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A Family’s Journey in Africa and America: History of the African Image Among Black Americans

Philippe Wamba (June 3, 1971 – September 11, 2002) was an African-American editor and writer known for his fusion of African and African-American culture. Wamba was born in California to Elaine Brown Wamba and Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, an American mother and a Congolese professor-turned-rebel father. He grew up in Boston, Dar es Salaam, and New Mexico. He studied at Harvard University as an undergraduate, then at Columbia University.

Wamba worked on a variety of writing and publishing projects, culminating in his service as Editor-in-chief of the now defunct online magazine Africana.com. In 1999 he published a memoir entitled Kinship: A Family’s Journey in Africa and America. Wamba was profiled in the New York Times Magazine and the book received some positive reviews. Wamba died in a car accident in Kenya while conducting research on African youth movements. The Harvard African Students Alumni Network announced plans to raise funds in his memory to promote traffic safety in Africa. Henry Louis Gates, a mentor who helped promote Wamba’s memoir, said at his funeral, “Philippe lived on no man’s hyphen.”



Wamba dia Wamba was born in Sundi-Lutete, Bas-Congo Province. He was raised in Swedish mission schools and grew into adulthood in the period when the prophetism of Simon Kimbangu and the political agitation for independence by the Association of the Bakongo People (ABAKO) was reaching its peak. When ABAKO split, he favored the faction of Daniel Kanza. Upon graduation from secondary school, he was one of three students awarded scholarships by the African-American Institute to study in the United States. He went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where Wamba wrote his honors dissertation on the philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre. He later went on to graduate studies at Claremont before teaching at Brandeis University, where he was associated with Peter F. Drucker.

He went on to teach at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. During his period in the U.S., Wamba dia Wamba married an African-American woman and was involved in the Civil Rights Movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Once the period of decolonization began in Africa, he joined the supporting committees of various US-based pan-Africanist liberation movements. In 1980, he accepted a position as Professor of History at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. While visiting his parents’ village in 1981, he was arrested by the government of Mobutu Sese-Seko for possessing a paper he had authored that was deemed ‘subversive’, and was detained for one year. He continued his role as a prominent figure in both academia and political circles in Africa.

He is the former President of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) as well as the founder and president of the Philosophy Club at the University of Dar es Salaam. He is an expert in the Palaver (politics) and other indigenous forms of African democracy. He participated in the Sovereign National Conference, held from 1990 through 1992 in Zaire. In 1997 he co-authored with Jacques Depelchin, the African Declaration Against Genocide. In December 1997, Prof. Wamba was named a recipient of the Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development. The announcement of the award cited his “scholarly contribution to the development of African philosophy and for sparking off the philosophical debate on social and political themes in Africa.” At this time he also worked closely with Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere to end the Burundi Civil War.


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