In Ali Mazrui’s “The Re-Invention of Africa” and in Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth,” both academics discuss and debate the concepts of negritude and Afrocentricity, and the role that they play in the reconstruction of African history and identity. Fanon’s stance on Afrocentricity, specifically the concept of negritude, is one of strong disagreement. He makes the argument that negritude in itself simply romanticizes “African culture” in a manner which is “irresponsible” (Fanon 212). He asserts that negritude, this unconditional praise of “young Africa” (Fanon 212), treads on the heels of the unreserved glorification of Europe that European culture has been built upon, and postulates that intrinsically, this glorification of Africa is born of a need to seek European validation— the very thing which negritude as a movement seeks to dismantle.
In “The Reinvention of Africa,” Mazrui takes a different approach to the idea of Afrocentricity. His stance on Afrocentricity and negritude is much less rigid than that of Fanon’s. While Fanon states that the movement is essentially one that is “irresponsible,” (Fanon 212) Mazrui’s viewpoint is that Afrocentricity is a “partial re-invention of Africa.”( Mazrui 77) in and of itself.
Mazrui’s essay is one which focuses on explaining the concept rather than giving a stance. The main argument that he makes though, is that “romantic gloriana” — a study of Africa which focuses on the “complex civilizations, impressive empires and elaborate technological skills” (Mazrui 77) of pre-colonial Africa, and “romantic primitivism” — a study of the continent, which “celebrates” Africa’s simplicity, ranging from small scale farmers to petty traders, are nothing but “idealized paradigms that combine mythology with real facts” (Mazrui 77). He goes on to assert that these forms of studying the continent and reconstructing African history are only “partially correct” (Mazrui 77) in the sense that Africa is much more than those two schools of thought.
While both academics diverge specifically in the manner in which they state their arguments, and in the sense that Mazrui sees some reason in Afrocentricity, and Fanon argues that as a movement, it has little to no redeeming qualities, there are many similarities within the arguments themselves. Mazrui’s point on the “partial reconstruction” (Mazrui 77) of the African continent, relates smartly to the crux of Fanon’s argument on why negritude as a movement is “irresponsible” (Fanon 212). Mazrui’s line of thinking on the reconstruction of African history, through “romantic primitivism” and “romantic gloriana” (Mazrui 77) respectively, is that those two schools of thought do not provide a full, clear picture of the African continent. They both seek to romanticize Africa, disregarding the continent’s checkered past, ranging from imperialism, to neo-colonialism, to the manner in which western influences have shaped “African culture”. Fanon also makes this argument in “The Wretched of the Earth” albeit in a different manner. One can infer from Fanon’s essay, that his dislike of negritude stems from the romanticization of pre-colonial Africa and the “unconditional affirmation of African culture” (Fanon 212) which negritude seems to propagate.
Another striking example where his contempt for negritude is shown, is when he argues that New Guinean and Kenyan intellectuals in the face of “ostracism” (Fanon 212) and discrimination from “white overlords” (Fanon 212) began to “sing praises in admiration of each other” (Fanon 212), insinuating that the negritude movement is lazy, because of its sole focus on glorification.
While this point specifically does not tie in directly with the argument Mazrui makes, laziness is a hidden theme in Mazrui’s “The Re-Invention of Africa”. This “rival paradigm” (Mazrui 77) of interpreting Africa— Afrocentricity, is lazy in the sense that it refuses to engage with the imperfections of the African continent, choosing only to paint the continent in the best light instead. This ties into Fanon’s theory of cognitive dissonance (1952) the refusal to acknowledge evidence against a core belief, and the “rationalization, ignorance, or denial of any idea that does not fit within that core belief” (Fanon 1952), the core belief in this instance, the perfection of pre-colonial Africa.
I agree with Mazrui that Afrocentricity, and by default negritude, is only a “partial reinvention” (Mazrui 77) of the African continent. What I vehemently disagree with though, is Fanon’s point that the celebration of blackness and Africanness is inherently reckless, and “irresponsible”(Fanon 212) because of its proximity to Europeanness.
Africans have been denied the agency of telling their own stories, specifically from their own distinct perspective for centuries, and negritude and Afrocentricity are movements that are sorely needed in order to uplift black, African voices in the long run.
Leopold Sedar Senghor famously asked when he met Aimé Césaire — a black academic, and a founding father of the negritude movement, “What are we in this white world?” This question still pervades black communities today, and the fact that this question exists, gives reason as to why negritude and Afrocentricity needed to exist, and still does.
Afrocentricity by its very nature seeks to demolish the Eurocentric lenses which pervade the study of African history and identity, and implying that it is a wholly reckless ordeal, which Fanon seems to do, diminishes as well as invalidates the centuries of oppression and denigration that the African continent has faced.
In terms of the broader, overarching question of whether we should reconstitute African history from an Afrocentric perspective, I think we should, but in a manner where snippets of the continent’s history are not left out. In conclusion, we can tell the story of Africa the way in which we see fit — but as we do so, we should also remember that the story of Africa is not complete without external influences.