it may be that they may have to resort to Africa to recover some of the simple elements of faith.7
"The universalism of Christianity," Stanley Diamond has argued, "is no more than a symptom of the imperial control by Western civilization of the cultural space of other peoples." African religions "whose symbolic formulations rise from and are in touch with the whole of human existence...express a more authentic religious consciousness than has been evident in churchly dogma...." "Institutionalized Christianity," Diamond avers, "is therefore an aspect of modern imperialism."8 Institutionalized Christianity, as we are all aware, took on the character of an agent of slavery, racism and colonialism. Christianity is incompetent to maintain the simplicity of the Nazarene and disseminate his teachings.
Fascinated by Islamic values, Dr. Blyden, one of Africa's celebrated intellectuals, felt that Islam was more attuned to the idiosyncrasies, the peculiar gifts, and the genius of Africans than Christianity. Attracted by the sobriety, independence, intellectual curiosity and openmindedness of Islam, Blyden saw in Islam a completely different philosophy which stressed tolerance and human dignity, and abnegated prejudice and racial discrimination.9 "Islam," he pointed out, "extinguishes all distinctions founded upon race, color or nationality... the religion of Islam furnishes the greatest solace and the greatest defense." Blyden's quarrel with Christianity was that, unlike Islam, it allowed the idea of the universal brotherhood of man to be corrupted and to degenerate into the abysmal doctrines of racial superiority and slavery. Islam, on the other hand, was closer to the basic principles of the idea of the universal brotherhood of man than Christianity. Islam, he argued, "is the form of Christianity best adapted to the Negro race -- "10 He further argued that "Islam has done for vast tribes of Africa what Christianity in the hands of Europeans has not yet done. It has cast out the demons of fetishism, drunkenness, and gambling, and has introduced customs which subserve for the people the highest purposes of growth and preservation. I do not believe," he concluded, "that a system which has done such things can be outside of God's beneficent plans for the evolution of mankind."11
However negative Euro-Christian values may have been, the African has imbibed them. They are now part of his value system and his frame of reference. Having imbibed both Islamic and Christian values, can we talk of the authentic African, and can we evolve a post-independence, socio-political value system independent of the Islamic and Euro-Christian values and experiences?
The triadic experience of the African involves traditional African experience, Islamic experience and Euro-Christian experience. As Nkrumah has observed, "When one society meets another, the observed historical trend is that acculturation results in a balance of forward movement, a movement in which each society assimilates certain useful attributes of the other."12 Traditional African society has already met with Islamic and Euro-Christian civilizations, and there is no longer any such thing as an authentic traditional African society. It must, however, be pointed out that though we cannot speak of an authentic traditional African, the insights and postulates of traditional African society have not vanished from the consciousness of Africans; they have become part of the universal inheritance of the African.
Returning now to the triadic experience of the African, Nkrumah, in search of an ideology which will unite the traditional African experience with the Islamic and Euro-Christian experiences, argued that:
Islamic civilization and European colonialism are both historical experiences of the traditional African society; profound experiences that have permanently changed the complexion of the traditional African society. They have introduced new values and a new social, cultural, and economic organization into African life. Modern African societies are not traditional, even if backward, and they are clearly in a state of socio-economic disequilibrium. They are in this state because they are not anchored to a steady ideology.13
The way out for the modern African is not to engage in a "futile attempt to recreate a past that cannot be resurrected." The only choice left is to move forward to a "higher reconciled form of society in which the quintessence of the human purposes of traditional African society reasserts itself in a modern context."14 The inevitability of a progressive forward march must be felt by all Africans, and in this process, the refashioned African society must have as its base the African idea of the original value of man which "stands refreshingly opposed to the Christian idea of the original sin and degradation of man,"15 and must accommodate the "positive contribution" of Euro-Christian and Islamic civilizations.
