Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

July 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Chapter 1

While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been

humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern.[1]

Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an

ontological possibility but as an historical reality And as an individual perceives the extent of

dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history in

concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a

person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.

But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the

people’s vocation. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very

negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the

oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by

their struggle to recover their lost humanity.

Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also

(though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of

becoming more fully human. This distortion occurs within history; but it is not an historical

vocation. Indeed, to admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation would lead either to

cynicism or total despair. The struggle for humanization, for the emancipation of labor, for

the overcoming of alienation, for the affirmation of men and women as persons would be

meaningless. This struggle is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete

historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence

in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.

Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads

the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have

meaning, the oppressed must not in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create

it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves

and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their

power; cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves.

Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free

both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the

oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt

never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their

“generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the

permanent fount of this “generosity” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That

is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.

True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false

charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life” to extend their

trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals

or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more

they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.

This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves and

from those who are truly in solidarity with them. As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for

the restoration of their humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity.

Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an

oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can

better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but

through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for

it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an

act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence,

lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity.

But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving

for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.” The very structure

of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential

situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be

oppressors. This is their model of humanity. This phenomenon derives from the fact that the

oppressed, at a certain moment of their existential experience, adopt an attitude of “adhesion”

to the oppressor. Under these circumstances they cannot “consider” him sufficiently clearly

to objectivize him — to discover him “outside” themselves. This does not necessarily mean

that the oppressed are unaware that they are downtrodden. But their perception of themselves

as oppressed is impaired by their submersion in the reality of oppression. At this level, their

perception of themselves as opposites of the oppressor does not yet signify engagement in a

struggle to overcome the contradiction;[2] the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to

identification with its opposite pole.

In this situation the oppressed do not see the “new man as the person to be born from the

resolution of this contradiction, as oppression gives way to liberation. For them, the new man

or woman themselves become oppressors. Their vision of the new man or woman is

individualistic; because of their identification with the oppressor they have no consciousness

of themselves as persons or as members of an oppressed class. It is not to become free that

they want agrarian reform, but in order to acquire land and thus become landowners — or;

more precisely, bosses over other workers. It is a rare peasant who, once “promoted” to

overseer, does not become more of a tyrant towards his former comrades than the owner

himself. This is because the context of the peasant’s situation, that is, oppression, remains

unchanged. In this example, the overseer, in order to make sure of his job, must be as tough  

as the owner — and more so. Thus is illustrated our previous assertion that during the initial

stage of their struggle the oppressed find in the oppressor their model of “manhood.”

Even revolution, which transforms a concrete situation of oppression by establishing the

process of liberation, must confront thus phenomenon. Many of the oppressed who directly or

indirectly participate in revolution intend — conditioned by the myths of the old order — to

make it their private revolution. The shadow of their former oppressor is still cast over them.

The “fear of freedom” which afflicts the oppressed,[3]a fear which may equally well lead

them to desire the role of oppressor or bind them to the role of oppressed, should be

examined. One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is

prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon

another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms

with the prescriber’s consciousness. Thus, the behavior of the oppressed is a prescribed

behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor.

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are

fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with

autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be

pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it

an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human


To surmount the situation of oppression, people must first critically recognize its causes, so

that through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible

the pursuit of a fuller humanity. But the struggle to be more fully human has already begun in

the authentic struggle to transform the situation. Although the situation of oppression is a

dehumanized and dehumanizing totality affecting both the oppressors and those whom they

oppress, it is the latter who must, from their stifled humanity, wage for both the struggle for a

fuller humanity; the oppressor, who is himself dehumanized because he dehumanizes others,

is unable to lead this struggle.

However, the oppressed, who have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are

immersed, and have become resigned to it, are inhibited from waging the struggle for

freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires. Moreover, their

struggle for freedom threatens not only the oppressor, but also their own oppressed comrades

who are fearful of still greater repression. When they discover within themselves the yearning

to be free, they perceive that this yearning can be transformed into reality only when the same

yearning is aroused in their comrades. But while dominated by the fear of freedom they

refuse to appeal to others, or to listen to the appeals of others, or even to the appeals of their

own conscience. They prefer gregariousness to authentic comradeship; they prefer the

security of conformity with their state of unfreedom to the creative communion produced by

freedom and even the very pursuit of freedom.

   

The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being.

They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire

authentic existence, they fear it. They are at one and the same time themselves and the

oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized. The conflict lies in the choice

between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or

not ejecting them; between human solidarity or alienation; between following prescriptions or

having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of

acting through the action of the oppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in

their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world. This is the tragic

dilemma of the oppressed which their education must take into account.

This book will present some aspects of what the writer has termed the pedagogy of the

oppressed, a pedagogy which must be forged with, not for, the oppressed (whether

individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their humanity. This pedagogy

makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that

reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation. And in

the struggle this pedagogy will be made and remade.

The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings,

participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves

to be “hosts” of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating

pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to

be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the oppressed is an

instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations

of dehumanization.

Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new

person, viable only as the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the

humanization of all people. Or to put it another way the solution of this contradiction is born

in the labor which brings into the world this new being: no longer oppressor nor longer

oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom.

This solution cannot be achieved in idealistic terms. In order for the oppressed to be able to

wage the struggle for their liberation they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a

closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform.

This perception is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for liberation; it must become the

motivating force for liberating action. Nor does the discovery by the oppressed that they exist

in dialectical relationship to the oppressor, as his antithesis that without them the oppressor

could not exist[4] — in itself constitute liberation. The oppressed can overcome the

contradiction in which they are caught only when this perception enlists them in the struggle

to free themselves.

The same is true with respect to the individual oppressor as person. Discovering himself to be

an oppressor may cause considerable anguish, but it does not necessarily lead to solidarity

with the oppressed. Rationalizing his guilt through paternalistic treatment of the oppressed,  

all the while holding them fast in a position of dependence, will not do. Solidarity requires

that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is in solidarity; it is a radical posture.

If what characterizes the oppressed is their subordination to the consciousness of the master,

as Hegel affirms,[5] true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform

the objective reality which has made them these “beings for another”. The oppressor is in

solidarity with the oppressed only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract

category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice,

cheated in the sale of their labor — when he stops making pious, sentimental, and

individualistic gestures and risks an act of love. True solidarity is found only in the plenitude

of this act of love, in its existentiality in its praxis. To affirm that men and women are persons

and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a

reality, is a farce.

Since it is a concrete situation that the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is established, the

resolution of this contradiction must be objectively verifiable. Hence, the radical requirement

— both for the individual who discovers himself or herself to be an oppressor and for the

oppressed — that the concrete situation which begets oppression must be transformed.

To present this radical demand for the objective transformation of reality to combat

subjectivist immobility which would divert the recognition of oppression into patient waiting

for oppression to disappear by itself is not to dismiss the role of subjectivity in the struggle to

change structures. On the contrary one cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity.

Neither can exist without the other, nor can they be dichotomized. The separation of

objectivity from subjectivity, the denial of the latter when analyzing reality or acting upon it,

is objectivism. On the other hand, the denial of objectivity in analysis or action, resulting in a

subjectivism which leads to solipsistic positions, denies action itself by denying objective

reality. Neither objectivism nor subjectivism, nor yet psychologism is propounded here, but

rather subjectivity and objectivity in constant dialectical relationship.

To deny the importance of subjectivity in the process of transforming the world and history is

naive and simplistic. It is to admit the impossible: a world without people. This objectivistic

position is as ingenuous as that of subjectivism, which postulates people without a world.

World and human beings do not exist apart from each other, they exist in constant interaction.

Man does not espouse such a dichotomy; nor does any other critical, realistic thinker. What

Marx criticized and scientifically destroyed was not subjectivity, but subjectivism and

psychologism. Just as objective social reality exists not by chance, but as the product of

human action, so it is not transformed by chance. If humankind produce social reality (which

in the “inversion of the praxis” turns back upon them and conditions them), then transforming

that reality is an historical task, a task for humanity.

Reality which becomes oppressive results in the contradistinction of men as oppressors and

oppressed The latter, whose task it is to struggle for their liberation together with those who

show true solidarity, must acquire a critical awareness of oppression through the praxis of

this struggle. One of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that oppressive

reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings’ consiousness.[6]

   

Functionally, oppression is domesticating. To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge

from it and turn upon it. This can be done only by means of the praxis: reflection and action

upon the world in order to transform it.

Hay que hacer al opresion real todavia mas opresiva anadiendo a aquella la conciencia de la

opresion haciendo la infamia todavia mas infamante, al pregonar1a.[7]

Making “real oppression more oppressive still by adding to it the realization of oppression”

corresponds to the dialectical relation between the subjective and the objective. Only in this

interdependence is an authentic praxis possible, without which it is impossible to resolve the

oppressor-oppressed contradiction. To achieve this goal, the oppressed must confront reality

critically, simultaneously objectifying and acting upon that reality. A mere perception of

reality not followed by this critical intervention will not lead to a transformation of objective

reality — precisely because it is not a true perception. This is the case of a purely subjectivist

perception by someone who forsakes objective reality and creates a false substitute.

A different type of false perception occurs when a change in objective reality would threaten

the individual or class interests of the perceiver. In the first instance, there is no critical

intervention in reality because that reality is fictitious; there is none in the second instance

because intervention would contradict the class interests of the perceiver In the latter case the

tendency of the perceiver is to behave “neurotically.” The fact exists; but both the fact and

what may result from it may be prejudicial to the person. Thus it becomes necessary not

precisely to deny the fact, but to “see it differently.” This rationalization as a defense

mechanism coincides in the end with subjectivism. A fact which is not denied but whose

truths are rationalized loses its objective base. It ceases to be concrete and becomes a myth

created in defense of the class of the perceiver.

Herein lies one of the reasons for the prohibitions and the difficulties (to be discussed at

length in Chapter 4) designed to dissuade the people from critical intervention in reality. The

oppressor knows full well that this intervention would not be to his interest. What is to his

interest is for the people to continue in a state of submersion, impotent in the face of

oppressive reality. Of relevance here is Lukacs’ warning to the revolutionary party:

… il doit, pour employer les mots de Marx, expliquer aux masses leur propre action non

seulement afin d’assurer la continuite des experiences revolutionnaires du proletariat, mais

aussi d’activer consciemment le developpement ulterieur de ces experiences.[8]

In affirming this necessity, Lukacs is unquestionably posing the problem of critical

intervention. “To explain to the masses their own action” is to clarify and illuminate that

action, both regarding its relationship to the objective acts by which it was prompted, and

regarding its purposes. The more the people unveil this challenging reality which is to be the

object of their transforming action, the more critically they enter that reality. In this way they

are “consciously activating the subsequent development of their experiences.” There would

be no human action if there were no objective reality; no world to be the “not I” of the person

and to challenge them; just as there would be no human action if humankind were not a “project” if he or she were not able to transcend himself or herself, if one were not able to

perceive reality and understand it in order to transform it.

In dialectical thought, world and action are intimately interdependent. But action is human

only when it is not merely an occupation but also a preoccupation, that is, when it is not

dichotomized from reflection. Reflection, which is essential to action, is implicit in Lukacs’

requirement of “explaining to the masses their own action,” just as it is implicit in the

purpose he attributes to this explanation: that of “consciously activating the subsequent

development of experience.”

For us, however, the requirement is seen not in terms of explaining to, but rather dialoguing

with the people about their actions. In any event, no reality transforms itself,[9]and the duty

which Lukacs ascribes to the revolutionary party of “explaining to the masses their own

action” coincides with our affirmation of the need for the critical intervention of the people in

reality through the praxis. The pedagogy of the oppressed, which is the pedagogy of people

engaged in the fight for their own liberation, has its roots here. And those who recognize, or

begin to recognize, themselves as oppressed must be among the developers of this pedagogy.

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them

as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The

oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.

The pedagogy of the oppressed, animated by authentic, humanist (not humanitarian)

generosity, presents itself as a pedagogy of humankind. Pedagogy which begins with the

egoistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism)

and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies

oppression. It is an instrument of dehumanization. This is why, as we affirmed earlier, the

pedagogy of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the oppressor. It would be a

contradiction in terms if the oppressors not only defended but actually implemented a

liberating education.

But if the implementation of a liberating education requires political power and the oppressed

have none, how then is it possible to carry out the pedagogy of the oppressed prior to the

revolution? This is a question of the greatest importance, the reply to which is at least

tentatively outlined in Chapter 4. One aspect of the reply is to be found in the distinction

between systematic education, which can only be changed by political power, and

educational projects, which should be carried out with the oppressed in the process of

organizing them.

The pedagogy of the oppressed, as a humanist and libertarian pedagogy, has two distinct

stages. In the first, the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis

commit themselves to its transformation. In the second stage, in which the reality of

oppression has already been transformed, this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed

and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation. In both stages,

it is always through action in depth that the culture of domination is culturally

confronted.[10]In the first stage this confrontation occurs through the change in the way the  

oppressed perceive the world of oppression; in the second stage, through the expulsion of the

myths created and developed in the old order, which like specters haunt the new structure

emerging from the revolutionary transformation.

The pedagogy of the first stage must deal with the problem of the oppressed consciousness

and the oppressor consciousness, the problem of men and women who oppress and men and

women who suffer oppression. It must take into account their behavior; their view of the

world, and their ethics. A particular problem is the duality of the oppressed: they are

contradictory, divided beings, shaped by and existing in a concrete situation of oppression

and violence.

Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of selfaffirmation

as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes

violence even when sweetened by false generosity; because it interferes with the individual’s

ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human. With the establishment of a

relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been

initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result

of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective inauguration

called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no

prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.

Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as

persons — not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognized. It is not the unloved

who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is

not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power

create the concrete situation which begets the “rejects of life.” It is not the tyrannized who

initiate despotism, but the tyrants. It is not the despised who initiate hatred, but those who

despise. It is not those whose humanity is denied them who negate humankind, but those who

denied that humanity (thus negating their own as well). Force is used not by those who have

become weak under the preponderance of the strong, but by the strong who have emasculated


For the oppressors, however, it is always the oppressed (whom they obviously never call “the

oppressed” but — depending on whether they are fellow countrymen or not — “those

people” or “the blind and envious masses” or “savages” or “natives” or “subversives”) who

are disaffected, who are “violent,” “barbaric,” “wicked,” or “ferocious” when they react to

the violence of the oppressors.

Yet it is — paradoxical though it may seem — precisely in the response of the oppressed to

the violence of their oppressors that a gesture of love may be found. Consciously or

unconsciously, the act of rebellion by the oppressed (an act which is always, or nearly

always, as violent as the initial violence of the oppressors) can initiate love. Whereas the

violence of the oppressors prevents the oppressed from being fully human, the response of the latter to this violence is grounded in the desire to pursue the right to be human. As the

oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become

dehumanized. As the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors’ power to

dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the

exercise of oppression.

It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors. The latter, as

an oppressive class, can free neither others nor themselves. It is therefore essential that the

oppressed wage the struggle to resolve the contradiction in which they are caught; and the

contradiction will be resolved by the appearance of the new man: neither oppressor nor

oppressed, but man in the process of liberation. If the goal of the oppressed is to become fully

human, they will not achieve their goal by merely reversing the terms of the contradiction, by

simply changing poles.

This may seem simplistic; it is not. Resolution of the oppressor-oppressed contradiction

indeed implies the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class. However, the

restraints imposed by the former oppressed on their oppressors, so that the latter cannot

reassume their former position, do not constitute oppression. An act is oppressive only when

it prevents people from being more fully human. Accordingly, these necessary restraints do

not in themselves signify that yesterday’s oppressed have become today’s oppressors. Acts

which prevent the restoration of the oppressive regime cannot be compared with those which

create and maintain it, cannot be compared with those by which a few men and women deny

the majority the right to be human.

However, the moment the new regime hardens into a dominating “bureaucracy”[11] the

humanist dimension of the struggle is lost and it is no longer possible to speak of liberation.

Hence our insistence that the authentic solution of the oppressor-oppressed contradiction does

not lie in a mere reversal of position, in moving from one pole to the other. Nor does it lie in

the replacement of the former oppressors with new ones who continue to subjugate the

oppressed — all in the name of their liberation.

But even when the contradiction is resolved authentically by a new situation established by

the liberated laborers, the former oppressors do not feel liberated. On the contrary, they

genuinely consider themselves to be oppressed. Conditioned by the experience of oppressing

others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Formerly, they

could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven; while millions did not

eat, had no clothes or shoes, neither studied nor traveled, much less listened to Beethoven.

Any restriction on this way of life, in the name of the rights of the community, appears to the

former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual right — although they had no

respect for the millions who suffered and died of hunger, pain, sorrow, and despair. For the

oppressors, “human beings” refers only to themselves; other people are “things.” For the

oppressors, there exists only one right: their right to live in peace, over against the right, not

always even recognized, but simply conceded, of the oppressed to survival. And they make

this concession only because the existence of the oppressed is necessary to their own

existence. 

This behavior, this way of understanding the world and people (which necessarily makes the

oppressors resist the installation of a new regime) is explained by their experience as a

dominant class. Once a situation of violence and oppression has been established, it

engenders an entire way of life and behavior for those caught up in it — oppressors and

oppressed alike. Both are submerged in this situation, and both bear the marks of oppression.

Analysis of existential situations of oppression reveals that their inception lay in an act of

violence — initiated by those with power. This violence, as a process, is perpetuated from

generation to generation of oppressors, who become its heirs and are shaped in its climate.

This climate creates in the oppressor a strongly possessive consciousness — possessive of the

world and of men and women. Apart from direct, concrete, material possession of the world

and of people, the oppressor consciousness could not understand itself — could not even

exist. Fromm said of this consciousness that, without such possession, “it would lose contact

with the world” The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it

into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people,

people themselves, time — everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal.

In their unrestrained eagerness to possess, the oppressors develop the conviction that it is

possible for them to transform everything into objects of their purchasing power; hence their

strictly materialistic concept of existence. Money is the measure of all things, and profit the

primary goal. For the oppressors, what is worthwhile is to have more — always more — even

at the cost of the oppressed having less or having nothing. For them, to be is to have and to be

the class of the “haves.”

As beneficiaries of a situation of oppression, the oppressors cannot perceive that if having is a

condition of being, it is a necessary condition for all women and men. This is why their

generosity is false. Humanity is a “thing” and they possess it as an exclusive right, as

inherited property. To the oppressor consciousness, the humanization of the “others,” of the

people, appears not as the pursuit of full humanity; but as subversion.

The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which

dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as

a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely

have. For them, having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own

“effort” with their “courage to take risks.” If others do not have more, it is because they are

incompetent and lazy; and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the “generous

gestures” of the dominant class. Precisely because they are “ungrateful” and “envious,” the

oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched.

It could not he otherwise. If the humanization of the oppressed signifies subversion, so also

does their freedom; hence the necessity for constant control. And the more the oppressors

control the oppressed, the more they change them into apparently inanimate “things.” This

tendency of the oppressor consciousness to “in-animate” everything and everyone it

encounters, in its eagerness to possess, unquestionably corresponds with a tendency to

sadism.    

The pleasure in complete domination over another person (or other animate creature) is the

very essence of the sadistic drive. Another way of formulating the same thought is to say that

the aim of sadism is to transform a man into a thing, something animate into something

inanimate, since by complete and absolute control the living loses one essential quality of life

— freedom.[12]

Sadistic love is a perverted love — a love of death, not of life. One of the characteristics of

the oppressor consciousness and its necrophilic view of the world is thus sadism. As the

oppressor consciousness, in order to dominate, tries to deter the drive to search, the

restlessness, and the creative power which characterize life, it kills life. More and more, the

oppressors are using science and technology as unquestionably powerful instruments for their

purpose: the maintenance of the oppressive order through manipulation and repression.[13]The

oppressed, as objects, as “things,” have no purposes except those their oppressors prescribe

for them.

Given the preceding context, another issue of indubitable importance arises: the fact that

certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus

moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other. Theirs is a fundamental role, and has

been so throughout the history of this struggle. It happens, however, that as they cease to be

exploiters or indifferent spectators or simply the heirs of exploitation and move to the side of

the exploited, they almost always bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices

and their deformations, which include a lack of confidence in the people’s ability to think, to

want, and to know. Accordingly these adherents to the people’s cause constantly run the risk

of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors. The generosity of the

oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that

generosity. Our converts, on the other hand, truly desire to transform the unjust order; but

because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the

transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people

is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified

more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand

actions in their favor without that trust.

Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves

constantly. This conversion is so radical as not to allow of ambiguous behavior. To affirm

this commitment but to consider oneself the proprietor of revolutionary wisdom — which

must then be given to (or imposed on) the people — is to retain the old ways. The man or

woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of liberation yet is unable to enter into

communion with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as totally ignorant, is

grievously self-deceived. The convert who approaches the people but feels alarm at each step

they take, each doubt they express, and each suggestion they offer; and attempts to impose

his “status”, remains nostalgic towards his origins.

Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a

new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were. Only through comradeship

with the oppressed can the converts understand their characteristic ways of living and  

behaving, which in diverse moments reflect the structure of domination. One of these

characteristics is the previously mentioned existential duality of the oppressed, who are at the

same time themselves and the oppressor whose image they have internalized. Accordingly,

until they concretely “discover” their oppressor and in turn their own consciousness, they

nearly always express fatalistic attitudes towards their situation.

The peasant begins to get courage to overcome his dependence when he realizes that he is

dependent. Until then, he goes along with the boss and says “what can I do? I’m only a


When superficially analyzed, this fatalism is sometimes interpreted as a docility that is a trait

of national character. Fatalism in the guise of docility is the fruit of an historical and

sociological situation, not an essential characteristic of a people’s behavior. It almost always

is related to the power of destiny or fate or fortune — inevitable forces — or to a distorted

view of God. Under the sway of magic and myth, the oppressed (especially the peasants, who

are almost submerged in nature)[15]see their suffering, the fruit of exploitation, as the will of

God, as if God were the creator of this “organized disorder.”

Submerged in reality, the oppressed cannot perceive clearly the “order” which serves the

interests of the oppressors whose image they have internalized. Chafing under the restrictions

of this order, they often manifest a type of horizontal violence, striking out at their own

comrades for the pettiest reasons.

The colonized man will first manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his

bones against his own people. This is the period when the niggers beat each other up, and the

police and magistrates do not know which way to turn when faced with the astonishing waves

of crime in North Africa. … While the settler or the policeman has the right the livelong day

to strike the native, to insult him and to make him crawl to them, you will see the native

reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another

native; for the last resort of the native is to defend his personality vis-a-vis his brother. [16]

It is possible that in this behavior they are once more manifesting their duality. Because the

oppressor exists within their oppressed comrades, when they attack those comrades they are

indirectly attacking the oppressor as well.

On the other hand, at a certain point in their existential experience the oppressed feel an

irresistible attraction towards the oppressors and their way of life. Sharing this way of life

becomes an overpowering aspiration. In their alienation, the oppressed want at any cost to

resemble the oppressors, to imitate them, to follow them. This phenomenon is especially

prevalent in the middle-class oppressed, who yearn to be equal to the “eminent” men and

women of the upper class. Albert Memmi, in an exceptional analysis of the “colonized

mentality,” refers to the contempt he felt towards the colonizer, mixed with “passionate”

attraction towards him.    

How could the colonizer look after his workers while periodically gunning down a crowd of

colonized? How could the colonized deny himself so cruelly yet make such excessive

demands? How could he hate the colonizers and yet admire them so passionately? (I too felt

this admiration in spite of myself.)[17]

Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their

internalization of the opinion the oppressors hold of them. So often do they hear that they are

good for nothing, know nothing and are incapable of learning anything — that they are sick,

lazy, and unproductive — that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness.

The peasant feels inferior to the boss because the boss seems to be the only one who knows

things and is able to run things. [18]

They call themselves ignorant and say the “professor” is the one who has knowledge and to

whom they should listen. The criteria of knowledge imposed upon them are the conventional

ones. “Why don’t you,” said a peasant participating in a culture circle,[19]“explain the pictures

first? That way it’ll take less time and won’t give us a headache.”

Almost never do they realize that they, too, “know things” they have learned in their relations

with the world and with other women and men. Given the circumstances which have

produced their duality, it is only natural that they distrust themselves.

Not infrequently, peasants in educational projects begin to discuss a generative theme in a

lively manner, then stop suddenly and say to the educator: “Excuse us, we ought to keep quiet

and let you talk. You are the one who knows, we don’t know anything.” They often insist that

there is no difference between them and the animals; when they do admit a difference, it

favors the animals. “They are freer than we are.”

It is striking, however, to observe how this self-depreciation changes with the first changes in

the situation of oppression. I heard a peasant leader say in an asentamiento[20] meeting, “They

used to say we were unproductive because we were lazy and drunkards. All lies. Now that we

are respected as men, we’re going to show everyone that we were never drunkards or lazy.

We were exploited!”

As long as their ambiguity persists, the oppressed are reluctant to resist, and totally lack

confidence in themselves. They have a diffuse, magical belief in the invulnerability and

power of the oppressor.[21]The magical force of the landowner’s power holds particular sway

in the rural areas. A sociologist friend of mine tells of a group of armed peasants in a Latin

American country who recently took over a latifundium. For tactical reasons, they planned to

hold the landowner as a hostage. But not one peasant had the courage to guard him; his very

presence was terrifying. It is also possible that the act of opposing the boss provoked guilt

feelings. In truth, the boss was “inside” them.

The oppressed must see examples of the vulnerability of the oppressor so that a contrary

conviction can begin to grow within them. Until this occurs they will continue disheartened, 

fearful, and beaten.[22] As long as the oppressed remain unaware of the causes of their

condition, they fatalistically “accept” their exploitation. Further, they are apt to react in a

passive and alienated manner when confronted with the necessity to struggle for their

freedom and self-affirmation. Little by little, however, they tend to try out forms of rebellious

action. In working towards liberation, one must neither lose sight of this passivity nor

overlook the moment of awakening.

Within their unauthentic view of the world and of themselves, the oppressed feel like

“things” owned by the oppressor. For the latter; to be is to have, almost always at the expense

of those who have nothing. For the oppressed, at a certain point in their existential

experience, to be is not to resemble the oppressor, but to be under him, to depend on him.

Accordingly, the oppressed are emotionally dependent.

The peasant is a dependent. He can’t say what he wants. Before he discovers his dependence,

he suffers. He lets off steam at home, where he shouts at his children, beats them, and

despairs. He complains about his wife and thinks everything is dreadful. He doesn’t let off

steam with the boss because he thinks the boss is a superior being. Lots of times, the peasant

gives vent to his sorrows by drinking.[23]

This total emotional dependence can lead the oppressed to what Fromm calls necrophilic

behavior: the destruction of life — their own or that of their oppressed fellows.

It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized

struggle for their liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be

purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must

include serious reflection: only then will it be a praxis.

Critical and liberating dialogue, which presupposes action, must be carried on with the

oppressed at whatever the stage of their struggle for liberation.[24]The content of that dialogue

can and should vary in accordance with historical conditions and the level at which the

oppressed perceive reality. But to substitute monologue, slogans, and communiques for

dialogue is to attempt to liberate the oppressed with the instruments of domestication.

Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of

liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead

them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.

At all stages of their liberation, the oppressed must see themselves as women and men

engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Reflection

and action become imperative when one does not erroneously attempt to dichotomize the

content of humanity from its historical forms.

The insistence that the oppressed engage in reflection on their concrete situation is not a call

to armchair revolution. On the contrary reflection — true reflection — leads to action. On the

other hand, when the situation calls for action, that action will constitute an authentic praxis

only if its consequences become the object of critical reflection. In this sense, the praxis is the 

new raison d’être of the oppressed; and the revolution, which inaugurates the historical

moment of this raison d’être, is not viable apart from their concomitant conscious

involvement. Otherwise, action is pure activism.

To achieve this praxis, however; it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to

reason. Whoever lacks this trust will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection, and

communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiques, monologues, and

instructions. Superficial conversions to the cause of liberation carry this danger.

Political action on the side of the oppressed must be pedagogical action in the authentic sense

of the word, and, therefore, action with the oppressed. Those who work for liberation must

not take advantage of the emotional dependence of the oppressed — dependence that is the

fruit of the concrete situation of domination which surrounds them and which engendered

their unauthentic view of the world. Using their dependence to create still greater dependence

is an oppressor tactic.

Libertarian action must recognize this dependence as a weak point and must attempt through

reflection and action to transform it into independence. However, not even the bestintentioned

leadership can bestow independence as a gift. The liberation of the oppressed is a

liberation of women and men, not things. Accordingly while no one liberates himself by his

own efforts alone, neither is he liberated by others. Liberation, a human phenomenon, cannot

be achieved by semihumans. Any attempt to treat people as semihumans only dehumanizes

them. When people are already dehumanized, due to the oppression they suffer; the process

of their liberation must not employ the methods of dehumanization.

The correct method for a revolutionary leadership to employ in the task of liberation is,

therefore, not “libertarian propaganda.” Nor can the leadership merely “implant” in the

oppressed a belief in freedom, thus thinking to win their trust. The correct method lies in

dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift

bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscientizacao.

The revolutionary leaders must realize that their own conviction of the necessity for struggle

(an indispensable dimension of revolutionary wisdom) was not given to them by anyone else

— if it is authentic. This conviction cannot be packaged and sold; it is reached, rather, by

means of a totality of reflection and action. Only the leaders’ own involvement in reality;

within an historical situation, led them to criticize this situation and to wish to change it.

Likewise, the oppressed (who do not commit themselves to the struggle unless they are

convinced, and who, if they do not make such a commitment, withhold the indispensable

conditions for this struggle) must reach this conviction as Subjects, not as objects. They also

must intervene critically in the situation which surrounds them and whose mark they bear;

propaganda cannot achieve this. While the conviction of the necessity for struggle (without

which the struggle is unfeasible) is indispensable to the revolutionary leadership (indeed, it

was this conviction which constituted that leadership), it is also necessary for the oppressed.  

It is necessary; that is, unless one intends to carry out the transformation for the oppressed

rather than with them. It is my belief that only the latter form of transformation is valid.[25]

The object in presenting these considerations is to defend the eminently pedagogical

character of the revolution. The revolutionary leaders of every epoch who have affirmed that

the oppressed must accept the struggle for their liberation — an obvious point — have also

thereby implicitly recognized the pedagogical aspect of this struggle. Many of these leaders,

however (perhaps due to natural and understandable biases against pedagogy), have ended up

using the “educational” methods employed by the oppressor. They deny pedagogical action

in the liberation process, but they use propaganda to convince.

It is essential for the oppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanization

they also accept, from that moment, their total responsibility for the struggle. They must

realize that they are fighting not merely for freedom from hunger, but for

… freedom to create and to construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that

the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine. … It is

not enough that men are not slaves; if social conditions further the existence of automatons,

the result will not be love of life, but love of death.[26]

The oppressed, who have been shaped by the death-affirming climate of oppression, must

find through their struggle the way to life-affirming humanization, which does not lie simply

in having more to eat (although it does involve having more to eat and cannot fail to include

this aspect). The oppressed have been destroyed precisely because their situation has reduced

them to things. In order to regain their humanity they must cease to be things and fight as

men and women. This is a radical requirement. They cannot enter the struggle as objects in

order later to become human beings.

The struggle begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed. Propaganda,

management, manipulation — all arms of domination — cannot be the instruments of their

rehumanization. The only effective instrument is a humanizing pedagogy in which the

revolutionary leadership establishes a permanent relationship of dialogue with the oppressed.

In a humanizing pedagogy the method ceases to be an instrument by which the teachers (in

this instance, the revolutionary leadership) can manipulate the students (in this instance, the

oppressed), because it expresses the consciousness of the students themselves.

The method is, in fact, the external form of consciousness manifest in acts, which takes on

the fundamental property of consciousness — its intentionality. The essence of consciousness

is being with the world, and this behavior is permanent and unavoidable. Accordingly

consciousness is in essence a ‘way towards’ something apart from itself outside itself, which

surrounds it and which it apprehends by means of its ideational capacity. Consciousness is

thus by definition a method, in the most general sense of the word.[27]

A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and

students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task

of unveiling that reality and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating

that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and

action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the

oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudoparticipation,

but committed involvement.


1. The current movements of rebellion, especially those of youth, while they necessarily

reflect the peculiarities of their respective settings, manifest in their essence this

preoccupation with people as beings in the world and with the world — preoccupation with

what and how they are “being”. As they place consumer civilization in judgment, denounce

bureaucracies of all types, demand the transformation of the universities (changing the rigid

nature of the teacher-student relationship and placing that relationship within the context of

reality), propose the transformation of reality itself so that universities can be renewed, attack

old orders and established institutions in the attempt to affirm human beings as the Subjects

of decision, all these movements reflect the style of ours which is more anthropological than


2. As used throughout this book, the term “contradiction” denotes the dialectical conflict

between opposing social forces. — Translator’s note.

3. This fear of freedom is also to be found in the oppressors, though obviously in a different

form. The oppressed are afraid to embrace freedom; the oppressors are afraid of losing the

“freedom” to oppress.

4. See Hegel, op. cit., pp. 236-237.

5. Analyzing the dialectical relationship between the consciousness of the master and the

consciousness of the oppressed, Hegel states: “The one is independent, and its essential

nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another.

The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman” Ibid., p. 234.

6. “Liberating action necessarily involves a moment of perception and volition. This action

both precedes and follows that moment, to which it first acts as a prologue and which it

subsequently serves to effect and continue within history. The action of domination, however,

does not necessarily imply this dimension; for the structure of domination is maintained by its

own mechanical and unconscious functionality.” From an unpublished work by Jose Luiz

Fiori, who has kindly granted permission to quote him.

7. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, La Sagrada Familia y otros Escritos (Mexico, 1962), p.

6. Emphasis added.

8. Georg Lukacs, Lenine (Paris, 1965), p. 62.


9. “The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that,

therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets

that it is men that change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating.[“]Karl

Marx and Friedrich Engels, Selected Works (New York, 1968), p. 28.

10. This appears to be the fundamental aspect of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

11. This rigidity should not be identified with the restraints that must be imposed on the

former oppressors so they cannot restore the oppressive order. Rather, it refers to the

revolution which becomes stagnant and turns against the people, using the old repressive,

bureaucratic state apparatus (which should have been drastically suppressed, as Marx so often


12. Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man (New York, 1966), p. 32.

13. Regarding the “dominant forms of social control,” see Herbert Marcuse, One-

Dimensional Man (Boston, 1964) and Eros and Civilisation (Boston, 1955).

14. Words of a peasant during an interview with the author.

15. See Candido Mendes, Memento do vivos — A Esquerda catolica no Brasil (Rio 1966).

16. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York, 1968), p.52.

17. The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston, 1967), p. x.

18. Words of a peasant during an interview with the author.

19. See chapter 3, p. 113 ff. — Translator’s note.

20. Asentamiento refers to a production unit of the Chilean agrarian reform experiment. —

Translator’s note.

21. “The peasant has an almost instinctive fear of the host” Interview with a peasant.

22. See Regis Debray Revolution in the Revolution? (New York 1967).

23. Interview with a peasant.

24. Not in the open, of course; that would only provoke the fury of the oppressor and lead to

still greater repression.

25. These points will be discussed at length in chapter 4.

26. Fromm, op. cit., pp. 52-53.   

27. Alvaro Vieira Pinto, from a work in preparation on the philosophy of science. I consider

the quoted portion of great importance for the understanding of a problem-posing pedagogy

(to be presented in chapter 2), and wish to thank Professor Vieira Pinto for permission to cite

his work prior to publication.

Chapter 2

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire   

A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level inside or outside the school,

reveals its fundamentally narrative character This relationship involves a narrating Subject

(the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or

empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and

petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.

The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and

predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of

the students. His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration — contents

which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and

could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow,

alienated, and alienating verbosity.

The outstanding characteristic of this narrative education, then, is the sonority of words, not

their transforming power. “Four times four is sixteen; the capital of Para is Belem.” The

student records, memorizes, and repeats these phrases without perceiving what four times

four really means, or realizing the true significance of “capital” in the affirmation “the capital

of Para is Belem,” that is, what Belem means for Para and what Para means for Brazil.

Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the

narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled”

by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The

more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and

the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and

makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the

“banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends

only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the

opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last

analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity,

transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry

apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through

invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry,

human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider

themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an

absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates

education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students

as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own

existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their  

ignorance as justifying the teacher’s existence — but, unlike the slave, they never discover

that they educate the teacher.

The raison d’etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards

reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction,

by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and


This solution is not (nor can it be) found in the banking concept. On the contrary, banking

education maintains and even stimulates the contradiction through the following attitudes and

practices, which mirror oppressive society as a whole:

(a) the teacher teaches and the students are taught;

(b) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;

(c) the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;

(d) the teacher talks and the students listen — meekly;

(e) the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;

(f) the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;

(g) the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the


(h) the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt

to it;

(i) the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional

authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;

(j) the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable,

manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less

they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the

world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role

imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the

fragmented view of reality deposited in them.

The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to

stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the

world revealed nor to see it transformed. The oppressors use their “humanitarianism” to   

preserve a profitable situation. Thus they react almost instinctively against any experiment in

education which stimulates the critical faculties and is not content with a partial view of

reality but always seeks out the ties which link one point to another and one problem to


Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed,

not the situation which oppresses them”;[1] for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to

that situation, the more easily they can be dominated. To achieve this end, the oppressors use

the banking concept of education in conjunction with a paternalistic social action apparatus,

within which the oppressed receive the euphemistic title of “welfare recipients.” They are

treated as individual cases, as marginal persons who deviate from the general configuration of

a “good, organized, and just” society. The oppressed are regarded as the pathology of the

healthy society, which must therefore adjust these “incompetent and lazy” folk to its own

patterns by changing their mentality. These marginals need to be “integrated,” “incorporated”

into the healthy society that they have “forsaken.”

The truth is, however, that the oppressed are not “marginals,” are not people living “outside”

society. They have always been “inside” — inside the structure which made them “beings for

others.” The solution is not to “integrate” them into the structure of oppression, but to

transform that structure so that they can become “beings for themselves.” Such

transformation, of course, would undermine the oppressors’ purposes; hence their utilization

of the banking concept of education to avoid the threat of student conscientizacao.

The banking approach to adult education, for example, will never propose to students that

they critically consider reality. It will deal instead with such vital questions as whether Roger

gave green grass to the goat, and insist upon the importance of learning that on the contrary,

Roger gave green grass to the rabbit. The “humanism” of the banking approach masks the

effort to turn women and men into automatons — the very negation of their ontological

vocation to be more fully human.

Those who use the banking approach, knowingly or unknowingly (for there are innumerable

well-intentioned bank-clerk teachers who do not realize that they are serving only to

dehumanize), fail to perceive that the deposits themselves contain contradictions about

reality. But, sooner or later, these contradictions may lead formerly passive students to turn

against their domestication and the attempt to domesticate reality. They may discover through

existential experience that their present way of life is irreconcilable with their vocation to

become fully human. They may perceive through their relations with reality that reality is

really a process, undergoing constant transformation. If men and women are searchers and

their ontological vocation is humanization, sooner or later they may perceive the

contradiction in which banking education seeks to maintain them, and then engage

themselves in the struggle for their liberation.

But the humanist, revolutionary educator cannot wait for this possibility to materialize. From

the outset, her efforts must coincide with those of the students to engage in critical thinking

and the quest for mutual humanization. His efforts must be imbued with a profound trust in

people and their creative power. To achieve this, they must be partners of the students in their

relations with them.

The banking concept does not admit to such partnership — and necessarily so. To resolve the

teacher-student contradiction, to exchange the role of depositor, prescriber, domesticator, for

the role of student among students would be to undermine the power of oppression and serve

the cause of liberation.

Implicit in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and

the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others; the individual is

spectator, not re-creator. In this view, the person is not a conscious being (corpo consciente);

he or she is rather the possessor of a consciousness: an empty “mind” passively open to the

reception of deposits of reality from the world outside. For example, my desk, my books, my

coffee cup, all the objects before me — as bits of the world which surround me — would be

“inside” me, exactly as I am inside my study right now. This view makes no distinction

between being accessible to consciousness and entering consciousness. The distinction,

however, is essential: the objects which surround me are simply accessible to my

consciousness, not located within it. I am aware of them, but they are not inside me.

It follows logically from the banking notion of consciousness that the educator’s role is to

regulate the way the world “enters into” the students. The teacher’s task is to organize a

process which already occurs spontaneously to “fill” the students by making deposits of

information which he or she considers to constitute true knowledge.[2] And since people

“receive” the world as passive entities, education should make them more passive still, and

adapt them to the world. The educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is a

better “fit” for the world. Translated into practice, this concept is well suited to the purposes

of the oppressors, whose tranquility rests on how well people fit the world the oppressors

have created, and how little they question it.

The more completely the majority adapt to the purposes which the dominant minority

prescribe for them (thereby depriving them of the right to their own purposes), the more

easily the minority can continue to prescribe. The theory and practice of banking education

serve this end quite efficiently. Verbalistic lessons, reading requirements,[3] the methods for

evaluating knowledge, the distance between the teacher and the taught, the criteria for

promotion: everything in this ready-to-wear approach serves to obviate thinking.

The bank-clerk educator does not realize that there is no true security in his hypertrophied

role, that one must seek to live with others in solidarity. One cannot impose oneself, nor even

merely co-exist with one’s students. Solidarity requires true communication, and the concept

by which such an educator is guided fears and proscribes communication.

Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning. The teacher’s thinking is

authenticated only by the authenticity of the students’ thinking. The teacher cannot think for

her students, nor can she impose her thought on them. Authentic thinking, thinking that is

concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in

communication. If it is true that thought has meaning only when generated by action upon the

world, the subordination of students to teachers becomes impossible.

Because banking education begins with a false understanding of men and women as objects,

it cannot promote the development of what Fromm calls “biophily,” but instead produces its

opposite: “necrophily.”

While life is characterized by growth in a structured, functional manner, the necrophilous

person loves all that does not grow, all that is mechanical. The necrophilous person is driven

by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if

all living persons were things. … Memory, rather than experience; having, rather than being,

is what counts. The necrophilous person can relate to an object — a flower or a person —

only if he possesses it; hence a threat to his possession is a threat to himself; if he loses

possession he loses contact with the world. … He loves control, and in the act of controlling

he kills life.[4]

Oppression — overwhelming control — is necrophilic; it is nourished by love of death, not

life. The banking concept of education, which serves the interests of oppression, is also

necrophilic. Based on a mechanistic, static, naturalistic, spatialized view of consciousness, it

transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads

women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.

When their efforts to act responsibly are frustrated, when they find themselves unable to use

their faculties, people suffer. “This suffering due to impotence is rooted in the very fact that

the human equilibrium has been disturbed”[5] But the inability to act which causes people’s

anguish also causes them to reject their impotence, by attempting

… to restore [their] capacity to act. But can [they], and how? One way is to submit to and

identify with a person or group having power By this symbolic participation in another

person’s life, [men have] the illusion of acting, when in reality [they] only submit to and

become a part of those who act.[6]

Populist manifestations perhaps best exemplify this type of behavior by the oppressed, who,

by identifying with charismatic leaders, come to feel that they themselves are active and

effective. The rebellion they express as they emerge in the historical process is motivated by

that desire to act effectively. The dominant elites consider the remedy to be more domination

and repression, carried out in the name of freedom, order, and social peace (that is, the peace

of the elites). Thus they can condemn — logically from their point of view — “the violence

of a strike by workers and [can] call upon the state in the same breath to use violence in

putting down the strike.”[7]

Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the

ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the

world of oppression. This accusation is not made in the naive hope that the dominant elites

will thereby simply abandon the practice. Its objective is to call the attention of true   

humanists to the fact that they cannot use banking educational methods in the pursuit of

liberation, for they would only negate that very pursuit. Nor may a revolutionary society

inherit these methods from an oppressor society. The revolutionary society which practices

banking education is either misguided or mistrusting of people. In either event it is threatened

by the specter of reaction.

Unfortunately, those who espouse the cause of liberation are themselves surrounded and

influenced by the climate which generates the banking concept, and often do not perceive its

true significance or its dehumanizing power. Paradoxically, then, they utilize this same

instrument of alienation in what they consider an effort to liberate. Indeed, some

“revolutionaries” brand as “innocents,” “dreamers,” or even “reactionaries” those who would

challenge this educational practice. But one does not liberate people by alienating them.

Authentic liberation — the process of humanization — is not another deposit to be made in

men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in

order to transform it. Those truly committed to the cause of liberation can accept neither the

mechanistic concept of consciousness as an empty vessel to be filled, nor the use of banking

methods of domination (propaganda, slogans — deposits) in the name of liberation.

Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting

instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as

consciousness intent upon the world. They must abandon the educational goal of depositmaking

and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with

the world. “Problem-posing” education, responding to the essence of consciousness —

intentionality — rejects communiques and embodies communication. It epitomizes the

special characteristic of consciousness: being conscious of not only as intent on objects but as

turned in upon itself in a Jasperian “split” — consciousness as consciousness of


Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information. It is a

learning situation in which the cognizable object (far from being the end of the cognitive act)

intermediates the cognitive actors — teacher on the one hand and students on the other.

Accordingly the practice of problem-posing education entails at the outset that the teacherstudent

contradiction be resolved. Dialogical relations — indispensable to the capacity of

cognitive actors to cooperate in perceiving the same cognizable object — are otherwise


Indeed, problem-posing education, which breaks with the vertical patterns characteristic of

banking education, can fulfil its function as the practice of freedom only if it can overcome

the above contradiction. Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-ofthe-

teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers.

The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in

dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly

responsible for a process in which all grow. In this process, arguments based on “authority”

are no longer valid; in order to function, authority must be on the side of freedom, not against

it. Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated 

by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are “owned” by the


The banking concept (with its tendency to dichotomize everything) distinguishes two stages

in the action of the educator. During the first he cognizes a cognizable object while he

prepares his lessons in his study or his laboratory; during the second, he expounds to his

students about that object. The students are not called upon to know, but to memorize the

contents narrated by the teacher. Nor do the students practice any act of cognition, since the

object towards which that act should be directed is the property of the teacher rather than a

medium evoking the critical reflection of both teacher and students. Hence in the name of the

“preservation of culture and knowledge” we have a system which achieves neither true

knowledge nor true culture.

The problem-posing method does not dichotomize the activity of the teacher-student: she is

not “cognitive” at one point and “narrative” at another. She is always “cognitive,” whether

preparing a project or engaging in dialogue with the students. He does not regard cognizable

objects as his private property but as the object of reflection by himself and the students. In

this way the problem-posing educator constantly re-forms his reflections in the reflection of

the students. The students — no longer docile listeners — are now critical co-investigators in

dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their

consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own.

The role of the problem-posing educator is to create, together with the students, the

conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa is superseded by true knowledge,

at the level of the logos.

Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing

education involves a constant unveiling of reality. The former attempts to maintain the

submersion of consciousness; the latter strives for the emergence of consciousness and

critical intervention in reality.

Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world

and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge.

Because they apprehend the challenge as interrelated to other problems within a total context,

not as a theoretical question, the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and

thus constantly less alienated. Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges,

followed by new understandings; and gradually the students come to regard themselves as


Education as the practice of freedom — as opposed to education as the practice of

domination — denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world;

it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection

considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but pea-pie in their relations

with the world. In these relations consciousness and world are simultaneous: consciousness

neither precedes the world nor follows it.   

La conscience et le monde sont dormes d’un meme coup: exterieur par essence a la

conscience, le monde est, par essence relatif a elle.[8]

In one of our culture circles in Chile, the group was discussing (based on a codification[9]) the

anthropological concept of culture. In the midst of the discussion, a peasant who by banking

standards was completely ignorant said: “Now I see that without man there is no world.”

When the educator responded: “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that all the men on earth

were to die, but that the earth itself remained, together with trees, birds, animals, rivers, seas,

the stars. … wouldn’t all this be a world?” “Oh no,” the peasant replied emphatically. “There

would be no one to say: ‘This is a world’.”

The peasant wished to express the idea that there would be lacking the consciousness of the

world which necessarily implies the world of consciousness. I cannot exist without a non-I. In

turn, the not-I depends on that existence. The world which brings consciousness into

existence becomes the world of that consciousness. Hence, the previously cited affirmation of

Sartre: “La conscience et le mond sont dormes d’un meme coup.

As women and men, simultaneously reflecting on themselves and on the world, increase the

scope of their perception, they begin to direct their observations towards previously

inconspicuous phenomena:

In perception properly so-called, as an explicit awareness [Gewahren], I am turned towards

the object, to the paper, for instance. I apprehend it as being this here and now. The

apprehension is a singling out, every object having a background in experience. Around and

about the paper lie books, pencils, ink-well, and so forth, and these in a certain sense are also

“perceived”, perceptually there, in the “field of intuition”; but whilst I was turned towards the

paper there was no turning in their direction, nor any apprehending of them, not even in a

secondary sense. They appeared and yet were not singled out, were not posited on their own

account. Every perception of a thing has such a zone of background intuitions or background

awareness, if “intuiting” already includes the state of being turned towards, and this also is a

“conscious experience”, or more briefly a “consciousness of” all indeed that in point of fact

lies in the co-perceived objective background.[10]

That which had existed objectively but had not been perceived in its deeper implications (if

indeed it was perceived at all) begins to “stand out,” assuming the character of a problem and

therefore of challenge. Thus, men and women begin to single out elements from their

“background awareness” and to reflect upon them. These elements are now objects of their

consideration, and, as such, objects of their action and cognition.

In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they

exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world

not as a static reality but as a reality in process, in transformation. Although the dialectical

relations of women and men with the world exist independently of how these relations are

perceived (or whether or not they are perceived at all), it is also true that the form of action

they adopt is to a large extent a function of how they perceive themselves in the world.

   

Hence, the teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves

and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an

authentic form of thought and action.

Once again, the two educational concepts and practices under analysis come into conflict.

Banking education (for obvious reasons) attempts, by mythicizing reality, to conceal certain

facts which explain the way human beings exist in the world; problem-posing education sets

itself the task of demythologizing. Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing

education regards dialogue as indispensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality.

Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes

them critical thinkers. Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates (although it

cannot completely destroy) the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness

from the world, thereby denying people their ontological and historical vocation of becoming

more fully human. Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true

reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of persons as beings

who are authentic only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation. In sum: banking

theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and

women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people’s historicity

as their starting point.

Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming —

as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality. Indeed, in

contrast to other animals who are unfinished, but not historical, people know themselves to be

unfinished; they are aware of their incompletion. In this incompletion and this awareness lie

the very roots of education as an exclusively human manifestation. The unfinished character

of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an

ongoing activity.

Education is thus constantly remade in the praxis. In order to be, it must become. Its

“duration” (in the Bergsonian meaning of the word) is found in the interplay of the opposites

permanence and change. The banking method emphasizes permanence and becomes

reactionary; problem-posing education — which accepts neither a “well-behaved” present nor

a predetermined fixture — roots itself in the dynamic present and becomes revolutionary.

Problem-posing education is revolutionary futurity. Hence it is prophetic (and, as such,

hopeful). Hence, it corresponds to the historical nature of humankind. Hence, it affirms

women and men as beings who transcend themselves, who move forward and look ahead, for

whom immobility represents a fatal threat, for whom looking at the past must only be a

means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely

build the fixture. Hence, it identifies with the movement which engages people as beings

aware of their incompletion — an historical movement which has its point of departure, its

Subjects and its objective.

The point of departure of the movement lies in the people themselves. But since people do

not exist apart from the world, apart from reality the movement must begin with the human   

world relationship. Accordingly, the point of departure must always be with men and women

in the “here and now,” which constitutes the situation within which they are submerged, from

which they emerge, and in which they intervene. Only by starting from this situation —

which determines their perception of it — can they begin to move. To do this authentically

they must perceive their state not as fated and unalterable, but merely as limiting — and

therefore challenging.

Whereas the banking method directly or indirectly reinforces men’s fatalistic perception of

their situation, the problem-posing method presents this very situation to them as a problem.

As the situation becomes the object of their cognition, the naive or magical perception which

produced their fatalism gives way to perception which is able to perceive itself even as it

perceives reality, and can thus be critically objective about that reality.

A deepened consciousness of their situation leads people to apprehend that situation as an

historical reality susceptible of transformation. Resignation gives way to the drive for

transformation and inquiry, over which men feel themselves to be in control, if people, as

historical beings necessarily engaged with other people in a movement of inquiry, did not

control that movement, it would be (and is) a violation of their humanity. Any situation in

which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of

violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own

decision-making is to change them into objects.

This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization — the people’s historical

vocation. The pursuit of full humanity however, cannot be carried out in isolation or

individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the

antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed. No one can be authentically human

while he prevents others from being so. Attempting to be more human, individualistically,

leads to having more, egotistically a form of dehumanization. Not that it is not fundamental

to have in order to be human. Precisely because it is necessary, some men’s having must not

be allowed to constitute an obstacle to others having, must not consolidate the power of the

former to crush the latter.

Problem-posing education, as a humanist and liberating praxis, posits as fundamental that the

people subjected to domination must fight for their emancipation. To that end, it enables

teachers and students to become Subjects of the educational process by overcoming

authoritarianism and an alienating intellectualism; it also enables people to overcome their

false perception of reality. The world — no longer something to be described with deceptive

words — becomes the object of that transforming action by men and women which results in

their humanization.

Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor. No

oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why? While only a

revolutionary society can carry out this education in systematic terms, the revolutionary

leaders need not take full power before they can employ the method. In the revolutionary

process, the leaders cannot utilize the banking method as an interim measure, justified on  

grounds of expediency with the intention of later behaving in a genuinely revolutionary

fashion. They must be revolutionary — that is to say dialogical — from the outset.


1. Simone de Beauvoir; La Pensee de Droite, Aujord’hui (Paris); ST, El Pensamiento politico

de la Derecha (Buenos Aires, 1963), p. 34.

2. This concept corresponds to what Sartre calls the “digestive” or “nutritive” concept of

education, in which knowledge is fed” by the teacher to the students to “fill them out.” See

Jean-Paul Sartre, “Une idee fundamentale de la phenomenologie de Husserl:

L’intentionalite,” Situations 1 (Paris, 1947).

3. For example, some professors specify in their reading lists that a book should be read from

pages 10 to 15 — and do this to “help” their students!

4. Fromm, op. cit., p. 41.

5. ibid., p.31.

6. ibid.

7. Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York, 1960), p.130.

8. Sartre, op. cit., p. 32.

9. See chapter 3. — Translator’s note.

10. Edmund Husserl, Ideas -General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (London, 1969),

pp. 105 — 106.

Chapter 3

As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is

the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the word is more than just an instrument which

makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the

word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is

sacrificed — even in part — the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not

at the same time a praxis.[1] Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.[2]

An unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results when dichotomy is

imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word is deprived of its dimension of action,

reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into

verbalism, into an alienated and alienating “blah.” It becomes an empty word, one which

cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is impossible without a commitment to

transform, and there is no transformation without action.

On the other hand, if action is emphasized exclusively to the detriment of reflection, the word

is converted into activism. The latter — action for action’s sake — negates the true praxis and

makes dialogue impossible. Either dichotomy, by creating unauthentic forms of existence,

creates also unauthentic forms of thought which reinforce the original dichotomy.

Human existence cannot be silent nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true

words, with which men and women transform the world. To exist humanly is to name the

world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem

and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence,[3]but in word, in

work, in action-reflection.

But while to say the true word — which is work, which is praxis — is to transform the world,

saying that word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone.

Consequently no one can say a true word alone — nor can she say it for another, in a

prescriptive act which robs others of their words.

Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world.

Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do

not wish this naming — between those who deny others the right to speak their word and

those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their

primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation

of this dehumanizing aggression.

  

If it is in speaking their word that people, by naming the world, transform it dialogue imposes

itself as the way by which they achieve significance as human beings. Dialogue is thus an

existential necessity. And since dialogue is the encounter in which the united reflection and

action of the dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed and

humanized, this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s “depositing” ideas in

another; nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be “consumed” by the discussants.

Nor yet is it a hostile, polemical argument between those who are committed neither to the

naming of the world, nor to the search for truth, but rather to the imposition of their own

truth. Because dialogue is an encounter among women and men who name the world, it must

not be a situation where some name on behalf of others. It is an act of creation; it must not

serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one person by another. The domination

implicit in dialogue is that of the world by the dialoguers; it is conquest of the world for the

liberation of humankind.

Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for

people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if

it is not infused with love.[4]Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue

itself. It is thus necessarily the task of responsible Subjects and cannot exist in a relation of

domination. Domination reveals the pathology of love: sadism in the dominator and

masochism in the dominated. Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is

commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is

commitment to their cause — the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is

loving, is dialogical. As an act of bravery, love cannot be sentimental; as an act of freedom, it

must not serve as a pretext for manipulation. It must generate other acts of freedom;

otherwise, it is not love. Only by abolishing the situation of oppression is it possible to restore

the love which that situation made impossible. If I do not love the world — if I do not love

life — if I do not love people — I cannot enter into dialogue.

On the other hand, dialogue cannot exist without humility. The naming of the world, through

which people constantly re-create that world, cannot be an act of arrogance. Dialogue, as the

encounter of those addressed to the common task of learning and acting, is broken if the

parties (or one of them) lack humility. How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto

others and never perceive my own? How can I dialogue if I regard myself as a case apart

from others — mere “its” in whom I cannot recognize other “I”s? How can I dialogue if I

consider myself a member of the in-group of pure men, the owners of truth and knowledge,

for whom all non-members are “these people” or “the great unwashed”? How can I dialogue

if I start from the premise that naming the world is the task of an elite and that the presence of

the people in history is a sign of deterioration, thus to be avoided? How can I dialogue if I am

closed to — and even offended by — the contribution of others? How can I dialogue if I am

afraid of being displaced, the mere possibility causing me torment and weakness? Selfsufficiency

is incompatible with dialogue. Men and women who lack humility (or have lost

it) cannot come to the people, cannot be their partners in naming the world. Someone who

cannot acknowledge himself to be as mortal as everyone else still has a long way to go before

he can reach the point of encounter. At the point of encounter there are neither utter

ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn

more than they now know. 

Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and

remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not

the privilege of an elite, but the birthright of all). Faith in people is an a priori requirement

for dialogue; the “dialogical man” believes in others even before he meets them face to face.

His faith, however, is not naive. The “dialogical man” is critical and knows that although it is

within the power of humans to create and transform, in a concrete situation of alienation

individuals may be impaired in the use of that power. Far from destroying his faith in the

people, however, this possibility strikes him as a challenge to which he must respond. He is

convinced that the power to create and transform, even when thwarted in concrete situations,

tends to be reborn. And that rebirth can occur — not gratuitously, but in and through the

struggle for liberation — in the supersedence of slave labor by emancipated labor which

gives zest to life. Without this faith in people, dialogue is a farce which inevitably

degenerates into paternalistic manipulation.

Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of

which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence. It would be a

contradiction in terms if dialogue — loving, humble, and full of faith — did not produce this

climate of mutual trust, which leads the dialoguers into ever closer partnership in the naming

of the world. Conversely, such trust is obviously absent in the anti-dialogics of the banking

method of education. Whereas faith in humankind is an a priori requirement for dialogue,

trust is established by dialogue. Should it founder, it will be seen that the preconditions were

lacking. False love, false humility, and feeble faith in others cannot create trust. Trust is

contingent on the evidence which one party provides the others of his true, concrete

intentions; it cannot exist if that party’s words do not coincide with their actions. To say one

thing and do another — to take one’s own word lightly — cannot inspire trust. To glorify

democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate

people is a lie.

Nor yet can dialogue exist without hope. Hope is rooted in men’s incompletion, from which

they move out in constant search — a search which can be carried out only in communion

with others. Hopelessness is a form of silence, of denying the world and fleeing from it. The

dehumanization resulting from an unjust order is not a cause for despair but for hope, leading

to the incessant pursuit of the humanity denied by injustice. Hope, however, does not consist

in crossing one’s arms and waiting. As long as I fight, I am moved by hope; and if I fight

with hope, then I can wait. As the encounter of women and men seeking to be more fully

human, dialogue cannot be carried on in a climate of hopelessness. If the dialoguers expect

nothing to come of their efforts, their encounter will be empty and sterile, bureaucratic and


Finally, true dialogue cannot exist unless the dialoguers engage in critical thinking —

thinking which discerns an indivisible solidarity between the world and the people and admits

of no dichotomy between them — thinking which perceives reality as process, as

transformation, rather than as a static entity — thinking which does not separate itself from

action, but constantly immerses itself in temporality without fear of the risks involved.

Critical thinking contrasts with naive thinking, which sees “historical time as a weight, a 

stratification of the acquisitions and experiences of the past,”[5] from which the present should

emerge normalized and “well-behaved.” For the naive thinker, the important thing is

accommodation to this normalized “today.” For the critic, the important thing is the

continuing transformation of reality, in behalf of the continuing humanization of men. In the

words of Pierre Furter:

The goal will no longer be to eliminate the risks of temporality by clutching to guaranteed

space, but rather to temporalize space. . . The universe is revealed to me not as space,

imposing a massive presence to which I can but adapt, but as a scope, a domain which takes

shape as I act upon it.[6]

For naïve thinking, the goal is precisely to hold fast to this guaranteed space and adjust to it.

By thus denying temporality, it denies itself as well.

Only dialogue, which requires critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking.

Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no

true education. Education which is able to resolve the contradiction between teacher and

student takes place in a situation in which both address their act of cognition to the object by

which they are mediated. Thus, the dialogical character of education as the practice of

freedom does not begin when the teacher-student meets with the students-teachers in a

pedagogical situation, but rather when the former first asks herself or himself what she or he

will dialogue with the latter about. And preoccupation with the content of dialogue is really

preoccupation with the program content of education.

For the anti-dialogical banking educator, the question of content simply concerns the program

about which he will discourse to his students; and he answers his own question, by organizing

his own program. For the dialogical, problem-posing teacher-student, the program content of

education is neither a gift nor an imposition — bits of information to be deposited in the

students — but rather the organized, systematized, and developed “re-presentation” to

individuals of the things about which they want to know more.[7]

Authentic education is not carried on by “A” for “B” or by “A” about “B,” but rather by “A”

with “B,” mediated by the world-a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving

rise to views or opinions about it. These views, impregnated with anxieties, doubts, hopes, or

hopelessness, imply significant themes on the basis of which the program content of

education can be built. In its desire to create an ideal model of the “good man,” a naïvely

conceived humanism often overlooks the concrete, existential, present situation of real

people. Authentic humanism, in Pierre Furter’s words, “consists in permitting the emergence

of the awareness of our full humanity, as a condition and as an obligation, as a situation and

as a project.”[8] We simply cannot go to the laborers — urban or peasant — in the banking

style, to give them “knowledge” or to impose upon them the model of the “good man”

contained in a program whose content we have ourselves organized. Many political and

educational plans have failed because their authors designed them according to their own

personal views of reality, never once taking into account (except as mere objects of their

actions) the men-in-a-situation to whom their program was ostensibly directed.

For the truly humanist educator and the authentic revolutionary, the object of action is the

reality to be transformed by them together with other people — not other men and women

themselves. The oppressors are the ones who act upon the people to indoctrinate them and

adjust them to a reality which must remain untouched. Unfortunately, however, in their desire

to obtain the support of the people for revolutionary action, revolutionary leaders often fall

for the banking line of planning program content from the top down. They approach the

peasant or urban masses with projects which may correspond to their own view of the world,

but not to that of the people.[10] They forget that their fundamental objective is to fight

alongside the people for the recovery of the people’s stolen humanity, not to “win the people

over” to their side. Such a phrase does not belong in the vocabulary of revolutionary leaders,

but in that of the oppressor The revolutionary’s role is to liberate, and be liberated, with the

people — not to win them over.

In their political activity, the dominant elites utilize the banking concept to encourage

passivity in the oppressed, corresponding with the latter’s “submerged” state of

consciousness, and take advantage of that passivity to “fill” that consciousness with slogans

which create even more fear of freedom. This practice is incompatible with a truly liberating

course of action, which, by presenting the oppressor’s slogans as a problem, helps the

oppressed to “eject” those slogans from within themselves. After all the task of the humanists

is surely not that of pitting their slogans against the slogans of the oppressors, with the

oppressed as the testing ground, “housing” the slogans of first one group and then the other.

On the contrary, the task of the humanists is to see that the oppressed become aware of the

fact that as dual beings, “housing” the oppressors within themselves, they cannot be truly


This task implies that revolutionary leaders do not go to the people in order to bring them a

message of “salvation,” but in order to come to know through dialogue with them both their

objective situation and their awareness of that situation — the various levels of perception of

themselves and of the world in which and with which they exist. One cannot expect positive

results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular

view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion,[11]good

intentions notwithstanding.

The starting point for organizing the program content of education or political action must be

the present, existential, concrete situation, reflecting the aspirations of the people. Utilizing

certain basic contradictions, we must pose this existential, concrete, present situation to the

people as a problem which challenges them and requires a response — not just at the

intellectual level, but at the level of action.[12]

We must never merely discourse on the present situation, must never provide the people with

programs which have little or nothing to do with their own preoccupations, doubts, hopes,

and fears — programs which at times in fact increase the fears of the oppressed

consciousness. It is not our role to speak to the people about our own view of the world, nor

to attempt to impose that view on them, but rather to dialogue with the people about their

view and ours. We must realize that their view of the world, manifested variously in their

action, reflects their situation in the world. Educational and political action which is not

critically aware of this situation runs the risk either of “banking” or of preaching in the desert.

Often, educators and politicians speak and are not understood because their language is not

attuned to the concrete situation of the people they address. Accordingly their talk is just

alienated and alienating rhetoric. The language of the educator or the politician (and it seems

more and more clear that the latter must also become an educator, in the broadest sense of the

word), like the language of the people, cannot exist without thought; and neither language nor

thought can exist without a structure to which they refer In order to communicate effectively

educator and politician must understand the structural conditions in which the thought and

Ianguage of the people are dialectically framed.

It is to the reality which mediates men, and to the perception of that reality held by educators

and people, that we must go to find the program content of education. The investigation of

what I have termed the people’s “thematic universe”[13]– the complex of their ‘’generative

themes” — inaugurates the dialogue of education as the practice of freedom. The

methodology of that investigation must likewise be dialogical, affording the opportunity both

to discover generative themes and to stimulate people’s awareness in regard to these themes.

Consistent with the liberating purpose of dialogical education, the object of the investigation

is not persons (as if they were anatomical fragments), but rather the thought-language with

which men and women refer to reality, the levels at which they perceive that reality, and their

view of the world, in which their generative themes are found.

Before describing a “generative theme” more precisely, which will also clarify what is meant

by a “minimum thematic universe,” it seems to me indispensable to present a few preliminary

reflections. The concept of a generative theme is neither an arbitrary invention nor a working

hypothesis to be proved. If it were a hypothesis to be proved, the initial investigation would

seek not to ascertain the nature of the theme, but rather the very existence or non-existence of

themes themselves. In that event, before attempting to understand the theme in its richness,

its significance, its plurality, its transformations, and its historical composition, we would

first have to verify whether or not it is an objective fact; only then could we proceed to

apprehend it. Although an attitude of critical doubt is legitimate, it does appear possible to

verify the reality of the generative theme — not only through one’s own existential

experience, but also through critical reflection on the human-world relationship and on the

relationships between people implicit in the former.

This point deserves more attention. One may well remember — trite as it seems — that, of

the uncompleted beings, man is the only one to treat not only his actions but his very self as

the object of his reflection; this capacity distinguishes him from the animals, which are

unable to separate themselves from their activity and thus are unable to reflect upon it. In this

apparently superficial distinction lie the boundaries which delimit the action of each in his

life space. Because the animals’ activity is an extension of themselves, the results of that

activity are also inseparable from themselves; animals can neither set objectives nor infuse

their transformation of nature with any significance beyond itself. Moreover, the “decision”  

to perform this activity belongs not to them but to their species. Animals are, accordingly,

fundamentally “beings in themselves.”

Unable to decide for themselves, unable to objectify either themselves or their activity,

lacking objectives which they themselves have set, living “submerged” in a world to which

they can give no meaning, lacking a “tomorrow” and a “today” because they exist in an

overwhelming present, animals are ahistorical. Their ahistorical life does not occur in the

“world,” taken in its strict meaning; for the animal, the world does not constitute a “not-I”

which could set him apart as an “I.” The human world, which is historical, serves as a mere

prop for the “being in itself.” Animals are not challenged by the configuration which

confronts them; they are merely stimulated. Their life is not one of risk-taking, for they are

not aware of taking risks. Risks are not challenges perceived upon reflection, but merely

“noted” by the signs which indicate them; they accordingly do not require decision-making


Consequently, animals cannot commit themselves. Their ahistorical condition does not permit

them to “take on” life. Because they do not “take it on,” they cannot construct it; and if they

do not construct it, they cannot transform its configuration. Nor can they know themselves to

be destroyed by life, for they cannot expand their “prop” world into a meaningful, symbolic

world which includes culture and history. As a result animals do not “animalize” their

configuration in order to animalize themselves — nor do they “deanimalize” themselves.

Even in the forest, they remain “beings-in-themselves,” as animal-like there as in the zoo.

In contrast the people — aware of their activity and the world in which they are situated,

acting in function of the objectives which they propose, having the seat of their decisions

located in themselves and in their relations with the world and with others, infusing the world

with their creative presence by means of the transformation they effect upon it — unlike

animals, not only live but exist;[14]and their existence is historical. Animals live out their lives

on an atemporal, flat, uniform “prop”; humans exist in a world which they are constantly recreating

and transforming. For animals, “here” is only a habitat with which they enter into

contact; for people, “here” signifies not merely a physical space, but also an historical space.

Strictly speaking, “here,” “now” “there,” “tomorrow;” and “yesterday” do not exist for the

animal, whose life, lacking self-consciousness, is totally determined. Animals cannot

surmount the limits imposed by the “here,” the “now;” or the “there.”

Humans, however, because they are aware of themselves and thus of the world — because

they are conscious beings — exist in a dialectical relationship between the determination of

limits and their own freedom. As they separate themselves from the world, which they

objectify, as they separate themselves from their own activity, as they locate the seat of their

decisions in themselves and in their relations with the world and others, people overcome the

situations which limit them: the “limit-situations.”[15]Once perceived by individuals as fetters,

as obstacles to their liberation, these situations stand out in relief from the background,

revealing their true nature as concrete historical dimensions of a given reality. Men and   

women respond to the challenge with actions which Vieira Pinto calls “limit-acts”: those

directed at negating and overcoming, rather than passively accepting, the given.

Thus, it is not the limit-situations in and of themselves which create a climate of

hopelessness, but rather how they are perceived by women and men at a given historical

moment: whether they appear as fetters or as insurmountable barriers. As critical perception

is embodied in action, a climate of hope and confidence develops which leads men to attempt

to overcome the limit-situations. This objective can be achieved only through action upon the

concrete, historical reality in which limit-situations historically are found. As reality is

transformed and these situations are superseded, new ones will appear; which in turn will

evoke new limit-acts.

The prop world of animals contains no limit-situations, due to its ahistorical character.

Similarly, animals lack the ability to exercise limit-acts, which require a decisive attitude

towards the world: separation from and objectification of the world in order to transform it.

Organically bound to their prop, animals do not distinguish between themselves and the

world. Accordingly, animals are not limited by limit-situations — which are historical — but

rather by the entire prop. And the appropriate role for animals is not to relate to their prop (in

that event the prop would be a world), but to adapt to it. Thus, when animals “produce” a

nest, a hive, or a burrow, they are not creating products which result from “limit-acts,” that is,

transforming responses. Their productive activity is subordinated to the satisfaction of a

physical necessity which is simply stimulating, rather than challenging. “An animal’s product

belongs immediately to its physical body, whilst man freely confronts his product.”[16]

Only products which result from the activity of a being but do not belong to its physical body

(though these products may bear its seal), can give a dimension of meaning to the context,

which thus becomes a world. A being capable of such production (who thereby is necessarily

aware of himself is a “being for himself” could no longer be if she or he were not in the

process of being in the world with which he or she relates; just as the world would no longer

exist if this being did not exist.

The difference between animals — who (because their activity does not constitute limit-acts)

cannot create products detached from themselves — and humankind-who through their action

upon the world create the realm of culture and history — is that only the latter are beings of

the praxis. Only human beings are praxis — the praxis which, as the reflection and action

which truly transform reality; is the source of knowledge and creation. Animal activity;

which occurs without a praxis, is not creative; people’s transforming activity is.

It is as transforming and creative beings that humans, in their permanent relations with

reality, produce not only material goods — tangible objects — but also social institutions,

ideas, and concepts.[17] Through their continuing praxis, men and women simultaneously

create history and become historical-social beings. Because — in contrast to animals —

people can tri-dimensionalize time into the past, the present, and the future, their history, in

function of their own creations, develops as a constant process of transformation within

which epochal units materialize. These epochal units are not closed periods of time, static


compartments within which people are confined. Were this the case, a fundamental condition

of history — its continuity — would disappear. On the contrary, epochal units interrelate in

the dynamics of historical continuity.[18]

An epoch is characterized by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values, and

challenges in dialectical interaction with their opposites, striving towards plenitude. The

concrete representation of many of these ideas, values, concepts, and hopes, as well as the

obstacles which impede the people’s full humanization, constitute the themes of that epoch.

These themes imply others which are opposing or even antithetical; they also indicate tasks to

be carried out and fulfilled. Thus, historical themes are never isolated, independent,

disconnected, or static; they are always interacting dialectically with their opposites. Nor can

these themes be found anywhere except in the human-world relationship. The complex of

interacting themes of an epoch constitutes its “thematic universe.”

Confronted by this “universe of themes” in dialectical contradiction, persons take equally

contradictory positions: some work to maintain the structures, others to change them. As

antagonism deepens between themes which are the expression of reality, there is a tendency

for the themes and for reality itself to be mythicized, establishing a climate of irrationality

and sectarianism. This climate threatens to drain the themes of their deeper significance and

to deprive them of their characteristically dynamic aspect. In such a situation, myth-creating

irrationality itself becomes a fundamental theme. Its opposing theme, the critical and dynamic

view of the world, strives to unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full

realization of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favor of the

liberation of people.

In the last analysis, the themes[19]both contain and are contained in limit-situations; the tasks

they imply require limit-acts. When the themes are concealed by the limit-situations and thus

are not clearly perceived, the corresponding tasks — people’s responses in the form of

historical action — can be neither authentically nor critically fulfilled. In this situation,

humans are unable to transcend the limit — situations to discover that beyond these situations

— and in contradiction to them — lies an untested feasibility.

In sum, limit-situations imply the existence of persons who are directly or indirectly served

by these situations, and of those who are negated and curbed by them. Once the latter come to

perceive these situations as the frontier between being and being more human, rather than the

frontier between being and nothingness, they begin to direct their increasingly critical actions

towards achieving the untested feasibility implicit in that perception. On the other hand, those

who are served by the present limit-situation regard the untested feasibility as a threatening

limit-situation which must not be allowed to materialize, and act to maintain the status quo.

Consequently, liberating actions upon an historical milieu must correspond not only to the

generative themes but to the way in which these themes are perceived. This requirement in

turn implies another: the investigation of meaningful thematics.

Generative themes can be located in concentric circles, moving from the general to the

particular. The broadest epochal unit, which includes a diversified range of units and sub-  units — continental, regional, national, and so forth — contains themes of a universal

character. I consider the fundamental theme of our epoch to be that of domination — which

implies its opposite, the theme of liberation, as the objective to be achieved. It is this

tormenting theme which gives our epoch the anthropological character mentioned earlier. In

order to achieve humanization, which presupposes the elimination of dehumanizing

oppression, it is absolutely necessary to surmount the limit-situations in which people are

reduced to things.

Within the smaller circles, we find themes and limit-situations characteristic of societies (on

the same continent or on different continents) which through these themes and limitsituations

share historical similarities. For example, underdevelopment, which cannot be

understood apart from the relationship of dependency, represents a limit-situation

characteristic of societies of the Third World. The task implied by this limit-situation is to

overcome the contradictory relation of these “object”-societies to the metropolitan societies;

this task constitutes the untested feasibility for the Third World.

Any given society within the broader epochal unit contains; in addition to the universal,

continental, or historically similar themes, its own particular themes, its own limit-situations.

Within yet smaller circles, thematic diversifications can be found within the same society,

divided into areas and sub-areas, all of which are related to the societal whole. These

constitute epochal sub-units. For example, within the same national unit one can find the

contradiction of the “coexistence of the non-contemporaneous.”

Within these sub-units, national themes may or may not be perceived in their true

significance. They may simply be felt — sometimes not even that. But the nonexistence of

themes within the sub-units is absolutely impossible. The fact that individuals in a certain

area do not perceive a generative theme, or perceive it in a distorted way, may only reveal a

limit-situation of oppression in which people are still submerged.

In general, a dominated consciousness which has not yet perceived a limit-situation in its

totality apprehends only its epiphenomena and transfers to the latter the inhibiting force

which is the property of the limit-situation.[20] This fact is of great importance for the

investigation of generative themes. When people lack a critical understanding of their reality;

apprehending it in fragments which they do not perceive as interacting constituent elements

of the whole, they cannot truly know that reality. To truly know it, they would have to reverse

their starting point: they would need to have a total vision of the context in order

subsequently to separate and isolate its constituent elements and by means of this analysis

achieve a clearer perception of the whole.

Equally appropriate for the methodology of thematic investigation and for problem-posing

education is this effort to present significant dimensions of an individual’s contextual reality;

the analysis of which will make it possible for him to recognize the interaction of the various

components. Meanwhile, the significant dimensions, which in their turn are constituted of

parts in interaction, should be perceived as dimensions of total reality. In this way a critical

analysis of a significant existential dimension makes possible a new, critical attitude towards  

the limit-situations. The perception and comprehension of reality are rectified and acquire

new depth. When carried out with a methodology of conscientizacao the investigation of the

generative theme contained in the minimum thematic universe (the generative themes in

interaction) thus introduces or begins to introduce women and men to a critical form of

thinking about their world.

In the event, however, that human beings perceive reality as dense, impenetrable, and

enveloping, it is indispensable to proceed with the investigation by means of abstraction. This

method does not involve reducing the concrete to the abstract (which would signify the

negation of its dialectical nature), but rather maintaining both elements as opposites which

interrelate dialectically in the act of reflection. This dialectical movement of thought is

exemplified perfectly in the analysis of a concrete existential, “coded” situation.[21] Its

“decoding” requires moving from the abstract to the concrete; this requires moving from the

part to the whole and then returning to the parts; this in turn requires that the Subject

recognize himself in the object (the coded concrete existential situation) and recognize the

object as a situation in which he finds himself, together with other Subjects. If the decoding is

well done, this movement of flux and reflux from the abstract to the concrete which occurs in

the analysis of a coded situation leads to the supersedence of the abstraction by the critical

perception of the concrete, which has already ceased to be a dense, impenetrable reality.

When an individual is presented with a coded existential situation (a sketch or photograph

which leads by abstraction to the concreteness of existential reality), his tendency is to “split”

that coded situation. In the process of decoding, this separation corresponds to the stage we

call the “description of the situation,” and facilitates the discovery of the interaction among

the parts of the disjoined whole. This whole (the coded situation), which previously had been

only diffusely apprehended, begins to acquire meaning as thought flows back to it from the

various dimensions. Since, however, the coding is the representation of an existential

situation, the decoder tends to take the step from the representation to the very concrete

situation in which and with which she finds herself. It is thus possible to explain conceptually

why individuals begin to behave differently with regard to objective reality, once that reality

has ceased to look like a blind alley and has taken on its true aspect: a challenge which

human beings must meet.

In all the stages of decoding, people exteriorize their view of the world. And in the way they

think about and face the world — fatalistically, dynamically, or statically — their generative

themes may be found. A group which does not concretely express a generative thematics — a

fact which might appear to imply the nonexistence of themes — is, on the contrary,

suggesting a very dramatic theme: the theme of silence. The theme of silence suggests a

structure of mutism in face of the overwhelming force of the limit-situations.

I must re-emphasize that the generative theme cannot be found in people, divorced from

reality; nor yet in reality, divorced from people; much less in “no man’s land.” It can only be

apprehended in the human-world relationship. To investigate the generative theme is to

investigate people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality, which is their

praxis. For precisely this reason, the methodology proposed requires that the investigators 

and the people (who would normally be considered objects of that investigation) should act as

co-investigators. The more active an-attitude men and women take in regard to the

exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in

spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.

Some may think it inadvisable to include the people as investigators in the search for their

own meaningful thematics: that their intrusive influence (n. b., the “intrusion” of those who

are most interested — or ought to be — in their own education) will “adulterate” the findings

and thereby sacrifice the objectivity of the investigation. This view mistakenly presupposes

that themes exist in their original objective purity outside people-as if themes were things.

Actually, themes exist in people in their relations with the world, with reference to concrete

facts. The same objective fact could evoke different complexes of generative themes in

different epochal sub-units. There is, therefore, a relation between the given objective fact the

perception women and men have of this fact and the generative themes.

A meaningful thematics is expressed by people, and a given moment of expression will differ

from an earlier moment, if they have changed their perception of the objective facts to which

the themes refer. From the investigator’s point of view, the important thing is to detect the

starting point at which the people visualize the “given” and to verify whether or not during

the process of investigation any transformation has occurred in their way of perceiving

reality. (Objective reality, of course, remains unchanged. If the perception of that reality

changes in the course of the investigation, that fact does not impair the validity of the


We must realize that the aspirations, the motives, and the objectives implicit in the

meaningful thematics are human aspirations, motives, and objectives. They do not exist “out

there” somewhere, as static entities; they are occurring. They are as historical as human

beings themselves; consequently, they cannot be apprehended apart from them. To apprehend

these themes and to understand them is to understand both the people who embody them and

the reality to which they refer. But — precisely because it is not possible to understand these

themes apart from people — it is necessary that those concerned understand them as well.

Thematic investigation thus becomes a common striving towards awareness of reality and

towards self-awareness, which makes this investigation a starting point for the educational

process or for cultural action of a liberating character.

The real danger of the investigation is not that the supposed objects of the investigation,

discovering themselves to be co-investigators, might “adulterate” the analytical results. On

the contrary the danger lies in the risk of shifting the focus of the investigation from the

meaningful themes to the people themselves, thereby treating the people as objects of the

investigation. Since this investigation is to serve as a basis for developing an educational

program in which teacher-student and students-teachers combine their cognitions of the same

object, the investigation itself must likewise be based on reciprocity of action.

