Kwame Nkrumah, Chinua Achebe on being African

Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
Kwame Nkrumah’s Consciencism, though it has pitfalls of its own, draws inspiration from the fact that philosophy arises from, and operates within the context of a given society; as such it reprises itself in social milieu where societal contention is paramount.

The individual, though enjoying independent pursuit of greatness, as is the case with Okonkwo and other titled men in Umuofia in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” (1958), cannot operate outside the community’s regulations on what is considered right or wrong.

The incentive to work hard is the reward that comes at the end, and the fact that the individual’s achievements can redeem him from the past failures of his family, pertinently his father’s.

We are told that, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements.”

This is in tandem with Nkrumah’s idea that the individual is the end and not the means to an end. In a functional society all men are equal, even though individual good cannot override the community’s good. This is why, despite all his achievements as a warrior, wrestler and titled man, Okonkwo is banished to his motherland, Mbanta, for seven years, after he accidently kills a kinsman at old Ezeudu’s funeral.

Without being told, Okonkwo knows that he is doomed, because as Okot p’Bitek avers in “Artist the Ruler”, culture plays a pivotal role in regulating individual behaviour as African societies have always had their own systems of governance and legal institutions. He does not have to wait for the egwugwu cult, of which he is one, to preside over his case, for he knows that notwithstanding his personal achievements, killing a kinsman, accidentally or deliberately, is an abomination that he cannot be excused from.

Hinging on the social contention of Consciencism in Ghana, particularly, and in Africa, generally, Nkrumah seeks to foist an evolution of a body of principles, which, by guiding the thinking and actions of all Africans, will establish a common range of behaviour for all.

Africa shares a lot in common, not only destiny as a result of colonialism, but in terms of human values and culture.

Although “Things Fall Apart”, seems to subscribe to Western aspects of narrative style, with the individual at the centre, it can be used to put Nkrumah’s ideas in context.

Okonkwo’s father is told by the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves that: “When a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm . . . Go home and work like a man.”

The land is central to African prosperity, so it belongs to the community and the hardworking individual simply has to constantly seek fertile lands. The European, however, comes to demarcate the land as his own, and put boundaries to separate Africans from their neighbours.

Okonkwo’s downfall is his individualistic nature. His personal achievement is what drives him because of fear of weakness and failure, and in the end he commits suicide; thus dying on the wrong side of the customs that he subscribes to, which are communally inspired.

There are moral, social and political values to which all the cultural strands in present-day African society should conform.

African society values kinship, communal ownership of the land, hard work and respect for the metaphysical. Marriage, wedding and funeral ceremonies and other communal gatherings cement relations.

However, colonialism disturbed cultural balance through Western education and religion. The central cog in religion is belief, which is determined by customs, therefore, if cultural norms and values of a society are eroded there is bound to be mayhem, as what happens in “Things Fall Apart”.

To counter this problem, Nkrumah, unlike Armah in “Two Thousand Seasons” (1973), concedes that African society today has become a microcosm, with three strands or layers; which are traditional Africa, Islamic Africa and Euro-Christian Africa.

He suggests that the good aspects of the different religions should be integrated as a way of interfacing and compromise.

Nkrumah seems to be in agreement with Achebe. Through characterisation, Achebe purveys the need to avoid religious fanaticism.

Enoch the new Christian convert, who is a victim of occultism as an Osu or outcast, causes fierce clashes because of his overzealous nature, which leads to him being reprimanded by the liberal Mr Brown.

Okonkwo and Mr Smith are also intolerant, although in the end the latter respects the Omuofia custom that a man, who commits suicide, should not be buried by his relations, because suicide is considered an abomination.

Consciencism highlights that it is possible as Africans to live in harmony with people of different cultures and religions, as long as society is egalitarian, and there is a single ideology in the custody of a group that makes sure that individuals adhere to rules, so that in the end quality takes precedence over quantity, as society evolves, because revolutions have to stop at one point.

In “Things Fall Apart”, culture does not only become burdensome on the individual because of its inflexibility, arbitrary and abstract nature, but it becomes a tool of oppression, especially so if it remains static.

Christianity becomes an escape route to those at the receiving end of customs. On the other hand Christianity is used as an oppressive tool because it is linked to colonial oppressive laws and forms of governance.

It is this that Consciencism seeks to correct so as to give impetus to a new Africa through Pan-Africanism. Nkrumah regards mysticism and the supernatural as impediments to progress.

On paper pan-Africanism as a theory is spot on in its attempt to forge an authentic vision for Africa, which reels under colonial burden, and reliance on donor funds.

Its implementation, however, remains a pipe dream, as the continent fails to locate itself in the global village, with its many shades of grey; and Africa being colour blind fails to see the difference.

Source :

The Herald

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