Ousmane Oumar Kane, Non-Europhone Intellectuals. Victoria Bawtree (trad.). Dakar: CODESRIA, 2012, 75 p.
This book was originally published in French as Intellectuels non-Europhones by CODESRIA in 2003.
Cette réflexion a été publiée en français en 2003 par le CODESRIA (Nous utilisons ici la version anglaise traduite du français par Victoria Bawtree).Number of visits: 1900
The author, Ousmane Kane was at that time Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He is now teaching at Harvard. As he points out in the Acknowledgments, this study is the result of a working paper when he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa, at North-Western University.
Non-Europhone Intellectuals , can be seen as an operative concept informed by the two quotes from Anthony Appiah’s In my father’s house and Poetry, Prose, and Popular culture in Hausa by Graham Furnis, that the authors puts in epigram. The two authors quoted in the introduction make two statements that summarize the main problematic of this book.
Indeed, an author like Appiah defends the idea that most intellectuals in sub-Saharan Africa can be called "Europhones" and that it is the European languages that support the knowledge on African societies. But such an idea as pointed out by Graham Furnis, does not take into account the fact that there has been a whole world of debate in African languages.
With the theme of "Non-Europhone Intellectuals" Ousmane Kane tries to enrich that intellectual debate "on the production of knowledge on Africa, Africanism and Pan-Africanism as initiated in the1980s and 90s and whose best influencers were Mudimbe and Appiah. In his study, Ousmane Kane emphasizes the prominent role that the ’Christian culture’ and ’Western universities’ played in the intellectual formation of African elites. Thus, because of their intellectual heritage from the "two dominant intellectual traditions of post-colonial Africa (Anglophone and Francophone), African intellectuals trained in Western schools like Appiah and Mudimbe, have had a "Eurocentric approach of the production of knowledge in Africa and on Africa".
We owe to Mudimbe the concept of "colonial library" in his study on the "Invention of Africa". It is now a monogenesis concept that supports the idea that knowledge on the continent was essentially produced by Europeans during the colonial period. Besides, Appiah also stated that the sources in sub-Saharan Africa were produced in Portuguese, French and English and consequently favored the rise of Europhone intellectuals. For Appiah, as recalled by Ousmane Kane, historically, the intellectuals of the third world were the product of the encounter with the West".
Thus, for the author of non-Europhone Intellectuals, it is "time to rethink the quasi-monopoly claimed by the languages and epistemological order in the process of making African reality intelligible": because, "there is a common post-colonial space of meaning shared by Europhone, non-Europhone intellectuals and intellectuals who from a mixture of the two intellectual traditions"(p.3).
Because as maintained by Ousmane Kane, "there are also other libraries, including Islamic to which numerous intellectuals have contributed, who cannot be described as Europhones". And moreover, there is not only one "epistemological order" but several spaces "meaning in Africa" like the "Islamic space of meaning" structured by Islamic beliefs and practices.
Therefore, the concept of "non-Europhone Intellectuals" as we may define it for Ousmane Kane, embodies the different works of "scholars of Arab-Islamic tradition", those intellectuals who, through their mastery of the scholarly tradition have formulated claims "couched in Islamic political terms". For the author, the purpose through this book "is to provide a framework for the creation of a CODESRIA pan-African Research group on intellectuals labelled as "non-Europhone".
Ousmane Kane’s "working paper" can be divided into 9 Parts [without the introduction (Part 1) and the conclusion (Part11)] with two main sections or axes of analysis: the first one provides an analysis of the historical development of the "Islamic library" [pp.5-30]. The second one tackles the issue of societal responsibilities that "non-Europhone Intellectuals’ have played and the languages through which they have conveyed their messages [pp.31- 41]. Indeed the book is also about the "mixture process" as Ousmane Kane sustains it, which has created intellectuals taking from different traditions. He also concludes his study by identifying certain field research related to the new research perspective on Intellectual history of sub-Saharan Africa (pp.43-60).
Chapter 2 of the book is entitled, The Islamic Library in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp.7-17). Ousmane Kane gives a review of the state of research on the writings of authors from sub-Saharan Africa. The onus is on the historical fact of the expansion of Islam that enabled the Arabic language to become the language of "hundreds million Arabs, but also a liturgical language for billions Muslims". In some regions such as North Africa where local populations adopted the Muslim religion, the Arabic language and culture as well, some ethnonyms have been adopted to differentiate the "Arabized Arabs" (mustacriba) from Arabizing (cAriba ). "
However, ‘the number of celebrated centers of learning established in Northern Africa and their lively intellectual tradition since the medieval period’, enabled the two identities to contribute to the Islamic civilization in general between the eighth and fifteenth centuries". Even though it "was not entirely Islamized, nor even really Arabized", the Islamic expansion in sub-Saharan "having stopped at the equator with minority Muslim communities, sub-Saharan Africans participated in the Islamic civilization , not only as consumers but also as contributors", according to Ousmane Kane. It takes the postcolonial period to see that considerable efforts have been made to rebuild the African Islamic Library and to make it accessible to a Europhone public" (p.5).