The synthesizing process must be undertaken by the present generation of African scholars. Confronted by this triadic experience, they must develop a philosophical frame of reference which will make possible the theoretic basis for an ideology whose substance shall contain these three strands of experience. "What is called for as a first step," Nkrumah pointed out, "is a body of connected thought which will determine the general nature of our action in unifying the society which we have inherited, this unification to take account, at all times, of the elevated ideas underlying the traditional African society."16 Africa's future, therefore, lies in a synthesis of the triadic experience of the African and not in a return to traditional African society. The ultimate synthesis of this triadic experience is an even greater imperative, for it will point beyond Africa and indeed beyond history. This will be Africa's contribution to the modern world. This will be the new historical affirmation.
1 See F. A. Botchway, The Genius of Africa: Masters of African Social and Political Thought, 1975 (unpublished), p. 243.
2 See Daryll Forde, ed., African Worlds, (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 80.
3 See J. S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, (New York: F. A. Praeger, 1969), p. 17.
4 See Kwame Gyekye, "African Religions and Philosophy: A Review Article," Second Order, Vol. IV, No. 1, January, 1975, pp. 86-94.
5 See E. W. Blyden, The African Problem and the Method of Its Solution, (Washington, DC: Gibson Bros., 1890), pp. 22-23.
6 See E.W. Blyden, The Prospects of Africa, (London: Imray and Doulton, 1874), p. 7.
8 See Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization, (New Brunswick, N.J.: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1974), p. 31.
9 See F. A. Botchway, The Genius of Africa, op. cit., p. 67.
10 See E. W. Blyden, The Lagos Weekly Record, Dec. 3, 1892.
12 See Kwame Nkrumah, "African Socialism Revisited," African Forum, Vol. 1, No. 3, Winter, 1966, p. 7.
15 See Kwame Nkrumah, Conscientism, (London: Heineman, 1964), p. 68.
16 Ibid, p. 70.
J. Deotis Roberts: I'll begin by making a comment as a theologian. One question among theologians is whether or not the concept of indigenization is adequate to the development of a distinctive African thrust in theology, including the political dimensions you're concerned about. The essential agreement among third-world thinkers has been that "contextualization" says a great deal more, because it includes a search for the traditional background in the culture plus an awareness that one has to move creatively and dynamically into a new future. Contextualization theology means getting the background well in hand, keeping in mind the responsibilities and demands that must be met in that particular setting for the present and future as well, thus to be able to define one's own destiny without having someone from a different culture define that destiny for you. Indigenization theology seems to be enthusiastically pursued by Western missionary theologians in Africa simply because they are willing to affirm much of the past of Africa without the thrust of liberation in terms of the political and economic concerns which have been brought here today. In Latin America there was an outright rejection by liberation theologians of the concept of "development," because it was being imposed on them by Western imperial thinkers, both political and theological, who were talking about development. The Latin Americans said, "No, what we want is liberation," and that means liberation from oppression imposed upon them by the upper class in their own societies as well as the domination of multinational corporations and political movements from outside.
I solidly affirm the concern for cutting the dependency cord with Europe. But, I wonder if the attitude toward Islam is not a little romantic. I know in the early stages of the Black movement, my students at Howard were very enthusiastic about Islam. They understood that Islam was always non-racist in its policies, until they discovered from their reading of history that the Muslims were also involved in slavery and slave traffic. Recently, Eldridge Cleaver has come back from North Africa telling us that the present record of Islam is not so good on the social front. I think we ought to have a realistic approach to Islam as well as a realistic approach to the Western imposition of Christian values on Africa. There are arguments for and against the role of Islam, but it can be romanticized. I also feel it is very easy to take a position against Christianity. I am certainly no champion for the way in which some missionaries have used it or the way it has gone hand-in-hand with imperialism. But sometimes we speak of Christianity in too general a way. There is a robust humanism in Christianity, one of the representatives of which is Bill Jones. It can be dynamic, progressive and very alert on the moral front; and I certainly espouse that position.
