When in 1978 the well known West African historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo published his book Histoire de l’Afrique Noire (Paris: Librairie Hatier), he put as a title for the last chapter the question: 'What grounds for hope are there for Africa?' According to this chapter the negative legacy of colonial rule has to be overcome and a strategy of education has to be followed in order to achieve a successful economy. Perhaps these are still the most important objectives if we are considering the grounds for hope for this continent.
However, since that time the situation has deteriorated. It is much more difficult now to give a positive answer to Ki-Zerbo's question. I need not mention details about political instability, economic misery, civil wars, wide-spread corruption, violence in the streets of the big cities, and natural catastrophies. It is my impression that a special methodology of hope is necessary, if we want to re-open the space of hope for Africa. The German philosopher Ernst Bloch offers us such a methodology in his main work: Das Prinzip Hoffnung (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 1959). In this book he defends the thesis that hope can be learned and has to be learned, because only then would it not be an illusionary wish, but a grounded expectation.
Let me give you the main characteristics of learned hope (docta spes) as they are worked out by Bloch. There are two dimensions which have to be taken into consideration: (1) the roots of hope in different layers of human consciousness, (2) the extension of hope into different zones of the future. In his research for the first dimension, Bloch starts by looking at everyday consciousness of man. He marks aspects within that consciousness which point at a better life. The impulse to work for better conditions of life originates from being not content with the present situation so that the will comes up to negate and to change it. The following step consists of a psychological and phenomenological analysis of a deeper layer of human consciousness. Bloch explores this layer and calls it the 'not-yet-conscious' or in a more poetical expression ‘looking forward in the dawn’. This is the counterpart of Sigmund Freud's theory of the 'no-more-conscious' which is filled by suppressed and undigested experiences in the past. In a final analysis Bloch ‘detects’ an even deeper layer under the 'not-yet-conscious'. This is the core of human existence, which gives direction to all the thoughts and actions of the individual. Bloch names it the 'darkness of the moment of living'. We do not know what we are and what we intend to do in the present moment of life. Whenever we try to grasp what is in this moment, it is already gone. Therefore, the moment of living is dark for us. We can try to get closer to the present moment of life by mystic introspection and by analyzing the direction of the actions which come forth from this moment.
The three corresponding zones in the horizon of the future of these layers of consciousness are: (1) the most forward points in the period of present time, (2) the 'not-yet-realized' in the near future and in the period of middle- and long-term plans, (3) the fulfillment of the ‘deepest wishes of the moment of living’ in a final age of history. With regard to the first, Bloch calls the phenomena in everyday life which point to a better future 'wishful pictures in the mirror'. They reach from the wish to make yourself more beautiful via the dream-factory cinema to the theatre in the style of Bert Brecht which demands that spectators ponder about the ways in which the world can be changed. As far as the second zone in the horizon of the future is concerned, Bloch finds the 'not-yet-realized' documented in utopian literature throughout the centuries of Western history. In this connection it is necessary to transform abstract utopias which are just expressing wishful thinking to concrete utopian conceptions which take into account the 'real-objective possibilities' of the future. This transformation can only be done - according to Bloch - by using the theoretical means of Karl Marx and of non-dogmatic marxist literature. In respect to the third zone, according to Bloch, we can find out what the ‘deepest wishes of the moment of living’ are and how they can be realized, if we study certain masterpieces of literature, philosophy, and music. And also a critical interpretation of religious hope, especially of the Christian religion, is necessary. This interpretation has to make clear what the real individual and social experiences are that have been expressed in religious terms.
I will take over these dimensions of learned hope, when I try to answer the question: What grounds for hope are there for Africa? or: How to (re-)open the space for hope for Africa? That means, in respect of Africa I will present the following three paragraphs: (1) The space of hope in everyday consciousness and in everyday life, (2) The space of hope in the 'not-yet-conscious' and in concrete utopian conceptions, (3) The space of hope in the 'darkness of the moment of living' and in great works of literature, philosophy, and music, and also in the experiences of hope which are expressed in religious terms.
1. The space for hope in everyday consciousness and in everyday life
Bloch teaches us that the possibilities of hope in everyday consciousness and in everyday life come from the power of negation. We have to ask and, in fact, we always do ask with which phenomena of everyday life we are not content, that we wish to change them or have them changed. From the wish for change can be derived certain imperatives of negation. Looking at the everyday reality of the Subsaharan African countries, we have to state first of all, that this reality is not the same in all of them. In some of these countries we find less political instability, economic misery, etc. than in others. Therefore, what is said in the following text has to be applied in a differentiated way to the different countries.
