Early Pan African Intellectuals Pt.1

Pan-Africanism has, for more than a century, been a beacon of hope for those aiming to rid the continent and diaspora of the stain of colonialism. In this the first of our series on pan-African intellectuals we offer profiles of those indviduals who helped found this rich political and intellectual tradition. This history, that is often on the margins of dominant discourse, must help aid us in our thinking on the future of pan-Africanism.

Orishatuke Faduma (1871 – 1943): “A tentative Afro-humanist”

Orishatuke Faduma, also known as James Davies, was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in the early 1870s.He was raised by the Rev. J. C May, founder and editor of the Sierra Leone weekly news and Sierra Leone Wesleyan High school headmaster from 1873 to 1887.Faduma completed his secondary education in Freetown, in the same school, and came under the influence of Rev. May’s Blydenite ideas.

Like his mentor, the Reverend, James Davies was a member of the Edward Wilmot Blyden inspired Dress-reform society and changed his name to Orishatuke Faduma in 1887. He taught as a senior tutor for a few years in the Sierra Leone Wesleyan High school and shortly enrolled at the University of London in 1889, being the first West African to pass the intermediate examination for a Bachelor’s degree in 1893.

After his stay in England, he proceeded to the United States where he took the degree of Bachelor of Divinity at Yale University, obtaining a scholarship for graduate studies in 1895. He was a member of the advisory council on African Ethnology at the World’s exposition in Chicago, and in 1894 was Yale’s delegate to the inter-seminary missionary alliance at Rochester, New York, where he contributed a paper on ‘Industrial Missions in Africa’. He also contributed two papers (‘Mission work in Africa’ and ‘Beliefs of the Yoruba people’) at the Congress on Africa in the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895. There is also a paper by him in J.W Bowen’s, ‘Africa and the American Negro: Congress on Africa’ (1896). Faduma was also a member of the American Academy of political and Social Science, and a member of Rev. Alexander Crummell’s Negro academy.

From 1895 to 1913 he taught in various Afro-American schools, particularly in North Carolina and became principal of two of them – the Kitterel Norman institution, a seminary of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Peabody Academy in Troy, North Carolina. Late in 1913, Faduma encountered Chief Alfred Charles Sam, who in the second decade of the 20th Century organized a Back to Africa Movement, which encouraged African Americans to settle in West Africa. Faduma soon came to be recognized in both Africa and in America as an ideologue for the movement. He himself returned to Sierra Leone where he became a minister and accepted Principalship of the collegiate school of the United Methodist Church. In Sierra Leone, he contributed significantly to cultural nationalism, and wrote widely on the relationship between missionary education, literacy and the rise of the New African. He was also an active participant in the launching of the National Congress of British West Africa founded in 1919.

He was married to Miss Henrietta Adams, an Afro-American from Augusta, Georgia. He left Freetown in 1935 for the United States, where he died in the early 1940s.

The following passage is from an article entitled, “African Negro Education“, which Faduma published in the Sierra Leone Weekly News on 31 August, 1918.


In an age of scientific progress it is dangerous to cling tenaciously to one system of thought. No system is the perfect one because of its age or lack of age. Truth is independent of both and is its own authority. Educational methods must therefore not be hide-bound but should be the product of all that is best in present day methods…Pestalozzi, Froebel, Herbart, Comenius, Montessori and many other leaders of educational methods need careful study but not wholesale adoption. Each of them needs careful pruning and intelligent sifting, an addition here and a subtraction there….What suits the Chinaman may not suit the Englishman, what suits the Englishman may not suit the African and so on, though there may be some things which may suit all. Just as there are idiosyncrasies, there are cultural idiosyncrasies which may be modified by some process or grafting. It takes a skilled grafter to change a plant’s life, for if violence is done to the transplanted or grafted plant, it dies under the change….In the education of the African, it should be remembered that he has a life of his own, that he is characteristically a native – physically, morally, and spiritually. It should be remembered that he has a soul with an outward and visible clothing and an inward and invisible life, and that a true interpretation of the man African must be an interpretation of his inner consciousness. The only true interpretation of the man African must be an African, one like himself with similar yearnings, hopes and aspirations. All that the foreigner can do in the line of education for the African is to encourage him in the line of progress to see and know himself so that he may faithfully interpret his own to other people….The African should have the advantage of all that is best in the educational methods of the twentieth century. He should not slavishly imitate but should carefully adopt and adapt what has been found good for the Englishman so that in addition to being a native he may have the doggedness and love of justice of the typical Englishman. To these qualities he needs the ruggedness of character and the breadth and depth of thought of the Scotchman, the practicalness and many sidedness of the American, the concentration, organization and scientific precision of the German, the esthetics, politeness and good manners of the French.


