Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 3: The Beginnings of Civilization

Bio: Basil Davidson cont.

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Davidson celebrated the independence of Ghana in 1957 and the policies of its president, Kwame Nkrumah, who welcomed liberation fighters from throughout Africa to study and train in his country. In 1964, Davidson taught at the University of Ghana and later he published a biography of the Ghanaian leader entitled Black Star: A View of the Life and Times of Kwame Nkrumah (1973).

Davidson was the first Western journalist to travel to the liberated zones of the Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau and Angola. Amilcar Cabral, the leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde who in 1967 invited him to the freed areas of Guinea-Bissau, wrote that Davidson "accepted every risk and fatigue that could bring him into personal touch with the way our people live now." Davidson later recounted his trip in the book No Fist is Big Enough to Hide the Sky (1981).

At the height of the armed struggle, Davidson walked 300 miles on foot to eastern Angola to visit the zone liberated by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. His account of this epic journey, called In the Eye of the Storm: Angola's People, was published in 1972.

In more recent years, Davidson explored the problems of postcolonial Africa which he principally attributed to the imposition of Western institutions such as multiparty liberal democracy. His most important work on this topic was titled The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State (1993), in which he argued the solutions to Africa's troubles must come from Africans themselves rooted in a keen sense of their own history and cultures.

Although Davidson was never a member of any communist party, he often was labeled a "communist" and at times he was blacklisted like many leftists during the Cold War era. A decorated military veteran, his own country nevertheless vetoed his appointment as an editor at UNESCO, as punishment for his radical politics.

But, Davidson remained true to his principles. He once described his work as "obviously anti-imperialist." He championed Marxist organizations and leaders - including Nkrumah and Cabral - who fought against colonialism and apartheid. And he condemned the hypocrisy of Western liberals who turned a blind eye to the crimes of imperialism.

Davidson is remembered for the sacrifices he made and the role he played in liberating Africa. The MPLA, which now governs an independent Angola, issued a statement this week mourning his death. "At this moment of grief and sorrow," it reads, "the Politburo, on behalf of all party members, bends before the memory of so eminent personality and forwards to the bereaved family and the Mozambique-Angola Committee, of which he was a member, the deepest condolences."

At the presentation of an honorary degree from the University of Bristol in 1999, Davidson was recognized as "one of the great radical figures of the 20th century." The presentation continued, "He has pursued, throughout his life, a just cause, without fear for his own personal safety. He has provided an inspiration for millions, through his books and television work, and by his academic writings gave us African history, when many denied there could be any African history." 

Davidson's impact is evident in the high school and university classrooms across Africa and beyond where his textbooks, such as West Africa before the Colonial Era: A History to 1850 (1998), as well as his acclaimed eight-part documentary series, Africa: A Voyage of Discovery (1984), are required learning materials.

Enter any bookstore or library with a section devoted to Africa, and you certainly will find several of Davidson's works on display. Pay homage to this great scholar-activist by reading one of those books, and follow his example by committing yourself to the struggle against imperialism in its many forms today.

"But isn't Egypt, other issues apart, quite simply, a part of Africa? That, it seems, is a mere geographical irrelevance. The civilisation of pharaonic Egypt, arising some time after 3500BC, and continuing at 
least until the Roman dispossessions, has been explained to us evolving either in more or less total isolation from Africa, or as a product of West Asian stimulus. On this deeply held view, the land of ancient Egypt appears to have detached itself from the delta of the Nile, some fifty-five hundred years ago, and sailed off into the Mediterranean on a course veering broadly towards the coast of Syria. And there it apparently remained, floating somewhere in the seas of the Levant, until Arab conquerors hauled it back to where it had once belonged."      

                - Basil Davidson, The Search for                                                     Africa, 1994



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