Kwame Nkrumah, African Studies, and the Politics of Knowledge Production in the Black Star of Africa

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Abstract: In the immediate aftermath of the 1966 coup that overthrew Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, social scientists wrote extensively about the coup’s social, economic, and political causes and consequences. Scholars have only recently begun to turn an historical lens onto this critical moment in the history of postcolonial Africa. This article is concerned with the coup’s academic and intellectual implications, its impact on African Studies, as a contested field of knowledge production. It focuses on two of Nkrumah’s pan-African projects, which were aimed at transforming both scholarly and public understandings of African history and culture locally and globally: the Institute of African Studies and the Encyclopaedia Africana. It argues that, for a brief moment in the early 1960s, it was possible to imagine forms of knowledge production about Africa that challenged colonial categories and the entrenched boundaries of academic disciplines, that was Africa-centered, Africa-based, and globally engaged, and that transcended the politics of the Cold War. The 1966 coup not only ended Nkrumah’s rule, but destroyed the possibility of a strong continent-based challenge to the hegemony of the western academy in African Studies for the foreseeable future.