Ousmane Kane notes that, although most local Muslim elites mastered the liturgical Arabic language, they expressed themselves in African languages. This is a posture that made "possible the development of Acjami for the purpose of transcribing the local languages (p.6). However, major reference works on the intellectual history of the Muslim world, gives the impression that sub-Saharan Africa has not contributed to the intellectual history of the Muslim world". A situation, notes Ousmane Kane, that means that most sub-Saharan Arabists are not only unknown to the Europhones but also to a good numbers of Arabs and orientalists compilers (p.7).
Let us note that in the introduction, Ousmane Kane speaks about "external and internal Arabic and Acjami sources" which are very useful to study the Islamized part of Africa. His external Arab sources (a term that reminds the “school of Dakar” terminology"), includes the testimonies from medieval Arabs author like Prince Yusuf Kamal and his Monumenta Carthographica Africae et Aegypti. He also mentioned Father Joseph Cuoq and his Recueil des sources arabes concernant l’Afrique occidentale du VIIIe siècle au XVe siècle that identified "twenty-five authors (not mentioned by the Monumenta), who provide testimonials on medieval Sub-Saharan States (Ghana, Mali, Songhai, etc.)"
Ousmane Kane also points out the Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, which is the result of a nationalist initiative taken by the University of Ghana on the eve of independence. He gives the complex history of this book that listed 66 Arab authors’ writings between the ninth and the seventeenth centuries including Ibn Batuta.
For the internal sources in Arabic or in Acjami, Ousmane Kane states that Muslims scholars of sub-Saharan Africa, like Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Kanemi (13th century) had produced texts in Arabic in the medieval era. However because of the "prejudices, European orientalists, as well as the Arab authors found the erudition of these writers of little interest and decided there was no point in pursuing them (p.8)."
But initiatives are now being taken to reconstitute the Islamic Library, and they have taken the form of cataloguing, publishing collections of manuscripts in Arabic or in Acjami. The author of non-Europhone Intellectuals, has also specified that he work varied from country to country. Thus, in Mauritania for example, we have a situation that differs from the rest of West Africa. The country has one the richest Islamic intellectual history in West-Africa and was very little known. In the 1960s, the work of identifying key Mauritanian authors has allowed Ulrich Von Rebstock to publish Rohkatalog der Arabischen Handschriften in Mauretanien which lists 2239 manuscripts with a wide range of topics.
However, in Mali for example, Ousmane Kane notes that there has been much recoding and cataloguing of manuscripts. Indeed, the colonial power by constituting the Archinard records has facilitated the work undertaken on the Umarian Library of Segu, known as the archinard collection. Also, the sponsorship of the Al-Furqan Foundation in collaboration with the Centre de recherches et de documentation historique Ahmad Baba de Tombouctou (CEDRAB) helped publish five volumes of parts of the center manuscripts (p.11).
Malian archives offer to researchers the opportunity to address issues related to erudition and the history of West Africa. They give, says Ousmane Kane, information about social life and customs of the peoples of the region in contact with other Muslim countries as well as the relationship between the people of the region and those of other Muslim countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Libya (p.11). The two richest historical chronicles, the Tarikh al-Sudan (Octave Houdas and Maurice Delafosse, 1913) and the Tarikh al-Fattash (Mahmud Ka’ti) were written by scholars of Timbuktu and remained fundamental sources of the history of sub-Saharan Africa (p.13).
Ousmane Kane’s review of literature also addresses the issue of Senegalese Arab-Islamic intellectual tradition. According to the author, it is a country that has a rich Arab-Islamic intellectual tradition, with numerous universities (medieval meaning: community of teachers and students living together in order to transmit or acquire religious knowledge). And during the 1930s, "the French colonial administration supported the idea of collecting and interpreting historical knowledge about the regions that it controlled. Thus, numerous colonial administrators took to compiling and translating sources of information in Arabic and Ajami". (p.14)
With the existence of I.F.A.N. (Institut Français de l’Afrique Noire) an Islamic studies department was created in the Institute, and according to Ousmane Kane, it will contribute "to the effort to collect Arabic sources". After independence, I.F.A.N. became Insitut Fondamental de l’Afrique Noire and is now affiliated to the University of Dakar; a great effort to collect Arabic and Acjami manuscripts has been made by the IFAN researchers who published in 1966, a Catalogue des manuscrits de l’I.F.A.N., collections of manuscripts in Arabic, Fula and Voltaic languages, as stated by the author (p.15).