Thematic investigation, which occurs in the realm of the human, cannot be reduced to a

mechanical act. As a process of search, of knowledge, and thus of creation, it requires the 

investigators to discover the interpenetration of problems, in the linking of meaningful

themes. The investigation will be most educational when it is most critical, and most critical

when it avoids the narrow outlines of partial or “focalized” views of reality, and sticks to the

comprehension of total reality. Thus, the process of searching for the meaningful thematics

should include a concern for the links between themes, a concern to pose these themes as

problems, and a concern for their historical-cultural context.

Just as the educator may not elaborate a program to present to the people, neither may the

investigator elaborate “itineraries” for researching the thematic universe, starting from points

which he has predetermined. Both education and the investigation designed to support it must

be “sympathetic” activities, in the etymological sense of the won That is, they must consist of

communication and of the common experience of a reality perceived in the complexity of its

constant “becoming.”

The investigator who, in the name of scientific objectivity, transforms the organic into

something inorganic, what is becoming into what is, life into death, is a person who fears

change. He or she sees in change (which is not denied, but neither is it desired) not a sign of

life, but a sign of death and decay. He or she does want to study change-but in order to stop it

not in order to stimulate or deepen it. However, in seeing change as a sign of death and in

making people the passive objects of investigation in order to arrive at rigid models, one

betrays their own character as a killer of life.

I repeat: the investigation of thematics involves the investigation of the people’s thinkingthinking

which occurs only in and among people together seeking out reality. I cannot think

for others or without others, nor can others think for me. Even if the people’s thinking is

superstitious or naïve, it is only as they rethink their assumptions in action that they can

change. Producing and acting upon their own ideas — not consuming those of others — must

constitute that process.

People, as beings “in a situation,” find themselves rooted in temporal-spatial conditions

which mark them and which they also mark. They will tend to reflect on their own

“situationality” to the extent that they are challenged by it to act upon it. Human beings are

because they are in a situation. And they will be more the more they not only critically reflect

upon their existence but critically act upon it.

Reflection upon situationality is reflection about the very condition of existence: critical

thinking by means of which people discover each other to be “in a situation.” Only as this

situation ceases to present itself as a dense, enveloping reality or a tormenting blind alley, and

they can come to perceive it as an objective-problematic situation — only then can

commitment exist. Humankind emerge from their submersion and acquire the ability to

intervene in reality as it is unveiled. Intervention in reality — historical awareness itself —

thus represents a step forward from emergence, and results from the conscientizacao of the

situation. Conscientizacao is the deepening of the attitude of awareness characteristic of all


  

Every thematic investigation which deepens historical awareness is thus really educational,

while all authentic education investigates thinking. The more educators and the people

investigate the people’s thinking, and are thus jointly educated, the more they continue to

investigate. Education and thematic investigation, in the problem-posing concept of

education, are simply different moments of the same process.

In contrast with the antidialogical and non-communicative “deposits” of the banking method

of education, the program content of the problem-posing method — dialogical par excellence

— is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own

generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task

of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe

revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she

or he first received it-and “re-present” it not as a lecture, but as a problem.

Let us say, for example, that a group has the responsibility of coordinating a plan for adult

education in a peasant area with a high percentage of illiteracy. The plan includes a literacy

campaign and a post-literacy phase. During the former stage, problem-posing education seeks

out and investigates the “generative word”; in the post-literacy stage, it seeks out and

investigates the “generative theme.”

Let us here, however; consider only the investigation of the generative themes or the

meaningful thematics.[22] Once the investigators have determined the area in which they will

work and have acquired a preliminary acquaintance with the area through secondary sources,

they initiate the first stage of the investigation. This beginning (like any beginning in any

human activity) involves difficulties and risks which are to a certain point normal, although

they are not always evident in the first contact with the individuals of the area. In this first

contact the investigators need to get a significant number of persons to agree to an informal

meeting during which they can talk about the objectives of their presence in the area. In this

meeting they explain the reason for the investigation, how it is to be carried out, and to what

use it will be put; they further explain that the investigation will be impossible without a

relation of mutual understanding and trust. If the participants agree both to the investigation

and to the subsequent process,[23] the investigators should call for volunteers among the

participants to serve as assistants. These volunteers will gather a series of necessary data

about the life of the area. Of even greater importance, however, is the active presence of these

volunteers in the investigation.

Meanwhile, the investigators begin their own visits to the area, never forcing themselves, but

acting as sympathetic observers with an attitude of understanding towards what they see.

While it is normal for investigators to come to the area with values which influence their

perceptions, this does not mean that they may transform the thematic investigation into a

means of imposing these values. The only dimension of these values which it is hoped the

people whose thematics are being investigated will come to share (it is presumed that the

investigators possess this quality) is a critical perception of the world, which implies a correct 

imposed. Thus, from the very beginning, thematic investigation is expressed as an

educational pursuit as cultural action.

During their visits, the investigators set their critical “aim” on the area under study, as if it

were for them an enormous, unique, living “code” to be deciphered. They regard the area as a

totality and visit upon visit attempt to “split” it by analyzing the partial dimensions which

impress them. Through this process they expand their understanding of how the various parts

interact which will later help them penetrate the totality itself.

During this decoding stage, the investigators observe certain moments of the life of the area

— sometimes directly, sometimes by means of informal conversations with the inhabitants.

They register everything in their notebooks, including apparently unimportant items: the way

the people talk, their style of life, their behavior at church and at work. They record the idiom

of the people: their expressions, their vocabulary and their syntax (not their incorrect

pronunciation, but rather the way they construct their thought).[24]

It is essential that the investigators observe the area under varying circumstances: labor in the

fields, meetings of a local association (noting the behavior of the participants, the language

used, and the relations between the officers and the members), the role played by women and

by young people, leisure hours, games and sports, conversations with people in their homes

(noting examples of husband-wife and parent-child relationships). No activity must escape

the attention of the investigators during the initial survey of the area.

After each observation visit, the investigator should draw up a brief report to be discussed by

the entire team, m order to evaluate the preliminary findings of both the professional

investigators and the local assistants. To facilitate the participation of the assistants, the

evaluation meetings should be held in the area itself.

The evaluation meetings represent a second stage in the decoding of the unique living code.

As each person, in his decoding essay, relates how he perceived or felt a certain occurrence or

situation, his exposition challenges all the other decoders by re-presenting to them the same

reality upon which they have themselves been intent. At this moment they “re-consider”

through the “considerations” of others, their own previous “consideration.” Thus the analysis

of reality made by each individual decoder sends them all back, dialogically to the disjoined

whole which once more becomes a totality evoking a new analysis by the investigators,

following which a new evaluative and critical meeting will be held. Representatives of the

inhabitants participate in all activities as members of the investigating team.

The more the group divide and reintegrate the whole, the more closely they approach the

nuclei of the principal and secondary contradictions which involve the inhabitants of the area.

By locating these nuclei of contradictions, the investigators might even at this stage be able to

organize the program content of their educational action. Indeed, if the content reflected these

contradictions, it would undoubtedly contain the meaningful thematics of the area. And one

can safely affirm that action based on these observations would be much more likely to

succeed than that based on “decisions from the top.” The investigators should not, however, 

be tempted by this possibility The basic thing, starting from the initial perception of these

nuclei of contradictions (which include the principal contradiction of society as a larger

epochal unit) is to study the inhabitants’ level of awareness of these contradictions.

Intrinsically, these contradictions constitute limit-situations, involve themes, and indicate

tasks. If individuals are caught up in and are unable to separate themselves from these limitsituations,

their theme in reference to these situations is fatalism, and the task implied by the

theme is the lack of a task. Thus, although the limit-situations are objective realities which

call forth needs in individuals, one must investigate with these individuals their level of

awareness of these situations.

A limit-situation as a concrete reality can call forth from persons in different areas (and even

in sub-areas of the same area) quite opposite themes and tasks. Thus, the basic concern of the

investigators should be to concentrate on the knowledge of what Goldman calls “real

consciousness” and the “potential consciousness.

Real consciousness [is] the result of the multiple obstacles and deviations that the different

factors of empirical reality put into opposition and submit for realization by [the] potential


Real consciousness implies the impossibility of perceiving the “untested feasibility” which

lies beyond the limit-situations. But whereas the untested feasibility cannot be achieved at the

level of “real [or present] consciousness,” it can be realized through “testing action” which

reveals its hitherto unperceived viability. The untested feasibility and real consciousness are

related, as are testing action and potential consciousness. Goldman’s concept of “potential

consciousness” is similar to what Nicolaï terms “unperceived practicable solutions”[26] (our

“untested feasibility”), in contrast to “perceived practicable solutions” and “presently

practiced solutions,” which correspond to Goldman’s “real consciousness.” Accordingly, the

fact that the investigators may in the first stage of the investigation approximately apprehend

the complex of contradictions does not authorize them to begin to structure the program

content of educational action. This perception of reality is still their own, not that of the


It is with the apprehension of the complex of contradictions that the second stage of the

investigation begins. Always acting as a team, the investigators will select some of these

contradictions to develop the codifications to be used in the thematic investigation. Since the

codifications (sketches or photographs)[27]are the objects which mediate the decoders in their

critical analysis, the preparation of these codifications must be guided by certain principles

other than the usual ones for making visual aids.

The first requirement is that these codifications must necessarily represent situations familiar

to the individuals whose thematics are being examined, so that they can easily recognize the

situations (and thus their own relation to them). It is inadmissible (whether during the process

of investigation or in the following stage, when the meaningful thematics are presented as

program content) to present pictures of reality unfamiliar to the participants. The latter 

procedure (although dialectical, because individuals analyzing an unfamiliar reality could

compare it with their own and discover the limitations of each) cannot precede the more basic

one dictated by the participants’ state of submersion, that is, the process in which individuals

analyzing their own reality become aware of their prior, distorted perceptions and thereby

come to have a new perception of that reality.

An equally fundamental requirement for the preparation of the codifications is that their

thematic nucleus be neither overly explicit nor overly enigmatic. The former may degenerate

into mere propaganda, with no real decoding to be done beyond stating the obviously

predetermined content. The latter runs the risk of appearing to be a puzzle or a guessing

game. Since they represent existential situations, the codifications should be simple in their

complexity and offer various decoding possibilities in order to avoid the brain-washing

tendencies of propaganda. Codifications are not slogans; they are cognizable objects,

challenges towards which the critical reflection of the decoders should be directed.

In order to offer various possibilities of analysis in the decoding process, the codifications

should be organized as a “thematic fan.” As the decoders reflect on the codifications, the

codifications should open up in the direction of other themes. This opening up (which does

not occur if the thematic content is either too explicit or too enigmatic) is indispensable to the

perception of the dialectical relations which exist between the themes and their opposites.

Accordingly the codifications reflecting an existential situation must objectively constitute a

totality. Its elements must interact in the makeup of the whole.

In the process of decoding, the participants externalize their thematics and thereby make

explicit their “real consciousness” of the world. As they do this, they begin to see how they

themselves acted while actually experiencing the situation they are now analyzing, and thus

reach a “perception of their previous perception.” By achieving this awareness, they come to

perceive reality differently; by broadening the horizon of their perception, they discover more

easily in their “background awareness” the dialectical relations between the two dimensions

of reality.

By stimulating “perception of the previous perception” and “knowledge of the previous

knowledge,” decoding stimulates the appearance of a new perception and the development of

new knowledge. The new perception and knowledge are systematically continued with the

inauguration of the educational plan, which transforms the untested feasibility into testing

action, as potential consciousness supersedes real consciousness.

Preparing the codifications further requires that insofar as possible they should represent

contradictions “inclusive” of others which constitute the system of contradictions of the area

under study.[28] As each of these “inclusive” codifications is prepared, the other

contradictions “contained” therein should also be codified. The decoding of the former will

be dialectically clarified by the decoding of the latter

In this connection, a very valuable contribution to our method has been made by Gabriel

Bode, a young Chilean civil servant in one of the most significant Chilean governmental  

institutions: the Instituto deDesarrollo Agropecuario (INDAP).[29] During his use of this

method in the post-literacy stage, Bode observed that the peasants became interested in the

discussion only when the codification related directly to their felt needs. Any deviation in the

codification, as well as any attempt by the educator to guide the decoding discussion into

other areas, produced silence and indifference. On the other hand, he observed that even

when the codification centered on their felt needs the peasants could not manage to

concentrate systematically on the discussion, which often digressed to the point of never

reaching a synthesis. Also, they almost never perceived the relationship of their felt needs to

the direct and indirect causes of these needs. One might say that they failed to perceive the

untested feasibility lying beyond the limit-situations which engendered their needs.

Bode then decided to experiment with the simultaneous projection of different situations; in

this technique lies the value of his contribution. Initially, he projects a very simple

codification of an existential situation. He terms his first codification “essential”; it represents

the basic nucleus and opens up into a thematic fan extending to “auxiliary” codifications.

After the essential codification is decoded, the educator maintains its projected image as a

reference for the participants and successively projects alongside it the auxiliary

codifications. By means of the latter, which are directly related to the essential codification,

he sustains the vivid interest of the participants, who are thereby enabled to reach a synthesis.

The great achievement of Gabriel Bode is that, by means of the dialectics between the

essential and the auxiliary codifications, he has managed to communicate to the participants a

sense of totality. Individuals who were submerged in reality, merely feeling their needs,

emerge from reality and perceive the causes of their needs. In this way, they can go beyond

the level of real consciousness to that of potential consciousness much more rapidly.

Once the codifications have been prepared and all their possible thematic facets have been

studied by the interdisciplinary team, the investigators begin the third stage of the

investigation by returning to the area to initiate decoding dialogues in the “thematic

investigation circles.”[31] These discussions, which decode the material prepared in the

preceding stage, are taped for subsequent analysis by the interdisciplinary team.[32]In addition

to the investigator acting as decoding co-ordinator, two other specialists — a psychologist

and a sociologist — attend the meetings. Their task is to note and record the significant (and

apparently insignificant) reactions of the decoders.

During the decoding process, the co-ordinator must not only listen to the individuals but must

challenge them, posing as problems both the codified existential situation and their own

answers. Due to the cathartic force of the methodology, the participants of the thematic

investigation circles externalize a series of sentiments and opinions about themselves, the

world, and others, that perhaps they would not express under different circumstances.

In one of the thematic investigations[33] carried out in Santiago, a group of tenement residents

discussed a scene showing a drunken man walking on the street and three young men

conversing on the corner; The group participants commented that “the only one there who is

productive and useful to his country is the souse who is returning home after working all day 

for low wages and who is worried about his family because he can’t take care of their needs.

He is the only worker He is a decent worker and a souse like us.”

The investigator[34] had intended to study aspects of alcoholism. He probably would not have

elicited the above responses if he had presented the participants with a questionnaire he had

elaborated himself. If asked directly, they might even have denied ever taking a drink

themselves. But in their comments on the codification of an existential situation they could

recognize, and in which they could recognize themselves, they said what they really felt.

There are two important aspects to these declarations. On the one hand, they verbalize the

connection between earning low wages, feeling exploited, and getting drunk — getting drunk

as a flight from reality, as an attempt to overcome the frustration of inaction, as an ultimately

self-destructive solution. On the other hand, they manifest the need to rate the drunkard

highly. He is the “only one useful to his country, because he works, while the others only

gab.” After praising the drunkard, the participants then identify themselves with him, as

workers who also drink — “decent workers.”

In contrast, imagine the failure of a moralistic educator,[35] sermonizing against alcoholism

and presenting as an example of virtue something which for these men is not a manifestation

of virtue. In this and in other cases, the only sound procedure is the conscientizacao of the

situation, which should be attempted from the start of the thematic investigation. (Obviously,

conscientizacao does not stop at the level of mere subjective perception of a situation, but

through action prepares men for the struggle against the obstacles to their humanization.)

In another experience, this time with peasants, I observed that the unchanging motif during an

entire discussion of a situation depicting work in the fields was the demand for an increase in

wages and the necessity of joining together to create a union to obtain this particular demand.

Three situations were discussed during the session, and the motif was always the same.

Now imagine an educator who has organized his educational program for these men,

consisting of reading “wholesome” texts in which one learns that “the water is in the well”

But precisely this type of thing happens all the time in both education and politics, because it

is not realized that the dialogical nature of education begins with thematic investigation.

Once the decoding in the circles has been completed, the last stage of the investigation

begins, as the investigators undertake a systematic interdisciplinary study of their findings.

Listening to the tapes recorded during the decoding sessions and studying the notes taken by

the psychologists and the sociologist, the investigators begin to list the themes explicit or

implicit in the affirmations made during the sessions. These themes should be classified

according to the various social sciences. Classification does not mean that when the program

is elaborated the themes will be seen as belonging to isolated categories, but only that a

theme is viewed in a specific manner by each of the social sciences to which it is related. The

theme of development, for example, is especially appropriate to the field of economics, but

not exclusively so. This theme would also be focalized by sociology, anthropology, and

social psychology (fields concerned with cultural change and with the modification of 

attitudes and values — questions which are equally relevant to a philosophy of development).

It would be focalized by political science (a field concerned with the decisions which involve

development), by education, and so forth. In this way, the themes which characterize a

totality will never be approached rigidly. It would indeed be a pity if the themes, after being

investigated in the richness of their interpenetration with other aspects of reality, were

subsequently to be handled in such a way as to sacrifice their richness (and hence their force)

to the strictures of specialties.

Once the thematic demarcation is completed, each specialist presents to the interdisciplinary

team a project for the “breakdown” of his theme. In breaking down the theme, the specialist

looks for the fundamental nuclei which, comprising learning units and establishing a

sequence, give a general view of the theme. As each specific project is discussed, the other

specialists make suggestions. These may be incorporated into the project and/or may be

included in the brief essays to be written on the theme. These essays, to which bibliographic

suggestions are annexed, are valuable aids in training the teacher-students who will work in

the “culture circles.”

During this effort to break down the meaningful thematics, the team will recognize the need

to include some fundamental themes which were not directly suggested by the people during

the preceding investigation. The introduction of these themes has proved to be necessary, and

also corresponds to the dialogical character of education. If educational programming is

dialogical, the teacher-students also have the right to participate by including themes not

previously suggested. I call the latter type of theme “hinged themes,” due to their function.

They may either facilitate the connection between two themes in the program unit, filling a

possible gap between the two; or they may illustrate the relations between the general

program content and the view of the world held by the people. Hence, one of these themes

may be located at the beginning of thematic units.

The anthropological concept of culture is one of these hinged themes. It clarifies the role of

people’ in the world and with the world as transforming rather than adaptive beings.[36]

Once the breakdown of the thematics is completed,[37]there follows the stage of its

“codification”: choosing the best channel of communication for each theme and its

representation. A codification may be simple or compound. The former utilizes either the

visual (pictorial or graphic), the tactile, or the auditive channel; the latter utilizes various

channels.[38] The selection of the pictorial or graphic channel depends not only on the

material to be codified, but also on whether or not the individuals with whom one wishes to

communicate are literate.

After the thematics has been codified, the didactic material (photographs, slides, film strips,

posters, reading texts, and so forth) is prepared. The team may propose some themes or

aspects of some themes to outside specialists as topics for recorded interviews.

Let us take the theme of development as an example. The team approaches two or more

economists of varying schools of thought, tells them about the program, and invites them to  

contribute an interview on the subject in language comprehensible to the audience. If the

specialists accept, an interview of fifteen to twenty minutes is taped. A photograph may be

taken of each specialist while he is speaking.

When the taped interview is presented to the culture circle, an introductory statement

indicates who each speaker is, what she or he has written, done, and doing now; meanwhile,

the speaker’s photograph is projected on a screen. If, for instance, the speaker is a university

professor; the introduction could include a discussion regarding what the participants think of

universities and what they expect of them. The group has already been told that the recorded

interview will be followed by a discussion of its contents (which function as an auditive

codification). The team subsequently reports to the specialist the reaction of the participants

during the discussion. This technique links intellectuals, often well-intentioned but not

infrequently alienated from the reality of the people, to that reality. It also gives the people an

opportunity to hear and criticize the thought of intellectuals.

Some themes or nuclei may be presented by means of brief dramatizations, containing the

theme only-no “solutions”! The dramatization acts as a codification, as a problem-posing

situation to be discussed.

Another didactic resource — as long as it is carried out within a problem-posing rather than a

banking approach to education — is the reading and discussion of magazine articles,

newspapers, and book chapters (beginning with passages). As in the case of the recorded

interviews, the author is introduced before the group begins, and the contents are discussed


Along the same lines, it is indispensable to analyze the contents of newspaper editorials

following any given event: “why do different newspapers have such different interpretations

of the same fact?” This practice helps develop a sense of criticism, so that people will react to

newspapers or news broadcasts not as passive objects of the “communiques” directed at

them, but rather as consciousnesses seeking to be free.

With all the didactic material prepared, to which should be added small introductory manuals,

the team of educators is ready to represent to the people their own thematics, in systematized

and amplified form. The thematics which have come from the people return to them-not as

contents to be deposited, but as problems to be solved.

The first task of the basic-education teachers is to present the general program of the

educational campaign. The people will find themselves in this program; it will not seem

strange to them, since it originated with them. The educators will also explain (based on the

dialogical character of education) the presence in the program of the hinged themes, and their


If the educators lack sufficient funds to carry out the preliminary thematic investigation as

described above, they can — with a minimum knowledge of the situation — select some 

basic themes to serve as “codifications to be investigated.” Accordingly they can begin with

introductory themes and simultaneously initiate further thematic investigation.

One of these basic themes (and one which I consider central and indispensable) is the

anthropological concept of culture. Whether men and women are peasants or urban workers,

learning to read or enrolled in a post-literacy program, the starting point of their search to

know more (in the instrumental meaning of the term) is the debate of the concept. As they

discuss the world of culture, they express their level of awareness of reality in which various

themes are implicit. Their discussion touches upon other aspects of reality which comes to be

perceived in an increasingly critical manner These aspects in turn involve many other themes.

With the experience now behind me, I can affirm that the concept of culture, discussed

imaginatively in all or most of its dimensions, can provide various aspects of an educational

program. In addition, after several days of dialogue with the culture circle participants, the

educators can ask the participants directly: “What other themes or subjects could we discuss

besides these?” As each person replies, the answer is noted down and is immediately

proposed to the group as a problem.

One of the group members may say; for example: “I’d like to talk about nationalism.” “Very

well,” says the educator, noting down the suggestion, and adds: “what does nationalism

mean? Why is a discussion about nationalism of any interest to us?” My experience shows

that when a suggestion is posed as a problem to the group, new themes appear. If, in an area

where (for example) thirty culture circles meet on the same night, all the “co-ordinators”

(educators) proceed in this fashion, the central team will have a rich variety of thematic

material for study.

The important thing, from the point of view of libertarian education, is for the people to come

to feel like masters of their thinking by discussing the thinking and views of the world

explicitly or implicitly manifest in their own suggestions and those of their comrades.

Because this view of education starts with the conviction that it cannot present its own

program but must search for this program dialogically with the people, it serves to introduce

the pedagogy of the oppressed, in the elaboration of which the oppressed must participate.


1. Action / Reflection = word = work = praxis

Sacrifice of action = verbalism

Sacrifice of reflection = activism

2. Some of these reflections emerged as a result of conversations with Professor Ernani Maria

Fiori.    

3. I obviously do not refer to the silence of profound meditation, in which men only

apparently leave the world, withdrawing from it in order to consider it in its totality; and thus

remaining with it. But this type of retreat is only authentic when the meditator is “bathed” in

reality; not when the retreat signifies contempt for the world and flight from it, in a type of

“historical schizophrenia.”

4. I am more and more convinced that true revolutionaries must perceive the revolution,

because of its creative and liberating nature, as an act of love. For me, the revolution, which

is not possible without a theory of revolution — and therefore science — is not irreconcilable

with love. On the contrary: the revolution is made by people to achieve their humanization.

What, indeed, is the deeper motive which moves individuals to become revolutionaries, but

the dehumanization of people? The distortion imposed on the word “love” by the capitalist

world cannot prevent the revolution from being essentially loving in character, nor can it

prevent the revolutionaries from affirming their love of life. Guevara (while admitting the

“risk of seeming ridiculous”) was not afraid to affirm it: “Let me say, with the risk of

appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is

impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality” Venceremos — The

Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara, edited by John Gerassi (New York, 1969), p.398.

5. From the letter of a friend.

6. Pierre Furter, Educacao e Vida (Rio, 1966), p. 21.

7. In a long conversation with Malraux, Mao-Tse-Tung declared, “You know I’ve proclaimed

for a long time: we must teach the masses clearly what we have received from them

confusedly.” Andre Malraux, Anti-Memoirs (New York, 1968), pp.361–362. This affirmation

contains an entire dialogical theory of how to construct the program content of education,

which cannot he elaborated according to what the educator thinks best for the students.

8. Furter, Op. cit., p.165.

9. The latter, usually submerged in a colonial context, are almost umbilically linked to the

world of nature, in relation to which they feel themselves to be component parts rather than


10. “Our cultural workers must serve the people with great enthusiasm and devotion, and they

must link themselves with the masses, not divorce themselves from the masses. In order to do

so, they must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for

the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however

well-intentioned. It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but

subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the

change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not make the change until,

through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and

determined to carry it out. Otherwise we shall isolate ourselves from the masses. . . . There

are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of

our making up their minds for them.” From the Selected Works of Mao-Tse-Tung, Vol III

“The United Front in Cultural Work” (October 30, 1944) (Peking, 1967), pp. 186-187.

11. This point win be analyzed in detail in chapter 4.

12. It is as self-contradictory for true humanists to use the banking method as it would be for

rightists to engage in problem-posing education. (The latter are always consistent — they

never use a problem-posing pedagogy).

13. The expression “meaningfiii thematics” is used with the same connotation.

14. In the English language, the terms live” and “exist” have assumed implications opposite

to their etymological origins. As used here, (‘live” is the more basic term, implying only

survival; “exist” implies a deeper involvement in the process of “becoming.”

15. Professor Alvaro Vieira Pinto analyzes with clarity the problem of “limit-situations,”

using the concept without the pessimistic aspect originally found in Jaspers. For Vieira Pinto,

the “limit-situations” are not “the impassable boundaries where possibilities end, but the real

boundaries where all possibilities begin”; they are not the frontier which separates being from

nothingness, but the frontier which separates being from nothingness but the frontier which

separates being from being more.” Alvaro Vieira Pinto, Consciencia e Realidade Nacional

(Rio de Janeiro, 1960), VoL II, p.284.

16. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Dirk Struik, ed. (New

York, 1964), p. 113.

17. Regarding this point, see Karel Kosik, Diletica de lo Concreto (Mexico,1967).

18. On the question of historical epochs, see Hans Freyer; Teoria de la epoca atual (Mexico).

19. I have termed these themes “generative” because (however they are comprehended and

whatever action they may evoke) they contain the possibility of unfolding into again as many

themes, which in their turn call for new tasks to he fulfilled.

20. Individuals of the middle class often demonstrate this type of behavior; although in a

different way from the peasant. Their fear of freedom leads them to erect defense

mechanisms and rationalizations which conceal the fundamental, emphasize the fortuitous,

and deny concrete reality. In the face of a problem whose analysis would lead to the

uncomfortable perception of a limit-situation, their tendency is to remain on the periphery of

the discussion and resist any attempt to reach the heart of the question. They are even

annoyed when someone points out a fundamental proposition which explains the fortuitous or

secondary matters to which they had been assigning primary importance.

    

21. The coding of an existential situation is the representation of that situation, showing some

of its constituent elements in interaction. Decoding is the critical analysis of the coded


22. Regarding the investigation and use of “generative words,” see my Educacao como

Pratica da Liberdade.

23. According to the Brazilian sociologist Maria Edy Ferreira (in an unpublished work),

thematic investigation is only justified to the extent that it returns to the people what truly

belongs to them; to the extent that it represents, not an attempt to learn about the people, but

to come to know with them the reality which challenges them.

24. The Brazilian novelist Guimaraes Rosa is a brilliant example of how a writer can capture

authentically, not the pronunciation or the grammatical corruptions of the people, but their

syntax: the very structure of their thought. Indeed (and this is not to disparage his exceptional

value as a writer), Guimaraes Rosa was the investigator par excellence of the “meaningful

thematics” of the inhabitants of the Brazilian hinterland. Professor Paulo de Tarso is currently

preparing an essay which analyzes this little-considered aspect of the work of the author of

Grande Sertao — Veredas [in English translation: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands (New

York, 1963)].

25. Lucien Goldman, The Human Sciences and Philosophy (London, 1969), p. 118.

26. See Andre Nicolaï, Comportment Economique a Structures Socials (Paris, 1960).

27. The codifications may also be oral. In this case they consist of a few words presenting an

existential problem, followed by decoding. The team of the Instituto & Desarrollo

Agropecuario (Institute for Agrarian Development) in Chile has used this method

successfully in thematic investigations.

28. This recommendation is made by Jose Luis Fiori, in an unpublished manuscript.

29. Until recently, INDAP was directed by the economist and authentic humanist Jacques


30. These codifications were not [“]inclusive,” in Fiori’s definition.

31. Each investigation circle should have a maximum of twenty persons. There should be as

many circles as necessary to involve, as participants, ten percent of the area or sub-area being


32. These subsequent meetings of analysis should include the volunteers from the area who

assisted in the investigation, and some participants of the “thematic investigation circles.”

Their contribution is both a right to which they are entitled and an indispensable aid to the

analysis of the specialists. As co-investigators of the specialists, they will rectify and/or ratify  

the interpretations the latter make of the findings. From the methodological point of view,

their participation gives the investigation (which from the beginning is based on a

“sympathetic” relationship) an additional safeguard: the critical presence of representatives of

the people from the beginning until the final phase, that of thematic analysis, continued in the

organization of the program content of educational action as liberating cultural action.

33. This particular investigation was, unfortunately, not completed.

34. The psychiatrist Patricio Lopes, whose work is described in Educacao como Pratica da


35. See Niebuhr; op cit.

36. With regard to the importance of the anthropological analysis of culture, see Educacao

como Pratica da Liberdade.

37. Note that the entire program is a totality made up of interrelated units which in

themselves are also totalities.

The themes are totalities in themselves but are also elements which in interaction constitute

the thematic units of the entire program.

The thematic breakdown splits the total themes in search of their fundamental nuclei, which

are the partial elements.

The codification process attempts to retotalize the disjoined theme in the representation of

existential situations.

In decoding, individuals split the codification to apprehend its implicit theme or themes. The

dialectical decoding process does not end there, but is completed in the re-totalization of the

disjoined whole which is thus more clearly understood (as are also its relations to other

codified situations; all of which represent existential situations).

HIV/AIDS: The Origin

July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

“Measle (measles) vaccination in Africa” presentation at the International Conference Pan American Global Health: “The use of vaccines against viral, bacterial or rickettsial in humans”, 14-18/12/1970 on page 208.

Wouter Basson (nicknamed “Doctor Death”) is a South African cardiologist born July 6, 1950. He worked for the South African secret services in the 1970s and 1980s as head of the bacteriological and chemical program.

He worked for the medical corps of the South African army and was responsible for collecting information on chemical and biological experiences of foreign countries.

Son of a policeman, doctor and scientist, he joined the South African army.

In 1981, he is still the President Pieter Botha doctor when he was appointed head of the “Project Coast” in charge of developing bacterial and chemical weapons and the staff of the South African army presented as a “defensive program “.

He recruited more than 200 scientists. It was commissioned by the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB-Civil Cooperation Bureau) to develop chemical weapons to put out of harm’s anti-apartheid activists. The aim of her research was nevertheless find a way to stop the chemical rise of black population (sterilization of black women and development of these bacteria to make you sick people). He was so involved in several attacks and the murder of anti-apartheid activists. More than a ton of methaqualone and it was provided by the army. He concocted dozens of deadly weapons (its “dirty tricks” or sneaky games) based poison like anthrax in cigarettes or envelopes, botulinum in milk, screwdrivers and poisoned umbrellas or in paraboxon whiskey.

Project Coast1était program bacteriological and chemical weapons defense secret government of South Africa during the apartheid2. This program aimed to control the demographics of the black population of South Africa by creating bacterial poisons addressing itself to the population noire3. This program was headed by Wouter Basson (nicknamed “Doctor Death”) 4.


In the documentary Dealers anthrax: towards a warfare? Wouter Basson says that Roberto Coen: “Bomb Black to infect only the black population was a great project, the most fun of his life” (sic) 5.

Games more sneaky shots or Sales were observed between 1970 and 1990, with poison found on T-shirts in food, envelopes, cigarettes, botulinum in milk, screwdrivers and poisoned umbrellas or paraboxon in whiskey.

In 1983, a poison that can kill only black is finished and declared operational, large reserves of this poison are made, they will be based on official sources all destroyed at the end of apartheid, however others assert that the government of the United States would have bought these reserves poison6 7.

Poison can only sterilize black women was also established during the Project Coast8 2.

April 22, 2002, after thirty-month trial, 46 counts, 153 witnesses and more than 40,000 documents relating to various methods of poisoning and murders, South African cardiologist Wouter Basson was acquitted by Judge Hartzenberg which grants him amnesty. The South African government appealed to the Supreme Court refused a new trial.


HIV/AIDS: A US Official Government Report

July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

June 17, 2002
The Honorable James A. Traficant, Jr.
House of Representatives
Subject: Origin of the AIDS Virus
Dear Mr. Traficant:
In response to your request to review an individual’s allegations that the National
Cancer Institute’s Special Virus Cancer Program (SVCP) created the AIDS virus, we
obtained information on (1) the overall stated purposes and outcomes of SVCP, (2)
scientific assessments of the origins of the AIDS virus (HIV-1) and any possible
evidence regarding the origins of the AIDS virus at SVCP, and (3) the outcome of
recent litigation regarding the origins of the AIDS virus. On June 13, 2002, we briefed
your staff on the results of our analysis. The enclosed slides formed the basis of the
briefing we presented.
To address our objectives, we consulted experts on HIV/AIDS and on SVCP, reviewed
SVCP progress reports and summaries as well as documents that allege SVCP created
the AIDS virus. In addition, we obtained information on recent litigation involving the
individual’s allegations. In summary, we did not find evidence to support the
allegation that SVCP created the AIDS virus. Comments from the National Cancer
Institute on a draft of the briefing slides concluded that they are historically and
scientifically accurate.
We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services
and the Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute. We will also make copies
available to others on request. In addition, the report will be available at no charge on
the GAO Web site at Please contact me at (202) 512-7119 if you
have any questions. The major contributor to this report was Lawrence S. Solomon.
Sincerely yours,
Janet Heinrich
Director, Health CarePublic Health Issues
Enclosure Enclosure
2 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Origin of the AIDS Virus
Briefing for
the Office of the Honorable James A. Traficant, Jr.,
House of Representatives
By the U.S. General Accounting Office
June 13, 2002
Enclosure Enclosure
3 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
• An individual has alleged that the visna
virus, which caused illness and death in
Icelandic sheep, was used by the National
Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Special Virus
Cancer Program (SVCP) to develop HIV-1,
the virus that has caused the global AIDS
• This individual cited a SVCP research
program flowchart as evidence that HIV-1
was developed intentionally in its
Enclosure Enclosure
4 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
• Identify overall stated purposes and outcomes of
• Describe scientific assessments of the origins of the
AIDS virus and any possible evidence regarding the
origin of the AIDS virus at SVCP.
• Describe outcome of recent litigation involving the
individual’s allegations of federal government
involvement in the origins of the AIDS virus.
Enclosure Enclosure
5 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
To address our objectives, we:
• Consulted experts on HIV/AIDS and on SVCP.
They have expertise in genetics, cell biology, viral
oncology, biochemistry, internal medicine,
epidemiology, public health, and dentistry.
Some of these experts are cited by the individual
as supporters of the allegation that SVCP created
the AIDS virus.
Enclosure Enclosure
6 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Methodology (continued)
• Reviewed SVCP progress reports and summaries
issued between 1967 and 1984.
• Reviewed documents that allege SVCP created the
AIDS virus.
• Obtained information on recent litigation addressing
the individual’s allegations.
• Performed our work from January through May 2002
in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards.
Enclosure Enclosure
7 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Purpose of SVCP
• NCI directed SVCP within the intramural laboratories
from 1964 to 1980. After 1980, the work of SVCP
was incorporated into NCI’s broader National Cancer
• Purpose was to find viruses in human cancer cells,
relate them to specific cancers (leukemia, etc.), and
develop means to block their effects and reduce
cancer growth.
Enclosure Enclosure
8 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Purpose of SVCP
• In 1972, SVCP developed a flowchart depicting
research program to investigate viral oncology
(the study of how viruses cause cancer).
• Outcome of SVCP did not lead to discovery of viruses
in human cancer cells, but did result in several
advances in molecular biology.
Enclosure Enclosure
9 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Scientific Assessment on the
Origins of the AIDS Virus
• The first scientific evidence of HIV-1 predates the
1964 commencement of SVCP.
• HIV-1 was found in blood samples of an African man
who died in 1959. (Zhu, Tuofu et al. “An African HIV-1
Sequence from 1959 and Implications for the Origin of the
Epidemic,” Nature 391, no. 6667 (1998): 594-97.)
• HIV-1 was likely transferred to humans before 1955
from a subspecies of chimpanzees infected with
simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). (Korber, Bette et
al. “Timing the Ancestor of the HIV-1 Pandemic Strains,” Science
288, no. 5472 (2000): 1789-96.)
Enclosure Enclosure
10 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Scientific Assessment on the
Origins of the AIDS Virus
• Historical analyses of virus development have
demonstrated that while the visna virus and HIV-1
shared some common origins thousands of years ago,
mutations of key genes over time have resulted in a
wide divergence of these two viruses.
• These analyses have also demonstrated that the
laboratory combination of the visna virus and HIV-1
was highly improbable.
Enclosure Enclosure
11 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Scientific Assessment on the
Origins of the AIDS Virus
• Therefore, there is no evidence that SVCP created the
AIDS virus.
Enclosure Enclosure
12 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Recent Litigation Involving
Allegations Concerning the
Origins of the AIDS Virus
• U.S. District Court (Northern District of Ohio) issued
order September 16, 1999, dismissing allegations that
the federal government developed agent that
subsequently became known as AIDS.
• U.S. Court of Appeals (Sixth Circuit) affirmed the
U.S. District Court order November 7, 2000. The
Court of Appeals referred to the allegations as having
“no basis in law or in fact.”
Enclosure Enclosure
13 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus
Recent Litigation Involving
Allegations Concerning the
Origins of the AIDS Virus
• U.S. Supreme Court denied petition to review the case
June 4, 2001.
[Graves v. Cohen, No. 98-02209 (N.D. Ohio
Sept. 16, 1999), aff’d 238 F. 3d 421, 2000 U.S.
App. LEXIS 29203 (6th Cir. Nov. 7, 2000), cert.
denied sub nom. Graves v. Rumsfeld, 532
U.S. 1072 (2001).]
Enclosure Enclosure
14 GAO-02-809R Origin of the AIDS Virus


Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution by William Loren Katz

July 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the last decade of the 18th century, Toussaint L’Ouverture,

led a revolutionary movement that liberated St. Domingue, his

homeland in the Caribbean, from colonial tyranny and declared an
end to slavery. Toussaint, a self-educated former slave, defeated
Europe’s best-trained forces including armies from France, England
and Spain and France. After securing its independence, St.
Domingue renamed itself Haiti and became the first Republic in the
world to declare all men and women free and equally entitled to
govern their own lives. Toussaint’s achievement still ranks as one
of the most extraordinary events in human history.
As French citizens jubilantly wrote a Declaration of the Rights
of Man in 1791, an even more far-reaching colonial rebellion
erupted on St. Domingue (known as San Domingo in Spanish). This
island jewel was the world’s largest producer of sugar and coffee
and the richest colonial possession on earth and was desired by the
British who viewed it as compensation for lose of their mainland
colonies. Its wealth was produced by over half a million enslaved
African women and men imported to labor for French planters.
Slavery on the island was so cruel and conditions were so poor that
40,000 newly enslaved Africans were introduced each year.…/ haiti_toussaint.jpg
The island’s 40,000 whites included a wealthy planter class known as seigneurs, French officials,
overseers, mechanics and professionals and poor white laborers. Though planters dominated the
island’s economy, they lived under rules and officials in France. A growing free African and
mulatto population of 28,000, many of whom owned real estate and personal property yearned for
social equality and their share of public offices. In the early stages of the French Revolution they
began to lobby for equality in the French National Assembly and in 1790, rose in a rebellion
whose goals was ending discrimination against them and gaining a share of government offices.
A mulatto leader named Ogé issued a dire military warning to France that “We will not remain
much longer in degradation . . . . We can raise as good soldiers as those of France. Our own arms
will render us respectable and independent. Once we are reduced to desperate measures,
thousands of men will cross the Atlantic in vain to reduce us to our former condition.” This revolt
was brutally and quickly suppressed, but the next year the island’s half a million enslaved men
and women began to revolt and seek liberation.
Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led Haitians to independence and freedom, was unusual in a
number of ways. He was a Creole, meaning he was born in St. Domingue, a coachman on a large
plantation, literate and a Christian. He lived on the Bréda planation with his wife and three
children. At the time of the French Revolution, he was already in his mid-forties, which was
unusually old for someone living under such harsh conditions.
As a military leader, Toussaint was idolized by his troops because he led by example and
shared their dangers. During the wars, he was wounded 17 times. He also proved to be a military
genius, something his foes, trapped by racial stereotypes, failed to grasp. While he kept his armies
loyal to France, he forged alliances with foreign powers that kept his foes confused. He never
wavered in his pledge to end human bondage and told the five-member Directory who ruled
France, “We have known how to face dangers to obtain our liberty, we shall know how to brave
death to maintain it.” In time, Toussaint L’Ouverture won support from the mixed race
population, drove Spanish and then British troops into the sea, overwhelmed slaveholders’ militia
units, and defeated his internal foes. By 1801 L’Ouverture had conquered St. Dominique and
abolished human slavery on the island.
When Napoleon Bonaparte gained power in France, L’Ouverture sent him a copy of the
island nation’s 1801 Constitution. Napoleon replied by dispatching his brother-in-law, Charles Le
Clerc, with 16,000 troops to capture Toussaint L’Ouverture, disarm his troops and restore slavery.
L’Ouverture retreated to the mountains in the interior and after two of his leading generals, Jean-
Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe, defected to the French, all seemed lost.
Le Clerc offered to negotiate with Toussaint L’Ouverture aboard a French ship, but instead
seized him when he came aboard. Toussaint told his captor, “In overthrowing me, you have cut
down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for
they are numerous and deep.” Deported to France in chains, he was sent to a cold cell in the
French Alps. Denied adequate food and medical help, he died on April 7, 1803. However, when
Napoleon reinstituted the slave trade and slavery, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe
rallied a popular national liberation movement.
Finally, the war turned against Napoleon when Le Clerc died of yellow fever and war broke
out between France and Britain. Napoleon ordered a war against the civilian population designed
to devastate the island’s economy and exterminate the leading rebels. Scorched earth tactics and
retaliations by both sides devastated the countryside and left innocent victims dead or displaced.
The tactics of the French armies reinvigorated the revolutionaries, and in November, 1803, they
drove the last foreign armies from St. Dominque.
This successful bid for liberty sent shock waves throughout the Americas. In 1795, Africans,
Native Americans and some whites at Pointe Coupee, Louisiana, stirred by talk of Haiti,
organized to overthrow slavery in New Orleans. Inspired by the people of St. Domingue, Gabriel
Prosser mobilized hundreds of enslaved Africans in 1800 to attack Richmond, Virginia. In
Jamaica, the British governor warned that “The slaves here are very inquisitive & intelligent &
are immediately informed of every kind of news that arrives.” Enslaved people on his island, he
noted, “compose” songs about Haiti’s uprising and he was “preparing for the worst.” In
Dominica, a British officer warned that enslaved people had to be placated because “the Bomb
was ready to burst in every quarter.” The governor reported that his slaves learned about the “Idea
of Liberty” through “intercourse” with nearby French islands. In Tobago, officials reported
enslaved people vowed “to follow the example of Guadeloupe and St. Domingo.” In Trinidad, a
military tribunal arrested conspirators in 1805 and reported “The Negroes are by no means
diffident, particularly those who speak French.” The governor feared that a dancing festival
would be used to plot “the diabolical scene which led to . . . St. Domingo.”
Slaveholders in the U.S. Congress denounced France and its “new-fangled philosophy of
liberty and equality” and called enslaved Africans “the Jacobins of the country, . . the Anarchists
and the Domestic Enemy . . . the destroyers of our race.” Although the revolution in St.
Domingue drew inspiration from Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was
among U.S. officials who greeted the uprising with horror. As Secretary of State, he declared that
they were not freedom fighters, but murderous zealots bent on overturning white supremacy.
Jefferson warned that whites were about to be expelled from “all the West India Islands” and
worried that Haiti’s “black crews and missionaries” would instigate “bloody scenes” in southern
states. The revolution in Haiti also dramatically changed United States history. After Napoleon
lost his prize colony, he realized how difficult it would be to defend an overseas empire. When
President Jefferson sent emissaries to Paris to purchase New Orleans, a chastened Napoleon
offered to sell the vast Louisiana territory to the startled diplomats. The Louisiana Purchase cost
the United States four cents an acre, doubled the size of the country and led to a westward
movement that would bring dozens of new states.
Toussaint L’Ouverture Addresses the French Directory (1797)
In this letter , Toussaint L’Ouverture warns the Directory (the executive committee which ran
the government between the Reign of Terror and Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup in 1799) against
any attempt to reimpose slavery in St. Domingue. Source: C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins, 2d
ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), 195-197.
My attachment to France, my knowledge of the blacks, make it my duty not to leave you
ignorant either of the crimes which they [anti-Revolutionary White colonists] meditate or the oath
that we [formerly enslaved Africans] renew, to bury ourselves under the ruins of a country
revived by liberty rather than suffer the return of slavery.
It is for you, Citizens Directors, to turn from over our heads the storm which the eternal
enemies of our liberty are preparing in the shades of silence. It is for you to enlighten the
legislature, it is for you to prevent the enemies of the present system from spreading
themselves on our unfortunate shores to sully it with new crimes. Do not allow our brothers,
our friends, to be sacrificed to men who wish to reign over the ruins of the human species. . . .
I send you with this letter a declaration which will acquaint you with the unity that exists
between the proprietors of San Domingo who are in France, those in the United States, and those
who serve under the English banner. You will see there a resolution, unequivocal and carefully
constructed, for the restoration of slavery; you will see there that their determination to succeed
has led them to envelop themselves in the mantle of liberty in order to strike it more deadly
blows. . . .
Do they think that men who have been able to enjoy the blessing of liberty will calmly see it
snatched away? They supported their chains only so long as they did not know any condition of
life more happy than that of slavery. But to-day when they have left it, if they had a thousand
lives they would sacrifice them all rather than be forced into slavery again. . . .
France will not revoke her principles, she will not withdraw from us the greatest of her
benefits. . . . But if, to re-establish slavery in San Domingo, this was done, then I declare to you it
would be to attempt the impossible: we have known how to face dangers to obtain our liberty, we
shall know how to brave death to maintain it.
Memoir of General Toussaint L’Ouverture. Written By Himself. (1803)
On June 6, 1802, Toussaint L’Ouverture was arrested by French officials and deported. In his
memoir, written while imprisoned in France, Toussaint L’Ouverture defended his actions and
demanded fair treatment from Napoleon. He died while a prisoner on April 7, 1803. Source:
I have neglected nothing at Saint Domingo for the welfare of the island; I have robbed myself
of rest to contribute to it; I have sacrificed everything for it. I have made it my duty and pleasure
to develop the resources of this beautiful colony. Zeal, activity, courage, I have employed them
all. The island was invaded by the enemies of the Republic; I had then but a thousand men, armed
with pikes. I sent them back to labor in the field, and organized several regiments, by the
authority of Gen. Laveaux. The Spanish portion had joined the English to make war upon the
French. . . . General Laveaux ordered me to the attack; I carried it. . . . The English were
entrenched at Pont-de-l’Ester; I drove them from the place. They were in possession of Petite
Rivière. My ammunition consisted of one case of cartridges which had fallen into the water on
my way to the attack; this did not discourage me. I carried the place by assault before day, with
my dragoons, and made all the garrison prisoners. . . . I was also exposed to the greatest dangers;
several times I narrowly escaped being made prisoner; I shed my blood for my country; I received
a ball in the right hip which remains there still; I received a violent blow on the head from a
cannon-ball, which knocked out the greater part of my teeth, and loosened the rest. In short, I
received upon different occasions seventeen wounds, whose honorable scars still remain. . . As a
reward for all these services, I have been arbitrarily arrested at St. Domingo, bound, and put on
board ship like a criminal, without regard for my rank, without the least consideration. Is this the
recompense due my labors? Should my conduct lead me to expect such treatment?. . . It is from
the depths of this dreary prison that I appeal to the justice and magnanimity of the First Consul.
He is too noble and too good a general to turn away from an old soldier, covered with wounds in
the service of his country, without giving him the opportunity to justify himself, and to have
judgment pronounced upon him. . . . If I had intended to make war, would I have laid down my
arms and submitted? No reasonable man, much less a soldier, can believe such an absurdity.
Experiences of a Young Creole Refugee from Saint Domingue [Haiti]
The name of the young Creole man who wrote these letters to a friend in France is unknown. Althéa de Puech
Parham, who translated and edited them, discovered the letters in her family’s papers in New Orleans. The young
man had been born in Saint Domingue, but then moved to France. His family fled Revolutionary France in 1791,
when he was sixteen and traveled to the French Caribbean. For two years, the young man fought in the forces trying
to suppress the rebellion. At that point, his family fled to the United States, where he spent time in New York City
and New Jersey. He returned to Saint Domingue in 1794 and joined British forces trying to reenslave the rebels and
turn Haiti into a British colony. He finally accepted defeat and abandoned the island. His letters offer a unique
window into the ideas of slaveholders who are trying to justify the institution of slavery and cannot understand why
Africans are demanding freedom. Source: Althéa de Puech Parham, trans. & ed. (1959). My Odyssey, Experiences
of a Young Refugee from Two Revolutions (Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press).
1. Why is the young man outraged at the injustice against “the poor planters of Saint Domingue”?
2. According to the young man, what is life like for Africans in the Saint Domingue colony?
3. Why does he claim they were happier as slaves in Saint Domingue than as free people in Africa?
4. Whom does the young man blame for the rebellion by enslaved Africans? Do you agree? Explain.
5. Imagine you are Toussaint L’Ouverture or one of the other Haitian rebels. Write a letter to the young Creole
responding to his claims.
A. When the events of the [French] Revolution compelled me to leave France, I promised to write
you of anything interesting my voyage offered. Now, since nearly two years have fled, perhaps
you have accused me of indifference – be it so; I do not merit that reproach. I only disliked adding
to your concerns the burdens which have been those of your friend (9).
B. Thirty days after our departure, we saw at dawn the high mountains of Saint Domingue. A few
hours later, we got in sight of our habitation [plantation], and we made the usual signal to
announce our approach to friends. The young ladies were so delighted, that they wished to fire the
cannon, and they acquitted themselves with much courage, placing one hand on the tinder and the
other over their eyes. Soon we found ourselves in front of Fort Picolet, which defended the
entrance of Cap Francais. The pilot came aboard, and we slipped through the Narrows in full sail
C. The county house of my family is on a sugar plantation, situated between Cap Francais and
Fort Dauphin, near a pretty little river and in view of the ocean. Our habitation is almost in the
center of a plain 14 leagues long by 3 to 5 leagues wide [about 200 square miles], and near a
gentle slope of the mountains to the sea. The entire plain is traversed by an infinite number of
little rivers, which overflow after the rains and are only feeble little brooks in the dry seasons.
Wide roads connect the plantations, which resemble little hamlets, because of the large number of
buildings necessary for the making of sugar and housing of the Negroes [Africans] (22).
D. How often, from what I have seen, have I have been able to recognize the injustice of
those written diatribes, that were flooding Europe, against the poor planters of Saint
Domingue! What lies! What exaggerated pictures! What ignorance of the country, the
customs, the habits, and the laws. During the past months, between the different revolts and
insurrections, I have seen everywhere Negroes who were fat, well cared for and happy. I have
seen them many times, about a hundred of them occupied with work that twenty Europeans
could achieve in much less time. Their cabins appeared sanitary, commodious, and furnished
with the necessary utensils for their needs. These cabins were surrounded with land where
they raised pigs and a variety of fowl; they had me observe their individual gardens, which
were perfectly tended and abundantly planted with all the necessary products of our country. I
noticed that the hospital was the finest edifice on each plantation. I was told that a doctor
visited them each day and that women looked after the sick. Other women had the care of the
children, to bathe, comb, etc. each morning. I often found idle groups, and was told that these
were convalescents, nursing mothers, pregnant women, and old people, who were exempt
from service. At sunset I heard the bell ring, and noticed that from all directions the workers
retired gaily to rest from their labor until the following morning. This same bell recalled the
Negroes to the shelter of their cabins when it commenced to rain, and it rains very often here.
As for the huge crime of allowing them to go half-nude, I assure you that upon this point I
cannot partake in the indignation of the Philosophers [abolitionists]. . . . Thanks to . . . the
thickness and oiliness of skin, which Providence has wisely given these races of the Torrid
Zone, they can prudently brave the heat which would in a short time kill the European.
Moreover, I am convinced that if they go uncovered, it is not because they have no clothing at
their disposal (23-24).
E. For those who question the disciple under which they live, it is certainly not more rigorous
than that which is observed for soldiers and sailors; and when one realizes that thirty thousand
semi-barbaric Africans, one should not hesitate to say that disciple is necessary. The young adult
Negroes of our plantation, informed of our return, gathered in a crowd before us, and by a
thousand bizarre demonstrations testified to the joy they had in seeing us. Having obtained
permission to have a Calinda, they assembled on the greensward in front of our house. They were
in their Sunday clothes-and most of them would not exchange this finery for fifty full bottles. In
general, the men were dressed in large white pantaloons over which fell a colored jacket. The
women wore rather thin dresses and short aprons; their kinky hair was covered by a Madras
headkerchief, beautifully tied; nearly all had on necklaces and earrings, and I saw some wipe their
faces with very fine cambric (25).
F. The day after my arrival, while partaking with my family of the pleasures of an excellent
lunch, a courier arrived to deliver to my step-father, commander of the district in which our
property is located, a letter full of the most terrifying news. The slaves, enflamed by emissaries
sent from France, had burned the habitations of our neighbors near the Cape, after assassinating
the proprietors without distinction of age or sex. Already the insurrection was causing devastation
on all sides, and they feared it would soon reach our place of habitation. The report of this terrific
catastrophe was widely spread. The frightened families among our neighbors met together at our
plantation. The men armed to face the storm; the mothers, wives, sisters were lamenting and
gathering in all haste a few precious effects. Desolation and fear were painted on all faces. The
sky seemed on fire. Guns could be heard from afar and the bells of the plantations were sounding
the alarm. The danger increased. The flames at each moment were approaching and enclosing
about us. There was no time to lose; we fled. The victims who escaped at sword’s point came to
swell the number of fugitives, and recounted to us the horrors which they had witnessed. They
had seen unbelievable tortures to which they testified. Many women, young, beautiful, and
virtuous, perished beneath the infamous caresses of the brigands, amongst the cadavers of their
fathers and husbands. Bodies, still palpitating, were dragged through the roads with atrocious
acclamations. Young children transfixed upon the points of bayonets were bleeding flags which
followed the troop of cannibals (27-28).
G. Those unfortunates! What were their conditions in their own barbaric countries from
which they came? The picture made by all the voyagers is frightful. Transported to us, they
became happier than the peasants of any nation; and not one regretted leaving his savage
country. In self-concern alone, it not in humanity, was it not sufficient incentive for the
colonists to take good care of his workers that they cost him much, that they rendered so
much profits when they were healthy, and that they became so expensive when they were ill.
Those whippings of which one hears were always applied by one of their own comrades who
had the talent of making more noise than pain, and only for faults which were punished much
more severely elsewhere. This method of chastisement was adopted because the African,
barely civilized, is considered a child and must be treated as such. . . . Such was the existence
of the Negro in the Colony of Saint Domingue. The laws made for their safety were very
severe. No doubt with us, as elsewhere, some individuals infringed the laws; . . . it is seldom
that a colonist of Saint Domingue can be shown culpable of these pretended crimes that are
believed to be common among us, and when they were committed, it was always done by a
European. . . . The Creole makes a point of honor of being gentle and indulgent. But if our
slaves were so well treated, why did they revolt? One must ask those composers of phrases
who have inundated our country with their incendiary writings; those stupid innovators who
brought turmoil to France and killed their King. . . One must find the reason, at last, in the
character of all the ignorant populace, principally in the Negroes, like machines which can
easier be made to start than to stop. These are the causes which started, accelerated, and
prolonged the revolt, and destroyed the most beautiful country upon the earth (42-44).
Revolutions in Haiti and Latin America: Similar or Different?
Do Now: Examine the drawing on the right and answer the following questions:
1. Describe what you see in the picture. What imagery is used in this drawing?
2. How do you react to what you see? Where do you think this image might have appeared?
3. In your view, are the Haitians justified in their actions? Explain.
Haiti and Toussaint L’Ouverture
In 1791, a revolt broke out in the French Caribbean colony
of St. Domingue. The colony was located on the western third
of the island of Hispaniola. The rest of the island was
controlled by Spain and known as Santo Domingo.
St. Domingue was one of the wealthiest colonies in the
Americas. It produced half of all the sugar and coffee exported
to Europe and the United States. This wealth was the result of
the work of enslaved Africans who were brutality treated.
The rebellion began when free Blacks and mulattos
(people of mixed race) were denied citizenship rights promised
by the French Revolution. As the revolt spread, enslaved
Africans rose up against their French masters. During the
uprising there was cruelty from both sides. Sugar cane fields
and plantation houses were burned and captives were raped
and murdered.
People of African ancestry outnumbered Europeans on the
island by about 10 to 1. In 1794,the National Assembly of
France abolished slavery in its colonies, and in January, 1800,
Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leading general of the Black revolt,
became the undisputed leader of the entire island.
When Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France in 1799, he tried to rebuild the French
colonial empire. In 1802, he sent 20,000 troops to St. Domingue to overthrow the government of
Toussaint L’Ouverture and restore slavery on the island. Toussaint L’Ouverture was captured and
exiled to France, where he died in prison. However, the rebels continued to fight and by the end
of 1803 the French forces were defeated. On January 1, 1804, President Jean Jacques Dessalines
declared the birth of the free republic of Haiti.
Many of the White colonists who fled from St. Domingue were opposed to the French
Revolution. They escaped to the United States where news of the slave rebellion frightened
American slaveholders and led to harsher restrictions on Blacks. In 1793, Secretary of State
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Governor of South Carolina that Black revolutionaries from St.
Domingue might try to “excite an insurrection among the Negroes.” In 1799, he warned James
Madison that White settlers might be expelled from “all the West India Islands” and that “black
crews and missionaries” could instigate “bloody scenes” in southern states. As President in 1804,
Jefferson refused to recognize Haitian independence.
Knowledge of the rebellion in Haiti did inspired other enslaved Africans to fight for their
freedom. In 1800, Gabriel Prosser mobilized hundreds of enslaved Africans to attack Richmond,
Virginia. There were also uprisings in the French colony of Louisiana and the British colony of
The revolution in Haiti dramatically changed United States history in another way. In 1803,
President Jefferson offered to purchase the port of New Orleans from France. Napoleon
decided to sell the United States the entire Louisiana territory. The Louisiana Purchase
doubled the size of the country and led to westward expansion across the continent.
1. Why was St. Domingue one of the wealthiest colonies in the Americas?
2. Why was the revolt able to spread so easily?
3. How was Haiti finally able to proclaim independence?
4. How did the rebellion in St. Domingue and Haitian independence influence the United States?
Napoleon’s rise to power in France and his conquest of Spain in 1808 led to wars for national
independence in Spain’s Latin American colonies. By 1822, territory stretching from Argentina
and Chile in the south to Mexico and California in the north had secured independence. Simon
Bolivar was one of South America’s greatest generals and his military campaigns helped achieve
independence for the area that now includes Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and
Venezuela. He is known as El Liberator (The Liberator) and the “George Washington of South
Simon Bolivar was born on July 24, 1783, at Caracas, Venezuela. His family was of
European ancestry. As a wealthy young man, Bolivar traveled in Europe. He returned to
Venezuela in 1810 and joined local colonists who proclaimed independence from Spain. From
1813 until 1824, Bolivar commanded an army that battled for control over the northern part of the
South American continent. In 1819, he headed the congress that organized the original Republic
of Colombia (now Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela). He became its first president in
December, 1819.
Bolivar’s forces finally defeated a Spanish army in Venezuela in June, 1821. Later, he seized
control over Ecuador and was accepted as the ruler of Peru. Upper Peru became a separate
country and was named Bolivia in honor of Bolivar. While Simon Bolivar is often compared with
George Washington, Bolivar accepted dictatorial powers that Washington rejected.

1. What was the inspiration for the Latin American revolutions in the 19th century?
2. How did Napoleon both inspire revolutionary ideas and extinguish revolutionary actions?
3. Why was Simon Bolivar called the “George Washington of South America”?
Discussion Questions: In what ways was the Haitian revolution similar to or different from
the American Revolution? Were the revolutions in Latin American more like the U.S.
revolution or the revolution in Haiti? Is revolutionary violence against an oppressor

The Intellectual Warfare of Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers and the Battle for Ancient Nubia as a Foundational Paradigm in Africana Studies: Thoughts and Reflections by Josef Ben Levi

July 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Professor Josef Ben Levi ( is a scholar of Philosophy, History (ancient
and modern), Ethics, Sociology, Education and classical African civilizations with a focus on
Ancient Egypt (Kemet), Ancient Nubia (Ta Seti) and its environment. He is one of the founding
members of the Kemetic Institute of Chicago as well as its current Associate Director. He is also
a charter member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC).
Currently he is an instructor at the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at
Northeastern Illinois University.


This article is intended to remind Africana scholars about what Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop called the
necessary “pluridisciplinary skills” encompassing what he described as three factors: Historical,
Linguistic, and Psychological. This has vast implications for the field of Africana Studies.
African-Centered scholars engaging in what Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers called “Intellectual
Warfare” are struggling against well-financed and organized European intellectual armies
preparing to do battle with us to the end. In order to combat these challenges Africana scholars
must be grounded in African-Centered theory, methodology and pedagogy. In this article I first
explain what led me to become a soldier in this battle for the liberation of the African mind.
Then I explain the importance of Nubian Studies to Africana Studies as a form of emancipatory
thinking against those interlopers, Black and white, who would dismiss our intellectual struggle.
Until we recognize that it was through ancient Nubia that Kemetic civilization flowed, we will
continue to engage in debates based on the “modern falsification” of African history (Diop,
1974). Finally, this article is a call to arms for those African-Centered scholars who are seriously
engaged in this work to realize that we need many more intellectual warriors in this struggle. It
also provides those reluctant Africana scholars who either have never found their way home or
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
are still groping in darkness with tools to realize that there are African-Centered intellectual
warriors waiting to train them in the necessary tools for battle.


The field of Africana Studies has been under attack since Newsweek published its
expose on Afrocentrism in September, 1978 (Adler et al., 1991). It seemed that for the first time
European America discovered that African people in the United States had discovered a counter
narrative to their meta-narrative that maintained that people of African descent in their neocolonial
possession were indeed, inferior. Our particular narrative is seated squarely in the
civilizations of the Nile Valley, particularly ancient Kemet (Egypt) and Kush (Nubia). This was a
difficult pill for the European intellectual community to swallow. Were the former colonized and
ostracized now standing up for themselves and rewriting history, or what European American
scholars referred to as revisionists’ history? Even worse, were Afrocentrists actually teaching
Black people about their connection to the Nile Valley and that the ancient people of Kemet and
Kush were their ancestors? Was it possible that an area located in what has been called the North
African Middle East and one of the birthplaces of Western society was now really the locus of
African culture and civilization?

Europeans have had a monopoly on the construction of historiography relative to Kemet
and Kush since the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt in 1798. From that point on there was a
conscious and systematic effort to remove Egypt from Africa and consequently Africans from
Egypt, replacing them, in the minds of naïve observers from afar, with an Arab population that
did not arrive until 639 C.E. In Europe’s haste to whitewash classical African history through the
use of curricular and pedagogical planning, whole generations of African people were deprived
of their rightful place in the history of humanity. Arguments made by European writers
suggested that we fit firmly into the niceties of the Hegelian notion that we had no history or that
we fit into G. Stanley Hall’s view that we were part of the “great army of incapables” (Kliebard,
2004), who’s attempt to know ourselves was impossible since, as a people, we were savages and
childlike with no ethical or moral compass to guide us. Unfortunately, writers with these
perspectives were mistaken.
We have a long and storied tradition of African scholars who have fought to keep the
importance of our link to Nile Valley civilizations alive. These include such people as Martin
Robeson Delany, Antonir Firmin, William Wells Brown, David Walker, Edward Wilmot Blyden,
Henry Highland Garnet, George Washington Williams, Drusilla Dunjee Huston, and Hosea
Easton, just to mention a few from the 19th century. In more contemporary times we have
William Leo Hansberry, John G. Jackson, Willis N. Huggins, Chancellor Williams, John Henrik
Clarke, Yosef Ben Jochannan, Ivan Van Sertima, Joel Augustus Rogers, Arthur Schomburg,
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
are still groping in darkness with tools to reCarter G. Woodson, Charles Wesley, W.E.B. DuBois,
and J.C. DeGraft-Johnson. These pioneers of what has come to be known as Africana Studies
served as forerunners to the contemporary greats such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Theophile Obenga,
Molefi Asante, Maulana Karenga, Asa G. Hilliard, and so many more illustrious African-centered
scholars along with the one that will be the focus of this work, Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers.
All of the aforementioned are engaging in what Dr. Carruthers referred to as “Intellectual
Warfare.” This is an ongoing battle to rescue, reclaim, and restore African history, culture,
language, spirituality, and ethos to its rightful place within the scope of African humanity from
the clutches of European interlopers who have seized our glorious heritage and claimed it as their
own. The field of Africana Studies serves as the only paradigm that meets the needs of African
people. Whether we want to call it African-Centered Studies, Afrocentric Studies, or Africana
Studies, the most important part of these nomenclatures is that we start with Africa as our center
and that the focus of Africana Studies has its location in the Nile Valley, where the first cultural
highway served as the womb for so much of African culture.
Opening the Way
The Black thinkers who analyzed the core of the European worldview have as it
were become intellectual maroons. Like the maroons who declared their freedom
in fact through their actions, the intellectual maroons have declared their freedom
through their publicly stated thoughts. (Carruthers, 1999, p. 52)
Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers was not only a great scholar and teacher; he was my friend,
mentor, and a very wise man. I first met him in 1976 when I attended Northeastern Illinois
University’s Center for Inner City Studies (CICS), now officially known as the Jacob H.
Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS), as a graduate student in Inner City Studies.
CCICS has always been a place where scholarly activity has been engaged utilizing an African-
Centered worldview as its foundation. It was one of the main reasons that drew me to attend that
particular unit of Northeastern Illinois University. At that time I was pretty well versed in
several languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and Ancient Aramaic. I also had a solid background
in what was then called Biblical Archaeology and other branches of what was known as Near
Eastern Studies and African History. It was that foundation that led me to contemplate the nature
and development of everything related to Ancient Egypt (Kemet). After meeting Dr. Carruthers
and discovering that he too was interested in studying Nile Valley civilizations and the ancient
Kemetic language (Medew Netcher), I was encouraged by him to pursue that avenue of study
along with several other dedicated CICS students and Black community members. At that point I
literally immersed myself in the study of ancient Egypt.
I had been attempting to teach myself Medew Netcher (Divine Speech),
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
the language of ancient Egypt, often misrepresented as Hieroglyphics, from the Greek (-are
still groping in darkness with tools to resacred) and (-writing) or sacred writing. Later I
attended a class in the classical language of the Nile Valley, Middle Egyptian, through the
University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute at the Field Museum of Chicago in 1977 under the
tutelage of Dr. James P. Allen. That summer CCICS started one of its many study tours to the
Nile Valley, in which I participated. That trip took us to Dakar, Senegal and the University of
Dakar, now known as Universite Cheikh Anta Diop, where we had lectures from several
Senegalese scholars including the late Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop. We then traveled to Khartoum,
Sudan where we had lectures on ancient Nubian civilization from such scholars as Dr. Yusuf Fadl
Hassan. Then on to Nairobi, Kenya, Cairo, and Aswan, Egypt where we visited the temples,
pyramids, tombs and monuments of the Nile Valley that we had spent so much time studying and
preparing to do field research. Finally, we visited London to see the Egyptian antiquities housed
in the British Museum. It was the trip of a lifetime and I subsequently made the journey again the
following year in 1978.
It was during our stay in Khartoum that I really became excited about ancient Nubia and
Kush. I had been attempting to learn Meroitic, the language of the ancient people of Nubia, Ta-
Seti and Kush and study their history. While there I was fortunate enough
to have full entrée into the National Museum of the Sudan while staying in Khartoum, thanks to
Dr. Yusuf Fadl Hassan of the University of Khartoum. During that time I was given complete
access to the museum. I was allowed into its research archives to gather whatever information I
wanted, and the museum’s staff was gracious enough to let me see whatever I wanted to see, ask
any questions I wanted to ask and go anywhere in the museum I wanted to go. It was an
experience I will always treasure.
From the moment we returned from that excursion to this day, over thirty years ago, I
have been studying, researching, writing, and lecturing about ancient Nubian and Kushite
civilizations as well as learning the Meroitic language. Since that time Nubia has become a
serious new frontier for research and archaeology among European Egyptologists and
Nubianologists whom have devoted their lives to the study of ancient Nubia. While some of
them have done very honorable work, others have tried to disparage the antiquity of Nubia.
Within that context, there are serious issues that need to be addressed by committed Africana
scholars willing to devote the time and energy necessary to rescue, reclaim, and restore this vital
aspect of classical African civilizations. In some cases European scholars have completely
misrepresented this particular aspect of African antiquity.
Out of this experience grew the Kemetic Institute of Chicago (KI) founded in 1978 where
I am a founding member and its current Associate Director. The Kemetic Institute is housed at
CCICS. It is a scholarly organization for which Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers served as the intellectual
thrust. The other founding members were Dr. Cliff Washington of Las Vegas, Nevada, Dr.
Anderson Thompson, and Dr. Rekhty Amen-Jones, now of Holly Springs, MS., among others.
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
The Kemetic Institute is dedicated to the renewal of African civilization through research, artistic
creativity, and spiritual development.i To accomplish these goals, the Institute operates through
four primary commissions: Research, Education, Creative Productions and Spiritual
Development (Carruthers, 1999, p. 13-14). Through these commissions the KI communicates its
ideas and visions in courses, lecture series, seminars, research, publications and study tours.
These four commissions also serve as research components of the Association for the Study of
Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC) established in February, 1984 at Los Angeles,
California, of which the KI is a member organization (Carruthers & Harris, 2002).
The Importance of Nubian Studies for Africana Studies
Why is Nubian Studies important for African people on the continent of Africa, those in
the Americas, especially the United States, and the field of Africana Studies? Why is the study of
this phase of the Nile Valley important from the standpoint of establishing an African
worldview? First, we must connect intellectually with the cultures of the Nile Valley to see the
cultural continuity of classical African civilizations to the rest of African history (Diop, 1974). To
do this requires a major paradigm shift in our thinking. It requires new ways of looking at old
ideas. It demands of us a move inclusive of, but not exclusive to, what Dr. Anderson Thompson
loves to refer to as “I love America Negro History.” It also requires an African frame of
reference and an African-Centered worldview, which should serve as a foundation in the field of
Africana Studies. Only then can we begin to mount a challenge and alternative to European
hegemony in the field of Nubian and by extension Kemetic studies.
We cannot continue to rely on others, namely European academicians interested in Nubia,
to appraise our heritage and define it from the standpoint of their worldview. We cannot continue
to allow the European academic consensus, at a table where we have no seat, to validate our
classical world simply because they possess hegemony over its research and antiquities. We must
also realize that they are not always in agreement concerning substantive issues relative to
African antiquity, especially Nubia, contrary to the united front they often appear to have. This
can be witnessed by the fact that there are three different conferences held on Nubian Studies by
three divergent groups of European scholars. There is one on Nubian Studies, one on Meroitic
Studies, and one on Sudanese Studies. ii While there is some cross fertilization of membership,
these conferences exist in mutually exclusive formats because of the failure of European scholars
to form a consensus on the nature and scope of classical Nubian civilizations in the Nile Valley.
Therefore, it is time for us as Africana scholars and students of ancient African
civilizations to present a united consensus on the ontology, history, politics, culture, and
language(s) of ancient Nubia. Did we not follow the leads of Drs. Cheikh Anta Diop and
Theophile Obenga in redefining Egypt as Kemet (the Black Community, or Black
Town)? This correct definition, of course, is in contrast to the current European Egyptological
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
definition of the ‘Black Land’, a supposed allusion to the alluvial Black soil which flows from
the mountains of Ethiopia in inner Africa (Mertz, 1966). The fact that the determinative for land-
Ta- as used, for example, in the words –Tawi- – “Two Lands” as in the United Two
Lands, Upper and Lower Kemet or –Ta- – ‘Earth” or – Ta-Meri- – “Beloved
Land” or Ta-Netcher – – “Land of the Divinity” or even Ta-Nehesi – – –
“The Southern Land,” (Often mistranslated by European Egyptologists as ”Negro-Land” )
(Faulkner, 1962, p. 293). Hence, the determinative for “land” does not appear in the word
Kemet, but the the determinative for “Community” or “Town” –niwet- -does appear in the
name Kemet – . We are also clear that the ancient people of the Nile Valley also defined
themselves as Kemetiou- – literally “The Black People.” It is also significant
for us to recognize that what classical Nile Valley civilizations, which included ancient Nubia,
are to Africans, is equivalent to what classical Greece and Rome are to Europeans (Diop, 1974).
Greece and Rome represent the crucible of everything that defines Europeans as civilized
citizens of the world even if the vast majority of them are not connected to Greek or Roman
civilization in any way whatsoever. Hence, ancient Nubia should serve as the pinnacle of
foundational culture and heritage for those who are dedicated to the field of Africana Studies for
the historical, linguistic, and most importantly, psychological well-being of African people.
Intellectual Warfare and the Battle for Nubia: The Battle Lines
Those of us engaged in the field of Africana Studies can start by dismissing the ‘alphabet
soup’ approach to defining ancient Nubian cultures as A-Group, C-Group, and X-Group. What
ancient European groups are known by a letter of the alphabet? No matter how steeped in
savagery they may have been, they were given dignity and humanity by European
historiographers. By assigning letters to these various Nubian cultures rather than names
respecting their various communities such as Yamm, Wawat and Irem that properly identifies
their regional organizations as well as national names such as Sha’at, Iryshek, Tua, Webet-Sepat,
Miu, Karoy, etc. (O’Connor, 1993); these ancient Africans have been relegated to the sphere of
nothingness. They have been downgraded to the periphery of civilization when they were
originally at the center of civilization in the Nile Valley. The subtle implications of these
alphabetical definitions are that Africans had no land, language, or culture of any worth and
subsequently, no history (Hegel, 1956).
This alphabet soup of European academic consensus about ancient Nubia and Kush has
stood since George Reisner of Harvard University established these definitions after his 1907
archaeological survey of Nubia proceeding the heightening of the Aswan High Dam in the years
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
1908-1910 (Shinnie, 1996). This is another example supporting the reality that the people, who
live in the Nile Valley today, those descendants of the Arab invaders of 639 C.E., have absolutely
no affinity with the antiquities of the past. What people who value their history would have it
destroyed by creating a lake to drown its past? For the Arabs this is a no brainer. In the
psychology of Islamic Arabs, the period prior to the Hegira, 622 C.E. is viewed as the Period of
Ignorance. In Arabic it is called Jahaliyat- - or Ignorance. Anything that was of historical
importance before this time is considered of little or no importance. That includes peoples whom
they have ‘Otherized’ and marked for genocide and menticide. Menticide is a term coined by the
late Dr. Bobby E. Wright to define “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group’s mind
with the ultimate objective being the extirpation of that group” (Wright, 1981, p.16). Essentially,
the terms mean the destruction of the minds of African people.
This sort of highjacking of classical African civilizations by European scholars and their
Arab minions must stop. It would seem to me that a part of our obligation as dedicated Africana
scholars interested in classical Nile Valley civilizations is to stop being defined by others and
start defining ourselves. Isn’t that what the word Kugichagulia (self-determination) means: to
define ourselves, name ourselves, and speak for ourselves instead of being defined, named,
created and spoken for by others?
Ancient Nubia has been slowly gaining significance among European academic sages
interested in that portion of the Nile Valley known as Upper Egypt and the Sudan for some time
now (Friedman, 2002; Midant-Reynes, 1992; O’Connor, 2011; Rice, 1990; Teeter, 2011;
Wengrow, 2006; Williams, 1998). Part of their argument for a very long time has centered on the
idea that the ancient Nubians were borrowers of ancient Egyptian civilization. Fortunately, those
concepts are crumbling to the ground as recent publications and each deepening thrust of the
spade is disproving these arguments with every new digging season (Wilkinson, 1999;
Wilkinson, 2003). The notion that the Nubians were a population of uncivilized Southern ‘others’
waiting for the superior Northerners, viewed as white, and at best near eastern Asians, to impart
the blessings of civilization upon them, is an intellectual and historical travesty. These blessings
included spirituality, language, architecture, customs, and traditions (Redford, 2004).
Furthermore, they defined these ancient Nubians in the ancient texts as “wretched,” a
term implying dejection, cowardice, profound unhappiness, misery, poverty, unsatisfactory
abilities, contemptibility, and despicability. These classifications were based on the European
misinterpretation of the Medew Netcher word Kheset- (Faulkner, 1962, p. 204). That
word has assumed the legacy of a mantra in some European Egyptological circles when defining
Nubia. A more appropriate name for them is the term Nehesy – . It is often
translated as “Negroes” in many books written by European Egyptologists (Breasted, 1909;
Breasted, 2002). It is a word that should be properly defined as “Southerners” yet it is
sometimes used in conjunction with Khset as a purjorative. This defamation of character implies
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
that Nubians were incapable of civilization and have the putrefaction of White Supremacist
thinking so typical of western academicians concerned with this and other aspects of ancient
African historiography. One author exhibited this notion in a recent book in which he describes
the ancient Nubians, referring to them as Kushites, by explaining the nations the ancient
Egyptians were familiar with in antiquity. He stated:
Differences in phenotype were rendered artistically on a large number of Egyptian
monuments, but in the most systematic way, in scenes from the tombs of Ramesses III
and Seti I showing the basic divisions of humankind. The depictions separated people
into four ethnoi, each with stereotypical skin color, coiffure, and dress. The Egyptians are
simply referred to as “people.” They appear with red-brown skin, black shoulder-length
hair, a simple white kilt and small trimmed beards….Asiatics (specifically Syro-
Palestinians) appear with yellow-skin, a black bobbed hairstyle with a headband tied at
the back, elaborately decorated kilts, and ample beards and mustaches. Nubians are
shown with Black skin, broad flat noses, short hair in trimmer ringlets, hoop earrings, and
decorated leather sashes over white Egyptian-style kilts. Finally Libyans appear with the
lightest complexions, geometric tattoos, braided/ringletted hair with side-locks and two
ostrich feathers, and wearing a loincloth under a long leather cloak showing the natural
patterns of the cow’s fur. (Tyson-Smith, 2003, p. 22)
What is wrong with the picture he just painted? Well, there are several things wrong with
it. First, anyone who has visited the Valley of the Kings and viewed the iconography on the walls
mentioned above in KV 17 (Kings Valley), the Tomb of Seti I or KV 11, the Tomb of Ramesses
III, in particular, would see the flaws in this statement (Diop, 1977). Each of the depictions he
outlines is grouped into images of four apiece making sixteen total images. Seti I’s tomb does
show depictions of the ancient Egyptians with reddish-brown skin; but this is nothing unusual as
many African people exhibit various phenotypes including reddish-brown. What Tyson-Smith
fails to say is that KV 11, the tomb of Ramesses III shows the Egyptians and the Nubians with
identical complexions and phenotypes, i.e.; Black skin. In the pyramid tomb of Tanutamun in
Kush, this Pharaoh is depicted with reddish-brown skin. Does this imply that he was not a
Nubian? The distinction between the Nubians and the Kemites can only be made by reading the
names of each group in Medew Netcher separating them. This too is not unusual as there are
many tombs that show the same iconographic depictions. In fact, if one were to visit the Valley
of the Nobles and view Tomb TT40 that is for Amenhotep, also known as Huy – Viceroy of
Nubia during the 18th Dynasty reign of Tutankhamon, they would clearly see the Nubians with
both Black and Brown complexions.
The unfortunate issue with so-called phenotypic descriptions is that the Black people of
the Nile Valley in antiquity exhibited the same varieties of complexions seen among Black
people walking the streets of the South Side and West Side of Chicago today. If one walked the
streets of Nubia in the area of Luxor or even Khartoum or Shendi in the Sudan today the same
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
phenotypes and complexions would be observed. These so-called phenotypes have not changed
since antiquity (Firmin, 2002). Interestingly enough, Tyson-Smith never addresses the aquiline
noses and thin lips of the Libyans depicted in the tombs of Seti I and Ramesses III. Are they
descendants of ancient European interlopers or Asian invaders? Tyson-Smith even seems to
imply a superior aspect to them. The point to be made here is that during the period of time
shown by the iconography in KV11, the Tomb of Ramesses III of the so-called 20th Dynasty,
ancient Egyptians and ancient Nubians saw themselves as the same people physically and
Next, let’s deal with Tyson-Smith’s description of the Nubians with “Black skin and
broad flat noses.” This harkens back to the 18th and early 19th centuries when Europeans were
conquering and colonizing the African continent and creating justifications based on imagined
“racial” features to support the oppression, suppression, and repression of African people by
creating stereotypical phenotypes. Thanks to the created field of anthropology these
mythological notions are still taught as indisputable facts, thanks to Johannes F. Blumenbach,
Arthur Joseph de Gobineau, Josiah Nott, and Samuel Morton Smith, among others, along with
the American and British Schools of Anthropology (Painter, 2010).
Many of these ideas go back to the so-called Curse of Ham mythos perpetuated by
Judeo-Talmudic literature and continued through Christian and Islamic discourses. First, starting
with the collection of Jewish oral traditions called the Babylonian Talmud from the 2nd to the 6th
century C.E. (Goldenberg, 2003; Harris, 1972) and later the works of Arab writers such as
Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Kisai in his book “Tales of the Prophets” written in the 6th century
(Al-Haqq, 2006). Later European thinkers such as David Hume, Charles Montesquieu, George
W.F. Hegel, Thomas Jefferson, John Calhoun, Immanuel Kant, Jean Jacque Rousseau and others
supported these false notions about African people and their supposed inferiority.
It is well known by those who are capable of reading and writing the ancient language of
the Nile Valley called Medew Netcher or “Divine Speech” that the ancient Egyptians did not call
themselves Egyptians. One of the key terms they used to describe themselves was Kemetiou-
-Black People. They also used another term for themselves as a collective
national entity. That term in Medew Netcher is Remetch- -or “People,” in the since of
“We the People.” This term was used in connection with the idea that they were the “Original
People.” Of course, they called their country Kemet, the Black Community or Town. But it could
just as easily translate as the “Community or Town of the Blacks.”
In the September/October issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, the late Frank J.
Yurco of the Field Museum wrote an article titled, “Were the Ancient Egyptians Black or
White?” He made the following statement:
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
In summary, the people of the Nile Valley present a continuum from the lighter northern
Egyptians to the browner Nubians and Kushites and the ultra-dark brown Nilotic
peoples…Some modern Afro-Americans, particularly those of mixed ancestry, will find
that they look like some of the ancient (and modern) Egyptians. Should they travel to
Egypt, they may find that in terms of their complexion they resemble people of a
particular region of Egypt. (Yurco, p. 58)
While I take issue with some of his statements in his article, the conclusions are evident.
The ancient people of the Nile Valley looked just like Black people in the United States and other
parts of the Americas where African people were brought after our forced removal from our
homeland. Even though Yurco tries to assert that the lightening process of Africans in America
came from some intermixture, as if there has ever been a “pure” ancestry, this concept too is
problematic. While it is highly probable that some intermixing did occur in antiquity, much of
that can be attributed to the Greek invasion under Alexander the Macedonian in 332 B.C.E., the
Roman invasion in 40 B.C.E. and the Arab incursion into the Nile Valley under the leadership of
Amir ibn al-As in 640 C.E. The ultimate consequences of these key historical invasions upon the
indigenous populations of the Nile Valley are beyond the scope of this article, but were
negligible (de Graft-Johnson, 1954). What is certain, however, based on Yurco’s statement
above is that their impact on the population of the Nile Valley was minimal at best. Nonetheless,
that does not change the fact that their African nature was not changed any more among the
ancient European and Asian invaders than our enslaved ancestors’ interaction was with what Dr.
Francis Cress Welsing refers to as the “fondling fathers” in this country during the period of
chattel slavery. That relationship never changed us from being Africans in America no matter
what our so-called “phenotypes” may have been.
Furthermore, in 1998 one of our Kemetic Institute brothers, Professor Charles Grantham,
confronted Yurco about the phenotype of ancient Egyptians. After ducking and dodging him at
the Field Museum where Brother Grantham volunteered as a docent in the African Hall, which
includes an exhibit called “Inside Ancient Egypt,” Mr. Yurco had to concede the obvious.
Ancient Egyptians were Black People of African descent, which is documented very well in the
chapter “Unwrapping of Egyptology” in his outstanding work, “The Battle for Kemet”
(Grantham, 2003, p. 33-34).
Since the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO)
1974 Cairo Conference on “The Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Decipherment of the
Meroitic Script,” there has been a lot of discussion concerning the African origin of the ancient
Nile Valley civilizations of Egypt and Nubia. At that conference Drs. Cheikh Anta Diop and
Theophile Obenga engaged some of the worlds leading European Egyptologists on the question
of the Africanness or Blackness of the ancient Egyptian population that settled in the Nile Valley
during antiquity, leading to the development of ancient Egyptian civilization. While the
conclusion was triumphantly apparent on the side of Drs. Diop and Obenga, as evidenced by the
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
first chapter in volume 2 of UNESCO’s eight volume General History of Africa (Mokhtar et al.,
1990) in which Dr. Diop’s article on the origin of the Ancient Egyptians (Mokhtar et al., p. 15-
32) is prominent, much debate still exists. Nonetheless, even while the battle seems to have been
won in the struggle for classical African historical truth, detractors in European, African, and
African-American academia abound (Berlinerblau, 1999; Howe, 1998; Lefkowitz, 1996).
The Call for Champions in the Field of Africana Studies
This paper has been an attempt to establish a template for the rescue, reclamation, and
restoration of ancient African civilizations in the Upper Nile Valley and present day Sudan.
There is so much more to be covered from the standpoint of chronology, female divine rule,
architecture, monuments, spirituality -as it relates to the concept of Amun in Kush, pottery
analysis, artistic renditions, conflict resolution, analysis of texts, and linguistic studies, for
example. These are a few areas that should concern scholars of Africana Studies interested in
Nile Valley civilizations. But this will require Africana scholars whom are dedicated to the
liberation of the African mind from the vice-grip of Eurocentric intellectual and academic
hegemony. It will require intellectual warriors who are not afraid to take bold steps and stand in
their own African shoes against a formidable opponent. As Dr. Carruthers used to always tell us
at the Kemetic Institute, “the reward for good work is more work.” In order to properly engage
in this work we must come fully armed. We must have what Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop called the
necessary pluridisciplinary skills. These have to be supported with what he described as three
factors: Historical, Linguistic, and Psychological (Diop, 1974, p. xiii). Without them Africana
scholars will be looking down the barrels of powerful, well financed and well organized
European intellectual armies preparing to do battle with us to the end (D’Souza, 1995;
Lefkowitz, 1996; Schlesinger, Jr., 1992). Dr. Carruthers puts it this way in his seminal work,
Intellectual Warfare:
Thus, those who have been waging the long war to liberate African history and culture
have been fighting the following two battles: (1) an international war against the
European intellectuals and (2) a civil war against the colonized African spokespersons
who are trained by Europeans to undermine African independence. (Carruthers, p.4)
The fact that ancient Egyptians and Nubians came from one essential African genus was
completely unthinkable to most Europeans, then as well as now. The discovery of Nubian culture
in 1907 so close on the heels of the development of Egyptology and the period of the European
colonial and imperialist enterprise, made it impossible for Europeans to even fathom a
civilization in the Nile Valley that was the genius of ancient African people. Consideration was
never even given to its possibility. How on earth were they to justify the enslavement and
colonization of millions of Africans they considered to be wretched and savages? C. F. Volney
stated the primary issue very well when he wrote:
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
That an imaginative and superstitious race of black men should have invented and
founded, in the dim obscurity of past ages, a system of religious belief that still enthralls
the minds and clouds the intellects of the leading representatives of modern theology, –
that still clings to the thoughts, and tinges with its potential influences literature and faith
of the civilized and cultured nations of Europe and America, is indeed a strange
illustration of the mad caprice of destiny. Of the insignificant and apparently trivial
causes that oft produce the most grave and momentous results. (Volney, p. iv)
To complete this justification they had to take Egypt out of Africa and thereby take the
Africans out of Egypt. Once Egypt was removed from the African continent and placed in the
mysterious Middle East, a term that was invented by Europeans at the beginning of the 20th
century (Lewis, 1998, p. 3), or the Near East, thanks to the development of the Suez Canal by the
French in 1865, the geographical and paradigmatic shift was simultaneously accomplished. It is
time for willing and courageous Africana scholars to reclaim this ancient past.
One way to do that is to use the descriptions that were culturally specific to the people
being studied. In this case, we mean the ancient Nubians. Or at least return to the source of their
original names. By reclaiming their original names we can give dignity back to our ancient
ancestors. The monumental texts and iconography in the tombs, particularly KV 17, Seti I and
KV 11, Ramesses III clearly identify them by the collective term Nehesiu, the plural of the
singular form Nehesy. Therefore, we should use this term as an identification marker. The same
thing is true of Egypt. Let us refer to their national home as Kemet and the people as the
Kemetiou. Let us desist from the alphabet soup concepts of A-Group, C-Group, and X-Group.
These terms relegate our ancient ancestors to the status of non-humans and objectify their
history, placing them in the trashcan of our psyches. If we give them the names they used for
themselves, then we would be doing what Dr. Carruthers always suggested that we do and that
was, “Let the ancestor speak.” When we let the ancestors speak for themselves, they will tell us
what we need to hear and what we need to know about them.
In our quest to reclaim, restore, and reconstruct ancient African history and humanity we
must reconnect with the Nile Valley. We must stand up and proclaim, “African for the Africans”
(Garvey, 1969). In order to do that there are several aspects of African historiography that must
be addressed from an African-Centered Worldview. Ancient Nubia is just one of those areas. But
it is an essential one. Until we recognize that it was through ancient Nubia that Kemetic
civilization received much of its impetus, we will continue to engage in debates based on the
falsification of African history. We have to understand when, where and how the European
thinkers colonized African history and strike a fatal blow against their pogrom of menticide
against the worldwide African community. While Kemetic civilization has its merits and its
significance speaks for itself, Nubia also played a major role in world history above and beyond
that already recognized. But in order to rectify misconceptions about Nubia we have to prepare
ourselves. We as Africana scholars have to tool-up! This will require grounding our studies in
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
the classical academy. That grounding will comprise not just learning the history of the Nile
Valley alone. We must also invest ourselves in the study of ancient Greece, Rome, Arabia
Petrea, Palestine, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley too. Only then can we fully appreciate the
impact that Nile Valley civilizations had on other world civilizations. Only then will we be able
to understand such events as the retreat of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 B.C.E.) in 701
B.C.E. from Jerusalem, under King Hezekiah of Judah ( II Kings 19:9), after the destruction of
such places as the cities of Libnah and Lachish in ancient Palestine, that was due to the
intervention of Pharaoh Taharqa and a Kushite army that terrified the mighty Assyrian army and
obliged them to return home to Mesopotamia, where Sennacherib was assassinated by his son
Esarhaddon (680-669 B.C.E.) (Aubin, 2002). The consequence of this Nubian intervention was
the survival of ancient Jerusalem and ultimately Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as the world
religions we have come to know (Aubin, 2002).
Africana scholars must develop skills in archaeology so that we as African people can
start excavating sites in the Upper Nile Valley that are being slowly destroyed by the damning up
of the region around the 4th and 5th cataracts of the Nile River. Consequently, building these
dams is destroying thousands of years of ancient African history and displacing thousand of
residents. Although excavating sites in the Upper Nile Valley will require significant financial
resources, we must nonetheless lobby those with means within the Black community, especially
those financially secure Black people, and convince them that this is a worthy investment toward
our ultimate goal of mental liberation. We must learn the tools and techniques necessary to be
active participants in this fieldwork rather than passive spectators.
We need to immerse ourselves in ancient languages such as Medew Netcher, Meroitic,
Greek, Coptic, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Sumerian, Akkadian, and Harappan as well as
other African languages. The question might arise as to why we should do all of this? Well, for
those of us engaged in the field of Africana Studies it should be obvious. These were the
languages spoken in that world. Various ancient nations communicated with one another through
diplomatic and trade relations in these languages. They also wrote annals in these languages that
show the relationships they developed with contemporary cultures of the Nile Valley. For
example, in the ancient Akkadian texts, Kemet is called Magan and Nubia or Kush is called
Melukka (Hansen, 1973). The Akkadian texts include material from the ancient Assyrian,
Babylonian, Hittites, Ugaritic, Eblite, and Mitannian cultures. Without knowing these languages,
we will not be able to understand the social, cultural and political relationship between Nile
Valley civilizations and other ancient civilizations. Dr. Theophile Obenga points out the
significance of studying ancient languages in his excellent work African Philosophy: The
Pharaonic Period: 2780-330 BC (2004). While first illuminating the importance of learning
African philosophy, he states:
So the news is that a history of African philosophy is possible. The catch is that the
production of such a history is a particularly exacting task. For it requires nothing less
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
than a fluent knowledge of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Latin and Arabic, in addition to
mastery of the techniques and methods associated with the history of philosophy.
Without Greek, no scholar can acquire a genuine grounding in the Western philosophical
tradition. Without ancient Egyptian, the restoration of the authentic tradition of black
African philosophy, in its most ancient chronological aspect, its most fundamental
manifestation, remains impossible. (Obenga, p.16)
We also need botanists, geologists, physicists, etc, who share our passion for Africana
Studies so that we can have every aspect of Nile Valley civilizations covered in its most minute
details. Only then can we fully arm ourselves to engage in intellectual warfare. When Dr. Cheikh
Anta Diop referred to the need for pluridisciplinary skills supported by the three factors he
outlined- historical, linguistic, and psychological- he was suggesting to us the implications of
being grounded in those intellectual enterprises and more. We as Africana scholars can
subsequently reclaim our fame in a way that cannot be taken from us. Consequently, we will no
longer allow ourselves to be fooled again into accepting the myths and suppositions so easily
perpetrated by those who would profit from our lack of knowledge in the area of Nubian Studies.
In fact, Dr. Anderson Thompson, Professor Emeritus at CCICS, has initiated a call for a
Nubian Studies Institute so that we might begin this enterprise. He has spent more than two
decades traveling to various archaeological sites in the Sudan and attending many of the
international conferences on Nubian and Meroitic Studies. He is also one of several Africana
scholars at the forefront of the struggle to reclaim ancient Nubian civilization for African people.
I not only salute him in his endeavor; I have joined him along with a small group of dedicated
Africana scholars around the country to make this enterprise a reality.
By connecting the history of Nubia with its origins in the Southern, Eastern, and Western
regions of the Nile Valley as well as the deserts and the hill countries, we can see the cultural
continuity between the various populations that ultimately led to the development of Kemetic
civilization and by extension other civilizations and cultures on the continent of Africa. We
know their names and where they lived so we can now give them a collective identity as Nehesiu
and not label them with alphabets. We have a good foundation in the languages of the Nile
Valley so we can allow them to come alive again and speak to us from afar. This will allow us to
engage in a research enterprise yet unknown in the annals of contemporary African people. It
will allow us as Africana scholars to engage in an inter-generational and trans-generational
discourse and transmission of knowledge that will permit us to drink from our ancestors’ deep
well of African thought. Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers summed up this task for Africana scholars well
when he stated:
The Research Commission’s task is to take over the production of knowledge not only
about us but about the world – at least that which is disseminated to African people. Not
only do we need to correct the misinterpretations of our oppressors but we also need to
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012
restore the messages of our ancestors so that we can have access to the deep well of
African wisdom and guidance as we continue our upward march. The winning of the
research battle is thus a vital phase of the war. (Carruthers, 1999, p. 13-14)
i See
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The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.4, June 2012

