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Opinions of Sunday, 23 March 2014

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

Great Lessons from Dr. Yaw Nyarko’s Work (ll)

In principle, Marxian “materialism” essentially elevated the material world above spiritualism, thereby rendering the collectivized products of human mind, in other words, “human thought,” a mirror image of the material world. The roots of these ideas arose from the embers of Greek material culture. Importantly, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels uprooted this concept from its European historical silt then extended its materialistic interpretation, based on European society, to the European condition, proposing it as an alternative model to the internal structural contradictions occasioned by two powerful forces, the Industrial Revolution and capitalism. However, unlike Nkrumah and Nyerere, two hardworking individuals, Karl Marx came across as extraordinarily lazy, failing to apply his revolutionary ideas to neutralize the entrenched forces of “dialectical materialism,” internal contradictions, so-called, in his own personal life.

Ironically, Marx hated work and relied on the extensive wealth of Friedrich Engels’ capitalist family for sustenance, while, he and Engel, literally, and, even theoretically, plotted to destroy the same capitalism which fed them both. Then again, it was the synthesized ideas in “Capital: Critique of Political Economy,” by Marx, and “The Communist Manifesto,” by both Engels and Marx, which crucially came to underline the ideological basis of African socialism. In other words, Nkrumah, Nyerere, and all the other major proponents of African socialism imposed this utopian world of a foreign culture, excavated via the intellectual archeology of Marx and Engels, on Africa, without probably taking cognizance of the enormous historical, cultural, epistemological, developmental, material, and spiritual discrepancies inhering between the two worlds, Africa and Europe, granted, that it’s partially, if not mostly, the internal dynamics of a society’s natural evolution which drives as well as resolves, admittedly, into its anamorphic temperament. Of course, “dialectical materialism” induces “change” but, more importantly, the factors, natural and social, undergirding societal evolution and outcomes of the evolutionary process itself may not necessarily inhabit the same space of epistemological mutuality.

Emphatically, change itself is a variable and societal physis may enjoy a mutual legroom of inverse or direct relationship. Against this background, the uncritical transplantation of Marxian utopia into Africa may have necessarily, if partially, stifled her internalized natural evolution. Meanwhile, the problem is further exacerbated by the knowledge that neither Marx nor Engels harbored any deep or intimate intellectual familiarity with African societies, much less close familiarity with her vastly rich historical and intellectual traditions as well as with her cultural psychology and time-tested cultural institutions. Regrettably, the little they knew about and of Africa, if we may put it at that, mostly derived from the ideational ejaculations of dislocated, misinformed, splintered psychologies, of which European intellectuals like Friedrich Hegel led the way. Yet, though we are quick to fault Nkrumah and other African socialists for transplanting classical Marxian thought to Africa, we are also equally quick to add that Nkrumah’s “consciencism” philosophy, African Personality, intellectual cosmopolitanism, and Afrocentric thinking more than theoretically compensated for the intellectual deficiencies of Hegelian epistemology vis-à-vis historical Africa.

In fact, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” which one commentator, a reviewer of the book, possibly, aptly characterized as a more powerful critique than “the atomic bomb,” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” both depict the humiliating failure of communism as an alternative creative response to capitalist totalitarianism. However, we may have to grudgingly accept the fact that Nkrumah’s African socialism did not blossom into full-blown politico-economic adolescence prior to the CIA-inspired putschism that toppled his progressive government. Admittedly, his brand of economic system was more appropriately a smorgasbord of socialism, African communalism, and liberal market capitalism, particularly democratic capitalism. “Nkrumah insisted there was no discrepancy between socialism and private enterprise,” notes Ama Biney (p. 107). Thus, he surrounded himself with men and women whose expertise traversed capitalism, socialism, communism, and African communalism. As well, it’s probably in the public domain that he openly dismissed communists in the CPP to assure the British of his intentions not to countenance communism or to allow his government to be manipulated by the exploitative prehensility of Soviet communism. In fact, Nkrumah publicly denied being a communist to his audience when his alma mater Lincoln University conferred an honorary doctorate on him.

Ama Biney writes: “With these economic achievements behind him, Nkrumah presented to parliament on March 4, 1959, the CPP’s Second Five Year Development Plan. While the plan was ambitious, it was by no means a departure from the laissez-faire policies of Professor Arthur Lewis nor was it what scholars have described as ‘the shopping list’ approach of former colonial development plans (Ama Biney, “The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah,” p. 100). Elsewhere Ama Biney maintains: “There are Marxist scholars, such as Mohan and Fitch and Oppenheimer, who dismiss Nkrumah’s economic developments in the post-1960 period as having little to do with socialism…(Ibid: p. 106). It’s important to recall that socialism and communism are not the same. Ironically, that is because many ideological opponents of Nkrumah have no clear understanding of these basic concepts and, therefore, miss the philosophical differences between them. On the other hand, the British needed this assurance to deactivate their suspicions of Nkrumah to sink Ghana’s public assets in a political ocean of nationalization.

