Cheikh Anta Diop: The Pharoah of Knowledge

Cheikh Anta Dip was born in 1923 in a small village in Senegal, Caytou. Africa is under European colonial rule which took over the Atlantic slave trade begun in the 16th century. The violence to which Africa is subjected is not of an exclusively military, political and economic nature. 

Theoricians ( Voltaire, Hume, Hegel, Gobineau, Lévy Bruhl, etc.) and European institutions (the Institute of Ethnology of France created in 1925 by L. Levy Bruhl, for example), apply to legitimize on the moral and philosophical level the decreed intellectual inferiority of the Negro. 

The vision of an ahistorical and timeless Africa, whose inhabitants, the Negroes, have never been responsible, by definition, for a single fact of civilization, is now imposed in the writings and anchored in the consciences. 

Egypt is thus arbitrarily attached to the East and the Mediterranean world geographically, anthropologically and culturally.

It is therefore in a particularly hostile and obscurantist context that Cheikh Anta Diop is led to question, by a methodical scientific investigation, the very foundations of Western culture relating to the genesis of humanity and civilization. 

The rebirth of Africa, which involves the restoration of historical consciousness, appears to him as an unavoidable task to which he will devote his life.

Thus, from his secondary studies in Dakar and St Louis of Senegal, he began to acquire a multidisciplinary training in human sciences and exact sciences, nourished by extremely numerous and varied readings. 

Although he has acquired a remarkable command of European culture, he is none the less deeply rooted in his own culture. 

His perfect knowledge of Wolof, his mother tongue, will prove to be one of the main keys that will open the doors of Pharaonic civilization. In addition, Koranic teaching familiarizes him with the Arab-Muslim world. Based on accumulated and assimilated knowledge about African, Arab-Muslim and European cultures, Cheikh Anta Diop makes major contributions in different areas outlined below.


The Work of Cheikh Anta Diop

 Scientific Reconstitution of Africa's Past and the Restoration of Historical Awareness

At the time when Cheikh Anta Diop began his first historical research (1940s) Black Africa was not " an intelligible historical field " to use an expression of the British historian Arnold Toynbee . 

It is symptomatic that even at the beginning of the 1960s, in the October 1959 issue of the UNESCO Courier, the Anglo-Saxon historian Basil Davidson introduces his comment on the " Discovery of Africa " by the question: " Is the black man a man without a past? "

In his book Cheikh Anta Diop, Volney and the Sphinx , Theophile Obenga shows what is the originality and novelty of the African historical problematic opened and developed by Cheikh Anta Diop:

By rejecting the Hegelian schema of reading human history, Cheikh Anta Diop has therefore set about developing, for the first time in Black Africa, an intelligibility capable of accounting for the evolution of black African peoples, in time and space [...] A new order is born in the understanding of the African cultural and historical fact.The different African peoples are "historical" peoples with their State: Egypt, Nubia, Ghana, Mali, Zimbabwe, Kongo, Benin, etc. their spirit, their art, their science. " 


Negro Nations and Culture - From Egyptian Antiquity to the Cultural Problems of Today's Africa - published in 1954 by Cheikh Anta Diop at Presence Africaine Editions created by Alioune Diop is the founding book of a scientific writing of the African history.

Main Themes Developed by Cheikh Anta Diop

The themes present in Cheikh Anta Diop's work can be grouped into six broad categories:


a. The Origin of Man and His Migrations . Among the issues addressed: the age of man in Africa, the process of biological differentiation of humanity, the process of Semitization, the emergence of Berbers in history, the identification of major migratory streams and training African ethnic groups.


b. Old Egypt / Black Africa Kinship . It is studied according to the following aspects: the settlement of the Nile Valley, the genesis of the Egyptian-Nubian civilization, linguistic kinship, cultural kinship, socio-political structures, etc.


c. Research on the Evolution of Societies . Several important developments are devoted to the genesis of the ancient forms of social organization encountered in southern (Africa) and northern (Europe) geographical areas, the birth of the state, the formation and organization of African states after the the decline of Egypt, the characterization of African and European political and social structures before the colonial period and their respective evolution, the modes of production, the socio-historical and cultural conditions that presided over the European Renaissance.


d. The contribution of Africa to civilization. This contribution is restored in many areas: metallurgy, writing, science (mathematics, astronomy, medicine, ...), arts and architecture, literature, philosophy, revealed religions (Judaism, Christianity , islam), etc.


