71. In Blyden’s Wake: West African Intellectuals of the Early Twentieth Century

Posted on 7 March 2021

West African intellectuals like J.E. Casely-Hayford (pictured) and Mojola Agbebi build upon Edward Blyden’s ideas at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Further Reading

• S.R.B. Attoh-Ahuma, Memoirs of West African Celebrities: Europe, &c. (1700-1850), with Special Reference to the Gold Coast (Liverpool: 1905).

• S.R.B. Attoh-Ahuma, The Gold Coast Nation and National Consciousness (Liverpool: 1911).

• J.E. Casely-Hayford, Gold Coast Native Institutions, with Thoughts upon a Healthy Imperial Policy from the Gold Coast and Ashanti (London: 1903).

• J.E. Casely-Hayford, Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation (London: 1911).

• J. Mensah Sarbah, Fanti Customary Laws: A Brief Introduction to the Principles of the Native Laws and Customs of the Fanti and Akan Districts of the Gold Coast with a Report of Some Cases Thereon Decided in the Law Courts (London: 1897).

• J. Mensah Sarbah, Fanti National Constitution: A Short Treatise on the Constitution and Government of the Fanti, Asanti, and Other Akan Tribes of West Africa, together with a Brief Account of the Discovery of the Gold Coast by Portuguese Navigators; a Short Narration of Early English Voyages; and a Study of the Rise of British Gold Coast Jurisdiction, etc., etc. (London: 1906).


• A. Akiwowo, "The Place of Mojola Agbebi in the African Nationalist Movements: 1890-1917," Phylon 26 (1965): 122-139.

• E.A. Ayandele, Holy Johnson: Pioneer of African Nationalism, 1836-1917 (London: 1970).

• R.W. July, The Origins of Modern African Thought: Its Development in West Africa During the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York: 1967), chs. 14, 16, 17, 21.

• R. Okonkwo, "Mojola Agbebi: Apostle of the African Personality," Présence Africaine 114 (1980): 144-159.

• S. Tenkorang, "John Mensah Sarbah, 1864-1910," Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 14 (1973): 65-78.

• P.S. Zachernuk, Colonial Subjects: An African Intelligentsia and Atlantic Ideas (Charlottesville: 2000), ch. 3. 

Special thanks to Mary Owusu (especially for her dissertation, Nationalism in Question: A Study of Key Categories in Ghanaian History, 1863-1965) and Phil Zachernuk for their help with this episode.


Mary O 11 March 2021

Reflecting on Hayford, Sarbah, Ahuma and their Nigerian counterparts Johnson, Crowther and Agbebi has never been easy - personally. What could have been as opposed to what is? Listening to this podcast brought home how much influence philosophy had in shaping historical events that I study. Change and continuity in philosophical leanings of thinkers of African descent undoubtedly shaped the choices that were made. 
It is apt that you explore early socialism next. Eventually, what is - in Africa - became largely influenced by the socialist leanings (across the Atlantic) of Africans in America. Thank you!! 

Thanks for this response - we would love to hear more of your thoughts as we move forward through the 20th century!

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