Chapter Six. Colonialism as a System for Underdeveloping Africa

July 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Walter Rodney

‘The black man certainly has to pay dear for carrying the white man’s burden.’George Padmore,(West Indian) Pan-Africanist, 1936.

‘In the colonial society, education is such that it serves the colonialist.. In a regime of slavery, education was but one institution for forming slaves.’Statement of FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) Department of Education and Culture 1968.




Faced with the evidence of European exploitation of Africa, many bourgeois writers would concede at least partially that colonialism was a system which functioned well in the interests of the metropoles. However, they would then urge that another issue to be resolved is how much Europeans did for Africans, and that it is necessary to draw up a ‘balance sheet of colonialism’. On that balance sheet, they place both the ‘credits’ and the ‘debits’, and quite often conclude that the good outweighed the bad. That particular conclusion can quite easily be challenged, but attention should also be drawn to the fact that the process of reasoning, is itself misleading. The reasoning has some sentimental persuasiveness. It appeals to the common sentiment that ‘after all there must be two sides to a thing’. The argument suggests that, on the one hand, there was exploitation and oppression, but, on the other hand, colonial governments did much for the benefit of Africans and they developed Africa. It is our contention that this is completely false. Colonialism had only one hand — it was a one-armed bandit.

What did colonial governments do in the interest of Africans? Supposedly, they built railroads, schools, hospitals and the like. The sum total of these services was amazingly small.

For the first three decades of colonialism, hardly anything was done that could remotely be termed a service to the African people. It was in fact only after the last war that social services were built as a matter of policy. How little they amounted to does not really need illustrating. After all, the statistics which show that Africa today is underdeveloped are the statistics representing the state of affairs at the end of colonialism. For that matter, the figures at the end of the first decade of African independence in spheres such as health, housing and education are often several times higher than the figures inherited by the newly independent governments. It would be an act of the most brazen fraud to weigh the paltry social amenities provided during the colonial epoch against the exploitation, and to arrive at the conclusion that the good outweighed the bad.

Capitalism did bring social services to European workers — firstly, as a by-product of providing such services for the bourgeoisie and the middle class, and later as a deliberate act of policy. Nothing remotely comparable occurred in Africa. In 1934, long before the coming of the welfare state to Britain, expenditure for social services in the British Isles amounted to £6 15s per person. In Ghana, the figure was 7/4d per person, and that was high by colonial standards. In Nigeria and Nyasaland, it was less than 1/9d per head. None of the other colonising powers were doing any batter, and some much worse.

The Portuguese stand out because they boasted the most and did the least. Portugal boasted that Angola, Guinea and Mozambique have been their possessions for 500 years, during which time a ‘civilizing mission’ has been going on. At the end of 500 years of shouldering the white man’s burden of civilising ‘African natives’, the Portuguese had not managed to train a single African doctor in Mozambique, and the life expectancy in Eastern Angola was less than 30 years. As for Guinea-Bissau, some insight into the situation there is provided by the admission of the Portuguese themselves that Guinea-Bissau was more neglected than Angola and Mozambique!

Furthermore, the limited social services within Africa during colonial times were distributed in a manner that reflected the pattern of domination and exploitation. First of all, white settlers and expatriates wanted the standards of the bourgeoisie or professional classes of the metropoles. They were all the more determined to have luxuries in Africa, because so many of them came from poverty in Europe and could not expect good services in their own homelands. In colonies like Algeria, Kenya and South Africa, it is well known that whites created an infrastructure to afford themselves leisured and enjoyable lives. It means, therefore, that the total amenities provided in any of those colonies is no guide to what Africans got out of colonialism.

In Algeria, the figure for infant mortality was 39 per 1.000 live births among white settlers; but it jumped to 170 per 1,000 live births in the case of Algerians living in the :owns. In practical terms, that meant that the medical, maternity and sanitation services were all geared towards the well-being of the settlers. Similarly, in South Africa, all social statistics have to be broken down into at least two groups — white and black — if they are to be interpreted correctly. In British East Africa there were three groups: firstly, the Europeans who got the most, then the Indians who took most of what was left, and thirdly the Africans, who came last in their own country.

In predominantly black countries, it was also true that the hulk of the social services went to whites. The southern part of Nigeria was one of the colonial areas that was supposed to have received the most from a benevolent ‘mother country’. Ibadan, one of the most heavily populated cities in Africa, had only about 50 Europeans before the last war. For those chosen few, the British colonial government maintained a segregated hospital service of 11 beds in well-furnished surroundings. There were 34 beds for the half-a-million blacks. The situation was repeated in other areas, so that altogether the 4,000 Europeans in the country in the 1930s had 12 modern hospitals, while the African population of at least 40 million had 52 hospitals.

The viciousness of the colonial system with respect to the provision of social services was most dramatically brought out in the case of economic activities which made huge profits, and notably in the mining industry. Mining takes serious toll of the health of workers, and it was only recently in the metropoles that miners have had access to the kind of medical and insurance services which could safeguard their lives and health. [n colonial Africa, the exploitation of miners was entirely without responsibility. In 1930, scurvy and other epidemics broke out in the Lupa goldfields of Tanganyika. Hundreds of workers died. One should not wonder that they had no facilities which would have saved some lives, because in the first place they were not being paid enough to eat properly.

South Africa’s large working class African population was in a sad state. The Tuberculosis Commission of 1912 reported that in the shanty towns


‘Scarcely a single family exists in which at least one member is not suffering or dying from tuberculosis. Hospital services are so inadequate that incurable tuberculosis and other cases are simply sent home to die and spread the infection. In some areas, a single doctor has to attend to the needs of 40,000 people. The natives must pay for medical treatment. There is no provision for pauper patients. About 65% of the native children die before reaching two years.’


That was as early as 1912, when the basis of the South African gold and diamond empire was already laid. Since then, the shanty towns increased, the slum conditions grew worse, and the government committed itself to pursuing the odious policy of apartheid, which meant separation of the races so as better to exploit the African people. Many Africans trekked to towns, because (bad as they were) they offered a little more than the countryside. Modern sanitation, electricity, piped water, paved roads, medical services and schools were as foreign at the end of the colonial period as they were in the beginning — as far as mast of rural Africa was concerned. Yet, it was the countryside that grew the cash-crops and provided the labour that kept the system going. The peasants there knew very little of the supposed ‘credits’ on the colonial balance sheet.

Because even the scanty social services were meant only to facilitate exploitation, they were not given to any Africans whose labour was not directly producing surplus for export to the metropoles. That is to say, none of the wealth of exploited Africans could be deployed for the assistance of their brothers outside the money economy.

Multiple examples exist to substantiate the above proposition. The most ‘wealthy’ colonies received greater social services under colonialism. Thus, the Rand in South Africa and Katanga in Congo had to provide for their relatively large working class. For many years, they approached the whole matter indifferently, but, in the final analysis, enlightened self-interest made the colonialists realise that more could be gained out of the African worker who maintained basic health and who had some degree of literacy in industrial contexts. This was the same line of reasoning which had previously led the capitalist class in Europe to be somewhat freer in allowing part of the workers’ production to go back to keeping the worker alive and well.

In the cash-crop producing countries of Africa, a similar situation existed whereby the tendency was for socio-economic services to decrease in colonies or areas which produced few goods to be shipped abroad. That accounts for the fact that Africans in Gold Coast, Uganda and Nigeria could be considered as having been ‘better off’ than those in Dahomey, Tanganyika and Chad.

Within individual countries, considerable regional variations existed, depending on the degree to which different parts of a country were integrated into the capitalist money economy. Thus, the northern part of Kenya or the South of Sudan had little to offer the colonialists, and such a zone was simply ignored by the colonising power with regard to roads, schools, hospitals and so on. Often, at the level of the district of a given colony, there would be discrimination in providing social amenities, on the basis of contribution to exportable surplus. For instance, plantations and companies might build hospitals for their workers, because some minimum maintenance of the workers’ health was an economic investment. Usually, such a hospital was exclusively for workers of that particular capitalist concern, and those Africans living in the vicinity under ‘subsistence’ conditions outside the money economy were ignored altogether.

The Arusha Declaration powerfully and simply expressed, one of the deepest truths of the colonial experience in Africa, when it stated that:

‘We have been oppressed a great deal, we have been exploited a great deal, and we have been disregarded a great deal.’

The combination of being oppressed, being exploited, and being disregarded is best illustrated by the pattern of the economic infrastructure of African colonies: notably, their roads and railways. These had a clear geographical distribution according to the extent to which particular regions needed to be opened up to import/export activities. Where exports were not available, roads and railways had no place. The only slight exception is that certain roads and railways were built to move troops and make conquest and oppression easier.

Means of communication were not constructed in the colonial period so that Africans could visit their friends. More important still, there were not laid down to facilitate internal trade in African commodities. There were no roads connecting different colonies and different parts of the same colony in a manner that made sense with regard to Africa’s needs and development. All roads and railways led down to the sea. They were built to extract gold or manganese or coffee or cotton. They were built to make business possible for the timber companies, trading companies and agricultural concession firms, and for white settlers. Any catering to African interests was purely coincidental. Yet in Africa, labour rather than capital, took the lion’s share in getting things done. With the minimum investment of capital, the colonial powers could mobilise thousands upon thousands of workers. Salaries were paid to the police officers and officials, and labour came into existence because of the colonial laws, the threat of force and the use of force. Take, for instance, the building of railways. In Europe and America, railway building required huge inputs of capital. Great wage bills were incurred during construction, and added bonus payments were made to workers to get the job done as quickly as possible. In most parts of Africa, the Europeans who wanted to see a railroad built offered lashes as the ordinary wage and more (ashes for extra effort.

Reference was earlier made to the great cost in African life of the (French) Congo railroad from Brazzaville to Pointe Noire. Most of the intolerable conditions are explained by the non-availability of capital in the form of equipment. Therefore, sheer manpower had to take the place of earth-moving machinery, cranes, etc. A comparable situation was provided by the construction of the Embakasi airport of Nairobi. Because it was built during the colonial era (starting in 1953) and with U.S. loans, it is customary to credit the imperialists for its existence. But it would be much more accurate to say that the people of Kenya built it with their own hands under European supervision.

Embakasi, which initially covered seven square miles and had four runways, was described as ‘the world’s first handmade international airport.’ Mau Mau suspects numbering several thousand were to be found there ‘labouring under armed guard at a million-ton excavation job, filling in craters, laying a half million tons of stone with nothing but shovels, stone hammers and their bare hands.’

The financial institutions of colonial Africa were even more scandalously neglectful of indigenous African interests than was the case with the European-oriented communications system. The banks did very little lending locally. In British East Africa, credit to Africans was specifically discouraged by the Credit to Natives (Restriction) Ordinance of 1931. Insurance Companies catered almost exclusively to the interests of white settlers and capitalist firms. The policy of colonial reserves in metropolitan currencies can also be cited as a ‘service’ inimical to Africans. The Currency Boards and central banks which performed such services denied Africa access to its own funds created by exports. Instead, ‘the colonial reserves in Britain, France and Belgium represented African loans to and capital investment in Europe.’

It is necessary to re-evaluate the much glorified notion of ‘European capital’ having been invested in colonial Africa and Asia. The money available for investment in the capitalist system was itself the consequence of the previous robbery of workers and peasants in Europe and the world at large. In Africa’s case, the capital that was invested in 19th century commerce was part of the capital that had been derived from the trade in slaves. The Portuguese government was the first in Europe to ship captives from Africa and the last to let go of slave trading. Much of the profit slipped out of Portuguese hands, and went instead to Britain and Germany; but the Portuguese slave trade nevertheless helped the Portuguese themselves to finance later colonial ventures, such as joint capitalist participation in agricultural and mining companies in Angola and Mozambique.

As indicated earlier, many of the entrepreneurs from the big European port towns who turned to importing African agricultural produce into Europe were formerly carrying on the trade in slaves. The same can be said of many New England firms in the U.S.A. Some of the biggest ‘names’ in the colonial epoch were capitalist concerns whose original capital came from the trade in slaves or from slavery itself. Lloyd’s, the great insurance underwriting and banking house, falls into this category, having been nourished by profits from the slave territories of the West Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries ; and the ubiquitous Barclay’s Bank had its antecedents in slave trading. Worms et Compagnie is a French example of the same phenomenon. Back in the 18th century, Worms had strong links with the French slave trade, and it grew to become one of the most powerful financial houses dealing with the French empire in Africa and Asia, with particular concentration on Madagascar and the Indian Ocean.

The example of Unilever and the UAC which was highlighted in the previous chapter also reinforces the point that Africa was being exploited by capital produced out of African labour. When Lever Brothers took over the Niger Company in 1929, they became heirs to one of the most notorious exploiters of 19th-century Africa. The Niger Company was a chartered company with full governmental and police powers during the years 1885-1897. In that period, the company exploited Nigerians ruthlessly. Furthermore, the Niger Company was itself a monopoly that had bought up smaller firms tracing their capital directly to slave trading. Similarly, when the UAC was born out of the merger with the Eastern and African Trading Company, it was associated with some more capital that grew from a family tree rooted in the European slave trade. The capital at the disposal of the big French trading firms, CFAO and SCOA can also be traced in the same way.

The process of capital accumulation and reproduction in East Africa lacks the continuity of West Africa. Firstly, Arabs as well as Europeans were participants in the slave trade from East Africa. Secondly, the Germans intervened in 1885, although they had not been previously involved; while the French (who had led the European stave trade in East Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries) concentrated on colonising the Indian Ocean islands rather than the East African mainland. Thirdly, German colonialism did not last beyond the — 1914-18 war. Even so, on the British side, the capital and profits of the colonising East Africa Company reappeared in the trading firm of Smith McKenzie.

The capital that was invested in colonial Africa in later years was a continuation of the colonial capital of the 19th century, along with new influxes from the metropoles. If one enquired closely into the origins of the supposedly new sources, quite a few would have been connected very closely to previous exploitation of non-European peoples. However, it is not necessary to prove that every firm trading in Africa had a first-hand or second-hand connection with the European slave trade and with earlier exploitation of the continent. It is enough to remember that Europe’s greatest source of primary capital accumulation was overseas, and that the profits from African ventures continually outran the capital invested in the colonies.

A conservative bourgeois writer on colonial Africa made the following remarks about the South African gold and diamond industries:

‘Apart from the original capital subscribed (in the diamond industry), all capital expenditure was provided for out of profits. The industry also yielded large profits to the international firms which dealt in diamonds. These had a peculiar importance, because a considerable portion of the wealth accumulated by diamond firms was later used in the development of the (gold industry) of the Rand.’

Similarly, in Angola the Diamang diamond company was an investment that quickly paid for itself, and was then producing capital. The combined profits of that company for the years 1954 and 1955 alone cam to the total of invested capital plus 40%. The excess over investment and maintenance costs was of course expatriated to Portugal, Belgium, and the U.S.A., where the shareholders of Diamang were resident; and Angola was thereby investing in those countries.

In this sense, the colonies were the generators of the capital rather than the countries into which foreign capital was ploughed.

Capital was constantly in motion from metropole to some part of the dependencies, from colonies to other colonies (via the metropoles), from one metropole to another, and from colony to metropole. But because of the super-profits created by non-European peoples ever since slavery, the net flow was from colony to metropole. What was called ‘profits’ in one year came back as ‘capital’ the next. Even progressive writers have created a wrong impression by speaking about capital ‘exports’ from Europe to Africa and about the role of ‘foreign’ capital. What was foreign about the capital in colonial Africa was its ownership and not its initial source. Apologists for colonialism are quick to say that the money for schools, hospitals, etc., in Africa was provided by the British, the French or Belgian taxpayer, as the case may have been. It defies logic to admit that profits from a given colony in a given year totalled several million dollars and to affirm nevertheless that the few thousand dollars allocated to social services in that colony was the money of European taxpayers! The true situation can accurately be presented in the following terms: ‘African workers and peasants produced for European capitalism goods and services of a certain value. A small proportion of the fruits of their efforts were retained by them in the form of wages, cash payments and extremely limited social services, such as were essential to the maintenance of colonialism. The rest went to the various beneficiaries of the colonial system’.

There can be little dispute over the credibility of the data which is available to amply demonstrate that colonialism for the most part aimed at developing the metropoles, and only allowed certain crumbs to the colonies as incidental by-products of exploitation. British colonial records are full of reports of Royal Commissions investigating this and that, the reports (upon which action was seldom taken) provide the best evidence of the appalling indifference of the colonial regimes to the needs of Africans. In the 1930s, there were riots throughout the West Indies because of the insupportable suffering of the African descendants who were left stranded in those parts after slavery. The Royal Commission investigating the grievances found them so shocking that the full findings were not published during the war, lest they reveal that colonialism was hardly any better than the fascism against which Britain was fighting. It was out of that investigation that the idea of establishing Colonial Development and Welfare (CD & W) was advanced. An act to that effect was passed in 1940, although it was not until 1944 that funds became available for CD & W loans to colonial administrations. The French also had their counterpart to CD & W in the form of FIDES, set up in 1946. From the earliest days, of colonial expansion, there were two kinds of explanations of motives coming out of the metropoles. One was very frank, and appealed to the various Chambers of Commerce in European towns. It said simply that Europeans were in the colonial game because it was damn profitable, and that was that. However, there were other elements who thought it necessary to peddle a line about the welfare of the ‘uncivilised natives’. This was a continuation of earlier justifications of slavery on the grounds that it carried the heathen Africans to Christian lands. As colonialism came under heavy criticism during the last decades, more deliberate efforts were made to whitewash it. Both CD & W and FIDES were part of the public relations propaganda of colonialism, striving to mask and deny its viciousness.

Above all, both FIDES and CD & W were born of post-war conditions in Europe, at the time when Western European capitalist nations were desperately falling back on colonies to save them vis-à-vis Socialism and even from the competition of the U.S.A. Mr. Bevin, a noted labour leader turned traitor to his class and spokesman for British capitalism, made the observation that ‘The other two world Powers, the United States and Soviet Russia, have tremendous resources. If Western Europe is to achieve its balance of payments and to get a world equilibrium, it is essential that (African) resources should be developed, and made available.’ Any close study of the operations of CD & W and FIDES reveals clearly that they had nothing to do with African development but a great deal to do with the welfare of capitalist Europe. The so-called development funds for Africa went almost exclusively into the building of economic infrastructure and into the provision of certain social services. Of the CD & W grants between 1946 and 1956, less than 1 %, was allocated to industries In the case of FIDES from 1949 to 1953, the corresponding figure was less than 0.50%. Agriculture fared very little better, although that was of course the principal activity in which Africans were engaged. The colonial administration of Nigeria set up a Ten Year Plan, with hopes of borrowing heavily from CD & W funds. In that Plan, the sum of £1,824,000 was voted for agriculture out of a total of £53,000,000. Most of that agricultural grant was to be consumed by constructing an agricultural school and for providing salaries for British ‘experts’.

Other British colonies drew up Ten Year Plans, which had the same deficiencies as the Nigerian one, and indeed they were. all apologies for true economic plans, being nothing else but a series of disjointed projects drawn up by different government departments as extensions to their then existing activities. Thus, the plans could not be expected to break any new ground; and they completely ignored developmental features such as stimulating internal and intra-African trade.

The high proportion of the ‘development’ funds went into the colonies in the form of loans for ports, railways, electric power plants, water works, engineering workshops, warehouses, etc, which were necessary for more efficient exploitation in the long run. In the short run, such construction works provided outlets for European steel, concrete, electrical machinery and railroad rolling-stock. One-fifth of FIDES funds were spent on prestigious public works in Dakar, which suited French industry and employed large numbers of expatriates. Even the schools built under FIDES funds were of unnecessary high cost per unit, because they had to be of the requisite standard to provide job outlets for white expatriates. Incidentally, loans were ‘tied’ in such a way that the money had to be spent on buying materials manufactured in the relevant metropole.

The ‘development’ funds were raised on the European money market by the governments concerned, and in effect the national metropolitan governments were providing their own bankers and financiers with guaranteed profitable outlets for their capital. In 1956, the French government started a scheme which was a blatant form of promoting their own private capitalists while paying lip-service to African development and welfare. The scheme involved the creation of an institution called SDOM — (Financial Societies for the Development of Overseas Territories). SDOM was nothing but an association of private capitalists interested primarily in the oil of North Africa, and having large government subventions to achieve their goals.

There were many tell-tale signs which unmasked the CD & W hoax in the eyes of careful and concerned observers. The Colonial Secretary set up a council to help him in allocation of grants, and it was dominated by really powerful members of the British bourgeoisie, including directors of Barclays Bank. Since the CD & W funds were inadequate even for the hopeless Ten Year Plans of the Colonies, the British’ government then encouraged the colonial administrations to borrow the rest of their finances on the open money market. That was another way of ensuring that African labour and resources dispatched surplus to greedy European money-changers.

Barclays Bank was one of the first to seize the opportunity of lending to colonial regimes to supplement the CD & W grants. That bank set up a special Overseas Development Corporation to ‘assist’ Africa, the chairman of the bank assuring all that ‘the development of the colonial empire and the well being of its inhabitants is a matter that concerns every citizen of (Britain).’ That was the language of public relations, which fitted in very well with the sordid hypocrisy practised by white men ever since they started killing and enslaving in the name of civilisation and Christianity.

As part of the hypocrisy of colonialism, it became fashionable to speak of how Europe brought Africa into the 20th century. This assertion has implications in the socio-economic and political spheres; and it can be shown to be false not in some but in all respects.

So often it is said that colonialism modernised Africa by introducing the dynamic features of capitalism, such as Private property in land, private ownership of the other means of production, and money relations. Here it is essential to distinguish between ‘capitalist elements’ and ‘capitalism as a total social system’. Colonialism introduced some elements of capitalism into Africa. In general terms, where communalism came into contact with the money economy, the latter imposed itself. Cash-crop farming and wage labour led away from the extended family as the basis of production and distribution. One South African saying put forward that ‘the white man has no kin, his kin is money’. That is a profound revelation of the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist societies; and when capitalism came into contact with the still largely communal African societies, it introduced money relations at the expense of kinship ties. However, colonialism did not transform Africa into a capitalist society comparable to the metropoles. Had it done that, one might have complained of the brutalities and inequalities of capitalism, but could not then have been said that colonialism failed to advance Africa along the path of human historical development.

Capitalism as a system within the metropoles or epicentres had two dominant classes: firstly, the capitalists or bourgeoisie who owned the factories and banks (the major means for producing and distributing wealth); and secondly, the workers or proletariat who worked in the factories of the said bourgeoisie. Colonialism did not create a capital-owning and factory-owning class among Africans or even inside Africa; nor did it create an urbanised proletariat of any significance (particularly outside of South Africa). In other words, capitalism in the form of colonialism failed to perform in Africa the tasks which it had performed in Europe in changing social relations and liberating the forces of production.

It is fairly obvious that capitalists do not set out to create other capitalists, who would be rivals. On the contrary, the tendency of capitalism in Europe from the very beginning was one of competition, elimination and monopoly. Therefore, when the imperialist stage was reached, the metropolitan capitalists had no intention of allowing rivals to arise in the dependencies. However, in spite of what the metropoles wanted, some local capitalists did emerge in Asia and Latin America. Africa is a significant exception in the sense that, compared with other colonised peoples, far fewer Africans had access even to the middle rungs of the bourgeois ladder in terms of capital for investment.

Part of the explanation for the lack of African capitalists in Africa lies in the arrival of minority groups who had no local family ties which could stand in the way of the ruthless primary accumulation which capitalism requires. Lebanese, Syrian, Greek and Indian businessmen rose from the ranks of petty traders to become minor and sometimes substantial capitalists. Names like Raccah and Leventis were well-known in West Africa, just as names like Madhvani and Visram became well known as capitalists in East Africa.

There were clashes between the middlemen and the European colonialists, but the latter much preferred to encourage the minorities rather than see Africans build themselves up. For instance, in West Africa the businessmen from Sierra Leone were discouraged both in their own colony and in other British possessions where they chose to settle. In East Africa, there was hope among Ugandans in particular that they might acquire ginneries and perform some capitalist functions connected with cotton-growing and other activities. However, when in 1920 a Development Commission was appointed to promote commerce and industry, it favoured firstly Europeans and then Indians. Africans were prohibited by legislation from owning ginneries. Taking Africa as a whole, the few African businessmen who were allowed to emerge were at the bottom of the ladder and cannot be considered as ‘capitalists’ in the true sense. They did not own sufficient capital to invest in large-scale farming, trading, mining or industry. They were dependent both on European-owned capital and on the local capital of minority groups.

That European capitalism should have failed to create African capitalists is perhaps not as striking as its inability to create a working class and to diffuse industrial skills throughout Africa. By its very nature, colonialism was prejudiced against the establishment of industries in Africa, outside of agriculture and the extractive spheres of mining and timber felling. Whenever internal forces seemed to push in the direction of African industrialisation, they were deliberately blocked by the colonial governments acting on behalf of the metropolitan industrialists. Groundnut-oil mills were set up in Senegal in 1927 and began exports to France. They were soon placed under restrictions because of protests of oil-millers in France. Similarly in Nigeria, the oil mills set up by Lebanese were discouraged. The oil was still sent to Europe as a raw material for industry, but European industrialists did not then welcome even the simple stage of processing groundnuts into oil on African soil.

Many irrational contradictions arose throughout colonial Africa as a result of the non-industrialisation policy: Sudanese and Ugandans grew cotton but imported manufactured cotton goods, Ivory Coast grew cocoa and imported tinned cocoa and chocolate, etc. The tiny working class of colonial Africa covered jobs such as agricultural labour and domestic service. Most of it was unskilled, in contrast to the accumulating skills of capitalism proper. When it came to projects requiring technical expertise, Europeans did the supervision — standing around in their helmets and white shorts. Of course, in 1885 Africans did not have the technical know-how which had evolved in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. That difference was itself partly due to the kind of relations between Africa and Europe in the pre-colonial period. What is more significant, however, is the incredibly small number of Africans who were able to acquire ‘modern’ skills during the colonial period. In a few places, such as South Africa and the Rhodesias, this was due to specific racial discrimination in employment, so as to keep the best jobs for whites. Yet, even in the absence of whites, lack of skills among Africans was an integral part of the capitalist impact on the continent.

It has already been illustrated how the presence of industry in Europe fostered and multiplied scientific techniques. The reserve side of the coin was presented in Africa: no industry meant no generation of skills. Even in the mining industry, it was arranged that the most valuable labour should be done outside Africa. It is sometimes forgotten that it is labour which adds value to commodities through the transformation of natural products. For instance, although gem diamonds have a value far above their practical usefulness, the value is not simply a question of their being rare. Work had to be done to locate the diamonds. That is the skilled task of a geologist, and the geologists were of course Europeans. Work had to be done to dig the diamonds out, which involves mainly physical labour. Only in that phase were Africans from South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Tanganyika and Sierra Leone brought into the picture. Subsequently, work had to be done in cutting and polishing the diamonds. A small portion of this was performed by whites in South Africa, and most of it by whites in Brussels and London. It was on the desk of the skilled cutter that the rough diamond became a gem and soared in value. No Africans were allowed to come near that kind of technique in the colonial period.

Much of the dynamism of capitalism ¡ay in the way that growth created more opportunities for further growth. Major industries had by-products, they stimulated local raw material usage, they expanded transport and the building industry, etc-as was seen in the case of Unilever. In the words of the professional economists, those were the beneficial ‘backward and forward linkages’. Given that the industries using African raw materials were located outside of Africa, then there could be no beneficial backward and forward linkages inside Africa. After the second world war, Guinea began to export bauxite. In the hands of French and American capitalists, the bauxite became aluminium. In the metropoles, it went into the making of refractory material, electrical conductors, cigarette foil, kitchen utensils, glass, jewel bearings, abrasives, light-weight structures and aircraft. Guinean bauxite stimulated European shipping and North American hydroelectric power. In Guinea, the colonial bauxite mining left holes in the ground.