Understandably, nationalizing South Africa’s industries, corporations, and mineral wealth had represented Nelson Mandela’s and the ANC’s restorative projective, a moral political formula to address pressing issues of social injustice, prior to the eventual demise of Apartheid, only for him to turn around and accommodate free market economics at the expense of Black South Africa. Julius Malema has since demanded a re-excavation of nationalization to address South Africa’s racial disparities. That said, how exactly did Marxian thought help the world? How many people did Pol Pot, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Nicolae Ceau?escu, Josef Stalin, Kim ll Sung, and Leon Trotsky put to death because of communism? Again, let’s state here for historical emphasis that Kwame Nkrumah did not kill any individual political opponent or a group of political opponents, this, according to the political scientist Prof. Irving Markovitz (See “Ghana Without Nkrumah: The Winter of Discontent”). Having said that, the alternative questions is, how many people have had their lives snuffed out thus far since capitalism’s formalized institutionalization? Is egalitarianism the answer to class conflict? Is classism the answer to egalitarianism? What did the moral philosopher Adam Smith had to say about these questions?

Yet we may also want to pose this question: Is capitalism any better? At least, not if we look at history and contemporary events through a critical lens! Argumentatively, the institution of slavery itself had all the hallmarks of incipient capitalism, though the theoretical formalization of capitalism materialized after thinkers such as David Ricardo, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Malthus, to name a few, had appeared on the scene. Further, Aparthied, racism, colonialism, ozone depletion, wars, imperialism, environmental pollution, and neocolonialism are arguably reflective appurtenance of capitalism. As an illustration, Mazower’s “Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century” has more to say about some of these moral and political questions. In fact, Africa still reels from the ideological stupefaction of the Cold War, a war of which a tangential Africa has become a well-known collateral victim as well as a casualty of philosophical foreigness. Thus, both systems, capitalism and communism, are exploitative paradigms.

Any reasons? Pointedly, in Chapter Two, otherwise titled “Laws Governing the Evolution of Societies: Motor of History in Societies of AMP and the Greek City-State,” of Cheikh Anta Diop’s influential work, “Barbarism or Civilization: An Authentic Anthropology,” we are exposed to a panorama of scientific, historical, and sociological reasons explaining why societies are the way they are based on how and why they evolve the way they do. Simply put, the cultural temperament or philosophical complexion of a given society, African or non-African, is a creative product of a scatter-gun collision among a system of evolutionary factors, a prior acknowledged fact. However, this fact may not be so obvious at the crown of a given society or polity in question. This therefore calls for a close evaluation of the political demography of a nation-state, city-state, etc. To put it more succinctly, the cultural charaterology of a social, ethnic, racial, political, religious, and economic collectivity determines the normative sociality of a polity. In another sense, proponents of African socialism should have seen Diop’s critical analysis on the evolution of human societies before considering whether or not to have imposed socialism on Africa in the first place.

Yet, Diop, too, like John Henrik Clarke, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Botwe-Asamoah, Maulana Karenga, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, etc., all came under the theoretical influence of socialism. Moreover, among other reservations, we want to stress further that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” so-called, may not necessarily find itself in full charge of the existential mechanics of operationalizability in classical Smithian conceptualization, this, as far as the “invisible” forces regulating market socialization is concerned, namely, in today’s free market economies. What exactly do we mean? We mean to affirmatively assert that raw human greed has potentially replaced the supposed “supernatural” role ideally reserved for Smith’s “invisible hand.” As a matter of fact, this Smithian “invisible hand,” has, to a certain extent, resolved into Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God,” stealing here and there with reckless abandon, at every available opportunity. Still, the “failure” of Smith to exhaustively treat, let alone incorporate “greed” into his framework of classical economics, may not have augured well for the theoretical derivatives of his groundbreaking ideas, which, more than anything else, relied on moral philosophy.

In retrospect, we still do not yet know what Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes would have made of the afore-mentioned moral questions, that is, the sociopolitical role of “greed” in the political economy of free market activities. What about regulated or controlled markets? Can government be greedy? Obviously, yes, because, after all, isn’t government a constitution of human beings bound together by a common philosophy or an agreed-upon assorted ideology, with a responsibility to the governed? Arguably, political partisanship can conveniently coerce a government to reorient the forces of demand and supply, say, in favor of political patrons, partisan electorate, or partisan constituencies. In the main, let’s also point out that the Libor Scandal, regulatory interventions (environmental protection, oversights, anti-discrimination and labor laws, etc) tax evasion, subprime mortgage crisis, financial bailouts, insider trading, for instance, somewhat invalidate the operational utility exclusively reserved for Smith’s “invisible hand.” This is why African economies need not rely absolutely on outmoded theoretical models for economic sustenance. Again, admittedly, African economies are tied to global finance, evidently so because colonialism got to see African economies made integral to a global system just to guarantee the West’s survival.