I wish to formulate the first imperative of negation as: Do not run away! The wish of many Africans to participate in the more comfortable and more luxurious way of life in the Western countries is very understandable. As a consequence of this wide-spread wish, we have streams of migration from African to Western countries. The results of these streams of migration are not only a serious brain drain and a drain of competence from Africa, but also a drain of hope from the continent. Therefore, this trend needs to be negated, if one wants to establish or re-establish hope. Sometimes it seems to be impossible to decide not to run away. The differences are often too big. Travelling is useful, and staying for a couple years in a different culture can help a lot to find solutions for problems of any kind. But forgetting to come back is fatal for your own culture and its problems. Unfortunately, this is too often the case. That means, already at this point in analyzing everyday consciousness, that it is clear that a radical change of thinking and feeling is necessary to make the first and most simple imperative operational.
The second imperative of negation is: Do not ask help from others! What has taken place as development help during the last decennia has started from the wrong point of departure on both sides: that of the givers and that of the receivers. Nobody has seriously asked how development in the sense of modernization and westernization can fit in with the reality of African political life, economic structures, and societal conditions. I cannot go into here how many misconceptions and misleading actions have come forth from the failure to deal seriously enough with this question. However, we can see that the possibilities of development which are offered by Western countries and Western organizations on the one hand and the conditions of the African situation on the other hand in most cases do not align with each other. Especially the positive aspects of African political, economic and cultural life have not been seen clearly enough and have not been taken into account on a fundamental level. Of course, it is alright, if the rich give something to the poor. And moreover, it is a duty of those who have become rich at the expense of those who are poor now, that they give back something of what they have taken away. I do not want to negate this attitude. It should exist on a much larger scale. But I do not think that this is the way helping the poor to get rich themselves. The development of Africa in its own way and style can only be done by Africans themselves. Therefore, I immediately felt hopeful, when I saw students of the University of Venda, a former homeland in the Republic of South Africa, who had written on their T-shirts: 'Let us build Africa ourselves'. Help of the rich for the poor is one thing, but it is quite a different thing to find your own way and your own conditions for getting development started and for keeping it going in an area which is not yet developed.
I come to the third imperative of negation: Stop wide-spread and far-reaching corruption! Obviously, it is a phenomenon which is spread all over the world that political power and corruption are closely connected. It seems to be illusionary to do away with corruption totally. But in many African countries corruption takes place on a scale which is very much too high. Nobody can be content with that. And at the same time, nobody can tell how it could be stopped. In his book Tradition and Modernity (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997) Kwame Gyekye asks for a 'moral revolution' in order to bring about a radical change in all kinds of corrupt and corruptible behaviour. The traditional African values are still in the memory of the people. To make them valid again in the actions of everybody, before all of the politically powerful, is only possible if a revolutionary change takes place. Everyone who shares this idea has to work on its realization in his or her specific situation. I would like to agree with that, but I have my doubts about changes which originate from a revolution. The post-revolutionary situation is often worse than the one which existed before the change. So I would rather plead for an evolutionary way to a Moral Renewal in Ghana and in Africa as a whole, as it is explained by Gyekye’s Ghanaian colleague Joshua Kudadjie (Accra: Asempa Publishers 1995). Both authors think of a critical examination and re-introduction of traditional African values which can be additional and corrective with regard to values which come from the Western countries together with their political, economic and cultural influences.
Fourth and final imperative of negation: Do not tolerate violence in the streets of the big cities! I could give examples of countries in which this kind of violence is worse than in others. And I could also speak of cities where it used to be calm and peaceful, in which violent actions in the streets arose quite suddenly. I can understand that this kind of violence against white people is part of the mirror-effect of colonial suppression by Europeans during long periods of history. Frantz Fanon in his book: Les damnés de la terre and also Jean-Paul Sartre in his preface to this book (Paris: Maspéro 1961) have laid bare the deep psychological roots of this effect. But there are undesired consequences of this kind of behaviour. People who have been beaten and robbed in the streets of an African city, think differently about Africa. And this might not be to the advantage of the continent and the opening of the space for hope. The Mayor of New York City has shown that a politics of zero tolerance can help in such a situation.
2. The space for hope in the 'not-yet-conscious' and in concrete utopian conceptions
Looking and ‘dreaming forward in the dawn’ might be too vague and abstract, if there is not a will in it and behind it to change the world for the better. Our daydreams need not be castles in the air, they can be directed at concrete action. This becomes possible if the experiences of the past are taken into account. These experiences date back in Africa to colonial and precolonial times. Concrete utopian conceptions of the 'not-yet-realized' have to be based on historical experiences, not only of the past which has recently gone, but also of that which is already far away. Here I see a concrete way for the critical examination an re-introduction of traditional African values. We know from a broad literature that these values have been useful for the good functioning of traditional societies. It is mainly due to the influence of the colonizers and the missionaries that the traditional societies have lost this basis. After independence this trend could and should be turned round. But the useful parts of the traditional values functioned mainly in rural societies, and it is a difficult question as to how they can be re-introduced in the big cities, where the conditions of life are very much different. The most promising means is still what has already been named by Ki-Zerbo: a strategy of education for all people and on all levels.