With regard to gold, the financial implications in Europe were enormous, and African gold played its part in the development of the monetary system and of industry and agriculture in the metropoles. But, like bauxite and other minerals, gold is an exhaustible resource. Once it is taken out of a country’s soil, that is an absolute loss that cannot be replaced. That simple fact is often obscured so long as production continues, as in South Africa; but it is dramatically brought to attention when the minerals actually disappeared during the colonial epoch. For instance, in the south of Tanganyika, the British mined gold as fast as they could from 1933 onwards at a place called Chunya. By 1953, they had gobbled it all up and exported it abroad. By the end of the colonial period, Chunya was one of the most backward spots in the whole of Tanganyika, which was itself known as the poor Cinderella of East Africa. If that was modernisation, and given the price paid in exploitation and oppression, then Africans would have been better off in the bush.

Industrialisation does not only mean factories. Agriculture itself has been industrialised in capitalist and socialist countries by the intensive application of scientific principles to irrigation, fertilizers, tools, crop selection, stock breeding, etc. The most decisive failure of colonialism in Africa was as failure to change the technology of agricultural production. The most convincing evidence as to the superficiality of the talk about colonialism having ‘modernised’ Africa is the fact that the vast majority of Africans went into colonialism with a hoe and carne out with a hoe. Some capitalist plantations introduced agricultural machinery, and the odd tractor round its way into the hands of African farmers; but the hoe remained the overwhelmingly dominant agricultural implement. Capitalism could revolutionise agriculture in Europe, but it could not do the same for Africa.

In some districts, capitalism brought about technological backwardness in agriculture. On the reserves of Southern Africa, far too many Africans were crowded on to inadequate land, and were forced to engage in intensive farming, using techniques that were suitable only to shifting cultivation. In practice, that was a form of technical retrogression, because the land yielded less and less and became destroyed in the process. Wherever Africans were hampered in their use of their ancestral lands on a wide-ranging shifting basis, the same negative effect was to be found. Besides, some of the new cash-crops like groundnuts and cotton were very demanding on the soil. In countries like Senegal, Niger and Chad, which were already on the edge of the desert, the steady cultivation led to soil impoverishment and encroachment of the desert.

White racist notions are so deep-rooted within capitalist society that the failure of African agriculture to advance was put down to the inherent inferiority of the African. It would be much truer to say that it was due to the white intruders, although the basic explanation is to be found not in the personal ill-will of the colonialists or in their racial origin, but rather in the organised viciousness of the capitalist/ colonialist system.

Failure to improve agricultural tools and methods on behalf of African peasants was not a matter of a bad decision by colonial policy makers. It was an inescapable feature of colonialism as a whole, based on the understanding that the international division of labour aimed at skills in the metropoles and low-level manpower in the dependencies. It was also a result of the considerable use of force (including taxation) in African labour relations. People can be forced to perform simple manual labour, but very little else. This was proven when Africans were used as slaves in the West Indies and America. Slaves damaged tools and carried out sabotage, which could only be controlled by extra supervision and by keeping tools and productive processes very elementary. Slave labour was unsuitable for carrying out industrial activity, so that in the U.S.A. the North went to war in 1861 to end slavery in the South, so as to spread true capitalist relations throughout the land. Following the same line of argument, it becomes clear why the various forms of forced agricultural labour in Africa had to be kept quite simple, and that in turn meant small earnings.

Capitalists under colonialism did not pay for an African to maintain himself and family. This can readily be realised by reflecting on the amounts of money earned by African peasants from cash-crops. The sale of produce by an African cash-crop farmer rarely brought in 200/- per year and often it was less than half that amount. Out of that, a peasant had to pay for tools, seeds and transport and he had to repay the loan to the middleman before he could call the remainder his own. Peasants producing coffee and cocoa and collecting palm produce tended to earn more than those dealing with cotton and groundnuts, but even the ordinary Akwapim cocoa farmer or Chagga coffee farmer never handled money in quantities sufficient to feed, clothe and shelter his family. Instead, subsistence farming of yams or bananas continued as a supplement. That was how the peasant managed to eat, and the few shillings earned went to pay taxes and to buy the increasing number of things which could not be obtained without money in the middlemen’s shops — salt, cloth, paraffin, etc. If they were extremely lucky, they would have access to zinc sheets, bicycles, radios, and sewing machines, and would be able to pay school fees. It must be made quite clear that those in the last category were extremely few.

One reason why the African peasant got so little for his agricultural crops was that his labour was unskilled. That was not the whole explanation, but it is true that a product such as cotton jumped in value from the time that it went through the sophisticated processes of manufacture in Europe. Karl Marx, in clarifying how capitalists appropriated part of the surplus of each worker, used the example of cotton. He explained that the value of the manufactured cotton included the value of the labour that went into growing the raw cotton, plus part of the value of the labour that made the spindles, plus the labour that went into the actual manufacture. From an African viewpoint, the first conclusion to be drawn is that the peasant working on African soil was being exploited by the industrialist who used African raw material in Europe or America. Secondly, it is necessary to realise that the African contribution of unskilled labour was valued far less than the European contribution of skilled labour.

It has been observed that one hour of work of a cotton peasant in Chad was equivalent to less than one centimetre of cotton cloth, and he needed to work 50 days to earn what needed to buy three metres of the cloth made from his own cotton in France. Yet, the French textile worker (using modern spindles) ran off three metres of cloth in a matter of minutes! Assuming that the Frenchman was not closer to God (who made the whole world in only six days and rested on the seventh), then there must be factors in the capitalist/colonialist system which permitted the great disparity in the relative value of labour in Chad and France. In the first the Chad peasant was defrauded through trade so that he sold cheap and bought dear, and therefore received a minute proportion of the value that he created with his labour. This was possible not because of mysterious ‘market forces’ as bourgeois economists would like us to believe, but because of political power being vested entirely in the hands of the colonialists. It was a consequence of monopolistic domination, both economically and politically. Secondly, the quantity of time spent by the Chad peasant was longer because colonialism did not permit him to acquire the tools to shorten the hours required to produce a given quantity of raw cotton.

To a certain extent, it would have been in the interests of the colonial powers to have had better agricultural techniques in Africa, leading to increased volume and quality oí production. All colonial regimes sponsored some scientific research into tropical agriculture. However, the research was almost entirely devoted to cash-crops, it was limited in scope, and it was more easily adaptable by plantations rather than African peasants who had no capital. The pitiable amount devoted to agricultural improvement in Africa during the colonial period contrasts sharply with the increasingly huge sums that were devoted to research in Europe over the same period — with enormous benefits to both industry and agriculture in the metropoles. Side by side with the ill-founded claims about socio-economic modernisation went the claims by colonial apologists that European rule brought political upliftment and emancipation. One of the long-standing arguments in this connection is that Africa was in chaos in the 19th century, and that ‘tribes’ like the Ngoni and the Yao and Samori’s sofas were killing left, right and centre. Consequently, Africa was saved by Livingstone and Stanley. For the most part, such wild statements have no place in the works of the present generation of European scholars of Africa, since they are known to have no resemblance to reality. However, some writers still preach that ‘the Bantu could be saved from the wasting struggles and from their general economic and technical backwardness only by the imposition of stable (European) government’.

Another supposed credit of the colonialists is that they developed nationalism in Africa. That is a superficial and mischievous claim, which entirely ignores the numerous states in Africa on the eve of colonisation, and the direction of their evolution. Nationalism is a certain form of unity which grows out oí historical experience. It is a sense of oneness that emerges from social groups trying to control their environment and to defend their gains against competing groups. The nation state also imposes order and maintains stability within its own boundaries, usually on behalf of a given class. All of those characteristics were present in 19th century African states, some of which were much larger than the colonies arbitrarily defined by Europeans.

It is true that the present African nationalism took the particular form of adopting the boundaries carved by the imperialists. That was an inevitable consequence of the fact that the struggle to regain African independence was conditioned by the administrative framework of the given colonies. But it would show crass ignorance of the African past to say that colonialism modernised Africa politically through nation states, especially when the implication is that such a level of political organisation and stability would otherwise have been impossible.

One colonialist proposition that has at least an air of plausibility is that capitalism and colonial rule meant greater individual freedom for many Africans. Young men earning wages or individuals farming for cash became independent of the corporate demands of their families. It is debatable to what extent that was a worthwhile phenomenon, but it could be said to be somewhat comparable to the way in which capitalism freed the individual in Europe from the restrictions of feudal society and from such bonds as those imposed by morally self-righteous people. Nevertheless, when any given African did break from what were proving to be onerous extended family obligations, what freedom did he acquire? His choice of alternatives were narrowly dictated by the colonialists, and he was only ‘free’ to participate in the money economy and in the European-oriented cultural sector at the very lowest and uncreative levels.

There is a more sympathetic school of historians of Africa who contend that to see colonialism as completely negative is to underrate the ‘initiative’ of Africans. Africans, they say, moved boldly into the labour market, into cash-crop farming, into commerce in some instances, into the educational field and into the churches. Yet, those were simply responses (albeit vigorous ones) to the options laid open by the colonialists. True historical initiative by a whole people or by individuals requires that they have the power to decide on the ‘direction’ in which they want to move. That latter aspect had to await the decade of the 1960s.

Within any social system, the oppressed find some room to manoeuvre through their own initiative. For instance, under the slave regime of America and the West Indies, Africans found ways and means of gaining small advantages. They would flatter and ‘con’ the slavemasters, who were so arrogant and bigoted that they were readily fooled. Similarly, under colonialism many Africans played the game to secure what they could. Africans in positions like interpreters, police and court officials often had their way over the ruling Europeans. However, that should not be mistaken for power or political participation or the exercise of individual freedom. Under slavery, power lay in the hands of the slavemasters: under colonialism, power ¡ay in the hands of the colonialists. The loss of power for the various African states meant a reduction in the freedom of every individual.

Colonialism was a negation of freedom from the viewpoint of the colonised. Even in quantitative terms it could not possibly bring modern political liberation to Africans comparable to the little that had been achieved by capitalism as an improvement on feudalism. In its political aspects, capitalism in the metropoles included constitutions, parliaments, freedom of the press, etc. All of those things were limited in their application to the European working class, but they existed in some form or fashion in the metropoles ever since the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. But Jules Ferry, a former French colonial minister, explained that the French Revolution was not fought on behalf of the blacks of Africa. Bourgeois liberty, equality and fraternity was not for colonial subjects. Africans had to make do with bayonets, riot-acts and gunboats.


The argument so far has been aimed at showing that benefits from colonialism were small and they were not gifts from the colonialists. But rather fruits of African labour and resources for the most part. Indeed, what was called ‘the development of Africa’ by the colonialists was a cynical short-hand expression for ‘the intensification of colonial exploitation in Africa to develop capitalist Europe’. The analysis has gone beyond that to demonstrate that numerous false claims are made purporting to show that Europe developed Africa in the sense of bringing about social order, nationalism and economic modernisation. However, all of that would still not permit the conclusion that colonialism had a negative impact on Africa’s development. In offering the view that colonialism was negative, the aim is to draw attention to the way that previous African development was blunted, halted and turned back. In place of that interruption and blockade, nothing of compensatory value was introduced. The colonisation of Africa lasted for just over 70 years in most parts of the continent. That is an extremely short period within the context of universal historical development. Yet, it was precisely in those years that in other parts of the world the rate of change was greater than ever before. As has been illustrated, capitalist countries revolutionised their technology to enter the nuclear age. Meanwhile, Socialism was inaugurated, lifting semi-feudal semi-capitalist Russia to a level of sustained economic growth higher than that ever experienced in a capitalist country. Socialism did the same for China and North Korea — guaranteeing the well/being and independence of the state as well as re-organising the internal social arrangements in a far more just manner than ever before. It is against those decisive changes that events in Africa have to be measured. To mark time or even to move slowly while others leap ahead is virtually equivalent to going backwards. Certainly, in relative terms, Africa’s position vis-à-vis its colonisers became more disadvantageous in the political, economic and military spheres.

The decisiveness of the short period of colonialism and as negative consequences for Africa spring mainly from the fact that Africa lost power. Power is the ultimate determinant in human society, being basic to the relations within any group and between groups. It implies the ability to defend one’s interests and if necessary to impose one’s will by any means available. In relations between peoples, the question of power determines manoeuvrability in bargaining, the extent to which one people respect the interests of another, and eventually the extent to which a people survive as a physical and cultural entity. When one society finds itself forced to relinquish power entirely to another society that n itself is a form of underdevelopment.

During the centuries of pre-colonial trade, some control over social political and economic life was retained in Africa, in spite of the disadvantageous commerce with Europeans. That little control over internal matters disappeared under colonialism. Colonialism went much further than trade. It meant a tendency towards direct appropriation by Europeans of the social institutions within Africa. Africans ceased to set indigenous cultural goals and standards, and lost full command of training young members of the society. Those were undoubtedly major steps backwards.

The Tunisian, Albert Memmi, puts forward the following proposition:

‘The most serious blow suffered by the colonised is being removed from history and from the community. Colonisation usurps any free role in either war or peace, every decision contributing to his destiny and that of the world, and all cultural and social responsibility.’

Sweeping as that statement may initially appear, it is entirely true. The removal from history follows logically from the loss of power which colonialism represented. The power to act independently is the guarantee to participate actively and consciously in history. To be colonised is to be removed from history, except in the most passive sense. A striking illustration of the fact that colonial Africa was a passive object is seen in its attraction for white anthropologists, who came to study ‘primitive society’. Colonialism determined that Africans were no more makers of history than were beetles objects to be looked at under a microscope and examined for unusual features.

The negative impact of colonialism in political terms was quite dramatic. Overnight, African political states lost their power, independence and meaning — irrespective of whether they were big empires or small polities. Certain traditional rulers were kept in office, and the formal structure of some kingdoms was partially retained, but the substance of political life was quite different. Political power had passed into the hands of foreign overlords. Of course, numerous African states in previous centuries had passed through the cycle of growth and decline. But colonial rule was different. So long as it lasted, not a single African state could flourish.

To be specific, it must be noted that colonialism crushed by force the surviving feudal states of North Africa; that the French wiped out the large Muslim states of the Western Sudan, as well as Dahomey and kingdoms in Madagascar; that the British eliminated Egypt, the Mahdist Sudan, Asante, Benin, the Yoruba kingdoms. Swaziland, Matabeleland, the Lozi and the East African Lake kingdoms as great states. It should further be noted that a multiplicity of smaller and growing states were removed from the face of Africa by the Belgians, Portuguese, British, French, Germans, Spaniards and Italians. Finally, those that appeared to survive were nothing but puppet creations. For instance, the Sultan of Morocco retained nominal existence under colonial rule which started in 1912; and the same applied to the Bey of Tunis; but Morocco and Tunisia were just as much under the power of French colonial administrators as neighbouring Algeria, where the feudal rulers were removed altogether.

Sometimes, the African rulers who were chosen to serve as agents of foreign colonial rule were quite obviously nothing but puppets. The French and the Portuguese were in the habit of choosing their own African ‘chiefs’; the British went to Iboland and invented ‘warrant chiefs’; and all the colonial powers found it convenient to create ‘superior’ or ‘paramount’ rulers. Very often, the local population hated and despised such colonial stooges. There were traditional rulers such as the Sultan of Sokoto, the Kabaka of Buganda and the Asantehene of Asante, who retained a great deal of prestige in the eyes of Africans, but they had no power to act outside the narrow boundaries laid down by colonialism, lest they find themselves in the Seychelles Islands as ‘guests of His Majesty’s Government’.

One can go so far as to say that colonial rule meant the effective eradication of African political power throughout the continent, since Liberia and Ethiopia could no longer function as independent states within the context of continent-wide colonialism. Liberia in particular had to bow before foreign political, economic and military pressures in a way that no genuinely independent state could have accepted; and although Ethiopia held firm until 1936, most European capitalist nations were not inclined to treat Ethiopia as a sovereign state, primarily because it was African, and Africans were supposed to be colonial subjects.

The pattern of arrest of African political development has some features which can only be appreciated after careful scrutiny and the taking away of the blinkers which the colonisers put on the eyes of their subjects. An interesting case in point is that of women’s role in society. Until today, capitalist society has failed to resolve the inequality between man and woman, which was entrenched in all modes of production prior to socialism. The colonialists in Africa occasionally paid lip-service to women’s education and emancipation, but objectively there was deterioration in the status of women owing to colonial rule.

A realistic assessment of the role of women in independent pre-colonial Africa shows two contrasting but combined tendencies. In the first place, women were exploited by men through polygamous arrangements designed to capture the labour power of women. As always, exploitation was accompanied by oppression; and there is evidence to the effect that women were-sometimes treated like beasts of burden, as for instance in Muslim African societies. Nevertheless, there was a counter tendency to ensure the dignity of women to greater or lesser degree in all African societies. Mother-right was a prevalent feature of African societies, and particular women held a variety of privileges based on the fact that they were the keys to inheritance.

More important still, some women had real power in the political sense, exercised either through religion or directly within the politico-constitutional apparatus. In Mozambique, the widow of an Nguni king became the priestess in charge of the shrine set up in the burial place of her deceased husband, and the reigning king had to consult her on all important matters. In a few instances, women were actually heads of state. Among the Lovedu of Transvaal, the key figure was the Rain-Queen, combining political and religious functions. The most frequently encountered role of importance played by women was that of ‘Queen Mother’ or ‘Queen Sister’. In practice, that post was filled by a female of royal blood, who might be mother, sister or aunt of the reigning king in places such as Mali, Asante and Buganda. Her influence was considerable, and there were occasions when the ‘Queen Mother’ was the real power and the male king a mere puppet.

What happened to African women under colonialism is that the social, religious, constitutional and political privileges and rights disappeared, while the economic exploitation continued and was often intensified. It was intensified because the division of labour according to sex was frequently disrupted. Traditionally, African men did the heavy labour of felling trees, clearing land, building houses, etc., apart from conducting warfare and hunting. When they were required to leave their farms to seek employment, women remained behind burdened with every task necessary for the survival of themselves, the children and even the men as far as foodstuffs were concerned. Moreover, since men entered the money sector more easily and in greater numbers than women, women’s work became greatly inferior to that of men within the new value system of colonialism: men’s work was ‘modern’ and women’s was ‘traditional’ and ‘backward’. Therefore, the deterioration in the status of African women was bound up with the loss of political power by African society as a whole and with the consequent loss of the right to set indigenous standards of what work had merit and what did not. One of the most important manifestations of historical arrest and stagnation in colonial Africa is that which commonly goes under the title of ‘tribalism’. That term, in its common journalistic setting, is understood to mean that Africans have a basic loyalty to tribe rather than nation and that each tribe still ‘retains’ a fundamental hostility towards its neighbouring tribes. The examples favoured by the capitalist press and bourgeois scholarship are those of Congo and Nigeria. Their accounts suggest that Europeans tried to make a nation out of the Congolese and Nigerian peoples, but they failed, because the various tribes had their age long hatreds; and, as soon as the colonial power went, the natives returned to killing each other. To this phenomenon, Europeans often attach the word ‘atavism’, to carry the notion that Africans were returning to their primitive savagery. Even a cursory survey of the African past shows that such assertions are the exact opposite of the truth.

It is necessary to discuss briefly what comprises a ‘tribe’ — a term that has been avoided in this analysis, partly because it usually carries derogatory connotations and partly because of its vagueness and the loose ways in which it is employed in the literature on Africa. Following the principle of family living, Africans were organised in groups which had common ancestors. Theoretically, the ‘tribe’ was the largest group of people claiming descent from a common ancestor at some time in the remote past. Generally, such a group could therefore be said to be of the same ethnic stock, and their language would have a great deal in common. Beyond that, members of a ‘tribe’ were seldom all members of the same political unit and very seldom indeed did they all share a common social purpose in terms of activities such as trade and warfare. Instead, African states were sometimes based entirely on part of the members of a given ethnic group or (more usually) on an amalgamation of members of different ethnic communities.

All of the large states of 19th-century Africa were multiethnic, and their expansion was continually making anything like ‘tribal’ loyalty a thing of the past, by substituting in its place national and class ties. However, in all parts of the world that substitution of national and class ties for purely ethnic ones is a lengthy historical process; and, invariably there remains for long periods certain regional pockets of individuals who have their own narrow regional loyalties, springing from ties of kinship, language and culture. In Asia, the feudal states of Vietnam and Burma both achieved a considerable degree of national homogeneity over the centuries before colonial rule. But there were pockets of ‘tribes’ or ‘minorities’ who remained outside the effective sphere of the nation state and the national economy and culture.

In the first place, colonialism blocked the further evolution of national solidarity, because it destroyed the particular Asian or African states which were the principal agents for achieving the liquidation of fragmented loyalties. In the second place, because ethnic and regional loyalties which go under the name of ‘tribalism’ could not be effectively resolved by the colonial state, they tended to fester and grow in unhealthy forms. Indeed, the colonial powers sometimes saw the value of stimulating the internal ‘tribal’ jealousies so as to keep the colonised from dealing with their principal contradiction with the European overlords — i.e., the classic technique of divide and rule. Certainly, the Belgians consciously fostered that; and the racist whites in South Africa had by the 1950s worked out a careful plan to ‘develop’ the oppressed African population as Zulu, as Xhosa and as Sotho so that the march towards broader African national and class solidarities could be stopped and turned back.

The civil war in Nigeria is generally regarded as having been a tribal affair. To accept such a contention would mean extending the definition of tribe to cover Shell Oil and Gulf Oil! But, quite apart from that, it must be pointed out that nowhere in the history of pre-colonial independent Nigeria can anyone point to the massacre of Ibos by Hausas or any incident which suggests that people up to the 19th century were fighting each other because of ethnic origin. Of course there were wars, but they had a rational basis in trade rivalry, religious contentions, and the clashes of political expansion. What came to be called tribalism at the beginning of the new epoch of political independence in Nigeria was itself a product of the way that people were brought together under colonialism so as to be exploited. It was a product of administrative devices, of entrenched regional separations, of differential access by particular ethnic groups into the colonial economy and culture.

Both Uganda and Kenya in East Africa are also situations in which a supposedly tribal factor continued to be pre-eminent. There is no doubt that the existence of the Buganda kingdom within independent Uganda posed certain problems. But, even after mis-applying the definition of a tribe to the Baganda, it still remains true that the Buganda problem was a colonial problem. It was created by the presence of the missionaries and the British, by the British (Mailo) land settlement in Uganda in 1900, and by the use which Britain made of the Baganda ruling class as ‘sub-imperialists’ within the colony of Uganda.

In Kenya, the pattern of colonialism was different from that in Uganda, because of the presence of white settlers. No African group was allowed any power in the capacity of NCOs for the Colonial Office, since the white settlers themselves filled the role. The white settlers took the best land and then tried to create a new world with African labour. However, the African community which lay outside the immediate white settler sector was regulated along tribal lines. One of the numerous Royal Commissions of British colonialism published a report on Kenya in 1934. A contemporary Kenyan historian commented on that report as follows:

‘The Commission’s recommendations, which were accepted by the British government, implied that Kenya was to be partitioned into two racial blocks, African and European. And in the African sector, all economic, social and political developments were to be conducted on tribal lines. Racialism thus became institutionalised.’

Human activity within small groups connected only by kinship relations (such as the tribe) is a very transient phase through which all continents passed in the phase of communalism. When it ceased to be transient and became institutionalised in Africa, that was because colonialism interrupted African development. That is what is implied in Memmi’s reference to Africans being removed from history. Revolutionary African thinkers such as Franz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral expressed the same sentiments somewhat differently when they spoke of colonialism having made Africans into ‘objects of history’. Colonised Africans, like pre-colonial African chattel slaves, were pushed around into positions which suited European interests and which were damaging to the African continent and its peoples. In continuation, some further socio-economic implications of that situation will be examined.

Pre-colonial trade had started the trend of the disintegration of African economies and their technological impoverishment. Colonial rule speeded up that trend. The story is often told that in order to make a telephone call from Accra in the British colony of the Gold Coast to Abidjan in the adjacent French colony of Ivory Coast it was necessary to be connected first with an operator in London and then with an operator in Paris who could offer a line to Abidjan. That was one reflection of the fact that the Gold Coast economy was integrated into the British economy, and the Ivory Coast economy was integrated into the French economy, while the neighbouring African colonies had little or no effective economic relations. The following conclusion reached by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in 1959 goes directly to the point.

‘The most outstanding characteristic of the transportation systems of Africa is the comparative isolation in which they have developed within the confines of individual countries and territories. This is reflected in the lack of links between countries and territories within the same geographical sub-region.’


Some African trade did persist across colonial boundaries. For instance, the centuries-old trade in kola nuts and gold from the forests of West Africa to North Africa never completely ceased. Besides, new forms of African trade developed, notably with regard to supplying foodstuffs to towns or cash-crop areas where there was insufficiency of food. That kind of trade could be entirely within a colony or it could cross colonial boundaries. However, the sum total of energy that went into expansion of inter-African trade was extremely small in comparison with trade that was export-oriented. Since this inter-African trade did not bring benefits to Europeans it was not encouraged by them, and up to the latter part of the colonial period only 10% of Africa’s trade was internal.

It is also worth noting that Africa was denied the opportunity of developing healthy trade links with parts of the world other than Europe and North America. Some trade persisted across the Indian Ocean, but on the whole it is fair to say that the roads in Africa led to the sea-ports and the sea-lanes led to Western Europe and North America. That kind of lop-sidedness is today part of the pattern of underdevelopment and dependence.

The damaging impact of capitalism on African technology is even more clearly measurable in the colonial period than in the earlier centuries. In spite of the slave trade and of the import of European goods> most African handicraft industries still had vitality at the start of the colonial period. They had undergone no technological advance and they had not expanded, but they had survived. The mass-production of the more recent phase of capitalism virtually obliterated African industries such as cloth, salt, soap, iron and even pottery making.

In North Africa, handicraft industries had made the greatest advances before colonialism, in spheres ranging from brass work to woollens. As in the towns of feudal Europe, craft workshops flourished in Algerian towns like Oran, Constantine, Algiers and Tlemcen. But French colonialism destroyed the handicraft industries and threw thousands out of work. The same thing had happened in Europe itself when new machines had thrown artisans out of employment in places like Lancashire and Lyons, but in that instance the new machines became the basis of the prevailing mode of production, and formerly independent artisans returned to factories as proletarians to master different skills and expand the productive capacity of their society. In Africa it was simply destruction without redress. By the time that political independence was achieved, surviving craftsmanship had been turned towards attracting tourists rather than meeting the real needs of African people.

Besides, as was true of the European slave trade, the destruction of technology under colonialism must be related to the barriers raised in the path of African initiative. The vast majority of Africans drawn into the colonial money economy were simply providing manual labour, which stimulated perspiration rather than scientific initiative. Africans connected to the trading sector were sometimes successful in a limited way. The resourcefulness of West African market women is well known, but it was put to petty purposes. The problem posed to capitalists and workers in Europe while making insecticide from African pyrethrum was one requiring that resourcefulness be expressed in a technical direction. But the problem posed to an African market woman by the necessity to make a penny more profit on every tin of imported sardines was resolved sometimes by a little more vigour, sometimes by a touch of dishonesty, and sometimes by resort to ‘juju’.

Colonialism induced the African ironworker to abandon the process of extracting iron from the soil and to concentrate instead on working scraps of metal imported from Europe. The only compensation for that interruption would have been the provision of modern techniques in the extraction and processing of iron. However, those techniques were debarred from Africa, on the basis of the international division of labour under imperialism. As was seen earlier, the non-industrialisation of Africa was not left to chance. It was deliberately enforced by stopping the transference to Africa of machinery and skills which would have given competition to European industry in that epoch.

In the period of African development preceding colonialism, some areas moved faster than others and provided the nuclei for growth on a wide regional basis. Northern Nigeria was one of those; and it virtually went to sleep during the colonial period. The British cut it off from the rest of the Muslim world and fossilised the social relations, so that the serfs could not achieve any change at the expense of the ruling aristocracy.

On every continent and within nation states, some features of growth were always more outstanding than others, and thereby offered a lead to the rest of the society. The towns played that role in late feudal European society, while the electrical industry was an example of a similar impetus for development in metropolitan capitalist society in the first decades of this century. Colonialism provided Africa with no real growth points. For instance, a colonial town in Africa was essentially a centre of administration rather than industry. Towns did attract large numbers of Africans, but only to offer them a very unstable life based on unskilled and irregular employment. European towns had slums, but the squalor of towns in underdeveloped countries is a special phenomenon. It was a consequence of the inability of those towns to play the role of expanding the productive base. Fortunately, Africa was never as badly off in this respect as Asia and Latin America.

Instead of speeding up growth, colonial activities such as mining land cash-crop farming speeded up the decay of ‘traditional’ African life. In many parts of the continent, vital aspects of culture were adversely affected, nothing better was substituted, and only a lifeless shell was left. The capitalist forces behind colonialism were interested in little more than the exploitation of labour. Even areas that were not directly involved in the money economy exported labour. In extracting that labour, they tampered with the factor that was the very buttress of the society, for African ‘traditional’ life when deprived of its customary labour force and patterns of work was no longer ‘traditional’.

During the colonial era, many thinly-populated villages appeared in central and southern Africa, comprising women, children and old men. They practised subsistence agriculture which was not productive enough, and colonialists contrasted them with cash-crop areas, which in comparison were flourishing. However, it was precisely the impact of colonialism which left so many villages deserted and starving, because the able-bodied males had gone off to labour elsewhere. Any district deprived of its effective labouring population could not be expected to develop.

There were several spots within different colonies which were sufficiently far removed from towns and colonial administration that they neither grew cash-crops nor supplied labour. In Southern Sudan, for instance, there were populations who continued to live a life not dissimilar to that which they had followed in previous centuries. Yet, even for such traditional African societies the scope for development no longer existed. They were isolated by the hold which the colonialists had on the rest of the continent. They could not interact with other parts of Africa. They were subject to increasing encroachment by the money economy and were more and more to be regarded as historical relics. The classic example of this type of obstructed historical development is to be found in the U.S.A., where the indigenous population of (‘Red’) Indians who survived slaughter by the whites were placed in reservations and condemned to stagnation. Indian reservations in North America are living museums to be visited by white tourists who purchase curios.

In South Africa and Rhodesia, the policy of establishing ‘native reserves’ was openly followed. Inside a reserve, the major means of production was the land. But the quantity and fertility of the land allocated was entirely inadequate to support the numbers of Africans who were driven in. The reserves were reservoirs of cheap labour, and dumping grounds for those who could not be accommodated within the money economy of the racist southern section of Africa. Further north, there were no areas named as ‘reserves’, except ir, colonial Kenya and to a very limited extent in Tanganyika. But the money economy was constantly transforming the traditional sector into one which was just as deprived as any reserve.

The money economy of colonialism was a growing sector. That is not to be denied. However, it has already been indicated how limited that growth was, viewed over the continent as a whole. The growth in the so-called modern sector exercised adverse effects on the non-monetary sector. What remains is to emphasise that the character of growth in Africa under colonialism was such that it did not constitute development — i.e., it did not enlarge the capacity of the society to deal with the natural environment, to adjudicate relations between members of the society, and to protect the population from external forces. Such a statement is already implicitly borne out in the inability of capitalism to stimulate skilled labour in colonial Africa. A system which must stand in the way of the accumulation of skills does not develop anything or anybody. It is implicit too in the manner in which Africa was cut into economic compartments having no relation one to another, so that, even though the volume of commercial activity within each compartmentalised colony may have increased, there was no development comparable to that which linked together the various states of the U.S.A. In recent times, economists have been recognising in colonial and post-colonial Africa a pattern that has been termed ‘growth without development’. That phrase has now appeared as the title of books on Liberia and Ivory Coast. It means that goods and services of a certain type are on the increase. There may be more rubber and coffee exported, there may be more cars imported with the proceeds, and there may be more petrol stations built to service the cars. But the profit goes abroad, and the economy becomes more and more a dependency of the metropoles. In no African colony was there economic integration, or any provision for making the economy self-sustained and geared to its own local goals. Therefore, there was growth of the so-called ‘enclave’ import/export sector, but the only things which developed were dependency and underdevelopment.

A further revelation of growth without development under colonialism was the over-dependence on one or two exports. The term ‘monoculture’ is used to describe those colonial economies which were centred around a single crop. Liberia (in the agricultural sector) was a monoculture dependent on rubber, Gold Coast on cocoa, Dahomey and South-east Nigeria on palm produce, Sudan on cotton, Tanganyika on sisal, and Uganda on cotton. In Senegal and Gambia, groundnuts accounted for 85% to 90% of money earnings. In effect, two African colonies were told to grow nothing but peanuts!

Every farming people have a staple food, plus a variety of other supplements. Historians, agronomists, and botanists have all contributed to showing the great variety of such foods within the pre- colonial African economy. There were numerous crops which were domesticated within the African continent, there were several wild food species (notably fruits) and Africans had shown no conservatism in adopting useful food plants of Asian or American origin. Diversified agriculture was within the African tradition. Monoculture was a colonialist invention.

Those who justify the colonial division of labour suggest that it was ‘natural’ and respected the relative capacities for specialisation of the metropoles and colonies. Europe, North America and Japan were capable of specialising in industry and Africa in agriculture. Therefore, it was to the ‘comparative advantage’ of one part of the world to manufacture machines while another part engaged in simple hoe-culture of the soil. That kind of arrogant partition of the world was not new. In the 15th century, the feudal monarchies of Portugal and Spain wanted the whole world for themselves, and they got the Pope to draw a line around the globe, making the allocations. But Britain, Holland and France suggested that they were not at all convinced that Adam had left a will which gave the earth to Portugal and Spain. In like manner, it can be questioned whether there is any testament which stated that the river Gambia should inherit ground-nut growing while the river Clyde (of Scotland) should become a home of shipbuilding.

There was nothing ‘natural’ about monoculture. It was a consequence of imperialist requirements and machinations, extending into areas that were politically independent in name. Monoculture was a characteristic of regions falling under imperialist domination. Certain countries in Latin America such as Costa Rica and Guatemala were forced by United States capitalist firms to concentrate so heavily on growing bananas that they were contemptuously known as ‘banana republics’. In Africa, this concentration on one or two cash-crops for sale abroad had many harmful effects. Sometimes, cash-crops were grown to the exclusion of staple foods — thus causing famines. For instance, in Gambia rice farming was popular before the colonial era, but so much of the best land was transferred to groundnuts that rice had to be imported on a large scale to try and counter the fact that famine was becoming endemic. In Asante, concentration on cocoa raised fears of famine in a region previously famous for yams and other foodstuff.

Yet the threat of famine was a small disadvantage compared to the extreme vulnerability and insecurity of monoculture. When the crop was affected by internal factors such as disease, that amounted to an overwhelming disaster, as in the case of Gold Coast cocoa when it was hit by swollen-shoot disease in the 1940s. Besides, at all times, the price fluctuations (which were externally controlled) left the African producer helpless in the face of capitalist manoeuvres.

From a capitalist viewpoint, monocultures commended themselves most because they made colonial economies entirely dependent on the metropolitan buyers of their produce. At the end of the European slave trade, only a minority of Africans were sufficiently committed to capitalist exchange and sufficiently dependent upon European imports to wish to continue the relationship with Europe at all costs. Colonialism increased the dependence of Africa on Europe in terms of the numbers of persons brought into the money economy and in terms of the number of aspects of socio-economic life in Africa which derived their existence from the connection with the metropole. The ridiculous situation arose by, which European trading firms, mining companies, shipping lines, banks, insurance houses and plantations all exploited Africa and at the same time caused Africans to feel that without those capitalist services no money or European goods would be forthcoming, and therefore Africa was in debt to its exploiters!

The factor of dependency made its impact felt in every aspect of the life of the colonies, and it can be regarded as the crowning vice among the negative social, political and economic consequences of colonialism in Africa, being primarily responsible for the ‘perpetuation’ of the colonial relationship into the epoch that is called neo-colonialism.

Finally, attention must be drawn to one of the most important consequences of colonialism on African development, and that is the stunting effect on Africans as a physical species. Colonialism created conditions which led not just to periodic famine, but to chronic undernourishment, mal-nutrition and deterioration in the physique of the African people. If such a statement sounds wildly extravagant, it is only because bourgeois propaganda has conditioned even Africans to believe that malnutrition and starvation were the natural lot of Africans from time immemorial. A black child with a transparent rib-case, huge head, bloated stomach, protruding eyes, and twigs as arms and legs was the favourite poster of the large British charitable operation known as Oxfam. The poster represented a case of Kwashiorkor — extreme malignant mulnutrition. ‘Oxfam’ called upon the people of Europe to save starving African and Asian children from Kwashiorkor and such ills. ‘Oxfam’ never bothered their consciences by telling them that capitalism and colonialism created the starvation, suffering and misery of the child in the first place.

There is an excellent study of the phenomenon of hunger on a world scale by a Brazilian scientist, Josue de Castro. It incorporates considerable data on the food and health conditions among Africans in their independent pre-colonial state or in societies untouched by capitalist pressures; and it then makes comparisons with colonial conditions. The study convincingly indicates that African diet was previously more varied, being based on a more diversified agriculture than was possible under colonialism. In terms of specific nutritional deficiencies, those Africans who suffered most under colonialism were those who were brought most fully into the colonial economy: namely, the urban workers.

For the sake of the doubters, several of de Castro’s observations are listed below (occasionally supplemented by other data).

  1. Investigators who have studied the nutritional conditions of ‘primitive’ Africans in tropical Africa are unanimous in stating that they show no clinical signs of dietary deficiency. One of the most striking indications of the superiority of indigenous African diet is the magnificent condition of the teeth. One researcher among six ethnic groups in Kenya could not find a single case of tooth decay, not a single deformation of the dental arch. But when those same people were transplanted and put on the ‘civilised’ diet available under colonialism, their teeth began to decay at once.

2. In Egypt, the peasants or fellahin had always suffered from periodic famines, but under colonialism this deteriorated to become chronic hunger. It was the intervention of the British which upset the balance of the peasants’ diet; and comparison with early accounts shows that there was once a much greater variety of legumes and fruits.

3. The kwashiorkor (of the Oxfam posters) is itself noticeable wherever the African’s contact with the European was prolonged. A Committee on Nutrition in the Colonial Empire found a noticeable absence of animal fat and protein in the Gambia. The absence of proteins of good quality is one of the principal contributors to kwashiorkor; and once again comparison with what Europeans saw in the Gambia ever since the 15th century would indicate that a change had come about after the coming of the whites. The Gambia not only grew a variety of food in the early period, but it was stock-raising country where meat was consumed in considerable quantity. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, cattle hides were sold by the thousands to European buyers every year, and the local population ate the meat. How then could they have suffered from an absence of animal fat!

4. Studies in Equatorial Africa have revealed frequent signs of dietary deficiencies caused by the absence of fresh foods among Africans entering the service of the colonisers. These include, beriberi, rickets and scurvy. Rickets is a typical temperate climate disease, to which lack of sun contributes. But after colonialism had so destroyed the pattern of judicious food consumption in tropical Africa, even the sun was not enough to keep children’s bones straight. As for scurvy, that

is so closely identified with the English sailor that he was nicknamed ‘Limey’, from eating limes to prevent scurvy while lacking access to fresh food on long sea voyages. However, a scurvy epidemic broke out in the middle of Tanganyika in the colonial epoch-among workers in the goldfields, whose wages and conditions of work did not permit them to get fresh citrus and other nourishment.

5. In South Africa, white settlement and capitalism transformed African diet from meat and cereal to dependence on mealy-meal (maize). Pellagra or ‘rough skin’ was unknown in South Africa until about 1914. Subsequently, it became a scourge among Africans, because it derives from absence of milk and meat.

6. An official report on Basutoland (now Lesotho) had this to say: ‘According to residents of long-standing, the physique and health of the Basuto today is not what it used to be. Malnutrition is seen in every village, dispensary, school and recruiting office. Mild scurry and subscorbic conditions are not infrequent; pellagra is becoming more and more frequent and lower resistance to disease increasingly apparent. It is becoming generally accepted, too, that the occurrence of leprosy is associated with faulty diet.’


To clinch the argument that colonialism had a deleterious effect on the African as a physical (and hence mental) entity, it is useful to point to those African peoples who until today have managed to maintain their own pattern of existence in so far as food is concerned. The pastoral Masai, Galla, Ankoli, Batutsi and Somali are all in that category. Their physique is generally so superb, their resistance and endurance so great, that they have become the objects of scientific research to discover why they do so much better than the ‘well-fed’ capitalists who are collapsing from heart disease.

In the light of the prevailing balance-sheet concept of what colonial rule was about, it still remains to take note of European innovations in Africa such as modern medicine, clinical surgery and immunisation. It would be absurd to deny that these were objectively positive features, however limited they were quantitatively. However, they have to be weighed against the numerous setbacks received by Africa in all spheres due to colonialism as well as against the contributions Africa made to Europe. European science met the needs of its own society, and particularly those of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie did not suffer from hunger and starvation. Bourgeois science therefore did not consider those things as needs which had to be met and overcome — not even among their own workers and least of all on behalf of Africans. This is just a specific application of the general principle that the exploitation of Africa was being used to create a greater gap between Africa and capitalist Europe. The exploitation and the comparative disadvantage are the ingredients of underdevelopment.




