Dissecting The Politics Of Edward Wilmot Blyden

By Edward Carter

Making remarks at the program marking his 70th natal day, the Orwellian political scientist, the unrelenting Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer made a rather interesting disclosure: He stressed that he will avail himself in part to establish a “chair of public affairs” at the University of Liberia in honor of the late so-called Pan African Nationalist, Edward Wilmot Blyden.

Dr. Sawyer’s disclosure has provided an opportunity to take a second look at Mr. Blyden from the prism of his so-called African nationalist inclinations for which he is to be conferred such a high honor at the nation’s highest institution of learning.

No doubt, Blyden was one of the most prolific black-world intellectuals of his time. However, judging from his politics, it is cleared that he (Blyden) was a man full of contradictions, ambiguities, complexities and paradoxes.

In the context of the Liberian experience, it is these inconsistencies and anomalies in Mr. Blyden’s politics that brought him in collision with the Americo-Liberian class…thus precipitating his self-imposed exile to colonial Sierra Leone.

Some of these anomalies include his view of divine providence as the author of African enslavement in the Americas. Blyden’s ardent opposition to slavery, his indefatigable advocacy of indigenous African “uplifting,” and yet he opined that this uplifting could only be carried out by New World black diasporic “civilizing mission” in Africa; his brilliant critique of Eurocentric racism, and yet he was an avid Anglophile…colluding with the British colonial empire to steal Land from Liberia when he represented Liberia during negotiations with the British Colonial Government in Sierra Leone .

He promoted pan-African connections, while at the same time he was virulently opposed to the leadership of Africans of mixed parentage in Liberia. In one of his collections, “West Africa before Europe”, Blyden notoriously suggested that “imperialism was only deficient in spirituality…but it most successful work could be found on its material side.” Suggesting that African-Americans had the moral obligation to “uplift their heathen Africans brothers.”

As a fierce defender of African culture, spirituality and custom howbeit with a twist; he suggested that only Islam could serve as the purveyor for the new African awakening and consciousness.

In his review and analysis of Blyden’s writings called, “Edward Wilmot Blyden and the Racial Nationalist Imagination”, Tibebu concludes that Blyden “is too complex, too contradictory, and too stretched out in many directions to be wrapped in a single package” (p.9).

Therefore, it comes as no surprise, when a man who is reputed to be the “Blyden of his days,” elects to honor this figure who by all historical metrics, was full of contradictions, paradoxes and complexities, could today be adjudged hypocritical and antithetical to the cause of peace, unity, compromise, renewal and accommodation.

Edward Wilmont Blyden pic: www.amazon.com

Editor’s note: Blyden popularity is surging amongst Liberian intellectuals of late

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