e. Economic, Technical, Industrial, Scientific, Institutional, Cultural Development of Africa .All the major questions raised by the construction of a modern Africa are discussed: mastery of the educational, civic and political systems with the introduction and use of national languages ​​at all levels of public life; energy equipment of the continent; the development of basic research; the representation of women in political institutions; Security ; building a democratic federal state, etc. The creation by Cheikh Anta Diop of the radiocarbon dating laboratory that he directs until his disappearance is significant of all the importance given to " the rooting of sciences in Africa ".


f. The Building of a Planetary Civilization . Humanity must permanently break with racism, genocide and various forms of slavery. The finality is the triumph of civilization over barbarism. Sheikh Anta Diop calls for the advent of the era that would see all the nations of the world join hands to build global civilization instead of sinking into barbarism " ( Civilization or Barbary , 1981). The outcome of such a project assumes:

- the denunciation of the modern falsification of history: The consciousness of modern man can only really advance if it is resolved to explicitly recognize the errors of scientific interpretation, even in the very delicate field of history, to go back on the falsifications, to denounce the frustrations of patrimonies.It deludes itself, while trying to sit down its moral constructions on the most monstrous falsification of which the humanity has never been guilty while asking the victims to forget to better go of the 'before ' (Cheikh Anta Diop, Anteriority of Negro civilizations - myth or historical truth?, Paris, African Presence, p. 12).

- the reaffirmation of the biological unity of the human species, the foundation of a new education that rejects racial inequality and hierarchy: "... So the problem is to re-educate our perception of the human being, so that it detaches itself from the racial appearance and is polarized on the human without any ethnic coordinates. " (Cheikh Anta Diop, "The Unity of Origin of the Human Species ",in Proceedings of the Athens Symposium: Racism Science and Pseudo-Science , Paris, UNESCO, Current Coll., 1982, pp. 137-141) .

Suggested Readings

Cheikh Anta Diop's Views

How to develop a true development strategy for Africa: education, health, defense, energy, research, industry, political institutions, sport, culture, etc. ? What are the conditions for the progress of human consciousness and the emergence of a planetary civilization that has definitely broken with barbarism?

Cheikh Anta Diop shows that pertinent answers to these crucial questions require the most objective possible knowledge of its history, as far back as one can go back in time. 

It was to this first major task that Cheikh Anta Diop set out, that of the restitution of the history of the African continent since prehistory, by a multidisciplinary scientific research. He is thus the refounder of the history of Africa.

Besides knowing the real past of Africa and humanity in general, Cheikh Anta Diop assigns four goals to his work:

1. The Restoration of African Historical Consciousness , that is, the consciousness of having a history. The restoration of this historical consciousness implies that Egyptology is developed in Black Africa and that the Nubio-Egyptian civilization is revisited in all fields by the Africans themselves:

Only the rooting of such a scientific discipline [Egyptology] in Black Africa will lead us to grasp, one day, the novelty and richness of the cultural consciousness that we want to arouse, its quality, its scale, its creative power " . 

"Since Egypt is the distant mother of Western science and culture, as will be apparent from the reading of this book, most of the ideas we baptize as foreign are often only images, scrambled, reversed, modified , perfected, creations of our ancestors: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, dialectic, theory of being, exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry, mechanics, astronomy, medicine, literature (novel, poetry, drama), architecture, arts, etc. . [...] As much as technology and modern science come from Europe, as in ancient times, universal knowledge flowed from the Nile valley to the rest of the world, and especially to Greece, which will serve as an intermediary link. Consequently, no thought is, in essence, foreign to Africa, which was the land of their birth. It is therefore with complete freedom that Africans must draw on the common intellectual heritage of humanity, guided only by notions of utility and efficiency.. "

The African who understood us is the one who, after reading our books, will have felt born in him another man, animated by a historical conscience, a true creator, a Prometheus bearer of a new civilization and perfectly aware that the whole earth owes to his ancestral genius in all fields of science, culture and religion. "(CA Diop, Civilization or Barbary )

2. The Restoration of Historical Continuity , that is to say restore in space and in time the evolution of societies and African states, including from prehistory to the XVI th century, the most misunderstood period. Cheikh Anta Diop insists in his writings on the fact that socio-historical research is far from being conceived as a retreat on oneself or a mere delectation of the past:

" The role of African sociology is to take stock of the past to help Africa better face the present and the future. "(CA Diop, Anteriority of Negro Civilizations - Myth or Historical Truth? )

The relativity of our structures, thus highlighted, could help us to clear the theoretical bases of an overtaking of our caste societies, surpassing which will be irreversible only if it is based on the knowledge of the why of things. Is this not the social revolution, or at least one of its most important aspects in our countries  ? "(CA Diop, Civilization or Barbary )

The socio-historical study of African civilizations makes it possible to identify the values ​​that have made their greatness and the factors that led to their decline, to develop strategies for the development of the continent.