It would be in accordance with Bloch's falling back on Marx' and non-dogmatic marxist theories, if a middle- and long-term plan is made for the solution of this kind of problems. A politics of zero tolerance with regard to corruption and violence is the first step. After that, political, economic and social conditions have to be conceptualized and built up concretely so as to make corruption and violence less attractive and less possible. This goes together with the need for African societies to look for their own way to development by which the conditions of life shall be improved for the population as a whole. It is not enough to formulate imperatives of negation, but middle- and long-term planning is necessary. The question has to be asked: If values as wide-range brotherhood and the readiness to help the unlucky are to be re-introduced, what structures of a city are apt to make this process possible? The answer to this question cannot be given by philosophers alone. They can only work out the principles which are presupposed for the invention and introduction of these structures.
Many African politicians and political philosophers have had and still have the Pan-African dream. In Ki-Zerbo’s book this is the key notion for the re-installment of hope for Africa. I will name only some politicians and political philosophers who have had this dream and who have worked for its realization in their specific environment. Kwame Nkrumah did so in his Ghanaian context and Cheikh Anta Diop in his Senegalese situation. Quite recently Kwame Anthony Appiah has renewed this dream in connection with his enterprise to determine the role of 'Africa in the philosophy of culture'. (In My Father's House. London: Methuen 1992.) This dream has to be connected to political action along the lines of programmes for the near and the far away future. Also today political leaders are needed who can make this connection. A first step will be to overcome artificial frontiers of the colonial states and search for possibilities of regional cooperation. If I see it rightly, Nelson Mandela's interventions in the politics of African countries and groups of countries are guided by such programmes.
A revolutionary change would possibly be a quick one, but the longer way of evolutionary steps in the right direction seems to be more promising. Africa needs time and has to be granted time for its moral renewal, for the building up of adequate conditions of life, especially in the big cities, and for its way to unity, if it ever will be reached. From a deeper analysis of the situation the public opinion in the world and the published opinion of the media has to be put right by not reporting only extremely negative events. It should be said also that there are improving conditions of life in certain areas. In this context the work at a specifically African process of democratization in Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa has to be mentioned and to be encouraged.
3. The space for hope in the ‘darkness of the moment of living’ and in great works of
literature, philosophy, and music, and also in the experiences of hope which are
expressed in religious terms
In his final analysis Bloch concludes: If one speaks about better conditions of life, one has necessarily some knowledge about the best conditions towards which in the end every measure of improvement is directed. That leads him to the expectation of a perfect world in the last period of history, which can be and will be realized by mankind. I will not follow Bloch in this expectation. But I will use his scheme of thought about the deepest roots of hope in the human consciousness and the farthest reaching expectations of improving the world as a regulative principle, when I apply it to the African situation. That means that the work to improve the conditions of life will be all the more powerful when and where it is guided by the idea as if the expectation of a perfect world could be real.
In the history of Western literature and philosophy Bloch prefers works which present a way or – said more precisely – a course through many stages to a stadium of perfection. I only mention two examples: Goethe’s dramatic poem of Faust, who is saved after an ever ongoing pursuit of the fulfillment of life, and Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit, in which after a critical examination of all finite forms of knowledge, ‘abolute knowledge’ is reached in the end. The highest expression of the fulfillment of the deepest wishes of the human being can be found according to Bloch in music. The absolute climax is for him when in Beethoven’s Fidelio Leonore frees Florestan from his chains, and he sings ‘Oh God, what a moment!’
Above all, the atheïst and Marxist Bloch looks for perfection and fulfillment of the deepest ‘wishes of the moment of living’ in religious promises. Following the critique of religion as it has been worked out by Feuerbach and Marx, Bloch states that the humanization and the social interpretation of the religious secret have their origin in the Jewish-Christian scriptures themselves. God becomes human, and he is not only incarnated in a single person, but in his kingdom, which is a kingdom of love. This means that in the kingdom of love there is no longer a king or a governing person, but absolute equality of loving partners.
Also in the African context, the artistic expressions of hope are the most promising, and they reach farther into the horizon of the future than any others. I think in the first instance of visual arts. The history of wood carving and the ongoing productiveness in this field are a sign of the vitality of African people which cannot be overlooked. Masks and statues which can be found in African societies and in museums all over the world testify to the better world of the spirits to which they can give access. And also in many works of literature is shown how reconciliation, in and out of a world of deep crises and of ultimate misery, is possible. Let me here also confine myself to a few examples: two in French and two in English language.