I think, finally, we need to look at values. If we have the same values as those from whom we would like to free ourselves, then we are likely to make certain compromises about what is really valuable or important in our own culture. An example here at home would be the recent changes in the programs of the Black Muslims, who are trying to buy into capitalism and upward mobility. What makes them distinctive, the kinds of things they've done -- reclaiming prisoners, rebuilding strong families -- were somehow so closely associated with the value system that operated, economically speaking, outside the larger society, that eventually they copped out of this. They have begun to buy into the mainstream and therefore surrender their powerful thrust for liberation. It is important for Africans to find values which do not make them completely subject to capitulation; only by doing this, from my point of view, can you really cut the dependency relationship with Europe.
Francis Botchway: I think the major problem is that in most of the African states there is no value system which defines the nature of the socio-political institutions which are going to emerge. Consequently, we are always in a state of economic limbo. At times we are capitalists; at times we are socialists, depending on the whims of the person in power at the given moment. What we need is a system of thought which permeates the totality of society, so that, regardless of who comes to power, there's always a structure, always a system which would determine new directions according to the various expectations of our society. In the absence of that, what we have is nothing but a changing of the guards; and the more you change these guards, the less anything fundamental happens to the system.
Dr. Blyden, especially when he looks at the concept of the universal brotherhood of man, sees Islam being more able than Euro-Christianity to implant itself and become totally and completely enmeshed in the values, the way of life, the behavior of the African people. Christianity looks down on Africans; to the African, that in itself is the defeat of the fundamental nature of the brotherhood of man. That is why Blyden argues that Islam is the Christianity which the Negro race needs; if you preach the universal brotherhood of man, but go to Africa and put yourself on a plane of superiority, then the African knows you are not really practicing what the basic tenets of your religion stand for. While I agree with you that Islam is also involved in slavery -- Muslims came from the northern part of Africa, invaded the Ghana Empire, Mali, Songhai, and destroyed African civilizations -- still, that does not deny the fact that within Islam, on the other hand, the fundamental principle of the universal brotherhood of man is upheld. Once you are a Muslim, whether you are African, European, or Arab, you are held on the plane of equality before all other Muslims.
Kwame Gyekye: In terms of doctrine, one could say that both Christianity and Islam espouse universal brotherhood; but, I think Blyden, in his own experience, really saw that Muslims were much more able to interact with other people than were European Christians. In Islam, for instance, during the Hegira, Africans and Indians, people from Japan, Europe, America, all gather together at the Kaaba in Mecca. There is, in fact, no discrimination whatsoever between peoples, between races; we are all one. In practice, Islamic peoples take this idea much more seriously, more realistically than European Christians. There are so many cases of Africans coming to America and going to church and being told that they cannot enter this church; the African students here can testify to this, but you'll never find this in the Islamic world.
Gladys Gray: My field is primarily sociology, and I look at religion primarily from a sociological perspective. So I see the Euro-Christian perspective of Christianity as basically detrimental to the overall structure of what we term brotherhood. The Euro-Christian tends to dismantle brotherhood to a large degree. We find that when they talk about brotherhood, they're talking about brotherhoods at different levels, as opposed to all-encompassing brotherhood. Within this Euro-Christian concept, there is a continuous perpetuation of hierarchy; and, as was mentioned earlier today, tribalism and denominationalism tend to be part and parcel of the same package. In terms of denominationalism, if you're not a member of a given denomination, you are not a brother. The concept of God you are perpetuating tends to become hidden, and you become more involved in the denomination; brotherhood is shunted into the corner. Thus, I see Euro-Christian religion as detrimental to the overall concept of universal brotherhood. I'm not Islamic; I have not done Islamic studies; but, from what I have gathered, Islam seems to be more practical, as far as the Black and brotherhood are concerned, than Christianity in the Euro-Christian perspective has been.