Education is crucial in any type of society for the preservation of the lives of its members and the maintenance of the social structure. Under certain circumstances, education also promotes social change. The greater portion of that education is informal, being acquired by the young from the example and behaviour of elders in the society. Under normal circumstances, education grows out of the environment; the learning process being directly related to the pattern of work in the society. Among the Bemba of what was then Northern Rhodesia, children by the age of six could name fifty to sixty species of tree plants without hesitation, but they knew very little about ornamental flowers. The explanation is simply that knowledge of the trees was a necessity in an environment of ‘cut and burn’ agriculture and in a situation where numerous household needs were met by tree products. Flowers, however, were irrelevant to survival.

Indeed, the most crucial aspect of pre-colonial African education was its relevance to Africans, in sharp contrast with what was later introduced. The following features of indigenous African education can be considered outstanding: its close links with social life, both in a material and spiritual sense; its collective nature; its many-sidedness; and its progressive development in conformity with the successive stages of physical, emotional and mental development of the child. There was no separation of education and productive activity or any division between manual and intellectual education. Altogether, through mainly informal means, pre-colonial African education matched the realities of pre-colonial African society and produced well-rounded personalities to fit into that society.

Some aspects of African education were formal: that is to say, there was a specific programme and a conscious division between teachers and pupils. Formal education in pre-colonial Africa was also directly connected with the purposes of the society, just like informal education. The programmes of teaching were restricted to certain periods in the life of every individual, notably the period of initiation or ‘coming of age’. Many African societies had circumcision ceremonies for males or for both sexes, and for some time before the ceremonies a teaching programme was arranged. The length of time involved could vary from a few weeks to several years. A famous example of the latter was the initiation school held by the Poro brotherhood in Sierra Leone. Formal education was also available at later stages in life, such as on the occasion of passing from one age-grade to another or of joining a new brotherhood. Specialised functions such as hunting, organising religious ritual, and the practice of medicine definitely involved formal education within the family or clan. Such educational practices all dated back to communal times in Africa, but they persisted in the more developed African feudal and pre-feudal societies, and they were to be found on the eve of colonialism.

As the mode of production moved towards feudalism in Africa, new features also emerged within the educational pattern. There was, for instance, more formal specialisation, because the proportion of formal to informal education increases with technological advance. Apart from hunting and religion, the division of labour made it necessary to create guilds for passing down the techniques of iron working, leather making, cloth manufacture, pottery moulding, professional trading, and so on. The emphasis on military force also led to formal education in that sphere, as in the case of Dahomey, Rwanda and Zulu cited earlier. A state structure with a well defined ruling class always encouraged the use of history as a means of glorifying the class in power. So, in the Yoruba state of Keta in the 19th century, there existed a school of history, where a master drilled into the memories of his pupils a long list of the kings of Keta and their achievements. Of course, reliance on memory alone placed severe limits on education of that type, and that is why education was much more advanced in those African countries where the use of writing had come into being.

Along the Nile, in North Africa, in Ethiopia, in the Western Sudan, and along the East African coast, a minority of Africans became literate, producing a situation comparable to Asia and Europe before the latter part of the 19th century. As in other parts of the world, literacy in Africa was connected with religion, so that in Islamic countries it was a Koranic education and in Christian Ethiopia the education was designed to train priests and monks. Muslim education was particularly extensive at the primary level, and it was also available at the secondary and university levels. In Egypt there was the Al-Azhar University, in Morocco the University of Fez, and in Mali the University of Timbuctu — all testimony to the standard of education achieved in Africa before the colonial intrusion.

The colonizers did not introduce education into Africa: they introduced a new set of formal educational institutions which partly supplemented and partly replaced those which were there before. The colonial system also stimulated values and practices which amounted to new informal education. The main purpose of the colonial school system was to train Africans to help man the local administration at the lowest ranks and to staff the private capitalist firms owned by Europeans. In effect, that meant selecting a few Africans to participate in the domination and exploitation of the continent as a whole. It was not an educational system that grew out of the African environment or one that was designed to promote the most rational use of material and social resources. It was not an educational system designed to give young people confidence and pride as members of African societies, but one which sought to instil a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalist. Education in Europe was dominated by the capitalist class. The same class bias was automatically transferred to Africa; and to make matters worse the racism and cultural boastfulness harboured by capitalism were also included in the package of colonial education. Colonial schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion and the development of underdevelopment.

A European-type school system hardly operated during the first forty years or so of colonialism. In that period, missionaries gave schooling for their own Christianizing purposes, and it was in the 1920s that the colonizing powers carried out a series of investigations into educational possibilities in Africa. Thereafter, colonial education became systematic and measurable, though it approached its maximum dimensions only in the post second World War era.

Colonial education was a series of limitations inside other limitations. The first practical limitation was politico-financial, which means the political policy guiding financial expenditure rather than the actual availability of money. The metropolitan governments and their African administrations claimed that there was not enough money for education. As late as 1958, the British Colonial Office said of Northern Rhodesia:

‘Until more money becomes available for the building of schools, no rapid progress can be expected and the practical prospects of providing full primary education for all children therefore remains fairly remote.’

It is amazing that Northern Rhodesia with its immense copper wealth did not have enough money to educate Africans! One cannot be certain whether the colonialists were trying to deceive others or whether they had succeeded in fooling themselves; but probably most of the confused white settlers in the Rhodesias fell into the latter category, for they consistently argued that Africans did not pay as much tax per head as Europeans and therefore Africans could not expect to get education and other services out of taxes paid by white settlers. This is the fundamental failure to perceive that a country’s wealth comes not from taxes but from production. African soil and African labour in Northern Rhodesia produced vast wealth, but African children under colonialism had little access to that wealth for their schooling.

As noted earlier, most of Africa’s surplus was exported; and, out of the small portion which remained behind as government revenue, the percentage channelled into education was tiny. In every colony, the budget for education was incredibly small, compared to amounts being spent in capitalist Europe itself. In 1935, of the total revenue collected from taxing Africans in French West Africa, only 4.03% was utilised on education. In the British colony of Nigeria, it was only 3.4%. In Kenya, as late as 1946 only 2.26% of the revenue was spent on African education. By 1960, those percentages had all gone up two, three, or four times; but, being so small to begin with, they still remained insignificant.

Since such small sums were spent, it followed that another basic limitation was quantitative, in the sense that very few Africans made it into schools. In the whole of French Equatorial Africa (Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville), there were only 22,000 pupils enrolled in 1938-and that represented quite a jump over figures for the preceding five years. In 1938> the French provided education for 77,000 pupils in French West Africa, with a population of at least 15 million. A very illuminating fact that should be noted is that in 1945 there were more than 80,000 students attending independent Islamic schools in French West Africa — a number not far short of those attending French-built schools by that date. In other words, it was only in the final stages of colonialism that the ruling European power began to provide Africans in the former Islamic states of West Africa with educational institutions having an enrolment greater than the previous formal education.

Occasionally, in West and North Africa, the French government gave some financial support to the Koranic primary schools and to the medresas or Islamic secondary schools. On the whole, however, the pre-colonial African school system was simply ignored and it tended to decline. In Algeria, the Arab/Islamic institutions of learning suffered severely during the French wars of conquest, while others were deliberately suppressed when the French gained the upper hand. Throughout French North Africa, the old established Islamic Universities suffered because colonialism deprived them of the economic base which previously gave them support. As with so many other aspects of African life, what the colonialists put in must be weighed against what they halted and what they destroyed in both real and potential terms.

British colonies tended to do on average somewhat better than French ones with regard to educational activities, largely because of missionary initiatives rather than the British government itself. Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda were fairly well off as far as colonial education went. Of course, that was in a purely relative sense, and the absolute numbers involved were never large. Sierra Leone was better off educationally than French West Africa because the seven out of every 100 children going to school in Sierra Leone before the last war compared favourably with five out of every 100 in French West Africa. As far as the British are concerned, their slightly superior record in some colonies is also offset by the very poor educational facilities offered to Africans in Kenya, Tanganyika, the Central African territories and South Africa itself which was for a long a British responsibility.

One limitation of the educational system of colonial Africa which is obscured by statistical averages is the great variation in opportunity between different regions in the same colony. In many colonies, only Africans living in or near the principal towns had educational opportunities. For instance, in Madagascar the capital town of Tananarive had the most substantial school facilities; in Gambia literacy was high for Bathurst town and low outside; and in Uganda urbanised region of Buganda practically monopolised education. Generally speaking, the unevenness in educational levels reflected the unevenness of economic exploitation and the different rates at which different parts of a colony entered the money economy. Thus, in Gold Coast, the Northern Territories were neglected educationally, because they did not offer the colonialists any products for export. In Sudan, it was the huge southern region which was in a similar position. Inside Tanganyika, a map showing the major cotton and coffee areas virtually coincides with a map showing areas in which colonial education was available. It means that those whom the colonialists could not readily exploit were not offered even ¡he crumbs of education.

The closer one scrutinises the educational contribution of colonialism even in purely quantitative terms, the more it shrinks into insignificance. It must be noted, for instance, that there was an extremely high rate of ‘drop-outs’. A large percentage of those enrolled never finished school. In big capitalist countries like the U.S.A., there are many drop-outs at the college and university level: in colonial Africa, the drop-outs were occurring at the primary level, at a rate as high as 50%. For every student who completed primary school, one fell by the wayside. The drop-outs were from primary schools, because there was hardly any other type of school — this absence of secondary, technical and university education being yet another of the stumbling blocks.

Africans were being educated inside colonial schools to become junior clerks and messengers. Too much learning would have been both superfluous and dangerous for clerks and messengers. Therefore, secondary education was rare and other forms of higher education were virtually non-existent, throughout most of the colonial epoch. That which was provided went mainly to non-Africans. As late as 1959, Uganda spent about £11 per African pupil, £38 per Indian and £186 on each European child — the difference being due largely to the availability of secondary education for the children of the capitalists and the middlemen. In Kenya, the discrimination was worse and the number of European children involved was high. In 1960, more than 11,000 European children were attending school in Kenya, and of those 3,000 were receiving secondary education. The settler colony of Algeria displayed similar characteristics. Only 20% of the secondary pupils in 1954 were denoted as ‘Muslims’, which meant in effect ‘Algerian’ as distinct from European. Other minorities also did better than the indigenous population. For instance, the Jews in North Africa and especially in Tunisia played the middlemen roles, and their children were all educated right up to secondary standards.

African countries without a big white settler population also had racist educational structures with regard to opportunities at all levels and especially opportunities for higher education. In Senegal in 1946, the high school had 723 pupils, of whom 174 were Africans. Later on, a university was set up in Dakar (to serve the whole of French West Africa); and yet in the 1950s on the eve of independence, more than half of the university students were French.

The Portuguese have not been discussed so far, because there is scarcely any education to be discussed in their colonial territories. For many years, the statistical data was never made available, and when published towards the end of the colonial period the figures were often inflated. What is undeniable is that the African child growing up in Portuguese colonial territories stood one chance out of a hundred of getting instruction beyond Standard II or Standard III. The secondary schools that came into existence were for Europeans and Indians, the latter drawn mainly from Goa. The colonial powers with small territories in Africa were Spain and Italy. Like Portugal, they were also backward from a European capitalist viewpoint, and they provided their colonial subjects with a tiny amount of primary education and no secondary education.

Belgium was in a somewhat special category as far as colonial education was concerned. Although small, Belgium was a relatively developed and industrialized country, and it ruled one of the richest areas of Africa: namely, the Congo. By colonial standards, the people of Congo and Rwanda-Burundi had fair access to primary education, but schooling beyond that was almost impossible to obtain. This was the consequence of a deliberate policy pursued by the Belgian government and the Catholic Church. The African ‘native’ was to be gradually civilized. To give him secondary education was like asking a young child to chew meat when he should be eating porridge. Furthermore, the Belgians were so interested in the welfare of the African masses that they argued that no highly educated African would be able to serve his own people! Consequently, it was only in 1948 that a Belgian commission recommended the establishment of secondary schools for Africans in the colonies. It is not at all surprising that, at the time of regaining political independence, the Congo had only 16 graduates out of a population of more than 13 million.

Educationalists often refer to ‘the educational pyramid’, comprising primary education as the base and going upwards through secondary, teacher-training, higher technical and university facilities-the last named being so small that it could be represented as the point at the top of the pyramid. Throughout Africa, the primary base was narrow and yet the pyramid sloped shallowly because so few of the primary students could continue beyond that level. Only in certain British colonies was the pyramid really completed by significant higher and university education. West Africa had Achimota and Yaba Colleges, apart from Fourah Bay which was at University level. Ibadan and the University of Ghana also carne into existence some years before the end of the colonial regime. In the Sudan, there was Gordon College which evolved into the University of Khartoum, and in East Africa there was Makerere University.

The following data for the year 1958 could he used to illustrate the educational pyramid m Southern Rhodesia, where African education was not well favoured. Total kindergarten enrolment was 227,000. In the primary schools 77,000 entered Standard I, and 10,000 made it to Standard VI. Secondary education began with 3,000 pupils, of whom only 13 made it to Standard XII (Form IV). In that year, there were no African graduates from the recently established University College in Salisbury, but by 1960 there were three. The final word on the quantity of education provided by Europe to Africa can be said in the form of the statistics at the beginning of the rule of the new African states. Some scholars have worked out a statistical index on education whereby educational facilities are evaluated in numbers from 0 to 100, moving from the poorest to the most advanced. On that index, most African countries are below 10. The developed exploiter countries and the Socialist states are usually above 80. A UNESCO publication on education in black independent Africa said:

‘Of this population (of around 170 million), a little more than 25 million are of school age and of these nearly 13 million have no opportunity of going to school — and of the ‘privileged’ 12 million less than half complete their primary education. Only three out of every 100 children see the inside of a secondary school while not even two of every thousand have a chance of receiving some sort of higher education in Africa itself. The overall estimated illiteracy rate of 80 to 85% is nearly twice that of the average world figure.’

The imperialist whites use the above evidence to snigger at Africans for being ‘illiterate natives’, and they would argue that illiteracy is part of ‘the vicious circle of poverty’. Yet, the same people boast proudly that they have educated Africa. It is difficult to see how they can have it both ways. If independent Africa is still without the benefits of modern education (as it is) then 75 years of colonial exploitation undoubtedly have something to do with that state of affairs; and the absurdity is so much the greater when one contemplates how much Africa produced in that period and how much of that went to develop all aspects of European capitalist society, including their educational institutions. Cecil Rhodes could afford to leave a legacy of lavish scholarships to white students for study at Oxford University, having made a fortune from exploiting Africa and Africans.

Those Africans who had access to education were faced with certain qualitative problems. The quality was poor by prevailing European standards. The books, the methods of teaching and the discipline were all brought to Africa in the 19th century; and, on the whole, colonial schools remained sublimely indifferent to the 20th century. New ideas that were incorporated in the capitalist metropoles never reached the colonies. In particular, the fantastic changes in science did not reach African classrooms, for there were few schools where science subjects were taught. Similarly, the evolution of higher technical education did not have any counterpart in colonial Africa.

There were numerous absurdities in the transplantation of a version of European education into Africa. When the Bemba children mentioned above went to school, they had no programme of instruction relating to the plant life with which they would otherwise have familiarised themselves. Instead, they were taught about flowers — and about European roses at that. Dr. Kofi Busia some years ago made the following admission:

‘At the end of my first year at secondary school (Mfantsipim, Cape Coast, Ghana), I went home to Wenchi for the Christmas vacation. I had not been home for four years, and on that visit, I became painfully aware of my isolation. I understood our community far less than the boys of my own age who had never been to school. Over the years, as I went through college and university, I felt increasingly that the education I received taught me more and more about Europe and less and less about my own society.’

Eventually, Busia knew so little about African society that he proposed that independent Africans should ‘dialogue’ with the fascist racist white minority that maintains apartheid in South Africa.

Some of the contradictions between the content of colonial education and the reality of Africa were really incongruous. On a hot afternoon in some tropical African school, a class of black shining faces would listen to their geography lesson on the seasons of the year — spring, summer, autumn and winter. They would learn about the Alps and the river Rhine but nothing about the Atlas mountains of North Africa or the river Zambezi. If those students were in a British colony, they would dutifully write that ‘we defeated the Spanish armada in 1588’ — at a time when Hawkins was stealing Africans and being knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for so doing. If they were in a French colony, they would learn that ‘the Gauls, our ancestors, had blue eyes’, and they would be convinced that ‘Napoleon was our greatest general’ — the same Napoleon who re-instituted slavery in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and was only prevented from doing the same in Haiti because his forces were defeated by an even greater strategist and tactician, the African, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

To some extent Europeans thoughtlessly applied their own curricula without reference to African conditions; but very often they deliberately did so with intent to confuse and mystify. As late as 1949, a Principal Education Officer in Tanganyika carefully outlined that the Africans of that colony should be bombarded in primary school with propaganda about the British royal family. The theme of the (British) king as a father should be stressed throughout the syllabus and mentioned in every lesson’, he said. He further urged that African children should be shown numerous pictures of the English princesses and their ponies at Sandringham and Windsor Castle.

Whatever little was discussed about the African past in colonial schools was about European activities in Africa. That trend is now sufficiently reversed to allow the present generation of African pupils to smile at the thought that Europeans ‘discovered’ Mount Kenya, the river Niger, etc. But in the colonial period, the paradox was that whoever had an opportunity to be educationally misguided could count himself lucky, because that misguidance was a means of personal advance within the structure created by European capitalists in and for Africa.

The French, Portuguese and Belgians made it clear that education at any level was designed ‘to civilise the African native’, and of course only a civilised native could hope to gain worthwhile employment and recognition from the colonialists. According to the French, an African, after receiving French education, stood a chance of becoming an assimilée — one who could be assimilated or incorporated into the superior French culture. The Portuguese used the word assimilado, which means exactly the same; and Portuguese colonial law distinguished sharply between a native and an assimilado. The latter was sometimes called a civilisado (‘one who is civilised’) because of being able to read and write Portuguese. That sort of African was rewarded with certain privileges. One great irony was that in Portugal up to 1960, nearly half of the population was illiterate, and, therefore, if they had been put to the same test they would have been judged uncivilised! Meanwhile, the Belgians were parading around with the same system. They called their ‘educated Bantu’ in Congo the évolués (’those who have evolved’ from savagery to civilisation, thanks to the Belgians).

Somehow, the British avoided hard and fast legal distinctions between the educated and uneducated African, but they encouraged cultural imitation all the same. Governor Cameron of Tanganyika in the 1920s was known as a ‘progressive’ governor. But when he was attacked for trying to preserve the African personality in the educational system, he denied the charge and declared that his intention was that the African should cease to think as an African and instead should become ‘a fair-minded Englishman’. Students who came out of Livingstonia or Blantyre Mission in Malawi were widely known to be black Scotsmen, because of the effort of Scottish missionaries. In Sierra Leone, the white cultural influence went back to the 18th century, and Sierra Leone Creoles stood out even from the rest of miseducated black people. The Creoles were not satisfied with an English Christian name or even with one European surname: they had to Choose two European surnames and connect them with a hyphen. Of course, in practical terms, the education with all its warped values meant that the educated handful went as far as colonialism would allow Africans to go in the civil service or in the employ of private capitalist firms.

During the colonial epoch and afterwards, criticism was justly levelled at the colonial educational system for failing to produce more secondary school pupils and more university graduates. And yet, it can be said that among those who had the most education were to be found the most alienated Africans on the continent. Those were the ones who evolved and were assimilated. At each further stage of education, they were battered by and succumbed to the values of the white capitalist system; and, after being given salaries, they could then afford to sustain a style of life imported from outside. Access to knives and forks, three-piece suits and pianos then further transformed their mentality. There is a famous West Indian calypsonian who in satirizing his colonial school days, remarked that had he been a bright student he would have learnt more and turned out to be a fool. Unfortunately, the colonial school system educated far too many fools and clowns, fascinated by the ideas and way of life of the European capitalist class. Some reached a point of total estrangement from African conditions and the African way of life, and like Blaise Diagne of Senegal they chirped happily that they were and would always be ‘European’.

There is no getting away from the conclusion reached by the African educationalist, Abdou Moumini, that ‘Colonial education corrupted the thinking and sensibilities of the African and filled him with abnormal complexes’. It followed that those who were Europeanised were to that extent de-Africanised, as a consequence of the colonial education and the general atmosphere of colonial life. Many examples are cited in present-day Africa of the insulting treatment of aspects of African culture in the colonial period, based on cultural imperialism and white racism. What is seldom commented upon is the fact that many Africans were the victims of fascism at the hands of the Portuguese and Spanish, at the hands of the Italians and the Vichy French regime for a brief period in the late 1930s and the early 1940s, and at the hands of the British and Boers in South Africa throughout this century. The fascist colonial powers were retarded capitalist states, where the government police machinery united with the Catholic church and the capitalists to suppress Portuguese and Spanish workers and peasants and to keep them ignorant. Understandably, the fascist colonialists wanted to do the same to African working people, and in addition they vented their racism on Africans, just as Hitler had done on the Jews.

Like most colonial administrations, that of the Italians in Libya disregarded the culture of the Africans. However, after Mussolini the fascist carne to power, the disregard gave way to active hostility, especially in relation to the Arabic language and the Muslim religion. The Portuguese and Spanish had always shown contempt for African language and religion. Schools of kindergarten and primary level for Africans in Portuguese colonies were nothing but agencies for the spread of the Portuguese language. Most schools were controlled by the Catholic church, as a reflection of the unity of church and state in fascist Portugal. In the little-known Spanish colony of Guinea (Rio Muni), the small amount of education given to Africans was based on eliminating the use of local languages by the pupils and on instilling in their hearts ‘the holy fear of God’. Schools in colonial Africa usually blessed with the names of saints or bestowed with the names of rulers, explorers and governors from the colonising power. In Spanish Guinea, that practice was followed, resulting in the fact that Rio Muni children had to pass by the José Antonio school — the equivalent of saying the Adolf Hitler school if the region were German, for the school was named in honour of José Antonio, the founder of the Spanish fascist party.

Another aspect of the colonial educational and cultural patterns which needs investigation is the manner in which European racism and contempt was expressed not only by hostility to African culture but by paternalism and by praise of negative and static social features. There were many colonialists who wished to preserve in perpetuity everything that was African, if it appeared quaint or intriguing to them. Such persons merely succeeded in cutting African life off from the potentially beneficial aspects of the international world. An excellent example is the kind of work done in Gabon by Albert Schweitzer, who was in charge of a dirty unhygienic hospital with dogs, cats, goats and chickens running around, under the guise of fitting in to the African culture and environment.

As late as 1959, a friend and colleague of Albert Schweitzer defended his unsterile hospital in the following terms:

‘Now to the domestic animals at the Hospital. People have been shocked by the informality with which animals and people mix, and although it is perhaps not always defensible on hygienic grounds, the mixture adds considerably to the charm of the place.’ The writer was a dental surgeon from New York, who would obviously have had a fit if a goat or chicken had wandered into his New York surgery. He knew full well that at Schweitzer’s hospital ‘the goats, dogs and cats visit hospital wards teeming with microbial life of the most horrifying varieties’, but he defended their habitation with Africans because that was part of the culture and charm that had to be preserved!

In the educational sphere, the Belgians carried out a language policy which might appeal to contemporary nationalists, for they insisted that primary education should be in one of the five main African languages of the territory. However, in practice, they used that apparently progressive decision to seal off one Congolese ethnic group from another and to cut the educated off from a wider world of knowledge, because the missionaries translated into the local languages only that which they thought desirable. The policy of mock respect for African culture reached its highest expression in South Africa in the notorious Bantu Education Act of 1953, which sought to promote the differences between Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Venda, etc. — differences which were part of an early stage of development and which would have been transcended if there were no European intervention or if under white rule specific steps were not taken to maintain the anachronistic ‘tribal’ entities.

Not all colonial educators and administrators were consciously taking up the position that the African should be educated the better to be enslaved. On the contrary, most of them thought that they were doing Africans a great favour; and there were a few who were enlightened enough to realise that there was scope for devising a school programme which was less divorced from African reality. In 1928, even the French education minister was shocked to learn that Africans were taught that the Gauls, their ancestors, had blue eyes. From the 1920s, both Britain and France produced colonial educators and education commissions which urged greater relevance of teaching programmes in Africa. They also put forward suggestions such as the use of local languages in primary schools, more education for girls, and .in end to the white-collar orientation of schooling. However, the seemingly progressive nature of those recommendations could not change the fact that colonial education was an instrument to serve the European capitalist class in its exploitation of Africa. Whatever colonial educators thought or did could not change that basic fact.

To recommend that African girls should go to school is more than just an educational policy. It has tremendous social implications, and it pre-supposes that the society will usefully employ the educated woman. Metropolitan capitalist society itself had failed to liberate women, to offer them equal educational opportunities, or to provide them with responsible jobs at equal rates of pay with men. That being the case, it was wishful thinking to imagine that the colonial educational system would take any serious interest in African women, especially since the colonialists would have had to transform the consciousness on that matter which was characteristic of feudal and pre-feudal societies. Nowhere did the cash-crop economy or the export of basic ores make provision for educated women. As in the capitalist metropoles, it was assumed that the civil service was for men. Therefore, the extremely limited employment sector in the colonies had nothing to offer educated women, and modern education remained a luxury with which few African women came into contact.

Another progressive suggestion made by some colonial educationists was for more agricultural and technical schooling. But, genuine technical education was ruled out, because the fundamental purpose of the colonial economy did not permit the development of industry and skills within Africa. Only in rare cases, such as in the Congo, was there an objective necessity for technically trained Africans. In the later stages of colonial rule in Congo, mineral exploitation had developed to such a point that there was practical need for extensive rudimentary technical skills among African workers. A few Katangese and other Congolese also received technical training of a secondary equivalent. Significantly enough, in such cases, the private companies took the initiative, since their profits were at stake, and the technical schools were extensions of their production processes. However, for the most part, whatever skilled jobs needed to be done within the restricted field of mining and industry in Africa were met by the importation of Europeans.

Agriculture was not carried on as a scientific industry, as in Scandinavia or New Zealand, where whites were farming on an intensive capitalist basis. As noted earlier, the production of cash crops in Africa was stimulated by the minimum expenditure on the part of Europeans and with no infusion of new technology. Therefore, when educational advisers suggested agricultural education relevant lo African needs this

meant no addition lo African knowledge. In many colonial schools, agriculture became an apology for a subject. It was part of the drudgery of the institution. The teachers received no agricultural education, and, therefore, they could not teach anything scientific. Children acquired nothing but distaste for the heavy labour of shamba work, and in fact it was used as a form of punishment.

Early educational commissions also accorded high priority to religious and moral flavouring of instruction-something that was disappearing in Europe itself. The role of the Christian church in the educational process obviously needs special attention. The Christian missionaries were as much part of the colonising forces as were the explorers, traders and soldiers. There may be room for arguing whether in a given colony the missionaries brought the other colonialist forces or vice versa, but there is no doubting the fact that missionaries were agents of colonialism in the practical sense, whether or not they saw themselves in that light. The imperialist adventurer, Sir Henry Johnston disliked missionaries, but he conceded in praise of them that ‘each mission station is an exercise in colonisation’.

In Europe, the church had long held a monopoly over schooling from feudal times right into the capitalist era. By the late 19th century, that situation was changing in Europe; but, as far as the European colonisers were concerned, the church was free to handle the colonial educational system in Africa. The strengths and weaknesses of that schooling were very much to be attributed to the church.

Both inside and outside church and school, the personnel of the church were instrumental in setting values during the colonial epoch. They taught an ethic of human relations that in itself could appeal to the finer instincts of Africans, just as it had previously stirred other Europeans. Of course, there was a huge gap between European conduct and the Christian principles with which they were associated; and, on the part of the Africans, it was also true that motives for accepting Christianity often had nothing to do with the content of the religion. Indeed, the church as a source of education was probably more attractive to many converts than the church as a dispenser of religion.

Whatever the church taught in any capacity may be considered as a contribution to formal and informal education in colonial Africa, and its teachings must be placed within a social context. The church’s role was primarily to preserve the social relations of colonialism, as an extension of the role it played in preserving the social relations of capitalism in Europe. Therefore, the Christian church stressed humility, docility and acceptance. Ever since the days of slavery in the West Indies, the church had been brought in on condition that it should not excite the African slaves with doctrines of equality before God. In those days, they taught slaves to sing that all things were bright and beautiful, and that the slave master in his castle was to be accepted as God’s work just like the slave living in a miserable hovel and working 20 hours per day under the whip. Similarly, in colonial Africa churches could be relied upon to preach turning the other cheek in the face of exploitation, and they drove home the message that everything would be right in the next world. Only the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa was openly racist, but all others were racist in so far as their European personnel were no different from other whites who had imbibed racism and cultural imperialism as a consequence of the previous centuries of contact between Europeans and the rest of the world.

In serving colonialism, the church often took up the role of arbiter of what was culturally correct. African ancestral beliefs were equated with the devil (who was black anyway), and it took a very long time before some European churchmen accepted prevailing African beliefs as constituting religion rather than mere witchcraft and magic. However, in its hostility towards African cultural and religious manifestations, the Christian church did perform certain progressive tasks. Practices such as killing twins and trial by ordeal were frowned upon by the European missionaries, and those were reflections of superstitious ideas rooted in an early stage of African development, when something like the birth of twins could not be scientifically explained, and, therefore, gave rise to religious fear.

It is to be noted that in West Africa long before the Colonial Scramble, many outcasts in society and persons who suffered from religious and social prejudices were the first converts of the Christian church. What was supported by one section of the population was opposed by another, and in the present century the cultural imperialism of the church excited great opposition. Prevailing African customs such as polygamy were attacked without reference to their socio-economic function. On the question of monogamy the Christian missionaries were introducing not a religious principle but rather a facet of European capitalist society. For their propaganda to have been successful, European activity had to work a transformation in the extended family patterns of African societies. That was very slow in occurring, and, in the meanwhile, many Africans accepted the religious aspects while rejecting the cultural appendages and the European missionaries themselves.

Much has been written about the trend in colonial Africa known as the Independent Church movement. It was a trend in which thousands of African Christians participated by breaking away from European churches (especially Protestant churches), and setting up their own places of worship under Christian African leadership. The motives were varied. Some Independent churches were highly nationalistic, like that established by John Chilembwe who led an armed nationalist uprising in Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1917. Others developed as a response of those Africans aspiring to be priests or pastors to the discrimination practised against them by white missionaries. One constant factor was disgust with the way that Europeans forced Africans to identify as Europeans. Revolting against that concept, one Zulu Independent church put the question to the local population ‘Are you a Jew or a Zulu? Were you there when they crucified their Lord?’ Nevertheless, many Africans came to accept the dehumanising principle of alienation from self. African identification with Europeans (be they Gentile or Jew) was a pillar of the informal education of the colonial epoch.

In the final analysis, perhaps the most important principle of colonial education was that of capitalist individualism. Like many aspects of the superstructure of beliefs in a society, it had both its negative and positive sides, viewed historically. The European bourgeoisie were progressive when they defended the individual from the excessive control of the father in the family and against the collective regulations of the church and feudal society. However, the capitalist system then went on to champion and protect the rights of the individual property owners against the rights of the mass of exploited workers and peasants. When capitalism had its impact on Africa in the colonial period, the idea of individualism was already in its reactionary phase. It was no longer serving to liberate the majority but rather to enslave the majority for the benefit of a few.

When individualism was applied to land, it meant that the notions of private ownership and the transfer of land through sale became prevalent in some parts of the continent. Much more widespread was the new understanding that individual labour should benefit the person concerned and not some wider collective, such as the clan or ethnic group. Thus, the practice of collective labour and egalitarian social distribution gave way to accumulative tendencies. Superficially, it appeared that individualism brought progress. Some individuals owned large coffee, cocoa or cotton shambas, and others rose to some prominence in the colonial administration through education. As individuals, they had improved their lot, and they became models of achievement within the society. Any model of achievement is an educational model, which directs the thoughts and actions of young and old in the society. The model of personal achievement under colonialism was really a model for the falling apart and the underdevelopment of African society taken as a whole. It is a common myth within capitalist thought that the individual through drive and hard work can become a capitalist. In the U.S.A., it is usual to refer to an individual like John D. Rockefeller as someone who rose ‘from rags to riches’. To complete the moral of the Rockefeller success story, it would be necessary to fill in the details on all the millions of people who had to be exploited in order for one man to become a multi-millionaire. The acquisition of wealth is not due to hard work alone, or the Africans working as slaves in America and the West Indies would have been the wealthiest group in the world. The individualism of the capitalist must be seen against the hard and unrewarded work of the masses.

The idea of individualism was more destructive in colonial Africa than it was in metropolitan capitalist society. In the latter, it could be said that the rise of the bourgeois class indirectly benefitted the working classes, through promoting technology and raising the standard of living. But, in Africa, colonialism did not bring those benefits-it merely intensified the rate of exploitation of African labour and continued to export the surplus. In Europe, individualism led to entrepreneurship and adventurism of the type which spearheaded Europe’s conquest of the rest of the world. In Africa, both the formal school system and the informal value system of colonialism destroyed social solidarity and promoted the worst form of alienated individualism without social responsibility. That delayed the political process through which the society tried to regain its independence.

Up to this point, it has consistently been held that development is rooted in the material environment, in the techniques of production and in the social relations deriving from people’s work. There are what are known as ‘conspiracy theories of history’ by which the happenings of whole epochs are presented as being the secret scheming of one group or another. Such an approach is not to be recommended in the study of Africa’s relations with Europe. However, with regard to colonial educational policy, one comes closest to finding the elements of conscious planning by a group of Europeans to control the destiny of millions of Africans over a considerable period of time extending into the future. The planning of colonial education for the subjugation of Africa was most fully displayed by the French, because French politicians and administrators had the habit of openly expressing their thoughts on Africa. Therefore, the words of the French colonialists themselves will be cited here to illustrate how the colonial educational system did not leave vital political matters to chance, but was consciously carrying out policies hostile to the regaining of freedom by African peoples.

Ever since the period of the imperialist Scramble for Africa, French leaders realised that it was imperative to start some schools in the parts of Africa claimed by France, so that French language and culture might be accepted by some Africans, who would then identify with France rather than Britain or Portugal or some other European rival. This was particularly true in disputed frontier zones. Eugenne Etienne, a French minister at the start of the colonial era, stated that the extension of the French language was necessary as ‘a measure of national defence’. As early as 1884, there was set up the Alliance Française as an instrument of educational and cultural imperialism, recognised and supported by the French government. The reports of the Alliance Française show clearly that they thought of themselves as an arm of French imperialism, fighting so that France could entrench itself. For example, the Alliance Française wrote of French schools in Upper Guinea in the late 19th century:

‘They have to combat the redoubtable influence of the English schools of Sierra Leone in this region. The struggle between the two languages becomes more intense as one moves to the south, invaded by English natives and by their Methodist pastors.’

As seen earlier in the case of Portugal and Spain, the spread of the language of the European colonising power was considered of major importance. Belgium on the other hand encouraged local languages as a means of division and retardation. Only in Tanganyika under German rule, was there a positive reaction to the potentialities of Swahili as a teaching language, so that there was a further impetus to that language, which had already spread by trade, political relations, and personal contacts.

Apart from language, the pillar of cultural imperialism in most colonies was religion. The church never played as important a role in French colonies as it did in other parts of Africa colonised by predominantly Catholic countries, and the Protestant churches in British colonies also had a much more vital role than the church in French Africa. The explanation is that the French bourgeois revolution of the 18th century was more thoroughly anti-clerical than any other bourgeois revolution, and the Catholic church was completely separated from government in France by 1905, after many years of poor relations. Nevertheless, when the French saw that mission schools were helping England to entrench itself in Africa, the French government asked the aid of their own Catholic church to secure national interests.

From the viewpoint of the colonisers, once the frontiers of a colony were firmly decided, the major problem remained that of securing African compliance in carrying out policies favourable to the metropoles. There was always the possible use of force for that purpose, but naked force was best kept in reserve, rather than be utilised for everyday affairs. Only education could lay the basis for a smooth-functioning colonial administration. In the first place, there was the elementary language problem of Europeans communicating with Africans. Most of the time, Europeans used translators to pass on orders, but it was known that African translators seized the opportunity to promote themselves and to modify or even sabotage orders. There was a saying in French colonial Africa that ‘translation is equal to treason’, and the only way to avoid that was to teach the mass of the people French.

Then there was the practical aspect of educating Africans to be better workers, just as in Europe the workers received education so that they would be more efficient and produce extra surplus for the capitalists. In colonial Africa, the European bourgeoisie realised that some education would maximise the value of labour. Albert Sarrault, a French Colonial Minister, stressed in 1914 what he termed ‘the economic utility of educating the (African) masses’. Several years earlier the French had made a specific statement to the same effect on Madagascar. An ordinance of 1899 indicated that the purpose of schooling was

‘To make the young Malagasy faithful and obedient subjects of France and to offer an education which would be industrial, agricultural and commercial, so as to ensure that the settlers and various public services of the colony can meet their personnel requirements.’

In practice, it was not necessary to educate the masses, because only a minority of the African population entered the colonial economy in such a way that their performance could be enhanced by education. Indeed, the French concentrated — (in selecting a small minority, who would be thoroughly subjected to French cultural imperialism, and who would aid France in administering its vast African colonial possessions. William Ponty, an early Governor-General of French West Africa, spoke in terms of forming ‘an elite of young people destined to aid our own efforts’. In 1919, Henry Simon (then Colonial Minister) outlined a programme for secondary education in Africa with a view to ‘making the best indigenous elements into complete Frenchmen’.

The best expressions of the political implications of French colonial educational policy came in the 1930s; and, by that time, some action was also matching the words. Brevié, the Governor-General of French West Africa in 1930, urged the extension of the higher levels of primary schooling for Africans ‘to help us in our work of colonisation’. Brevié was encouraged by the fact that by then there had appeared ‘a native elite, of whose zeal for a thorough and exclusive French culture signs are already visible’. So with the support of the Inspector-General of education, that governor went on to outline plans for African students to attend secondary school, so as to become colonial cadres. Any socio-political system needs its cadres. That was the role played by the youngest age-grades in Shaka’s armies and it was the role played by the Komsomol or Young Communists in the Soviet Union. Being a cadre involved not just training for a practical job but also political orientation to serve as a leading element in the system. The French and other colonialists understood this very well. This is how Brevié expressed it:

‘It is in no wise merely a matter of turning out batches of apprentices, clerks and officials according to the fluctuating needs of the moment. The role of these native cadres is much wider.’

Only in North Africa, with its heavy white settler population, did the French find it unnecessary to encourage a local elite to run affairs under the direction of the metropolis and the governor; although even in Algeria there emerged a number of subjects called the Beni Oui Oui — literally ‘the Yes, Yes men’, who always assented to carrying out French instructions in opposition to the interests of most of their brothers. Another far-sighted aspect of French political policy in the education sphere is the manner in which they forced the sons of chiefs to acquire education. It was a deliberate attempt to capture the loyalty of those persons who had previously held political power in independent Africa, and it was an attempt at continuity with the pre-colonial phase. As the French themselves put it, by educating the sons of traditional rulers, ‘a bond is thus established between the native cadres formed by us and those that the native community recognises’. In 1935, a team of British educationalists visited French Africa, and they admitted with a mixture of jealousy and admiration that France had succeeded in creating an elite of Africans in the image of Frenchmen — an elite that was helping to perpetuate French colonial rule. To greater or lesser extent, all colonial powers produced similar cadres to manage and buttress their colonial empires in Africa and elsewhere.

After the second World War, it became obvious that colonial rule could not forever be maintained in the same form in Africa; Asia already having broken loose and Africa being restless. When the awareness that the end was in sight became generalised, the metropolitan powers turned to their colonial cadres and handed to them the reins of policy in politically independent Africa. It should be emphasised that the choice that Africa should be free was not made by the colonial powers but by the people of Africa. Nevertheless, the changeover from colonialism to what is known as neo-colonialism did have the element of conspiracy in it. In 1960, the then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, made the oft-quoted statement that ‘a wind of change was blowing across Africa’. That was the bourgeois way of expressing what Chinese Premier, Chou En-Lai was soon to assert: namely, that ‘Africa was ripe for Revolution’. In order to delay or hijack the African revolution, the colonising powers turned to a group which they had already created for a different purpose — the elite of colonially educated Africans, from among whom were selected wherever possible those who were most suitable for elevation to political leadership, and the administration and military apparatus were left in the hands of similar trustworthy cadres. There were a few far-sighted Europeans who all along saw that the colonial educational system would serve them if and when political independence was regained in Africa. For instance, Pierre Foncin, a founder of the Alliance Française, stated at the beginning of this century that ‘it is necessary to attach the colonies to the metropole by a very solid psychological bond, against the day when their progressive emancipation ends in a form of federation as is probable-that they be and they remain French in language, thought and spirit’. Yet, it was the British who first appreciated that they should bow to the inevitable and grant African independence. While the French introduced a few African representatives into their own Parliament in France so as to try and keep African territories tied to France, the British began to prepare to hand over to certain selected Africans.

