Identity Crisis In African Philosophy: A Philosophical Study Of Nkrumah’s Consciencism

Identity Crisis In African Philosophy: A Philosophical Study Of Nkrumah’s Consciencism



  1.  Background to the Study

Philosophy generally reflects the socio-political situation of its time and place. Socio-political situations generally raise many questions in the minds of people and thus give rise to reflection and philosophizing. Hence, there is always a close connection between the socio-political situation of a place at a given time and the philosophy of that place at that particular period. Contemporary African philosophy is predominantly a political philosophy and this reflects the socio-political situation from which it arose. The socio-political situation of contemporary Africa raised questions in the minds of African thinkers and prompted them to focus their thoughts on political issues.

Since the middle of 20th century, African scholars have been battling with rediscovery of African identity after the devastating effect of European slavery and colonization. Most of the scholars argue that European slavery and colonialism devastated African psyche, rubbished her culture and values, and left her empty of any coherent world view of reality. The travails and backwardness of Africa in social, economic, and political development have been blamed on European colonialism and neo-colonialism. Fifty-five years after most African nations have become politically independent; many African scholars still blame the Western world for the backwardness of the continent. The situation is worrisome when we consider that other continents that were colonized like Africa are picking their pieces and advancing their development.

The question that agitates the mind here is; why is it that Africa cannot rise above her experience of European invasion and actualize herself? Man is always confronted with challenges and what distinguishes a people is how they are able to manage and overcome their challenges. It is the opinion of this essay that part of the problems of African underdevelopment is the Africa psychological complacency necessitated by abundant resources and environmental friendliness that sustains life at minimal stress. The search for African identity should not just focus on the past culture and achievements of the continent but also on the contemporary prowess of the continent that can propel her to overcome this psychological complacency and work towards greater heights in achievements that will attract the attention of the world. It is of age that Africans should stop lamenting the evils of European invasion and continual manipulation of the continent and confront the challenges the contemporary world order has in stock for her. The continent cannot develop on the terms of sympathy from other continents but on the strength of authentic and realistic confrontation of her challenges with the intention of overcoming them by herself and defining her existence in the world affairs.

During the 19th century, the scramble for territories by European powers took a new turn as they began to make significant advances to tropical Africa. By 1913, European powers had divided the African continent into miserable groups that showed little or no regard for ethnic and linguistic boundaries. This opened the African version of colonialism. The human and natural resources of Africa were exploited, independent African communities lost their political liberty, and Africa suffered a crisis of self-confidence, creating a lasting sense of inferiority and subjugation that builds a barrier to growth and innovation. In the face of these exploitative and ideological devaluation of the black race, emerged an interesting package to the development of African political ideology.

Many Africans began the search for an ideological project of self-affirmation and assertive cultural nationalism. Among these were Nnamdi Azikiwe, the pilot of Nigerian independence, Leopold Senghor, appraised as an apostle of negritude, Kwame Nkrumah, a radical nationalist and a proponent of Pan-Africanism, Obafemi Awolowo, a socialist oriented nationalist, Julius Nyerere, the father of Ujamaa Socialism, Edward Wilmot Blyden and his African Personality, Kenneth Kaunda and his African Humanism, Frantz Fanon and his Violent resistance, Tom Mboya and his African socialism and the challenge to nationhood. The focus of this thesis is to highlight and analyze Kwame Nkrumah’s political ideology in his work Consciencism, how it addresses the problems of African independence and the global solution to Africa’s problems through a unified effort in Pan-Africanism using his work titled Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization, published in 1964 and re-published in 1979.

  1. 1.2      Statement of the Problem

The Euro-colonial attack on the African continent was the main event that separated the African from his traditional past. Not only did colonialism put a stop to gradual African cultural growth, there was also the tendency of the colonial agents to wipe out the past, especially with regards to language, and religion on economic and political grounds. In some cases, the colonial agents transferred what was too valuable to be destroyed to the safety of the colonizing lands. Thus, the African, in addition to losing his political independence, also lost his myths, folktales, legends, language, culture and religion to foreign ones.

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Hence, by the beginning of the 20th century A.D, the face of Africa had undergone a noticeable change. The change was brought about by years of trans-Atlantic slave trade, the transportation of human cargo to the Americas and to Europe and series of wars of colonial subjugation, which destroyed the African will and effective cultural presence and enthroned new political and religious creeds that will gradually try to replace the old. The African has in effect become divided in an unusual and negative way. She has become one who has to pay a double allegiance to at least two masters at the same time. She cannot eradicate her African past, and she cannot just view the colonial presence without concern. This brought about a confused identity among the Africans both within and in diaspora.

