African Political Thought
An Intellectual History of the Quest for Freedom
A fascinating history of ideas about independent Africa’s political future, from liberation leaders, African American allies and towering postcolonial writers to present-day debates.
African liberation is often seen in terms of heroism, but seldom in terms of thought. Even Sartre, in his preface to Frantz Fanon’s seminal The Wretched of the Earth, wrote of the ‘native’ with his coiled muscles about to explode into rebellion. The African and the black person are denied the condition of philosophy, apparently driven only by frustration and anger.
Stephen Chan’s new book charts the long history of African political thought, from the years of North American slavery, through the development of modern African nationalism and the difficulties of governing new states, to Africa’s political philosophy today, taking on the world as an equal. He dwells at length on major figures from Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah’s postcolonial generation to Biko, Mandela and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He shows their leadership to be inseparable from their ideas, and from those of literary giants including Fanon, W.E.B. Du Bois and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.
This is no hagiography: Chan critically examines his thinkers, who also include Mugabe and Mobutu, and expresses concern for the future of Pan-Africanism. But his fascinating account reveals a thoughtful continent that has made complex, significant contributions to the world’s intellectual commons–yet continues to seek freedom.
Stephen Chan OBE is Professor of World Politics at SOAS University of London. He has advised governments, opposition leaders and liberation movements in many parts of Africa, and negotiated on the African side of delegations to Beijing. His many books include Spear to the West, also published by Hurst. Image © Adine Sagalyn