Black Africa's coming of age is proving a painful and often frustrating experience for intellectuals of many countries that are now well into their second decade of independence.
That is the often somber message emerging from the speeches and private conversations of the more outspoken among the hundreds of black intellectuals participating in the second world black and African Festival of Arts and Culture - called FESTAC.
"We cannot hope to catch up with the rest of the world in learning unless there's radical change in our attitude to work and to intellectual cooperation," said Ghanaian L. H. Ofusu-Appiah, a keynote speaker.
The disillusionment of intellectuals, expressed in a seminar dealing with black civilization and education, is perhaps normal in the light of the unbridied optimism rampant around 1960 when many European colonies were granted independence.
Part of the wariness stems from the hard lessons learned in the civil wars and other conflicts in Africa and from the continent's taste for authoritarian and military regimes.
Also involved is the growing realization that in Africa everything tends to take more time than originally planned - especially more time than many Africans expected the dawn of their recovered freedom.
The delays have occured in everything from the decolonization of the continent's few remaining white-dominated regimes in southern Africa to entactment of badly needed reforms in the training of dedicated and competent technicians willing to work for their countries' development.
Increasing irritation has been expressed at the time wasted on black Africa's enduring ideologial arguments that mean increasingly little to its intellectuals and never did stir more than passing interest among its masses.
African conferences in the early 1960s pitted Senegal's Poet-President Leopold Senghor, defending negritude or the uniquences of blacks as blacks, against Guinea's Sekou Toure and the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who were dedicated to instant unification of the entire continet along socialist lines.
Their less talented minions at FESTAC mouth the old arguments and prompt their colleagues' resentful threats to boycott the proceedings.
A Ghanaian education professor complained that the protagonists "want to force our thingking into a straight-jacket." The conference should be dedicated to "discoveing a philosophical szasis in an objective way for our society and our view of the world as Africans," he said.
Keynoter Ofusu-Appiah, worried that the "the basic reasons for Africa's underdevelopment economically and intellectually" could remain long after the end of foreign rule in Africa.
The director of a major Encyclopedia Africana project under UNESCO auspices complained of independent Africa's "unimpressive" intellectual performance compared to the research on Africa done by foreigners. All too often, Ofusu-Appiah said, the young elite were "arrogant" and know-it-all and the older intellectuals fearful of their demands. "What is called the brain drain is sometimes a reaction of incompetent youth to the incompetence of their seniors," he said.
Some African countries, Ofusu-Appiah said, considered "subversive and not conducive to the public good" the teaching of subjects like philosophy, sociology, political science and psychology.
"Reasoned criticism of social and economic problems is considered subversive so that the best brains have either to turn sycophants or seek their fortunes abroad," he continued.
Nor was the Ghanaian keynoter sanguined about independent Africa's political trends. "Those who believe Africans are angels," he said, "should look around the various African states and take stock of man's inhumanity to man in them and then revise their veiws on Africa's monopoly of humane behavior."
A sense of resignation overcoming many African intellectuals was underlined by the Sierra Leone culture minister who characterized the lack of academic freedom in Africa's mostly government funded universitites by noting that "he who pays the piper calls the tune."
A Kenyan professor warned that "if African intellectuals expect African governments to give them freedom of expression and set up opposition parties I think they're waiting for the second coming of Christ."
It was perhaps fitting that a speaker from Gambia, one of Africa's smallest and most open countries, was alone in demanding that the coloquium endorse a total amnesty for all imprisoned African intellectuals.