What is the relationship between reality and colonialism? What are the springs of colonialism? Is it a good or is it a necessary evil? Is colonialism a universal human problem? How must philosophy come to terms with the African traditional heritage and the colonial heritage? What new personality ought to emerge as a product of the various cultural heritage of the African?  This shows that with the ailment of the mind, the body is affected. When the inner self is disillusioned then the outer self is nothing but disorder and confusion. And this is the case with Africa. Since her contact with the Europeans, Africa has been psychologically traumatized in every way. And the effect has manifested physically and also mentally. This is a clear indication of what Nkrumah’s Consciencism portrays. It is in attacking this question that one will notice that the identity crisis has been a deep rooted syndrome on the African mind. Nkrumah’s Consciencism is a theory about transforming independent Africa. The main problem about this transformation of independent African countries is how to make Africa’s basic or traditional social heritage to prevail notwithstanding the various cultural currents that have been introduced into Africa from foreign countries. Hence, the thrust of Consciencism is socio-political. The question of which we are concerned in this essay is this: How can African societies use their identity to develop? Can it construct progress without a vision of its past, or can it link its future development with its historical tradition? Such a question requires the adoption of certain ideologies that are grounded on the culture of the people.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

It has been an undertaking of philosophy to give meaning to human existence. Since it is philosophical mission to give meaning to human existence, it is my estimation that it is appropriate to look into the issue of crisis of identity and ideology in Nkrumah’s Consciencism. It is appropriate to note that the acknowledgment of African identity is necessary because of its vast contact and involvement with Europe. However, it is my view to look at why there is crisis of identity in African philosophy and culture analyzing Nkrumah’s Consciencism. Kwame Nkrumah’s mission in the world was to dismantle colonialism in Africa and restore the lost  African identity. His vision was the restoration of the dignity that was lost as a result of slavery and colonialism to enable the African to function freely in the coming unified world society as an equal player and partner. Kwame Nkrumah was keenly aware that the problem of humanity would not be fully addressed if the problem of Africa was not addressed, and he made it his mission to do that. In this crusade, Kwame Nkrumah was not alone, for others also recognized the urgent need to address the problem of Africa. However, it is my view to look at why there is crisis of identity in African philosophy analyzing Nkrumah’s Consciencism, and to prove that African of today is and should be a hybrid and thus does not advocate for a return to a pristine existence.

1.4 Scope of the Study

It is pertinent to note that the crunch of identity is common basic issue in contemporary African society. It ranges from the disappearance of authentic African cultural heritage, to the rational disparagement of Africa, then to the physical dehumanization of Africa and finally to the psychologically devastated Africa. It is this psychologically distressed Africa that is our concern in this thesis. This work exposes the causes of this crisis, the effect and its victim as the contemporary African society. Since our concern in this thesis is the analysis of Nkrumah’s ideology and the crisis of identity in Africa, it is my view to examine Nkrumah’s Consciencism to showcase the inherent crisis in his theory. Again to prove what necessitated his work and the influence of Marxism on him. With this in mind, our thesis should base on exposing Nkrumah’s philosophy of Consciencism and his effort to lay a foundation for decolonization of Africa. Then to give a clue of what one is to consider in identifying the African personality. The range of this work shall be library research and internet resources.

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1.5 Significance of the Study

When one places Nkrumah’s Consciencism in the context of unforeseen circumstances in present-day African society, one easily identifies the root cause of identity crisis in Africa. And this is why Nkrumah maintains that it is only through revolution that Africa can be totally free to mind its own destiny and regain its lost culture and life. Thus, Kwame Nkrumah’s Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization, was geared towards decolonization of Africa in order that there will be a harmony that will aid Africans and its influences from abroad. This adds confidently to our field of study because, it will help to explore, expose, analyze, criticize, and redefine the ideologies and the identity crisis intrinsic in Nkrumah’s work and accepts its valuable needs for the mastery of her own identity. What Africa needs is a good knowledge of taking cognizance of its past and the present in order to foresee how the future will be like? This shows why African philosophers should be able to provide the better steps towards achieving this goal. This is because it will help to provide the historically depreciated; politically instability, economically bastardized, culturally alienated, and psychologically traumatized Africa, a sense of dignity in achieving its own uniqueness and personality.

The problem of identity crisis in Africa is most significant in modern African philosophy because African philosophers have occupied themselves with the question of crisis of identity in Africa. And thus, they are concerned about the best possible ways to salvage the African personality in details. Therefore, this research is so important because Nkrumah’s Consciencism was geared towards rescuing the disparaged image of the African in order for them to have total liberation of themselves by realizing their root and the implications of the confused personality that have over taken the African continent.

Therefore, this work is significant because it enables us to know the right edge of mind to follow in order for us to be able to identify our personality proper.It is only then can Africa be said to be free and free indeed. African communalism and socialism contain within their framework the positive principles that will contribute to the free growth of the individuals in the contemporary African society, so there is need to evolve a modern African society that can afford a better opportunity for the proper realization of the dignity and self-identity of the individual as well as the communal and social integrity and development of the contemporary African society.

1.6 Methodology

The methodology to be employed in this thesis is analysis method, using Nkrumah’s Consciencism to showcase this very fact. This thesis is divided into Five Chapters.

Chapter One focuses on the general introduction, background of the study, statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, significance of the study, scope of the study, methodology and then the definition of terms.

