CONCEPTUAL DECOLONIZATION OF AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY BY KWASI WIREDU: A REVIEW
Kwasi Wiredu is a philosopher from Ghana, who has for decades been involved with a project he terms “conceptual decolonization” in contemporary African systems of thought. By Conceptual Decolonization, Wiredu advocates a re-examination of current African epistemic or knowledge formations in order to accomplish two aims. First, he wishes to subvert unsavory aspects of tribal culture embedded in modern African thought so as to make that thought more viable. Second, he intends to dislodge unnecessary western epistemologies that are to e found in African philosophical practices. or he intended to deconstruct the unnecessary western epistemologies which may be found in African philosophical practices.
A central purpose in this article is to examine the contributions and limitations of African philosophy in relation to the history of the debate on decolonization.
This analysis involves an examination of both the limitation and immense possibilities of Wiredu’s theory of conceptual decolonization.
By this he means the purging of African philosophical thinking of uncritical assimilation of western ways of thinking. That, of course, would be only part of the battle won.
FIRST ESSAY: POSTCOLONIAL PHILOSOPHY
The post-colonial era in African philosophy is the era of professionalism. It comprises of professionals and non-professionals who have shaped the destinies of millions of Africans since independence, while the professionals have remained locked in their brains, the non-professional philosophers in question were the first wave of rulers in post-independence Africa. They had led successful anti – colonial struggle which were as much cultural as they were political. They were extremely faced with the challenge with the question of what type of government would they form? or the economic organization is best suited to the requirements of the social and economic development that had become stunted under colonialism of the restoration of the cultural identity which colonialism had eroded? These questions led to reflection principles.
So, leaders like Senegal, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Senghor of Zambia put forward blue prints of politic and development based on general conceptions of community. Polity and the general good. Not all of these men were philosophers n original bent. Like Nkrumah and Senghor had technical training in philosophy. But like Nyerere and Kaunda had only their own enlightened intuitions to rely on necessity to be sure was the mother of their philosophical invention invade philosopher kings.
Professional African philosophers should not consider the philosophical activities statesman philosophers to be called their spiritual uncles with a certain cultural pertinence. Because the statesman were under the pleasure of historic leadership to produce positive theoretical and normative under pinnings for their programs of urgent national reconstruction. The second challenge of colonialism deriving from our history and contemporary plight. We belong to nations oppressed in the past by foreign domination and ravaged cultures have been distorted through long standing foreign blandishments, importunities and outright impositions.
With all these ill-treatment from the Europeans still we are products of foreign institutions of Education whether these are located at home or abroad. It is only through our informal upbringing that we get any manner of acculturation to our indigenous heritage. It is this problem of self-definition that lies behind the intense debate among African Philosophers on he question of just what African philosophy is, a debate that once seemed to eclipse the will to tackle substantive philosophical issues. The colonizers seemed African philosophy at least in one layer of discussion to be a polarization of opinion between those whose African philosophy as coterminous with philosophical investigations having a special relevance to Africa and those of a universalist outlook.
They insist that such a study ought to be critical and reconstructive, and further that among the concern contemporary African philosophers as a class should be a program to domesticate ANY modern resources of philosophical insight not already exploited in our culture. Kwasi Wiredu is saying that
SECOND ESSAY: THE NEED FOR CONCEPTUAL DECOLONIZATION IN AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY
African philosophers must have a due reflection on foreign languages, at least most of the time has some very sobering consequences until African can have a lingua franca, we have to communicate suitable parts of our work in our multifarious vernaculars, and in other forms of popular discourse while using the metropolitan languages for international academic communication. This is a problem that the professional philosophers in common with other classes of contemporary African intellectuals have not quite begun to confront.