Patrick Primeaux: Dr. Botchway, what do you think the role or the attitude of Euro-Christian, of American-Christian religion, of Roman Catholicism, the Unification Church, or any of the Reformed traditions should be towards Africa, especially when we identify ourselves as having a mandate explicitly to proselytize, to convert people, to bring people towards a realization of the truth which we believe to be Christianity?
Francis Botchway: I think it's very simple. All churches have to do is actualize what they preach. That's all. Once that is transferred into action, you solve the problems of the world, (applause)
J. Deotis Roberts: My record is clearly for liberation, and I would not be operating out of Christian beliefs with that purpose in mind unless I thought that a prophetic message is inherent in the Gospel, which has not been taken seriously. Christianity has a social gospel to proclaim which equals that to be found in other religions, including Islam. We have to make the distinction, as our speaker said, between Christianity itself and a Europeanized version of Christianity. Certainly, I have made the distinction clearly in my mind between Christianity and "white-ianity."
One of the problems with the impact of Christianity on Africa has been the fact of racism. Christianity has transported racism not only to Africa but also everywhere else I have been in the world by white American Christians. What the liberation theologians are attacking should not be limited to racism. In some Islamic countries where I have been, the gap between the rich and the poor -- the class problem -- is a form of inhumanity, just as the race problem is. Sometimes the two things come together, as in our own experience: when you're Black, you're poor. Both converge. Whereas Islam admittedly has a much better record in the Third World on the race question, perhaps it needs to look very carefully at the class problem. Some of our Muslim friends who come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt will agree with me that the distinction between classes-people who are superrich and people who are wallowing in poverty and hunger -- is something that Islam has not done as good a job with as it could. So, I think it's not a matter of one over against the other, but rather a matter of cleaning up both, and seeing what can be done in the area of making life more human. This is the way I would like us to work together as brothers.
Kwame Gyekye: About three months ago in a class with my students, we were discussing African social structure. We got to talking about marriage, and one of the women said, when she gets married, she would not like to be called "Mrs." She would not take on her husband's name. She is going to go by her own maiden name. I realized that quite a few women professors at the University of Florida, where I'm teaching, have refused to take on the names of their husbands. In Africa, right now, when African women get married, they take on the names of their husbands; they like to call themselves "Mrs. X" or "Mrs. Y." But before, there was no such thing. My mother never took on the name of my father. Now, the interesting thing is that in time, I'm sure, this is going to spread to Africa. If American women are no longer taking on the names of their husbands, it won't be too long until African women begin to refuse to take on the names of their husbands. In other words, they are going to go back to what our mothers and grandmothers used to do. We have our value systems, but when others bring in their own, we just shovel aside our own value systems, and accept others; and then, when they change and go back to something else, we also go the same way.
A book just came out last fall by a professor at the Harvard Business School, George C. Lodge, The New American Ideology. He tries to show that in American society and, in fact, in the whole of Western Europe, the original ideological framework within which the Western system has operated, is gradually giving way to an entirely new framework. For instance, he talks about how the Lockean insistence on private property and limited state participation in society are changing, and how, in fact, individualism is gradually giving way almost unconsciously to communitarianism. He has a whole chapter on what he calls "communitarianism." As I read through the book, I came to the conclusion there is a great deal in African traditional cultures and our value systems which, in fact, parallels the ultimate result of the changes I imagine to be occurring in American society.
Francis Botchway has done a good job. We can all see the certain need for the creation of indigenous political institutions in Africa. Why is democracy not working in Africa? Many critics, usually Europeans, criticize Africans for being unable to rule themselves. We just can't establish and uphold constitutions, they say. You can read it in practically any newspaper.
But let me say this: traditionally, we did have elements of democracy in African institutions. Read the book by R.S. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution. Rattray was an anthropologist in the employ of the colonial administration in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in the early decades of this century. Ashantis are one of the major ethnic groups of the Akan tribe in Ghana. It seemed to Rattray that the Akans were practicing democracy in a way superior to the way it was practiced in Western society. Whereas in his own country after elections, the people loved to sit back and let the members of parliament rule, he said this is never the case in the Ashanti society he was describing. Democracy is seen in every part of the people's life, and every day.
Let me give you a short phenomenology of traditional constitutional government, say, in the Ashanti area, which, I think, can be fairly safely generalized to apply to other societies in Africa. There is the chief; and the chief has a council. The chief is elected, and the chief can be deposed. There is opposition within the council when a meeting is held; all the people of the village or town assemble, including the women, and attend. British women never had a vote until 1928! As far back as the 18th-19th century, our women were attending meetings with the men in the palace of our chief, discussing all the important issues, including war and other matters. There was political opposition; everybody was allowed to express his or her views.
In San Francisco last November in a committee at the Sixth International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences, which Francis and I attended, it was said there is no word for "opposition" in any African language. One person said that if the word does not occur, then why impose a system whereby one party of government is the opposition to the other parties? Why superimpose this kind of system on African peoples who do not know about political opposition? Political opposition has always existed. The present proponents of the union, or national government, in Ghana are not intending to exclude the opposition from the deliberations. That would be impossible, since human beings are so different. What the proponents of union government are afraid of and actually are trying to prevent is ripples of opposition sent down the national-political landscape, bringing about divisions and vendettas, strife and quarrels, and street fights, in their wake. This has really been our experience in the past twenty years of our political life. Opposition there will be, because traditionally there was opposition. But whereas we area people whom tradition has united together, living together in communal structures, as brothers, this parliamentarian system, coming from outside, is now about to destroy us.
If the British rulers really had had the interest of the Africans at heart, as they did their own extraction of mineral resources and the fleecing of the resources of the country, they would have nurtured the original institutions. Democracy is a concept that has been expressed, exemplified and substantiated in different ways in different Western countries. Certainly the way democracy is expressed in American society is different from the way democracy has been institutionally expressed in Britain, France or Germany. But, it's still democracy; or at least we call it so. What is important for us is to establish institutions that we can operate, institutions that we can work out; it's not necessary for us to import the institutions of Britain. It wasn't necessary for the colonialists to import their own institutions for the Africans. They should have allowed for the development and evolution of our traditional democratic ways of ruling ourselves. This is one of the reasons many things do not seem to work right in Africa; we are operating foreign institutions! That's how I see the political malaise that Africa has been experiencing in the past twenty years. It's high time African scholars of all disciplines began to study our own value systems, our own institutions. Plato said that unless societies are ruled by philosophers, or unless our people are imbued with philosophy, there will be no deliverance for our cities. Now I say that until we operate our institutions, or until we evolve our own institutions and operate them ourselves, until we create them ourselves, make our own changes, correct our own mistakes, trim them and prune them; until we get to the place where we can realize that our own institutions are OK, the European critics will still be unable to see what they call democracy in Africa.
Francis Botchway: To add to what Kwame has just said, (we are both from Ghana), my problem with the African elite, the African intellectual, is that he is very comfortable with Europe. When it comes to European institutions, the European parliamentary system of government, the American presidential system, the French Assembly system, the African intellectual is comfortable. But the moment you ask him to develop something which is uniquely African, which comes out of his own experiences, then you have problems. Let me illustrate this. Kwame would remember -- we were very young at the time; I guess we were undergraduates -- when Nkrumah wanted to set up an Institute of African Studies in the University of Ghana. Here is Ghana, an independent African state, and the government wanted an Institute of African Studies within the University of Ghana. Who were the ones opposed to the idea of the institute? The African intellectuals, of course! The African faculty members! Chancellor O'Brien, the Irish Vice-Chancellor of the University, would be the one to insist on the establishment of African Studies; and Nkrumah told them that if they didn't want it, he will impose it. These same African scholars go to the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies to get their doctorates. But when it comes to establishing their own institution for the study of their own values, they said, "No, you're going to lower the standard. Everything made in U.S.A. or England is good; but if it's made in Nigeria or Ghana, it's bad."