Relatedly, Dambisa Moyo has made these arguments abundantly clear, demonstrating that the “Chinese Model” or “Beijing Consensus” offers a useful alternative to the “Western Model.” Among other things, she subjects the “Western Model” and the “Chinese Model” to analytic contradistinction, pointing out that private capitalism, liberal democracy, prioritized political rights, pedestrian strains of Western democracies are not necessarily iron-clad pre-requisites for economic success, granted that the success of the “Chinese Model,” alternatively, derives from state capitalism, de-emphasized democracy, and prioritized economic rights over political rights. Elsewhere, Dambisa, like all the other scholars we have profiled so far, has traveled widely around the world taking the opportunity to learn firsthand how different economic models operate in different cultural and political milieus. What is more, she, Molefi Kete Asante, Yaw Nyarko, Victor Lawrence, Ama Mazama, etc., are excellent, beautiful, powerful, and accomplished writers. The sophistication of their prose can match those of the Chinua Achebes, the Toni Morrisons, the Derek Walcotts, the Nuruddin Farahs, the Ama Ata Aidoos, etc. We raise this point because writing is an important part of the process of intellection.

Yet their creative and transformative intellectualism goes beyond authorial simplicity, the art of writing. Technically, extending the creative limits of their intellection to ideational practicalization assumes analytic priority over the art of writing per se, which they already are exceptionally good at, anyway. Yet again, what exactly are we saying? We are simply saying that being a man or woman of letters, of whatever status in society, does not prevent one from seriously pitting one’s intellect against complicated scientific, mathematical, philosophical, cultural, and engineering questions, beyond one’s immediate area of expertise. This is what psychological elasticity or intellectual cosmopolitanism is all about. The human brain enjoys cognitive longevity and intellectual flexibility if challenged via reading and logical exercises. Molefi Kete Asante, one of America’s respected communication experts; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, renowned men of letters; Cornel West, a theologian and moral philosopher; WEB Du Bois, America’s first urban sociologist; Toni Morrison and Ama Ata Aidoo, influential women of letters; Cheikh Anta Diop, a mathematician, nuclear physicist, Egyptologist, scientist, linguist, historian, sociologist, cultural theorist; and Ama Mazama, a respected linguist, historian, cultural theorist, have all demonstrated outstanding degrees of originality in intellectual pursuits outside their intellectual bailiwicks.

For his part, a team of accomplished scholars in the American Academy came together and devoted a volume, “Essays in Honor of an Intellectual Warrior: Molefi Kete Asante,” edited by Ama Mazama, to Prof. Molefi Kete Asante. Posterity will enjoy reading this. That is, we need to accord our celebrated intellectuals, scientists, and thinkers the honor due them by preserving their legacies via biographical literalization. Then again, George Orwell’s essay “Why I Write” delves into some of the motivations behind individuals’ love for writing, citing “sheer egotism,” “aesthetic enthusiasm,” “historical impulse,” and “political purpose.” He writes thus: “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood…” Nevertheless, great writers don’t rely on such flimsy excuses as their primary motivations for writing. Indeed making the world a better place for humanity consumes a larger portion of great thinkers’ creativity and by which they have to pay in huge intellectual mileage. In addition, in one of George Orwell’s provocative essays, “Politics and the English Language,” he advocates simplicity of prose and clarity of expression on the part of “scrupulous” writers.

Could we all, including the authors of this essay, pay heed to the wise voice of Orwell? Well, we believe Orwell’s admonition is worth adhering to. Also, others, such as Yaw Nyarko, reduce complex economic theories to simplicity of prose and clarity of expression. Likewise, those we have previously mentioned in this essay follow this Orwellian advice. Finally, what are some of Dr. Yaw Nyarko’s greatest achievements? Dr. Nyarko has done some consultations with the Social Science Research Council, the World Bank, the United Nations (UN Economic Commission for Africa), the Institute of Empirical Economics, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, European Union Economic Report on Development, UN Economic Commission for Africa, United Arab Emirates (Ministry of Foreign Trade). He has served as either editor or assistant editor on America’s academic economics journals. His academic work, consultations, and research have also impacted the African Development Bank in many positive ways. On the other hand, he has appeared on a few media outlets including World Vision, BBC, World Focus Public Radio, and Fundación BBVA, to discuss his work.