Chapter Two delves into examining some literatures that talked about African personality. And also to consider some philosophers’ notion that talked about Nkrumah’s Consciencism.

Chapter Three concerns itself more on the possible causes of the crisis of identity in Africa and then the effect of the crisis in Africa in recent times. It also seeks to examine African philosophy in its quest for identity.

Then, Chapter Four centres on the analysis of Nkrumah’s Consciencism and his struggle for African Liberation.Here, we centre on the possible reasons for his writing Consciencism and the influence and role Marxism played on Nkrumah and in independence of African nation states respectively. It also incorporates exposition of the crisis implicit in his Consciencism, and his inability to wriggle himself out of the crisis.

Lastly, Chapter Five will be on the evaluation of the whole work and then conclusion.

In sum, I hope a rundown of the thesis will certainly expose the crisis we have in recognizing our identity; and be able to formulate a better identity that will help revitalise Africa in their design for contemporary African philosophy.

1.7 Definition of Terms

For our present enterprise to be intelligible and meaningful there is need for proper understanding of some major terms involved. Such words shall be briefly defined according to the context of which they shall be used in this thesis. They include: African, communalism, socialism, Marxism, Egalitarianism, identity crisis and colonialism.



The word communalism was derived from the Latin word communis which means common. Communalism could be used interchangeably with communitarianism in this work. Communalism is the socio-political theory that upholds the priority of the community over the individual.1Communalistic principle underlies African philosophical endeavors as well as African people’s practical orientations to social, moral and political values generally. One could say that in traditional African society, man never does anything, receives anything, or suffers anything alone. It is a popular belief held in a nearly “un-animistic” way, that is, that Africans do not think of themselves as “discrete individuals”, but rather understand themselves as part of a “community”. This is sometimes referred to as African communalism.2 African communalism refers to the mode of life of the traditional Africans which entails collective and co-operative life.


It is a philosophical thought system that emphasizes equality and equal treatment across gender, religion, economic status and political beliefs. It holds the belief that everyone is equal and should have the same rights and opportunities. One of the major tenets of egalitarianism is that all people are fundamentally equal. Egalitarianism can be examined from a social perspective that looks at ways to reduce economic inequalities or from a political perspective that looks at ways to ensure the equal treatment and rights of diverse groups of people. Egalitarianism may focus on income inequality and distribution and, as a philosophy, has influenced the development of various economic and political systems. Karl Marx looked to egalitarianism as a starting point in the creation of his Marxist philosophy, and John Locke considered egalitarianism when he proposed that individuals had natural rights. Kwame Nkrumah also modified this to suite his ideology.3

Identity Crisis

Identity can be defined as a fairly stable sense of who you are and what people know you to be. It goes beyond sex or gender. It has to do with the following questions; who am I? If I am unique in the world, what establishes my uniqueness? Am I a man or a woman? What is the purpose of my being in the world? and others too numerous to mention. The ability to answer the above questions means that one to a certain extent has known oneself. According to psychologists, there are two things that help us to understand one’s identity; crisis and commitment. Crisis is a state of being confused about one’s life while commitment has to do with making a stable choice in life. According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, identity is the characteristics, feelings or beliefs that distinguish people from others, a sense of national, cultural, personal, group identities, to show or prove who or what somebody/something is.4 It is designating who or what somebody is. Identity in this thesis signifies this but it is synonymous with Africans recognizing not only the things that identify them as Africans alone but also taking cognizance of her experience in history. This is what portrays the true identity of the African. While crisis in this thesis implies the psychological trauma that is troubling the African mind in the identification of herself. Thus, crisis here is caused by the existence of African tradition with other cultures of the world. There is therefore the dilemma of following one and leaving the other. The search for identity in Africa presupposes that the African has identity crisis.


According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, colonialism is defined as the practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.5 It is the act of ruling nations not with their consent as colonies. This is usually done for the economic benefit of the colonialist. Colonialism is synonymous with exploitation. This is because colonialism is never geared towards making the colonized better but for the benefit of the colonizer. In this work, we are strictly dealing with the European colonization of Africans. The imposition of foreign culture on the African continent that brought about Africans being a single continent with confused identity.


Consciencism is a philosophy based on a set of philosophical statements penned by Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972). According to Nkrumah, Africans everywhere share historical bonds, cultural bonds, and common aspirations for unity, but colonialism and enslavement interrupted the expression of this shared heritage and generated a cultural confusion rectifiable only by the ethical imposition of conscience. Nkrumah therefore presented Consciencism as a way of beginning to resolve what he saw as the crisis of the African conscience. The statements that detail the philosophy were intended as a theoretical basis for an ideology that synthesizes the African experience. The elements of this synthesis are; (1) traditional African society, which is understood as the base of the African experience and is used to filter other experiences through; (2) Islam’s effect on the worldwide African community; and (3) the Euro-Christian impact on that community.  Consciencism is the philosophy and ideology of Kwame Nkrumah and of the party he founded Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP).  It is the philosophy and ideology of decolonization with particular reference to the African Revolution. It can be seen as the Pan African philosophy heritage.


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