John Williamson Kuyé (1894 – 1975): “The Right to Self-determination”


John Williamson Kuyé was an early 20th Century advocate of African self-determination and was in many respects part of the first wave of African nationalists.  He was born in Bathurst (now Banjul), Gambia on the 10 of November, 1894 and he attended Stanley Day School and Wesleyan Boys’ High School in Sierra Leone. 

Kuyé worked as a post office apprentice in 1912 and later served for 34 years with the Bank of British West Africa, becoming the first African senior cashier. He retired from this position in 1946.

In 1948, Kuyéwas employed as Chief Clark with the Colonial Development Corporation, and from 1949 worked as a cashier with the French firm Maurel Freres until his retirement in 1969. He was also a member of the Gambia branch of the National Congress of British West Africa in the 1920s; most of his nationalist activities were channelled through his membership of the National Congress of British West Africa.

Like most of the educated middle and upper classes in West Africa of the time, he read about and was influenced greatly by the Garvey movement in the United States.

On January 4, 1926 Kuyé gave a paper expressing his views at on self-determination at the 3rd Biennial Session of the National Congress held in St. Mary’s Schoolroom, Bathurst, Gambia. The passage below is from the said paper:

There never has been recorded in the history of British West Africa, a principle so unifying in influence and so broad in outlook as that of self-determination—the energising force which has brought into being the National Congress of British West Africa.


Within the first quarter of this century we see a destruction of that element which had hitherto isolated the Gambian and Gold Coaster from the Nigerian and Sierra Leonean i.e. Tribe prejudice. For today are assembled in this hall representatives of the Colonies (and of the indigenous tribes of those Colonies) to determine the destiny of British West Africa as a whole and British West Africans as a people. In spite of local and tribal limits which have been considered insurmountable barriers to its progress, the Congress holds today its third biennial session without a hitch in the brief space of five years since its inauguration….The spirit of self-determination is world-wide in its embrace. It has brooded over almost the whole of our Continent—East, South and West. And everywhere its captivating power has been felt with a keenness and exhibited to a degree which has astonished the outside world. Hence Africa is recently designated by the apt description of ‘the Continent of Surprise’. But the question of the moment is the Right of the people to self-determination…..truths that one is tempted to call it axiomatic. As I understand it, its meaning is that every people has the right to determine its own destiny by choosing its own institutions and forms of government best suited to its own peculiar circumstances (and I may add, with a view to satisfying the needs of all concerned). And if this be applicable to what we call the lower order of Creation how much more attributable should it be to man, the lord of Creation? If there be a right to self-determination in the world of instincts ought it to be otherwise in the realms of thought and reason? Man’s natural endowment of free will makes it impossible to be otherwise. Right through life he exercises, consciously or unconsciously, this right as observable from the very early stage of individual existence… One of the peculiarities of man’s existence is, that he alone can choose for himself the desirable things of life; they can never be chosen for him As with individuals so also with tribes, nations and races, for each of these is made up of individuals with innate qualities and rights….Nor can those qualities or rights become less so for the mere grouping or classing of the individuals. Rather, those innate qualities and individualistic rights are strengthened and broadened to form the idiosyncrasies of the mass. How fittingly then this explains our qualification at the outset? This being so, we state quite positively that every people, every race, every nation has a right to choose for itself its own forms of government and institutions.


Prince Marc Kojo Tovalou Houénou (1877 – 1936): “The Black Man in France


Kojo Tovalou was born in Cotonou in 1877. He was the son of a wealthy Dahomeyan (now Benin Republic) merchant and a member of the exiled royal family of Dahomey. He was educated in France, at the University of Bordeaux, where he read law. He also received his licence in France and set up legal practice in Paris, where he mixed in smart Bohemian society.