Dr. Yaw Nyarko is a recipient of several prestigious awards and grants. These include: eSoko Market Information Systems ($405, 000); the joint BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award with William Westerly (£400,000); National Bureau of Economic Research ($61,000); five National Science Foundation Grants; New York University Presidential Fellowship; New York University Challenge Fund ($20M for three projects, Abu Dubai); Technology Center for Rural Development (three projects); A.D. White Presidential Fellowship and Floyd Mundy Fellowship (Cornel University); and New York University Curricula Development Fund. Leaving aside the accolades and laurels, what kind of educational institution is New York University? This is its ranking (Wikipedia): The Academic Ranking of World Universities placed New York University (Shanghai Ranking) at #27 in the world, according to the Shanghai Jiao Tong Universities. Additional institutional rankings: U.S. News & World Report (#32, America), QS World University Rankings (#44, World), Forbes (#56, America), Times Higher Education World University Rankings (#40, World), and Washington Monthly (#79, America).

Conversely, in a 2012 national survey, dubbed “The Top 10 Dream Colleges for Students,” New York University took the fourth position among a number of America’s elite institutions—where high school respondents generally said they would love to attend college, according to the Huffington Post. The ten institutions included Brown University, MIT, Yale University, University of California (LA), Columbia University, Stanford University, Harvard University, University of Southern California, and Princeton University. There is no doubt that Dr. Yaw Nyarko’s hard work has played a major role in elevating New York University in America as well as in the world. The records are there for all to see. That aside, these variegated rankings uniquely place New York University among the world’s best! In fact, Dr. Alan Greenspan, an American economist and one of the longest serving chairmen of the Federal Reserve beside William M. Martin, from 1987 to 2006, is a product of New York University. New York University has produced some of the world’s and America’s pre-eminent economists. The school also features some of the world’s best economics and business professors.

The question is: Can Ghana transform her tertiary institutions into the likes of New York University? Besides, if Dr. Nyarko’s outstanding managerial and development expertise can transform Patrick Awuah, Jr.’s ideational blueprint for a technological educational system into an institutional actuality, Ashesi University, of high standing, what does it say about human ingenuity, of which we mean Nyarko’s? It means individuals only need the right environment, personal drive, money, intellectual resources, cosmopolitan understanding of the world, vision, imagination, high moral standing, among others, to make a positive, lasting impact on the world. It also means we can do more for ourselves as a people, especially the African world, without necessarily relying on outside help. It was why Nkrumah once said “the people of the Gold Coast have the right to govern or misgovern themselves.” Fortunately, this is the exact locational confluence where minds such as those of Molefi Kete Asante, Ama Mazama, Yaw Nyarko, Dambisa Moyo, Victor Lawrence, Cheikh Ana Diop, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Afrocentricty meet, the political economy of self-help and self-development. This is what education, not schooling, is all about. Still, we shall work tirelessly to bring Drs. Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama (the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies) and Africa House (Dr. Yaw Nyarko) together.

In fine, we may also have to bring Dr. Victor Lawrence (and his company Baharicom Development Corporation) on board. Let’s celebrate these great sons and daughters of the African world! In the end, economics, like the natural sciences, arguably has a spiritual dimension to it. In other words, spirituality, if it really exists, as we believe it does, has, accordingly, a material component as well. It’s a relational see-saw of sorts. Moreover, economics, particularly behavior economics, and the natural sciences serve as the bridge between relative material comfort and human spirituality. This may explain why Adam Smith looked at economic theories from the standpoint of moral philosophy. These claims are all moot questions, however. And to you, Dr. Yaw Nyarko, we are patiently waiting to see you become the next recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, after the Saint Lucian economist William Arthur Lewis, the only black thinker to have been awarded a Nobel Prize outside Literature and Peace. Interestingly, Prof. Arthur Lewis served as one of Nkrumah’s world-class economic advisors.

In fact, Ama Biney recalls this of Prof. Arthur Lewis: “Lewis was highly critical of the British Crown Agents’s lack of prudent investment advice. They had, in fact, mismanaged this large surplus by failing to invest in long-term securities. Such an oversight undoubtedly hampered Ghana’s future economic prospects and potential (Ibid: 111). The NAACP, the Ghanaian government, and the African Union should formally acknowledge your immense contributions to the world with their highest humanitarian award! You have taught us that economics is more than crunching numbers and armchair theorizing, much like Asante has taught us that serving one’s people is the most satisfying enterprise on the planet. Was it not actually Nkrumah who said “We can prove to the world that when the African is given a chance he can show the world that he’s somebody…Today, from now on, there’s a new African in the world, and so that new African is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all the black man’s capable of managing his own affairs. We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations, young as we are, that we are prepared to lay our own foundation.” Let those of our lazy scholars and members of the political class who have ears listen to Nkrumah’s wisdom.