In the metropolitan capitalist countries, there were (and still are) elite schools which provided the bulk of the political and other leadership. The English public schools of Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Winchester are well-known as training grounds of the British ruling class, and by many authorities they are considered more important than the Universities to which the students of such secondary schools invariably go. In France at the secondary level, it was and still is usual to find that students emerging from places like the Lycée Louis le Grand and the Ecole Normal Superieure Rue d’Ulm are the future cabinet ministers and top executives of that country. In the U.S.A., in spite of the myth that everyone can reach the top, a high proportion of the ruling class went to exclusive schools like the private boys’ schools of Groton, St. Paul’s, St. Mark’s and Philips Exeter. Under African conditions, anyone who went to school in the colonial period virtually entered the elite> because the numbers enjoying that privilege even at the primary level were so small. In addition, within each colony there tended to be at least one secondary school or higher institute which played the role of furnishing the politico-administrative personnel of Africa in the era of political independence. The names of cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries of individual African countries can be found on the school rolls of Gordon College (Sudan), Alliance High School (Kenya), King’s College Budo (Uganda), Tahora Secondary School (Tanzania), Livingstonia (Malawi), William Ponty (Senegal), Sierra Leone Grammar School, Mfantsipim (Ghana), the Lycée Gallieni (Madagascar) and a few others. Besides, there was Makerere, Fourah Bay and Achimota, as long standing university or near-university institutions.

In retrospect, it is now very clear that one of the most significant aspects of the colonial educational system was that provided by the armed forces and police. Colonial armies such as the King’s African Rifles, the French Free Army and the Congolese Force Publique produced sergeants who later became the majors and generals of independent Africa, and in several instances the heads of states. Policemen also achieved similar rapid promotion, although their political position has been rather weaker than the military proper. Like their civilian counterparts, the future police and military elite were at one time trained to be simply low-level assistants to the colonial overlords; but once independence was in sight they were judged by the colonisers to have the requisite qualities of colonial cadres — fit to be part of the ruling class of neo-colonial Africa. In a few instances, the colonial powers towards the latter part of the colonial period rushed to train a few Africans at the metropolitan higher institutions of scientific violence, notably Sandhurst Military Academy and Hendon Police School in Britain and St. Cyr military academy in France. Those few who were selected for such training became the cream of the military elite, corresponding to those African civilians who went to university either in Africa or abroad.

Most of what emerged from the colonial educational system was not unique. Educational systems are designed to function as props to a given society, and the educated in the young age groups automatically carry over their values when their turn comes to make decisions in the society. In Africa, the colonialists were training low level administrators, teachers, NCOs, railroad booking clerks, etc., for the preservation of colonial relations; and it is not surprising that such individuals would carry over colonial values into the period after independence was regained. The colonialists meanwhile took action wherever possible to ensure that persons most favourable to their position continued to man African administrations and assumed new political and state police powers. Such a presentation of events would be termed one-sided by many Europeans and Africans, too. In a sense, that is true, and the one-sidedness is deliberate. It is a presentation of what the colonial educational system achieved in terms of what it set itself to achieve. The other side of the matter is not the good with which colonial educators can be credited, but rather the good that emerged in spite of the efforts and intentions of the colonisers and because of the struggles of African people.



The only positive development in colonialism was when it ended. It is the purpose of this section to sketch briefly how that development came about, with particular reference to the role of the educated sector.

In contrast to a subjective interpretation of what was good about colonialism on the one hand and what was bad on the other hand, there is the approach which follows closely the aims and achievements of the colonisers and the counter aims and achievements of the African people. Sometimes, Africans were restricted merely to manipulating colonial institutions as best they could; but, in addition, certain fundamental contradictions arose within colonial society, and they could only be resolved by Africans regaining their sovereignty as a people.

Analysis based on the perception of contradictions is characteristic of Marxism. Thus, Soviet historians approach the disintegration of colonialism within the following framework:

‘Colonialism fettered the development of the enslaved peoples. To facilitate colonial exploitation, the imperialists deliberately hampered economic and cultural progress in the colonies; preserved and restored obsolete forms of social relations, and fomented discord between nationalities and tribes. However, the drive for super profits dictated development of the extractive industry, plantations and capitalist farms, and ¡he building of ports, railways and roads in the colonies. In consequence, social changes took place in the colonies, irrespective of the will of the colonialists. New social forces emerged — an industrial and agricultural proletariat, a national bourgeoisie and intelligentsia.’

Among the different segments of the African population within the so-called ‘modern’ sector produced by capitalist activity, the cash-crop peasantry was the largest. African cash-crop farmers had profound grievances against the colonialists, centering on the low price for African products and sometimes on land alienation. Agricultural wage earners and urban workers had definitely lost their land, and were resisting wage slavery. They did so by organising as the European proletariat had been doing since its formation; and, by virtue of compact organisation, African workers made their presence felt much more strongly than their limited numbers might otherwise have warranted. In the end, the numerical preponderance of peasants and of those who had one foot in the ‘subsistence’ sector was registered in the mass parties. But, while peasants depended upon sporadic revolts and boycotts to express their grievances, wage earners were engaged in a more continuous process of bargaining, petitioning, striking, etc.

The smallest of the social groupings was that of the educated elite or intelligentsia. As noted earlier, the number of Africans receiving education in the colonial period was so small that anyone who went to school was privileged and belonged to an elite. There were only a few lawyers and doctors, concentrated mainly in North and West Africa. Generally speaking, the intelligentsia were students, clerks and teachers. The group of the educated also overlapped with that of organised labour leadership, with the traditional African ruling stratum, with ex-servicemen and police, and with traders and independent craftsmen.

Altogether, the educated played a role in African independence struggles far out of proportion to their numbers, because they took it upon themselves and were called upon to articulate the interests of all Africans. They were also required to provide the political organisation that would combine all the contradictions of colonialism and focus on the main contradiction, which was that between the colony and the metropole.

The contradiction between the educated and the colonialists was not the most profound. Ultimately, it was possible for the colonisers to withdraw and to satisfy the aspirations of most of the African intelligentsia, without in any way relieving the peasant and worker majority, who were the most exploited and the most oppressed. However, while the differences lasted between the colonisers and the African educated, they were decisive.

It has already been argued at some length that colonial education reached a limited number of Africans, that it was restricted to elementary levels, and that its pedagogical and ideological content was such as to serve the interests of Europe rather than Africa. Even so, the numbers enrolled would have been much smaller, were it not for efforts on the part of Africans themselves. The secondary school opportunities would have been narrower, and the ideological content would have been more negative, if the activity of the African masses were not in constant contradiction to the aims of European colonisers. Above all, education for continued enslavement never quite fulfilled its purpose; and, instead, different levels of contradiction arose-leading to independence, and in some cases heralding a new Socialist epoch by the end of colonialism.

If there is anything glorious about the history of African colonial education, it lies not in the crumbs which were dropped by European exploiters, but in the tremendous vigour displayed by Africans in mastering the principles of the system that had mastered them. In most colonies, there was an initial period of indifference towards school education, but once it was understood that schooling represented one of the few avenues of advance within colonial society, it became a question of Africans clamouring and pushing the colonialists much further than they intended to go.

When Africans took great pains to enter the cash crop economy, that generally suited European capitalist ends. But, African initiatives in the sphere of education were producing results antagonistic to at least some of the purposes of colonial exploitation.

Education in French colonial Africa has been referred to several times from the viewpoint of French policy. French administrators also commented on African efforts to go beyond the limited number of cadres that the French had in mind, and whom the French were prepared to subsidise out of African taxes. In 1930, the Governor-General of French West Africa reported that:

‘Each new school that is opened is immediately filled to overflowing. Everywhere, natives in their multitude are clamouring to be educated. Here, a Chief wants a school of his own, so he builds it; or again, some village or other may offer to bear the cost of fitting out a school. At certain places on the Ivory Coast, the villagers pay the teachers out of their own pockets. Our pupils often come from distances of 20 to 50 kilometres.’

African enthusiasm in seeking more and higher education was not confined to any part of the continent; although in some parts it was manifested at an earlier date and more intensively. For instance, the Gold Coast and Sierra Leone had a tradition of European education going hack to the 17th century. Therefore, it was not at all surprising that in 1824 the Times Educational Supplement commented that there was a universal demand for better and more education on the Gold Coast. It was the Gold Coast which produced J. E. K. Aggrey, that distinguished African educator and nationalist; and he fired the imagination of Africans well beyond the Gold Coast, in so far as formal education was concerned.

There was a definite correlation between the degree of colonial exploitation and the amount of social services provided. That applied to education in particular, so that urban, mining and cash crop areas had a virtual monopoly of schools. That was partly due to the capitalist policy of enhancing the labour power of workers, but it was also the consequence of efforts made by Africans inside the cash economy. They made demands on the colonial administration, and they also went through a great deal of sacrifice and self-denial to get more school places. Thus, one finds that Ibos who were earning income from palm oil deployed a significant proportion of their small earnings into building schools, usually in association with the church. Incidentally, it should be noted here that what were called church or mission schools were often entirely financed by Africans. They paid church dues, they made donations for the church harvest, they sometimes contributed to a special education fund, and they often paid school fees. That pattern was widespread in Iboland, and it was not uncommon in other parts of colonial Africa. The existence of schools should be traced through the church back to palm oil and the people’s labour. Indeed, it must not be forgotten that missionaries, administrators, white settlers — the whole lot — were living off African labour and resources. In the cash crop areas of British Africa, it also became the practice to try and use the agricultural produce boards and similar institutions to finance education. After all, the agricultural Boards were supposed to have been established in the interest of peasant producers. They concentrated on exporting surplus in the form of dollar reserves for Britain; but, towards the end of colonial rule in the self-government epoch, it was too much of a scandal to avoid giving Africans some small part of the benefits of their labour, and so the produce Boards were prevailed upon to make some funds available for education. For example, in 1953 the Uganda Legislative Council voted to spend about £11 million from the Cotton Price Stabilisation Fund on welfare schemes, with agricultural education receiving a big slice.

Among those Africans who did somewhat better than their brothers financially, some philanthropy was expressed in terms of helping African children go lo school. The historical records of African education under colonial rule reveal certain tit-bits, such as the fact that the first secondary school was established in Somalia in 1949 not by the colonial administration or on the initiative of the church but by a Somali trader. Of course, it is still expected in Africa that anyone who is already educated and is earning a salary should in turn help to educate at least one more member of his extended family. That is precisely because his extended family and his village community often made sacrifices to allow him to be educated in the first place. That was as true in Mauretania as it was in the reserves of South Africa, and no African would have any difficulty in supplying his own examples to that effect.

There are now available a number of biographies of Africans who gained prominence in the colonial period, usually in the movement for the regaining of African independence. It invariably emerges from reading such biographies how much of a struggle it was to be educated in colonial times. The same conclusion can be reached through reading the modern African novel, because the novelist (while writing what is called ‘fiction’) is concerned with capturing reality. Apologists for colonialism talk as though education were a big meal handed down to Africans on a platter. It was not. The educational crumbs dropped were so small that individuals scrambled for them; they saved incredibly from small earnings and sent their children to school; and African children walked miles to and from school, and thought nothing of it.

But, apart from physical and financial sacrifices, Africans in some colonies had to wage a political battle to have the principle of African education accepted. The colonies in question were those with white settler populations.

In Kenya, white settlers made it clear that as far as they were concerned, an uneducated African was better than an educated one, and that one with the rudiments of education was at least preferable to one with more than a few years of schooling. The Beecher report on education in Kenya (produced in 1949) was heavily influenced by white settlers, and it stated frankly:

Illiterates with the right attitude to manual employment are preferable to products of the schools who are not readily disposed to enter manual employment.

Because the white settlers were close to the centre of political power in the colonial system, they were able to apply their principles to education in Kenya; and very little education went to Africans. In effect, that meant an exception to the rule that more social facilities followed heightened exploitation; but, the Kikuyu (who were the most exploited in Kenya) did not accept the situation passively. One line of approach was to bombard the colonial government with demands, even though Africans were in a far less favourable position to do so than white settlers. The demands were partially successful. The Beecher report grudgingly conceded a few schools to Africans at the primary and secondary level, by suggesting places for 40% of African children at junior primary, 10% at senior primary or intermediate, and 1% at secondary level. But, by 1960, the number of primary schools was double what the whites considered should have been achieved by that date, and the number of secondary institutions was three times what the

white settlers had succeeded in recommending.

Besides, where the government was reluctant to build schools or to subsidise missionaries to do so with African taxes, there was an even greater incentive to handle educational matters directly. In Kenya, there was a spate of what came to be called Independent Schools, comparable to the Independent churches, and, in fact, springing from Independent churches for the most part. The Independent schools in 292

Kenya formed two major associations: namely, the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association and the Kikuyu Karinga Education Association, formed in 1929.

In practice, just as the European Christian missions used schools to attract converts, so the Independent churches attached great importance to schooling. John Chilembwe made striking efforts in that respect, aided by brothers recruited from among African descendants in the U.S.A.

The Muslim religion was also a stimulator of educational advance during the colonial period. In North Africa, Muslims often found it necessary to channel their efforts into schools other than those built by the colonialists. The Society of Reformist Ulema in Algeria started a large primary school programme in 1936. By 1955, its primary schools catered for 45,000 Algerian children; and, from 1947, the Society also ran a large secondary school. Similarly, in Tunisia, popular initiative financed modern Koranic primary schools, providing places for 35,000 children — equivalent to one out of four going to primary school. In Morocco, the Muslim schools that were established by popular effort possessed the unusual feature of aiming at women’s emancipation by having a high percentage of girls far higher than government schools. The French colonial administration deliberately kept mention of such schools out of their official reports, and they tried to keep their existence hidden from visitors.

Another striking example of African self-help with regards to education was the project sponsored by the Graduates’ General Congress in Sudan. Founded by students, merchants and civil servants in 1937, the Graduates’ Congress embarked on a programme of school building. Within four years, 100 schools were opened with the help of voluntary contributions. A smaller but equally exciting experiment was that of the Bugabo United Schoolboys Association, founded by two schoolboys in Mwanza, Tanganyika in 1947. It was aimed at adult education and in a short time attracted over 1,000 people of all ages. The organisers set up a camp where they housed and fed those who turned up, while imparting to them the rudiments of literacy.

When Kikuyu peasants or Ga market women or Kabyle shepherds saved to build schools and educate their children, that was not entirely in accordance with the objective of the colonialists, who wanted cash crop payments and other money in circulation to return as profits to the metropoles through the purchase of consumer goods. In such small ways, therefore, Africans were establishing an order of priorities different from that of the colonialists. This intensified in the later years of colonialism, when education came to be seen as having political significance in the era of self-government.

Having received higher education in colonial Africa in the post second World War era, a French African could reach as far as the French Assembly in Paris, while an English colonial subject might reach the local Legislative Assembly as an elected or nominated member. Those openings were absolutely devoid of power, and they were opportunities that only the merest handful could achieve; but they were stimulants, nonetheless, giving Africans the notion that considerable vertical mobility would accompany education. In French Equatorial Africa in the late 1940s, it was the African Governor, Felix Eboué, who spearheaded the demands for more education for Africans, and he was successful to some extent in forcing the hand of his masters in the French Overseas Ministry. In that same period and subsequently, it was also African effort in the Legislative Councils that kept the question of education to the fore. The British had handpicked a few educated Africans and some ‘chiefs’ to advise the Governor in the Legislative Assembly. Generally, they were decorative like the plumes on the Governor’s helmet; but, on the issue of education, no African could possibly avoid at least voicing some dissatisfaction with the poor state of affairs.

Ultimately, from a purely quantitative viewpoint, Africans pushed the colonialists and the British in particular to grant more education than was allowed for within the colonial system, and that was an important and explosive contradiction that helped Africans regain political independence. It has been observed that British colonies tended to create an educated sector that was larger than that which the colonial economy could absorb. The explanation for that lies in the efforts of African people, although it is true that the French were more rigorous in rejecting African demands, and keeping to their schedule of training only a cadre elite to serve French interests. As it was, in a colony such as Gold Coast, African efforts to achieve education undoubtedly went beyond the numbers required to service the economy. Gold Coast was one of the first colonies to experience the ‘crisis of primary school leavers’ or ‘the secondary school bottleneck’. That is to say, among those leaving primary schools, many were frustrated because they could not find places in secondary schools, nor could they find jobs in keeping with the values they had obtained in school and in keeping with the internal stratification of African society caused by capitalism.

It is sometimes said that Kwame Nkrumah organised the illiterates in the Convention People’s Party. That was a charge contemptuously made by other conservative educated Ghanaians, who thought that Nkrumah was going too far too fast. In reality, the shock troops in Nkrumah’s youth brigade were not illiterate. They had been to primary school, and could read the manifestoes and the literature of the African nationalist revolution. But, they were extremely disaffected because (among other things) they were relative latecomers on the educational scene in Cold Coast, and there was no room in the restricted African establishment of the cocoa monoculture.

Colonial powers aimed at giving a certain amount of education to keep colonialism functioning; Africans by various means required more education at the lower level than their ‘allowance’, and this was .one of the factors which brought about deep crisis, and forced the British to consider the idea of withdrawing their colonial apparatus from Gold Coast. The time-table for independence was also speeded up against the will of the British. As is well known, the regaining of independence in Ghana was not just a local affair, but one that was highly significant for Africa as a whole ; and it therefore highlights the importance of at least one of the educational contradictions in bringing about political independence in Africa.

The Gold Coast colony was not the only one in which there appeared the problem of bottleneck, because of the shallowness of the educational pyramid. In the area that was once the colonial Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, educators in the 1950s were commenting on the primary school-leavers crisis. They claimed to have had a surplus of primary 6 leavers. A set of colonies that was educating an insignificant number of African school children had a surplus of primary school-leavers! All it meant is that colonialism was so bankrupt and had so underdeveloped Africa that it had no use for more than a handful of educated. Furthermore, the colonialists had assured every struggling African that, if he endured missionary education, he would be given a white-collar job and a passport to civilisation; but, on leaving school, African youth found the promises to be false. One Standard 6 leaver in the Central African Federation wrote the following letter to a magazine in 1960:

‘After I had passed Standard 6, I spent the whole year at home because I could not get a place anywhere to further my education. At the beginning of this year I went to look for work but failed to get it again, from January until now. If I had known that my education would have been useless, I would have told my father not to waste his money in educating me from the beginning to Standard 6’.

It would be fairly reasonable to assume that the writer of that letter opposed the white settler Central African Federation. Whether or not he consciously rationalised the matter, he was bound to act as a product of the deep contradictory forces within colonialism — forces which had produced the discrepancy between promise and fulfilment, in terms of his own personal life.

Occasionally, the frustrated school-leavers might vent their sentiments in a non-constructive manner. For instance, the problem of the bottleneck in education and employment arose in Ivory Coast by 1958; and, in a context of confused African leadership, the youth of Ivory Coast decided that their enemy was the group of Dahomians and Senegalese who were employed in Ivory Coast. However, on the whole, the situation of frustration aided Africans to perceive more clearly that the enemy was the colonial power, and it therefore added another platform to the movement for regaining African independence.

Africans clashed with the colonial structure not just over the quantity of education, but also over the quality. One of the key topics for disagreement was colonial agricultural education, to which reference has already been made. The colonialists seemed surprised that a continent of agriculturalists should reject education which was supposedly intended to raise the level of their agriculture. Indeed, some Africans carne out against agricultural education and other reforms to ‘Africanise’ curricula, for what appears to have been selfish elitist reasons. For instance, one Guinean demanded that there should not be a single change from the teaching programme as used in metropolitan France. ‘We want a metropolitan curriculum and the same diplomas as in France, for we are as French as the French of the metropoles’, he declared. In Tanganyika, during German days, there were also protests against changing the formal and literary educational programme, as it had been introduced body and soul from Europe. A prominent Tanganyikan African, Martin Kayamba, asserted that:

‘those who think that literary education is unsuitable for Africans ignore the fact of its importance and indispensability to any sort of education, and therefore deny the Africans the very means of progress.’

Statements such as the above have to be seen in their correct context to understand that the African response was perfectly justified. The colonialist value system assigned a low value to manual activity and a high value to white-collar bureaucratic work. Even more important, the colonial economy offered discriminating compensation to those who had literary or ‘bookish’ education, as opposed to those with manual skills. It was extremely difficult to convince any sane African that education which would send him to dig the soil to get 100/- at the end of the year was more appropriate than education which qualified him to work in the civil service for 100/- per month. When Europeans preached that brand of wisdom, Africans were suspicious. Africans were very suspicious about taxes in the colonial era. They never wanted to be counted, nor did they want their chickens to be counted, because bitter experience had shown them that that was how the colonialists assessed taxes. Similarly, on educational issues, there was no confidence in colonial plans to provide different versions of education, because such plans almost invariably meant an even more inferior education, and one that was more blatantly intended to be education for underdevelopment. The most extreme example of a colonial education system designed to train Africans to fill their ‘natural’ role of manual labourers was that in South Africa, after the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. However, the earlier attempts by the British and French to set up what they called ‘farm schools’ or ‘initiation schools’ were along the same lines as have since been ruthlessly pursued by the racists in South Africa. The non-literary education had the superficial appearance of being more relevant to Africa, but it was really inferior education for a people who were supposedly inferior in order to make them accept their own exploitation and oppression. As Abdou Moumini put it, ‘colonial education was “cut-rate” education’. It offered, by European standards low-quality substitutes to suit what was described as the limited intellectual capacity of Africans. In French colonial Africa, the diplomas were seldom equal to those in the metropoles at comparable levels, and in British East Africa one official asked educators to bear in mind the gap between themselves and the ‘grubby savages’ whom Britain was attempting to civilise. It is in this context that agricultural education in particular revealed itself as an exercise in deception.

Consequently, the struggle against agricultural or rural schools was one of the most bitter struggles waged by African nationalists, and helped heighten consciousness at all levels of African society, with regard to the fundamentally exploitative and racist nature of colonialism. In French West Africa, for example, the farm schools were determinedly opposed after the last war, and the French colonial government had to abolish them. In Tanganyika and Nyasa, the confrontation between the colonialists and the African people was much bigger, because opposition to agricultural education was associated with opposition to colonial agricultural innovations (such as terracing) which were forced upon people without consultation and without taking into account the varying conditions in different localities.

In East Africa the British made a few determined efforts to introduce what they considered as relevant agricultural education. One pilot scheme was at Nyakato in Tanganyika, which involved transforming a secondary school into an agricultural school in 1930. It lasted for nine years with tutors recruited from Britain and South Africa, but in the end the attempt failed because of protest by students and the population of the region. Although the school claimed to be offering new agricultural skills, it was readily recognised that it was part of a programme defining the ‘correct attitudes’ and ‘natural place’ which Europeans thought fit for the natives.

In the 1940s, as Africans sought to change features of the educational system, they naturally had to demand a voice in councils that formulated educational policy. That was in itself a revolutionary demand, because colonial people are supposed to be ruled, not to participate in decision-making. Besides, on the issue of educational policy-making, Africans not only alarmed the administrators, but they trod on the corns of the missionaries, who generally felt that they inherited education at the Partition of Africa. All of those clashes were pointing in the direction of freedom for colonial peoples, because in the background there was always the question of political power.

It would be erroneous to suggest that educated Africans foresightedly moved with the intention of regaining African independence. There would have been very few indeed who, as early as 1939, would have joined Chief Essien of Calabar in asserting that:

‘Without education it will be impossible for us to get to our destination, which is Nigeria’s economic independence and Nigeria’s political independence’.

However, education (both formal and informal) was a powerful force which transformed the situation in post-war Africa in such a way as to bring political independence to most of colonised Africa within two decades.

There were also a few Europeans who foresaw what were called the ‘dangers’ of giving Africans a modern education: namely, the possibility of its leading towards freedom. Certainly, Europeans were not at all happy with any schools which were of the European type, but which were not under direct colonialist control. For example, the Independent schools of Kenya were disliked by white settlers in that colony and by other Europeans outside Kenya. One Catholic mission

report from nearby Tanganyika in 1933 warned against allowing Tanganyika Africans to set up schools controlled by themselves. It noted that :

‘Independent schools are causing difficulties in Kenya. Such schools may easily become hot-beds of sedition’.

When the Mau Mau war for land and liberation broke out in Kenya, one of the first things the British government did was to close the 149 schools of the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association, 21 schools of the Kikuyu Karinga Education Association, and 14 other Independent schools. They were considered ‘training grounds for rebellion’ — a term which essentially captures the fear expressed in the Catholic mission report just cited. Europeans knew well enough that if they did not control the minds of Africans, they would soon cease to control the people physically and politically.

Similarly, in North Africa, the French colonial power and the white colons or settlers did not take kindly to the self-help schools of the colonised Algerians and Tunisians. The purpose of the schools set up by the Society of Reformist Ulema in Algeria was that they should be modern and scientific, but at the same time present learning in the context of Arab and Algerian culture. Pupils at the Ulema schools began their lessons by singing together:

‘Arabic is my language, Algeria is my country, Islam is my religion.’

It was no wonder, therefore, that the colonialists victimised pupils and parents, and took repressive measures on the grounds that those schools were also hotbeds of sedition.

The missionaries asked for control of schools, because that was one of their drawing cards for the church itself and because they considered themselves as experts on the side of cultural imperialism (which they called ‘civilising’). However, there were other Europeans both within and without the colonies who were absolutely opposed to schools-be they Christian, Independent, Government or Islamic. Starting from a racist position, they asserted that offering education to Africans was like throwing pearls before swine. Some of the most violent expressions of racism were directed, against educated Africans. Starting from the time of individuals like Lord Lugard and through to the days of the last colonial administrators like Sir Alan Burns, many colonialists demonstrated hostility to educated Africans. Educated Africans made colonialists extremely uneasy, because they did not conform to the image which Europeans liked to harbour of the ‘unspoilt African savage’.

But, if one goes to the heart of the matter, it can be discerned that the white racists. did not seriously believe that Africans could not master knowledge then in the possession of Europeans. On the contrary, the evidence of educated Africans was before their eyes; and the white settlers especially feared that, given an opportunity, far too many Africans would master white bourgeois knowledge too thoroughly. Such Africans would, therefore, refuse to work as agricultural labourers for 12/- per month; they would compete with Europeans in semi-skilled and skilled categories; and above all they would want to govern themselves.

In the records of colonialism, it is not uncommon to encounter the following type of remark:

What need is there to educate the natives?You will give them the weapons to destroy you!

In one sense, those Europeans were simply dreamers, because giving education to Africans was not an option which could have been avoided; it was an objective necessity to keep colonialism functioning. P. E. Mitchell, who later became Governor of Uganda, remarked in 1928 that ‘regret it ay he may, no Director of Education can resist the demand for clerks, carpenters, shoemakers and so on-trained in European methods to meet European needs. These men are not being trained to fit into any place in the life of their own people, but to meet the economic needs of a foreign race.’ At the same time, the available education was also a consequence of the irrepressible actions of the African people, who hoped to move forward within the alien system. So, those Europeans who were absolutely opposed to giving education to Africans did not understand the contradictions of their own colonial society. But in another sense they were defending the interests of colonialism. Firstly, however much the colonialists tried, they could not succeed in shaping the minds of all Africans whom they educated in schools. The exceptions were the ones who were going to prove most dangerous to colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. And secondly, the most timid and the most brainwashed of educated Africans harboured some form of disagreement with the colonialists; and, in the pursuit of their own group or individual interests, the educated elite helped to expose and undermine the structure of colonial rule.

Keeping the above distinction in mind, one can consider both those contradictions which arose between the colonisers and the African educated as a whole, and those which arose between the colonisers and particular individuals among the African educated.

As already noted, insufficient educational facilities and inadequate jobs were the complaints raised by the lower echelons of those who were educated in Africa during the colonial period. Those who went to secondary school or institutions of higher learning found little access to remunerative and responsible posts, because they were destined to fill the lower ranks of the civil and business administration. After working for twenty years, an African in the civil service would have been extremely lucky to have become ‘head clerk’, or in the police to have become a sergeant. Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, any European doing the same job as an African got higher pay; and whites who were less qualified and experienced were placed above Africans, who did the jobs their superiors were paid to do. In the colonial civil service to be a European was enough. It did not matter whether the white person was ignorant and stupid, he would be assured of drawing a fat salary and enjoying wide privileges. The Guinea-Bissau leader, Amilcar Cabral, gave an example of that type:

‘I was an agronomist working under a European who everybody knew was one of the biggest idiots in Guinea; I could have taught him his job with

my eyes shut but he was the boss: this is something which counts a lot, this is the confrontation which really matters’.

Questions such as salaries, promotions, leave, allowances, etc., were ones which were of paramount interest to most African civil servant associations and Welfare or ‘Improvement’ Associations. There should be no illusions concerning the factor of self-interest. But, their complaints were justified in terms of the discrepancy between their living standards and those of white expatriates or settlers, as well as in terms of the ideology of the very bourgeoisie who had colonised Africa. The educational process had equipped a few Africans with a grasp of the international community and of bourgeois democracy, and there was a most unsatisfactory credibility gap between the ideals of bourgeois democracy and the existence of colonialism as a system which negated freedom. Inevitably, the educated started gravitating in the direction of claims for national independence, just as educated Indians had done much earlier on the Indian sub-continent.

According to official Spanish sources, it is said that the school system in Spanish Guinea achieved all that the colonisers expected of it. It produced the required Africans who loved Spaniards more than the Spaniards loved themselves, but it produced no opponents of the colonial regime. Ii is difficult to believe the truth of such an assertion; and the Spanish took good care that no one from outside got wind of what things were like in the small Spanish colonies in Africa. However, if it were true that the colonial educational system in Spanish Guinea created only whitewashed Africans according to plan, then that would represent an outstanding exception to the general rule. Wherever adequate evidence is available, it shows that the cultural imperialism of colonial education was successful in large measure, but was never entirely successful. It produced ‘according to plan’ many ‘loyal Kikuyu’, ‘Capicornists’, ‘Anglophiles’, ‘Francophiles’, M.B.E.s, etc.; but it also produced in spite of itself those Africans whom the colonialists called ‘upstarts’, ‘malcontents’, ‘agitators’, ‘communists’, ‘terrorists’, etc.

From the viewpoint of the colonialists, trouble often started with African students before they had completed studies. The Sudan, for example, has a history of nationalist student protests; and Madagascar was outstanding in that respect. From the early years of this century, a politicised student movement was growing in Madagascar, in spite of specific steps taken by two French governors. By 1816, Malagasy students had organised the Vy Vato society, seeking to kick out the French. When the Vy Vato was discovered, students were brutally suppressed. However, as so often happens, students gained inspiration from the martyrdom of their fellows, and they re-surfaced at a later date on the nationalist scene.

Students who were taken to universities in the metropoles were the most favoured and the most pampered of the Africans selected by the white colonial overlords to become Europeanised; and yet they were among the first to argue vocally and logically that the liberty, equality, and fraternity about which they were taught should apply to Africa. African students in France in the post-war years were placed carefully within the ranks of the then conservative French national student body, but they soon rebelled and formed the Federation of Students of Black Africa (FEANF), which became affiliated to the communist International Union of Students. In Britain, African students formed a variety of ethnic and nationalist organisations, and participated in the Pan-African movement. After all, most of them were sent there to study British Constitution and Constitutional Law, and (for what it is worth) the word ‘freedom’ appears in those contexts rather often!

The fascists who ruled Africans at some points during the colonial epoch tried to avoid bourgeois democratic ideals altogether. For example, while the Italian fascists were in charge of Somalia between 1922 and 1941, they took away from history text-books all references to Mazzini and Garibaldi, two key leaders of the democratic wing of the Italian nationalist movement of the 19th century. Yet, the clerks and NCOs who received that education nevertheless went into the Somali Youth League and fought for Independence at the head of popular forces.

The fact of the matter is that it was not really necessary to get the idea of freedom from a European book. What the educated African extracted from European schooling was a particular formulation of the concept of political freedom. But, it did not take much to elicit a response from their own instinctive tendency for freedom; and, as has just been noted in the Somali instance, that universal tendency to seek freedom manifested itself among Africans even when the most careful steps were taken to extinguish it.

There was no sector of colonial life in which educated Africans appeared and remained wholly loyal to the colonialists. Teachers were supposed to have been steeped in the culture of domination, so as to pass it on to other Africans; but, in the end, many of them stood in the vanguard of the national independence movements. African priests and pastors were supposed to have been the loyal servants of God and bis European lieutenants, but the church gave birth in Nyasaland to John Chilembwe, as early as the first World War. Shortly afterwards, in Congo, when Simon Kimbangu started his Independent church, he actually threatened the colonialists that he would introduce Bolshevikism!

It is particularly interesting to notice that the colonialists could not be sure of the loyalty of their African troops. It has already been argued that the army and police were educational and socialising institutions to perpetuate colonialist and capitalist power and values. How successfully they served that function can be seen in the number of veterans of Burma and Indo-China who returned to the continent to loyally carry out policies of Britain and France, respectively. Colonel Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Colonel Lamizana of Upper Volta provide two outstanding examples, both of them having graduated from fighting the Vietnamese to a point where they are prepared to dialogue with the fascist apartheid state of South Africa. However, returned soldiers also played a very positive role in the national independence struggles after both wars. And, occasionally, towards the end of colonial rule, African troops and police mutinied, as in Nyasaland in 1959.

African trade unionists also went to ‘school’ under colonialism. To begin with, the organisation and activity of the small wage-earning sector in Africa bothered the colonialists a great deal. Their initial desire was to crush worker dissent, and (when that appeared unlikely to succeed) to co-opt it and guide it along ‘acceptable’ channels.

The British Trade Union Council sponsored a number of African trade unions, and tried to get them to accept a rigid separation between industrial matters (such as wages and working hours) and political matters. But, the T.U.C. was in that context acting on behalf of the British bourgeoisie, and they did not succeed in holding back the working class in Africa. African workers were able to appreciate that there was no difference between the private employers and the colonial administration. Indeed, the colonial administration was itself one of the biggest employers, against whom workers had many charges. Consequently, in the 1940s and 1950s, it was common to have strikes that were specifically connected with the struggle for independence, notably in Gold Coast, Nigeria and Sudan.

The contradiction between French workers and African workers in French colonies emerged in a very acute form. The French trade union movement (and notably the Communist Union, the C.G.T.) insisted that Africans should not have separate unions, but should be members of French labour unions — just like any other French workers. That arrangement gave support to the juridicial political fiction that places like Dahomey and Comoro Islands were not colonies, but merely the overseas section of France. Sekou Touré of Guinea was one of the first to break with the patronage of French trade unions and to establish an independent African trade union. In so doing, Sekou Touré made it clear that the principal contradiction of the colonial situation was that between colonised peoples on the one hand and the colonising nation on the other. So long as African workers remain colonised, they had to think of themselves firstly as African workers, rather than members of an international proletariat. That interpretation, which was entirely in accordance with reality, led to the trade union movement taking on a highly politicised and nationalist role in French West Africa. It was an achievement which defeated the chauvinism of white French workers as well as the class interests of the French bourgeoisie.

The attitude of the white metropolitan working class towards their African counterparts was influenced by the prevailing racist values of capitalist society. Indeed, the racist factor heightened the principal contradiction between the colonisers and the colonised. Discriminatory racist methods and measures were found in every colony — with varying degrees of openness or hypocrisy. Sometimes, white racism was vicious and at other times it was paternalist. Nor did it necessarily reflect Europe’s desire to exploit Africans economically. In Southern Rhodesia, racial discrimination was very much tied up with the white settlers maintaining their jobs and the stolen land; but when some semi-literate white inspector insulted an educated Sierra Leonean that may be referred to as ‘gratuitous’. Racism in such a context actually jeopardised economic exploitation, and it was merely the manifestation of prejudices that had grown over the centuries.

The racial contradiction extended far beyond the shores of Africa, because of the historical antecedence of the slave trade. It is not in the least surprising that Pan-African ideas should have been most forcefully expressed by West Indians like Garvey and Padmore and North Americans like W.E.B. Dubois and Alpheus Hunton. Those individuals had all been educated within the international capitalist structure of exploitation on the basis of class and race. Having realised that their inferior status in the societies of America was conditioned by the fact of being black and the weakness of Africa, the Pan-Africanists were forced to deal with the central problem of Europe’s exploitation and oppression of the African continent. Needless to say, the metropolitan powers could never have foreseen that their humiliation of millions of Africans in the New World would ultimately rebound and help Africa to emancipate itself.

The process by which Africa produced thirty-odd sovereign states was an extremely complex one, characterised by an interplay of forces and calculations on the part of various groups of Africans, on the part of the colonial powers, and on the part of interest groups inside the metropoles. African independence was affected by international events such as the second World War, the rise of the Soviet Union, the independence of India and China, the people’s liberation movement in Indochina, and the Bandung Conference. On the African continent itself, the ‘domino theory’ operated, so that the re-emergence of Egypt under Nasser, the early independence of Ghana, Sudan and Guinea, and the nationalist wars in Kenya and Algeria all helped to knock down the colonies which remained standing. However, it must be stressed that the move for the regaining of independence was initiated by the African people; and, to whatever extent that objective was realised, the motor force of the people must be taken into account.

In a conference held by the French in Brazzaville in 1948 (and chaired by General de Gaulle), it was explicitly stated that ‘the establishment, even in the distant future, of self-government in the colonies is to be avoided’. As is well known, the French eventually considered the idea of conceding independence to African peoples after being taught a salutary lesson by the Algerian people. Moreover, when Guinea chose independence in 1958 rather than accept to be permanently a footstool for France, the French administrators literally went crazy and behaved like wild pigs before sailing from Guinea. They just could not cope with the idea of African independence.

Apart from the Portuguese, the Belgians were the colonialists who were the most reluctant in withdrawing in the face of African nationalism. In 1955, a Belgian professor suggested independence for the Congo in thirty years, and he was regarded as a radical! Of course, Congo turned out to be one of the places where imperialism was successful in hijacking the African revolution. But, the order of events must still be considered. Firstly, it was the intensity of the Congolese and African demands that made independence thinkable, as far as the Belgians were concerned; and, secondly, it was precisely the strength and potential of the nationalist movement under Lumumba which forced the imperialists to resort to murder and invasion.

The British make much of the fact that they conceded the idea of self-government immediately after the last war; but self-government was a long cry from independence, and the notion of training people for independence was nothing but a political gimmick. Lady Margery Perham, a true voice of patronising colonialism, admitted that the Colonial Office’s timetable for independence had to be scrapped in the face of the mobilised African people. For that matter, even African leaders never hoped to achieve national sovereignty as rapidly as they did, until the mass parties began to roll like boulders down a hillside.

The fact that this analysis has been focussed on the role of the educated Africans in the independence movements is not intended to detract from the vital activity of the broad African masses, including the sacrifice of life and limb. In brief, it is enough to say that the African people as a collective had upset the plans of the colonialists, and had surged forward to freedom. Such a position may seem to be a mere revival of a certain rosy and romantic view of African independence which was popular in the early 1960s, but, on the contrary, it is fully cognisant of the shabby reality of neo-colonial Africa. It needs to be affirmed (from a revolutionary, socialist, and people-centred perspective) that even ‘flag independence’ represented a positive development out of colonialism.

Securing the attributes of sovereignty is but one stage in the process of regaining African independence. By 1885, when Africa was politically and juridically partitioned, the peoples and polities had already lost a great deal of freedom. In its relations with the external world, Africa had lost a considerable amount of control over its own economy, ever since the 15th century. However, the loss of political sovereignty at the time of the Scramble was decisive. By the same reasoning, it is clear that the regaining of political sovereignty by the 1960s constitutes an inescapable first step in regaining maximum freedom to choose and to develop in all spheres.

Furthermore, the period of nationalist revolution gave rise to certain minority ideological trends, which represent the roots of future African development. Most African leaders of the intelligentsia and even of the labour movement were frankly capitalist, and shared fully the ideology of their bourgeois masters. Houphouet Boigny was at one time called a ‘Communist’ by the French colonisers! He defended himself vigorously against that false charge in 1948:

‘We have good relations with the (French) Communist Party, that is true. But ü is obvious that that does not mean that we ourselves are communists. Can it be said that I, Houphouet-Boigny — a traditional chief, a doctor of medicine, a big property owner, a catholic — can it be said that I am a communist?’

Houphouet-Boigny’s reasoning applied to so many more African leaders of the independence epoch. The exceptions were those who either completely rejected the world-view of capitalism or at least stuck honestly to those idealistic tenets of bourgeois ideology such as individual freedom-and, through experience, they could come to realise that the ideals remained myths in a society based on the exploitation of man by man. Clearly, all leaders of the non-conformist type had developed in direct contradiction to the aims of formal and informal colonial education; and their differences with the colonisers were too profound to have been resolved merely by ‘flag-independence’. African independence was greeted with pomp, ceremony and a resurgence of traditional African music and dance. ‘A new day has dawned’, ‘we are on the threshold of a new era’, ‘we have now entered into the political kingdom’ — those were the phrases of the day, and they were repeated until they became clichés. But, all the to-ing and fro-ing from Cotonou to Paris and from London to Lusaka and all the lowering and raising of flags cannot be said to have been devoid of meaning. Withdrawal of the directly-controlled military and juridical apparatus of the colonisers was essential before any new alternatives could be posed with regard to poetical organisation, social structure, economic development, etc.

The above issues were raised most seriously by the minority of African leaders who had individually embarked on a non-capitalist path of development in their mode of thought; and the problems were considered within the context of inequalities and contradictions not just between Africa and Europe but also inside Africa, as a refection of four centuries of slavery and one century of colonialism. As far as the mass of peasants and workers were concerned, the removal of overt foreign rule actually cleared the way towards a more fundamental appreciation of exploitation and imperialism. Even in territories such as Cameroon, where the imperialists brutally crushed peasants and workers and installed their own tried and tested puppet, advance had been made in so far as the masses had already participated in trying to determine their own destiny. That is the element of ‘conscious activity’ that signifies the ability to make history, by grappling with the heritage of objective material conditions and social relations. (94 of 129) [8/22/05 11:14:33 AM] 

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