William Jones: We have time for questions from the audience.
Unidentified Speaker: Let me say that I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Botchway's proposal. In order to have effective institutions in African society, we need to take into account each of the three, the traditional African experience, the Christian experience, and also the Islamic experience. What is your feeling with respect to not just limiting ourselves to our histories, but rather, as Dr. Roberts said in his book, A Black Political Theology, taking a holistic view of all of the experiences from which we might be able to benefit? Should we not try to develop new ideas, new value systems, new thought processes, new revelations, that have not been proposed rather than just proceeding with those three?
Francis Botchway: Let me speak as a political scientist. Institutions, values, and norms (what we call the authoritative allocation of values), those who make the decisions in society, and institutions which emerge in terms of the fundamental law of the land, including the constitution, all these are nothing but the concrete historical experiences of the people concretized in a legalized form. If you want to develop a viable institution for your people, but you take values, norms, ideas which your people have not experienced, you cannot concretize them into a document and call it a fundamental law of the land, because, in essence, what would be happening is the imposition of a norm which is alien to the people. But if you are able to determine within the people's historical experiences those norms that are trans-historical, universal, in Euro-Christian, Islamic, and traditional African values, and that cut across each set of experiences, then you are in better position to concretize their experiences and translate these experiences into documents and institutions which they then can refer to as their own constitution, the fundamental law of their land. For the next hundred years, you can always go back to that basic constitution, which really is an expression of the evolution of the totality of our experience. We don't have that in Africa, and that's the problem.
Unidentified Speaker: We know that new situations we have not experienced before require us to develop new approaches. For example, the multi-national power and influence of the multinational corporation is a relatively new development. How we effectively deal with that may not be determined totally from the three traditional courses you mentioned. I'm just pushing to find out how you feel about new needs in new situations that have not been dealt with before. Is our creativity stifled?
Francis Botchway: No, it's not stifled. I think the beauty of the constitution is the elastic nature of the constitution, so that when new experiences impinge on you, your constitution is sufficiently elastic to accommodate these new experiences and you continually grow. When it comes to the multi-national, trans-national corporations, they are not multi-national; they are not owned by different states; they are trans-national corporations, not accountable to anyone, not even to the U.S. government. The only solution to this difficult problem is for the African states to come together and unite. Look at what went on in Zaire about a week ago, in the Shaba province area. In 1960, when the Congo became independent, Patrice Lumumba was the Prime Minister; Moise Tshombe led a movement in Katanga, to secede from the Congo because Patrice Lumumba had declared himself a socialist. In that section of the Congo, there are strategic mineral resources which the Western powers need. The Belgian government, France, Germany, Britain and the United States supported Moise Tshombe with financial and military assistance to break away from the legitimate government of the Congo. They supported the gendarmes in the Katanga province. Eventually, Mobutu would assassinate Lumumba and declare himself pro-Western; the Western powers then shifted and supported General Mobutu against Moise Tshombe, because now they had a man in power who is military and pro-Western. Tshombe would be arrested in Spain, flown to Algeria, and die in a prison there. The same people in the Shaba province supported by the West against Lumumba were also supported by the West against the MPLA in Angola. The Westerners fought with the Portuguese against the MPLA. They fought with the South Africans against the MPLA. The Western powers supported the same people against the MPLA who invited the Cubans to come in. The MPLA won, and the rebels, who found themselves in the Shaba province being pushed out of the Congo into Angola, had to enter into a rapprochement with the MPLA; so, the MPLA gave them a base, and they are now operating against the legitimate government of the Congo. This is a very complicated situation. Once the Katangese were being supported by the West, now they are being supported by Angola, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. So you really can't say, let us take this position, or that position; because, in politics there are no permanent friends. The only way out is for the African states themselves to come together and forge some sort of union. Without that, the trans-national corporations will continue to deplete Africa of its resources; and as the resources of Africa are depleted, Africa will become more dependent on the West. And when that happens, God knows.