A very special document is the Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de la langue française, which was published in 1948 by the poet and philosopher Leopold S. Senghor who became later the first president of independent Senegal. Perhaps the new selfconsciousness of Africans cannot be expressed better than by his own poem: Femme noire, that begins: ‘Naked women, black women / Clothed with your colour which is life’. The novels of Ousmane Sembène are much more sober and level-headed. In Les bouts de bois de Dieu, which deals with the fight against colonial domination in Senegal and Mali, he presents a manifesto of cultural emancipation by taking over the traditions of oral narration and literature.
In Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God the chief priest Ezeulu, whose authority is under threat in connection with the ongoing colonization, adopts an increasingly cosmic view and takes on the position of a charismatic leader of the people. And finally, Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Ocol is full of critical and even sarcastic remarks about the situation after uhuru, the freedom from colonial rule. But nevertheless he asks the African women and men to ‘walk erect’, ‘with your head up’. This reminds of the enormous utopian potential of ‘walking erect’ in Bloch’s ‘Principle of Hope’.
These literary examples show that in the ‘40s and ‘50s there was an enthusiasm of fighting for and gaining independence. This gave way, in a later period, to sobriety and disillusionment about the wrong ways which had been chosen. But the power of art is not lost, and the expression of hope finds its way through all utterances of disappointment and despair. Despite the deepest crises of the present situation or as a counter-move against them, the poets do not give in to pessimism. In his novel The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, the Ghanian poet Ayi Kwei Armah formulates it precisely: ‘Yet out of the decay and the dung there is always a new flowering. Perhaps it helps to know that. Perhaps it clears the suffering brain, though down in the heart and within the guts below, the ache and the sinking fear are never soothed.’ After the loss of a functioning social life for which the process of colonization has to be blamed, is is difficult now to find ‘The African foundation / On which we are / Building the new nations / Of Africa’, as Ocol sings.
What Bloch states for the Western world, is also true for Africa: People are touched in the deepest way by the art of music, and as far as the African situation is concerned, one has to add: by the art of dancing. In his article: ‘The idea of art in African thought’ (in: G. Fløistad, ed, Contemporary philosophy. A new survey. Volume 5: African philosophy. Dordrecht: Nijhoff 1987) K.C. Anyanwu from the University of Lagos makes clear that for Africans music is a cosmic phenomenon and that dancing is the human answer to it. According to him, music or sound is the most radical way of knowing and creating meaning in the world. It makes human beings participate in the actions of the ‘God-Head or the Great Life-Force’. If I see it correctly, it is ultimately the spiritual dimension of African life which can feed hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
Therefore, the great successes of Christian and Islamic religion in Subsaharan Africa, and the ongoing influences of the belief in spirits have to be mentioned, if the deepest sources of hope are inventoried. The tradition of communicating with the world of the spirits is still alive in many examples of vivid religious experience of African people. It is important, however, to direct religious hope not only at a better life in another world. Bloch is wrong to expect the age of perfection as a stage of the historical future. But he is right that the experiences of religious hope have to inspire human work for a better future on this earth. A radical change of the ethical attitude, for which Gyekye, Kudadjie and others argue, might be brought closer if the power of religious experiences is used for this aim. Reaching out for perfection can and must be transformed into concrete action in order to achieve better conditions of life in the horizon of the historical future.
I have used Bloch’s philosophy as a methodology of hope for Africa. That does not mean, however, that I share his optimism, which leads him to a firm belief in the way to a better future and finally to an age of perfection in this world. It is the structure of hope at the side of different layers of human consciousness and correspondingly at the side of the different zones in the horizon of the future, which might help Africans to learn how to hope. No certain way to better conditions of life can be set out, and no promises about a necessary stage of history can be given where a life in freedom and luxury will be realized. It is true, Bloch’s optimism is a ‘militant optimism’. The better conditions of life do not come automatically, but they will come if we fight for them in the right way.
My expectations of a better future are less certain. We have to take into account that in human life there are always ups and downs and that every progress has its price. But life is going on and where life is, there is hope. What Jacques Derrida says with regard to Jewish messianism (in his Spectres de Marx. Paris: Galilée 1993), I should like to apply to Bloch’s philosophy of hope. We do not have any certainty about a future of fulfillment, we can only know, if life goes on, that there is a future. I conclude, if there is a future for Africa, it can only be a future in which its specific traditions are continued. Otherwise the future for Africa would not be an African future. That means at the same time, African life and African history can only be continued, if they are given an equal place in the community of the countries of the world. For there is no future for any part of the world outside of this community. But also such an absolutely sober utopian conception, that there is a future for Africa, will not be realized automatically. It will only be true, if the Africans themselves go on to fight for it.