Review of Prah; The African Nation

Review of: Prah, Kwesi Kwaa, 2006. The African Nation: the state of the nation. Cape Town: CASAS.

By Jim Harries

The African Nation; a hefty tome of 400 pages, brings together a lifetime’s work of emeritus professor of sociology at Western Cape, South Africa, Kwesi Kwaa Prah. Already widely published, Prah is the founder and director of CASAS (Centre for Advanced Study of African Society) in Cape Town. Prah’s central message is one of pan-Africanism – he looks forward to the undermining of artificial colonial boundaries to so-called African ‘nations’ leading to a more unified stronger African nation of the future.

The Christian reader will be disappointed to find Prah has little time for the Gospel. He desires Africa to be modernized but not westernized, and definitely not Christianized. Prah considers Christianity like a scapegoat for some of Africa’s ills. He perceives born-again Christians as being in “the suffocating embrace of religious fanaticism” (84). While Prah is happy for many innovations to be brought to Africa, those who bring Christianity are acting “contrary to common sense, good manners and respect for the other” (107). Prah seems to think that people’s traditional beliefs should be unaffected by the encroachment of the modern. It is sad to have to note such an apparent knee-jerk reaction to the testimony of Christ which many of us hold so dearly. This makes it hard for me to advocate this book despite its value in other ways.

The book is a collation of useful insights about Africa. To Prah, westernization seems to have become the ‘religion’ of too many Africans. One has to agree, that to view Africa through white man’s eyes (189) is problematic – but isn’t that just what Prah is doing in this polished English text? Prah does reflect at length on this and similar phenomenon in colonial and post-colonial Africa. He recognizes that the African person who tries the hardest to resemble the white men can be the most resented (126). Sometimes imitation of white men can be extremely self-destructive, concedes Prah (131). He advocates for the use of African languages (27) yet himself is trapped (as are so many) into the use of English; presumably the language of discussion used in drawing up the new manifesto that acts as the conclusion of this book (338).

Many of Prah’s insights bear careful thinking. Nation states as they exist in the African continent being artificial constructs by foreigners “do not permit movement forward” according to Prah (279). The way forward for Prah is to draw on ancient ethnic identities that post colonial sates cannot handle (316). Prah insists, rightly I believe, that contemporary philosophies must grow from an African base (109), a process which requires the use of African languages, as nowhere in the world has development ever occurred on the back of a borrowed language (229). Prah talks at length about the time of historical slavery and the use of Africans as eunuchs. He points out that these were once common practices, but that Africans have become exceptionally victim to them. He considers democracy in Africa at some depth (322 ff).

This is a useful tome by a great scholar, but for his determination to ignore depths and breadths of human experience such as adherence to monistic philosophies and the tendency to sin; issues addressed by Christianity, for which Prah appears to have no time.