He fought in the First World War for France, and afterwards returned to Paris. In the inter war years, specifically, between 1921 and 1923, he became actively involved in Politics and appears to have been associated with the French Communist party.

In his short book, L’involution des Metamorphoses et des Metempsychoses de l’universe (1921), he critiqued the European colonisation of Africa. In 1924, he founded the Ligue Universelle pour la defense de la Race Noire and its journal Les Continents. On a visit to New York in the same year, he aligned himself with the Pan-Africanism of Marcus Garvey’s U.N.I.A (see the picture of Kojo (middle) and Marcus Garvey (right).

In 1925 he rashly attempted to liberate Dahomey, and as a result was publicly humiliated in Paris society and exposed as a bogus ‘Prince’. In 1928 he settled in Senegal where he died, in Dakar in 1936.

The following passage is taken from Houénou’s article, ‘The problem of Negroes in French colonial Africa’, published in 1924, and presented in Ideologies of Liberation by Ayodele Langley:


I regret very much at a time when France is passing through such a critical period, to be obliged to make a strong denunciation of her colonial policy, which today encompasses almost entirely every phase of the problem of the Negro race….We cry ‘Justice!’ ‘Reparation!’ while we tolerate robbery, rape, brigandage and assassination. In the colonies, it is the wholesale sabotage of all the institutions and of all the principles that are valued throughout the civilized world….These republicans, who go from France to the colonies, reject all the republican doctrines. They are new federal Lords who arrogate to themselves special privileges, and defend them jealously and fiercely against the original possessors – the rightful occupants of the land…..Let it be sufficient for me to say to you that not long ago a circular appeared forbidding entry into Africa the history of the French revolution. Indeed, it is mortifying – above all, dangerous to teach in the colonies that which free, hardy and powerful minds have conceived and realized in the period of 1789 and during the various revolutions that have been, so to speak, the corollaries of the violent explosion, for men imbued with such principles must react; and I understand, those governors who had the temerity to supress the pages of history that give to man the sense of his liberty, of his right and of his progress….all this demonstrates that the colonies are not yet ready to be governed according to legal methods. Privileges only are defended and not the institutions born of the convention – the real republican and democratic institutions that France is so proud to have extolled by the world.


Pixley ka Isaka Seme (1881 – 1951): “Every Culture, is Unique and at the same time Universal

Pixley_ka_Isaka_Seme_001 (1)
Pixley ka Isaka Seme on his graduation from Columbia University in 1906

Pixley Isaka Seme was born in Natal in 1881.Little is documented of his early life as a primary school pupil and teenager. What is known is that the Reverend S. C. Pixley, took an interest in him and arranged for him to go the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts in the USA. He was subsequently educated at Columbia and Oxford Universities, and was also called to the English Bar.

On his return to South Africa he practised as a lawyer in Johannesburg, as one of the few African Lawyers. In 1912, together with a group of other intellectuals, he played a role in founding the African Native National Congress. He also founded and edited Abantu-Batho, the national Newspaper which publicized the congresses activities.

He retired from Politics during the 1920’s, but returned in 1930, when he was elected as a moderate, President of the African National Congress, remaining in office until 1938. He died in 1951. Below is a passage from a paper by Pixley entitled The regeneration of Africa.


I am an African, and I set my pride in my race over against a hostile public opinion. Men have tried to compare races on the basis of some equality. In all the works of nature, equality, if by it we mean identity, is an impossible dream! Search the Universe! You will find no two units alike. The scientists tell us there are no two cells, no two atoms identical. Nature has bestowed upon each a peculiar individuality, an exclusive patent – from the great giants of the forest to the tenderest blade. Catch in your hand, if you please, the gentle flakes of snow. Each is a perfect gem, a new creation; it shines in its own glory – a work of art different from all of its aerial companions…man the crowning achievement of nature, defies analysis. He is a mystery through all ages and for all time. The races of mankind are composed of free and unique individuals. An attempt to compare them on the basis of equality can never be finally satisfactory. Each is himself. My thesis stands on this truth; time has proved it. In all races, genius is like a spark, which, concealed in the bosom of a flint, bursts forth at the summoning stroke. It may arise anywhere and in any race…


By Kweku Yakubu