In Nigeria, the colonial administrators were also interested in historical sources and made a considerable attempt to collect and translate them. Thus from the colonization to independence, substantial efforts were deployed to constitute the sources in non-Western languages. We can read that under the leadership of Prime Minister Ahmadu Bello, the Jamacat Nasr al-Islam (JNI), the Northern History Research Scheme, the Centre for Islamic Studies of Uthman Dan Fodio University and finally the Arewa House of Kaduna involved in the project. Ousmane Kane also mentioned the Arabic Literature of Africa Project, an ambitious project (by Sean O’Fahey and John Hunwick) to list all "the authors who contributed to the Islamic scholarly tradition of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as their works in Arabic, Pulaar, Swahili, etc… (p.16)".
Along the same lines, Ousmane Kane concludes the introduction by also demonstrating the place that the journals played "to reconstituting the Islamic library. The Islam et sociétés au Sud du Sahara, is a bilingual journal published by the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris. It "has produced 20 issues and created a space for exchanges between African, American, European and Asian researchers on sub-Saharan Islam". There is also the Sudanic Africa: A Journal of Historical Sources "which publishes original documents in Arabic or African languages on the history and culture of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa" (p.17).
Part 3, Origins of the Islamic Scholarly Tradition in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp.19-20), as its title indicates, is about the origin of the Islamic intellectual tradition in sub-Saharan Africa. For Ousmane Kane, the growth of literacy in Arabic and Acjami is closely linked to the expansion of Islam in the 9th century and the trans-Saharan trade that strongly favored the contact between North African and Saharan traders and the islamisation of the "elites of many urban chiefdoms and empires in West African Sahel in the 11th century (p.19).
The author referring to available historical studies, sustains that the "growth of the trans-Saharan trade and the expansion of Islam brought about a transformation of the West African societies that were subjected to their influence". That process of transformation was materialized by "a new form of state that developed in West African (8th to 16th centuries), the military-merchant state whose expansion was a critical period in the growth of literacy in Arabic. " Gradually, in various ways and through the action of different groups, a tradition of learning developed and five groups played an important role: the Sanhaja Berbers (11th century), the Dyula Wangara (12th century), the Ineslemen Zawaywa (18th century), the Fulani and the Shurafa (19th century). They appeared as the main vectors of the dissemination of this tradition of scholarship produced both in Arabic (the Zawaya) as in Acjami (pp. 19-20).
The Development of Acjami literature (pp.23-26) is the 4th part of this book. Here, Ousmane Kane starts with an analogy to explain the "process by which speakers of vernacular languages, in contact with the written foreign language, appropriated it to transcribe their own language". It happened in Europe with the Latin that was for a long time the language of learning par excellence.
Thus, "Arabic has been for many of the Islamized peoples the equivalent of Latin for the peoples of Western Europe". Educated elites that contributed to Arab intellectual history in regions under Islamic influence have also adopted the Arabic alphabet to transcribe non-Arabic languages. The Acjami which is based on altered Arabic letters, created consonants to render sounds in languages as diverse as Wolof, Hausa, Pulaar, Mandinka Songhai, Swahili. The writings in Acjami serve "not only as the language for correspondence, but also as the language of learning in which treatises and poems were written". According to Ousmane Kane, it targeted a larger audience in a pedagogical endeavor "aimed at explaining notions such as the law, theology, and the eschatology of Islam to most of the populations" (p.25).
Esoteric Knowledge and Exoteric Knowledge (pp.27-30) is Part 5, and deals with the other types of knowledge inspired by Arabic and Islamic influence in sub-Saharan Africa. The author explains that "exoteric knowledge" links African Islam to the scholarly tradition of classical Islam: very young pupils admitted to Koranic schools, learn to read and write the Arabic scripture before starting memorizing it. The pupils coming from parents who do not always pay for the tuition and maintenance of their children, contribute to the costs of their education by working in the fields or by begging.
While the "esoteric knowledge" which also made a major contribution to the development of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa, situates Islam in the everyday concerns of the population. It is a knowledge that was expressed "through a magical usage of the Koran and it enabled Muslim scholars to respond to the demand of a clientele that was looking for an immediate response to their concerns (happiness, cure, prosperity, fecundity, protection against enemies) both, according to Kane; real and imaginary (pp.28 - 29).