To counterbalance this possibility, the African philosopher will have to practice thinking things out in his language as well as in the foreign ones, a program that is easier prescribed than implemented, but to which there is no alternative. The danger of mental colonization awaits the African philosopher in the varieties of western philosophy. Analytic philosophy hermeneutics, pragmatism, thomism, marxism. If Africans followed these along with the philosophical suggestions of other cultures in the spirit of due reflection, being always on the lookout for any conceptual snares maybe we can combine any insight extracted from these sources with those gained from our own indigenous philosophical resources to create for ourselves and our people modern philosophies from both the East and the West might learn something. Post-colonial African philosophy when not caught up in a regressive traditional is a drive towards this destiny.
THIRD ESSAY – THE NEED FOR CONCEPTUAL DECOLONIZATION IN AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY.
Kwasi Wiredu propounded two complementary things on the negative side, I mean avoiding or reversing through a critical conceptual Self-awareness the unexamined assimilation in our thought of the conceptual frameworks embedded in the foreign philosophical thought. While on the positive side, I mean exploiting as much as is judicious the resources of our own indigenous conceptual schemes in our philosophical meditation on even the most technical problems of contemporary philosophy.
According to Kwasi Wiredu that superimposition has come through three principal avenues; The first is the avenue of language, it is encountered in the fact that our philosophical education has generally been in the medium of foreign languages, usually of our erstwhile colonizers. The second is the avenues of religion and politics.
FOURTH ESSAY: DEMOCRACY AND CONSENSUS IN AFRICAN TRADITIONAL POLITICS A PLEA FOR A NON-PARTY POLITY.
It is often remarked that decision-making in traditional African life and governance was, as a rule, by consensus. And like all generalizations about complex subjects, it may be legitimate to take this with a pinch of prudence. But there is considerable evidence that decision by consensus was often the order of the day in African deliberations. So that it was not just an hyperbole when Kaunda (democratically) displaced president of Zambia, said ‘In our original societies we operated by consensus. An issue was talked out in solemn conclave until such time as agreement could be achieved. Nyerere, retired President of Tanzania also said ‘…in African society the traditional method of conducting affairs is by free discussion’ that the elders sit under big trees, and talk until they agree. Ironically, both pronouncements were made in the course of a defense of the one-party system. Generally, in interpersonal relations among adults consensus as a basis of joint action was taken axiomatic. This is not to say that it was always attained.
Reconciliation is, in fact, a form of consensus. It is a restoration of goodwill through a reappraisal of the importance and significance of the initial bone of contention. It does not necessarily involve a complete identity of moral cognitive opinions. Similarly, consensus does not in general entail total agreement. Because issues do not always polarize opinion on lines of strict contradictoriness, dialogue can function by means, for example, of the smoothing of edges, to produce compromises that are agreeable to all, or at least, not obnoxious to any.
It may be well to note, as a preliminary, that African political systems of the past displayed considerable variety. There is a basic distinction between those system with a centralized authority exercised through the machinery of government and those without any such authority in which social life was not regulated at any level by the sort of machinery that might be called a government. Fortes and Evan-Pritchard classify the Zulu, the Ngwato (Both of South Africa), the Bemba (of Zambia), the Banyankole (of Uganda) and the Kede (of Northern Nigeria) under the first category and the Logoli (of Western Kenya), the Tallensi (of Northern Guinea), and the Nuer (of Southern Sudan) under the second. It shoudld be a matter of substantial interest to political thinkers that societies of the second description, that is, anarchistic societies, existed and functioned in an orderly manner, or at least not with any less order than the more centralized ones.
Kwasi Wiredu is saying in this essay that Africans should employ the no party system and go back to the original political settings used by the African Elders which is consensus. Consider the non-party alternative. Imagine a dispensation under which governments are not formed by parties but by the consensus of elected representatives.
He recommended that Consensus is not just an optional bonus, it is essential for securing substantive, or what might also be called decisional, representation for representatives and, through them, the citizens at large. Consensus as a political decision procedure enquires, in principle, that each representative should be persuaded, if not of the optimality of each decision, at least of its practical necessity, all things considered. If discussion has been even moderately rational and the spirit has been one of respectful accommodation on all sides, surviving reservations on the part of momentary minority will not prevent the recognition that, if the community is to go forward, a particular line of action must be taken.