Unidentified Speaker: Dr. Roberts, you alluded to the Christian religion and also mentioned the Muslim religion. I would rather talk about religion and academic principles of it as it applies to us rather than the people who are responsible for carrying out the principles of religion. We're talking about God, who is not in the church or religion and is not in the hearts of men. To me, the question is whether or not man is capable of carrying out the principles of true Christianity or true Muslimism, whatever they might be.
J. Deotis Roberts: That's a very involved theological question. Built into the Christian understanding of man is the belief there is an estrangement between man and God -- the old-fashioned word, sin; and, that has incapacitated man on his own to fulfill all of the requirements of the Christian religion. One of the unfortunate things that happened in slavery was this splitting of the gospel in such ways that a man could be thought to be spiritually free and still be in physical chains. But there is also a doctrine of grace -- divine aid -- also a part of Christian faith, which indicates response and responsibility on the part of man.
Burton Leavitt (Student, Unification Theological Seminary): Dr. Botchway, what do you foresee as the future of Africa in terms of communism and Christianity or democracy?
Francis Botchway: I don't think anyone should even worry about communism in Africa. I haven't heard any African leader say he's a communist; they are socialists, and being a socialist does not negate religion. Unless you're talking about the educated African living in the urban enclave who has, to some extent, been de-traditionalized and who looks more towards the West, maybe that de-traditionalized African might be able to accept communism as a doctrine, as a system of thought, but the majority of Africans would have problems with communism. Communism is a worry more of the cold warriors in the West, who are not really interested in Africa developing its own system of thought independent of that which we know in the West. George Padmore wrote a book in 1956, Pan Africanism or Communism? But I think the common struggle in Africa is not going to be between communism and Pan Africanism. I think it is going to be between either Pan Africanism or the evolution of African norms versus European norms and values. Communist Marxism, because it is European, must be excluded by the African along with other alien ideologies. The very nature of the African -- his religiousness in itself -- is a negation of communism.
Patrick Primeaux: I want to come back to this question of the Africanization of Christianity. The African continent cannot be isolated from the rest of the world; therefore, it seems to me that the Judeo-Christian tradition is going to continue to live with us. As you pointed out, there are quite a number of elements of traditional Christian religion which parallel African traditional religion. How do we sort out the common and universal from the particular and denominational?
Francis Botchway: The problems we face are extremely difficult. Perhaps the only exception is Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, who is making a serious effort to develop something really new and different from that which we inherited from Britain or France or Belgium or Portugal or Germany. When it comes to the Francophone and Anglophone African societies, there is this very fundamental love affair with the totality of Europeanized institutions. We will find it to be uncomfortable to sit down and even to begin the synthesizing process we are proposing.
Kwame (Gyekye) would bear witness to this: it is very hard for us to convene this type of conference in Africa in an African university setting, where people who are supposed to be doing this sort of thing are themselves comfortable with that which they already have, a caricatured form of European institutions. They are not European, they are not African -- they are in symbiosis. I think it's worse for us as human beings to live in symbiosis, because we have no roots. What would it be like to look into all of the experiences we inherit, and then say to ourselves, "Let us develop something which we will call our own." We have been influenced by Euro-Christianity; there's nothing we can do about that. I am personally Westernized in everything. When I go home, I can't live the way my folks do back in the village; so, I can't really argue for African authenticity. I can't, and I won't; because I know for sure I won't be able to live that kind of life. I'm searching for that synthesis which contains within the traditional African experience, the Euro-Christian experience and the Islamic experience, because all the sectors of African societies have an influence, and we can't do without them.
Shawn Byrne (Organizer, National Council of Church and Social Action): I want to make a couple of schoolmaster points. Father Primeaux, I think your question was, what should the attitude of Christians be in this situation. But you cast it in denominational terms -- in terms of Catholics and Protestants. We should ask what is the Christian response, or better, what is the response of man before God to this situation? We have to think ourselves free of denominationalism.