In Political / Intellectual Revolution (Part 6, pp. 31-34), Ousmane Kane addresses the ways in which the Islamic knowledge inspired Muslim scholars to speak out politically through jihads. The jihads were often started by scholars frustrated by the syncretism that affected Islamic practice, and who "wanted to establish a political system that corresponded to their prophetic ideal". According to the author, the impact of the jihads on the intellectual life has scattered the centers of learning and paved the way for the rise of typically Muslim cities with Islamic institutions in West Africa.
But the rooting of an Arabic- Acjami intellectual tradition was to undergo some transformations during the colonial conquest. And Part 7, European Colonization and the Transformation of Islamic Education, (pp.35 - 36) discusses that issue that took place in the 19th century, the ways the maraboutic political establishment was able to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the colonial situation to consolidate its economic, social and intellectual base.
Ousmane Kane also tells us that the "growth of literacy in Western languages and the use of the Latin script did not cause a decline of the Islamic scholarly tradition, but its transformation and the diversification of the networks for training Muslim scholars. Theses transformations, without eliminating the initial system, promoted the emergence of new categories of Arabists" (p.36)
Section two, as mentioned above starts with Part 8 entitled Modernization of the Islamic Education System (pp.37-41). Ousmane Kane points out the fact that Muslim populations were reluctant to attend secular schools. The colonial power needed qualified staff to run its administration and thus created the medersa schools. They were modernized Arab-Islamic schools that "aimed less at promoting Islamic education than at changing it to undermine the influence of the maraboutic establishment (p.37)".
The creation of French-Arabic schools, according to Ousmane Kane, gave also another dimension for the reform of Arabic teaching. They were established by "post-colonial governments concerned with harmonizing the teaching and creating outlets for the graduates of local Arabic schools". And some of the graduates of those schools continued their studies in Arab countries or African Universities" (p.39).
In Part 9, Sub-Saharan African Arabists and Higher Education in the Arab World (pp. 43-49), the author explains that the lack of universities for Arabists in sub-Saharan Africa (except in Niger and Uganda) encouraged their migration to the universities in the Arab world after their training in the Koranic and traditional Arab-Islamic schools.
Ousmane Kane also shows how the higher education of most African Arabists in the universities of the Arab World through cooperation renewed the ties between North African Countries and the Islamized countries south of the Sahara. A country like Egypt (compared to Morocco, Algeria or Saudi Arabia) "was preferred by Arabists from sub-Saharan Africa". Ousmane Kane also reveals that the North African universities could be a stepping stone to those after graduating from Arab universities took advantage of the equivalence systems to pursue graduate studies in France. "These Arabists who possessed a French degree had better chances of obtaining professional occupations than their peers who spoke only Arabic" (p.45).
Whereas, as the author points out, unfortunately, most Graduates of modernized Arabic teachings and those trained in universities and other institutions of higher learning in the Arab-Islamic world could not secure employment or acquire social influence. Their return has been a source of frustration because they have been unable to secure employment, thus they have been challenging the status quo by taking part in politics.
Arabists and Islamism, (Part 10, pp.51-52), deals with the African context in the 1980s with Islamist movements becoming visible throughout the Muslim world. Ousmane Kane points out the criticism of the colonial heritage with "secularism as adopted by the post-colonial African state as a principle of government ". Indeed, certain Muslim militant intellectuals argue that African crisis is a divine punishment and therefore an Islamic state has to replace the secular state of Western inspiration (p.52).
Ousmane Kane closes this working document with A research Project, (Appendix I, pp.57 - 60) that identifies certain fields of research on the concept of non-Europhone intellectuals, "knowledge outside the Islamic tradition as well as the phenomenon of intellectual cross-fertilization" and the necessity to continue the research to secure texts in non-western languages, including Arabic and Acjami. That’s why for Ousmane Kane, it is important to overcome the disciplinary barrier by establishing a conversation between intellectual historians of sub-Saharan Islam and Europhone social scientists; and also the linguistic barrier that separates the Europhone from the non-Europhone intellectuals.
This work, Non-Europhone Intellectuals is the demonstration that the Western epistemological order in Africa is not the dominant one as a generation of Europhone intellectuals in sub-Saharan has defended it. By exploiting the research carried out on the Islamic Library, Ousmane Kane pays tribute to Muslim intellectuals of Sub-Saharan Africa who have produced numerous manuscripts in Arabic and in Acjami that today can constitute the sources to enrich the history of erudition in Africa.