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The African Experience in Politics and Culture: From Monroe's Doctrine to Nkrumah's Consciencism
By Ali A. Mazrui


On the African continent, President James Monroe is immortalized in the capital city of Liberia. The African city of Monrovia is named after this American President. But the inadvertent impact of James Monroe on Africa was even more far-reaching than his memorial tribute in Liberia. More by accident than by design, the Monroe Doctrine helped to transform Africa's relations with the Western World in fundamental and irreversible ways.

If Africa's Triple Heritage is a convergence of Africanity, Islam and Western culture, James Monroe's policies for the Americas had repercussions for the its Western segment. Let us first examine these three legacies more closely before we elaborate on the African consequences of the Monroe Doctrine.

Ghana's founding president, Kwame Nkrumah, coined the term "consciencism" to designate the three civilizations that have helped to shape contemporary Africa: Africa's own rich inheritance, Islamic culture, and the impact of Western traditions and lifestyles. The interplay of these three civilizations is the essence of the continent's triple heritage. This has given colour to Africa's unique character as a cultural bazaar, which reflects a wide variety of ideas and values drawn from different civilizations, all competing for the attention of potential African buyers. In every African country today, the triple forces of indigenous culture, Islam, and Westernization vie for domination, and provide a variegated backdrop for policies, group actions, and individual decisions.

This contest for supremacy can lead to open conflicts, as was the case with the 2002 Miss World Beauty Pageant in Nigeria, which was resisted by Islamic groups that saw it as an importation of undesirable Western values bordering on the prurient and as a debasement of women. The ensuing demonstrations against the organizers of the pageant resulted in the loss of lives and property, and led to the eventual relocation of the event from Abuja to London. Conducting any national exercise, such as a simple headcount or census, can easily have implications for African culture, Islamic practice, and Western values. Africa is indeed a contested territory with imported Islamic and Western values contending with indigenous African values and customs.

Even before Islam came to Africa there was an older triple heritage in the continent: an interplay between African culture, Semitic culture, and the legacy of Greece and Rome. This ancient triple heritage is best illustrated in Ethiopia, where Christianity has flourished since the fourth century, the impact of Judaism is captured in local versions of the legend of Solomon and Sheba, and the Greco-Roman legacy is manifest both in social traditions and in brick and mortar.

This ancient triple heritage evolved when the Semitic element (which was once both Hebraic and Arabian) narrowed to become mainly Islamic. On the other hand, the Greco-Roman legacy expanded to become the impact of modern Western civilization as a whole on African life and culture.

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Survey of the Changing Situation in French West Africa--Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

  1. Over the past twelve months, the political evolution of French West Africa which previously ambled along at a leisurely rate, has suddenly been precipitated and is now proceeding at a rate which is not merely rapid but which is constantly accelerating.

  2. ... The present African political leaders are probably prepared to settle for the relatively modest degree of local self-government which they are about to receive under the "loicadre". But these more mature leaders are beginning to be hard-pressed by a rising tide of younger African "évolués", mostly anti-French extremists strongly stamped with Marxism and/or Moslem Nationalism.

  3. Thus in Africa South of the Sahara, the Niger of nationalism and the Congo of anti-colonialism are steadily rising and will before long be flowing in full flood. So far, the tam-tams of open revolt are silent; but they are increasingly taut in the heat of flaming conflict further North. In a very few years--perhaps even in a mere matter of months--the rapid current of events is likely to bring about a new and potentially dangerous situation in French West Africa.

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