You mentioned the difficulties involved when we are sent to proselytize and convert; but, I do not understand it that way. We are sent to proclaim the gospel; as I understand it, proclamation of the gospel is something like the ringing of the bell of freedom -- that humans can become the son or the daughter of God. It is not seeking to convert someone to my way. Because the whole purpose of the intervention of God in history in the person of Christ was that man would reach the level of Christ. If we were to think that way, it would become possible.
What should the attitude of Christians or Europeans be in this African situation? It may only be one of unconditional service. I tried to say earlier that Europeans have gone to Africa saying: "We are your servants, but on our terms." But the only valid attitude, I believe as a Christian, is one of totally unconditional service. Such a person must be prepared to take the servant's position; he must be prepared to clean the boots, and to shovel the dung, figuratively or literally speaking; he must be prepared to take the very lowest level.
Dr. Botchway, I find your speech very, very stimulating. The realism of it challenges me. I was glad that you said for yourself that you have been Westernized, because I was going to say it for you. (Laughter) You made the point that you have been seeking a synthesis for which scholars are needed to get together. I would agree on the scholars, but let me suggest that people of intuition not be excluded, people who are perhaps not highly trained, but who have perception, intuition -- poets, artists. These people can perhaps arrive at the synthesis in a germinal way before the scholars. Since this is all in the context of the Global Congress of World Religions, I would suggest, if I may, to Dr. Lewis and others who are interested in the Congress, that artists and poets be included.
Francis Botchway: Amendment accepted in favor of artists and writers and poets. Intuitive people are the intellectuals, not the scholars.
Patrick Primeaux: Shawn (Byrne), the distinction you are making is an interesting and important one. But the way we think and the way we even define service will depend to a great extent on each person's denominational perspective. Your question has contributed to our discussion today by pointing to the fact that even within Christianity, as with peoples of indigenous religions in Africa, there are "denominational" differences that are very significant. It would be a bit naive to think otherwise. There is, in a sense a universal gospel which applies to all Christians; but, the manner in which it is interpreted by a Roman Catholic or an Orthodox or a Southern Baptist is quite different.
William Jones: I'm getting the signal that it's time to eat. Warren, do you want to say anything and move us towards the table?
Warren Lewis: As a church historian, I see how religious principles have been mishandled by the people for 2000 and more years. As long as we can talk about principles, it feels pretty good; but, when somebody starts examining our track record, we're not so comfortable. The Muslims, as well as the Christians, have to admit it. Whether the reason for it is "sin," as brother Roberts said (and certainly that is what I, too, would say) or existential nausea, or the fear of death, or whatever your word for original sinfulness is, we all struggle with it. What that tells me, in the context of planning a Global Congress of World Religions, is that instead of remaining defensive about the failures of our previous religious tradition, whether we were Baptist or Church of Christ, Bahai, or Muslim, or Catholic -- whatever tribe we come from, let's stop the tribal warfare. We are saying in our proposal for the Global Congress that the time has come to define a new reality: to take the matter into our own hands under the grace of the High God, in whom we here have all affirmed our faith, and to affirm in global congress, in the first fully ecumenical council of the church, the one where not only the Pope but the Dalai Lama also gets to come, that we perceive ourselves as one before God, and we will not allow anyone else to divide us. Francis, I couldn't have provided a better statement to undergird my plans for the Global Congress than you have done in your paper. I hope you will feel comfortable to use our Africa Conference and our Global Congress to further the concerns you have so marvelously described in this paper. I hope that all of you will continue to look our way, to work with us, and to plan with us; to affirm in loud, global, planetary tones the creature-hood of all human persons in the hands of God and right of every human being to enough food, a good place to live, a clean environment, decent clothes, freedom from invasion from anybody's CIA or army. If you will work with us and we with you, we shall do it together. You have been here today as we took the next step forward: we thank you for it.