3. The Construction of a Planetary Civilization . Cheikh Anta Diop intends to contribute "[...] to the general progress of humanity and the emergence of an era of universal understanding[...] and" We all aspire to the triumph of the notion of the human species in our minds and consciences, so that the particular history of this or that race is erased from that of the ordinary man. We will then have only to describe, in general terms which will no longer take into account the accidental singularities that have become irrelevant, the significant stages of the conquest of civilization by man, by the entire human race. The age of carved stone and the conquest of fire, the Neolithic and the discovery of agriculture, the age of metals, the discovery of writing etc., etc.".  (CA Diop, Anteriority of Negro Civilizations - Myth or Historical Truth? )

" The climate, by creating the physical appearance of the races, has traced ethnic boundaries that make sense, strike the imagination and determine the instinctive behaviors that have done so much harm in history. have disappeared in history, from antiquity to the present day, have been condemned, not by any original inferiority, but by their physical appearances, their cultural differences. [...] So, the problem is to re-educate our perception of the world. to be human, so that it detaches itself from the racial appearance and is polarized on the human deprived of all ethnic coordinates . "(CA.Diop "The unity of origin of the human species", Symposium "Racism, Science and Pseudo-Science", organized in Athens by UNESCO in 1982)

Access to this desired future therefore requires breaking with racism. To break with the "cultural lie" which consisted in denying the humanity of the Negroes, in denying the history of Africa. This "cultural lie" even today lies in the negation of the belonging of Pharaonic Egypt to the Negro-African world and in the minimization of the civilizing role of this Egypt in antiquity. It demands to overcome the obstacles that prevent the development of Africa, threaten its security and jeopardize its survival. We must " v nsure that Africa does not make the cost of human progress ," " coldly crushed by the wheel of"And thus:" One can not escape the necessities of the historical moment to which one belongs ". (CA Diop, Anteriority of Negro Civilizations - Myth or Historical Truth? )

Today, this historic moment is that of the African Renaissance .

 4. The African Renaissance . Cheikh Anta Diop was 25 years old when, studying in Paris in 1948, he defined the content and conditions of the African Renaissance in an article entitled "When can we speak of an African renaissance? ". 

In this perspective, the routing to a federal state becomes a continental emergency because such a geo-political set would be able to secure, structure and optimize the development of the African continent: " We must switch definitely Africa Black on the slope of its federal destiny [...] only a continental or sub-continental federal state offers a political and economic space, in security, sufficiently stabilized so that a rational formula of economic development of our countries with various potentialities can be Implementation. "((CA Diop, preface to Mahtar Diouf's book Economic Integration, African Perspectives, 1984 ).

Cheikh Anta Diop completes his book The Economic and Cultural Foundations of a Federal State of Black Africa by fourteen proposals for concrete actions ranging from the field of education to that of industrialization. Among other things, it points out a double vital necessity:

- that of the definition of a policy of efficient scientific research : " Africa must choose a policy of scientific and intellectual development and put the price on it; its excessive vulnerability of the last five centuries is the consequence of a technical deficiency. Intellectual development is the surest way to stop blackmail, bullying, humiliation. Africa can again become a center of scientific initiatives and decisions, instead of believing that it is doomed to remain the appendage, the economic expansion of developed countries  . "

- that of the definition of an African energy doctrine and true industrialization : "The aim is to propose a continental energy development plan that takes into account both renewable and non-renewable energy sources, ecology and technical progress in the coming decades ... Black Africa will have to find a formula of energy pluralism harmoniously combining the following sources of energy: 1. Hydroelectric power (dams), 2. Solar energy, 3. Geothermal energy, 4. Nuclear energy , 5. Hydrocarbons (petroleum), 6. Thermonuclear energy"To which he adds the hydrogen energy vector.



Sources: Cheikh Anta Diop, Cheikh Anta Diop: Biographical and bibliographical milestones, and ANKH Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations