16 March 2018

Africa: Cheikh Anta Diop - Visionary Scholar

Photo: RFI
Cheikh Anta Diop.

Anthropologist, historian, specialist in nuclear physics and passionate about linguistics, the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop laid the foundation for finally writing the history of Africa without racist prejudices.

When did Cheikh Anta Diop live?

Cheikh Anta Diop was born in 1923 in the village of Thieytou, about a hundred kilometers east of Dakar, in Senegal, in a Wolof family of aristocratic origin. He was granted a scholarship to study in France in 1946 and he first chose physics and chemistry before turning to philosophy and history, with a thesis addressing "precolonial Black Africa" and the "cultural unity of Black Africa". Cheikh Anta Diop was a nationalist and an advocate for African federalism. He returned to Senegal following independence in 1960 and dedicated himself to teaching, research and politics until his death in 1986.

What was Cheikh Anta Diop renowned for?

Cheikh Anta Diop was a prolific writer: he is the author of many scientific works and books about the history of the Africa, but also about its future.

Basing his theory on the kinship between African languages like Wolof -- his mother tongue -- and ancient Egyptian, Cheikh Anta Diop revealed the cultural influence of earlier African peoples on the Egyptian civilization and he demonstrated that "ancient Egypt was Negro-African."

Cheikh Anta Diop had degrees in chemistry and in nuclear physics. In 1966 he created the first African laboratory for radiocarbon dating with the university now named after him.

During his student years he was an advocate for the independence of African countries. Later on he became a major figure of the federalist African movement and presented his ideas in his book Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Foundations of a Federated State.

What are some memorable quotes by Cheikh Anta Diop?

"Egypt is to the rest of Black Africa what Greece and Rome are to the western world."

"Cultural plenitude can only make a people more capable to contribute to the general progress of humanity and to get closer to the other peoples knowingly."

"Ideologists who hide under the pretense of science must realize that the era of deception, of intellectual fraud is definitely over, that a page has been turned in the history of the intellectual relations between the peoples."

Were Cheikh Anta Diop's works undisputed?

When his book Negro Nations and Culture was published in 1954, Cheikh Anta Diop had to face a great deal of skepticism in the academic world in addition to criticism based on racist prejudices inherited from colonialism. Some colleagues accused him of having a multidisciplinary approach that was sometimes chaotic, some others of being influenced in his scientific work by his political activism. It wasn't until 1974, during the international symposium in Cairo, that the greatest Egyptologists praised his "visionary" theories. Since then they have been accepted as scientific truths.

Tamara Wackernagel, Mamadou Lamine Ba and Philipp Sandner contributed to this package. It is part of DW's special series "African Roots", dedicated to African history, a cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

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