African philosophy, as a negritude, is a moment in the postcolonial critique of European/Western colonialism and the bodies of knowledge that sustained it. Yet a critical analysis of its' original articulations reveals the limits of this critique and more broadly of postcolonial studies, while also pointing towards more radical theoretical possibilities within African philosophy. Jean-Paul Sartre's essay 'Black Orpheus', a philosophical appropriation of negritude poetry, serves as a guide for this reflection, for the text reveals the inspiration and wealth of expressions of negritude, as well as their ambiguity. Sartre's essay however also renders possible a further act of re-appropriation that takes us beyond culture and identity-centred readings of African philosophy and postcolonialism, readings whose conceptual and critical potential is far greater than what has hitherto been explored.
Tomaz Carlos Flores Jacques
Jonathan O. Chimakonam and Victor C. A. Nweke
We argue that Menkiti and Gyekye – the forerunners in Afro-communitarianism, to different extents both trivialise the notion of human rights. While Menkiti prioritises community and denies human rights, Gyekye who upholds human rights subsumes these to the community. We contend that both are however mistaken in their trivial conceptions of human rights. To clarify the confusion, we propose that the notion of rights in Afro-communitarianism can have two possible senses namely, rights as participatory and rights as entitlements and that the failure to recognise these senses was what led Menkiti to a fringed position and Gyekye to a difficult position. We then conclude that Afro-communitarianism, in both Menkiti and Gyekye harbours a certain notion of rights contrary to Menkiti’s assumption but it is not one that accommodates the idea of inalienability contrary to Gyekye’s suggestion.
Kwame Gyekye seeks to address the complex question of political legitimacy particularly on the African continent. He argues that the justification for political legitimacy need not necessarily depend on the economic performance of any given regime. For him, justification for legitimacy merely lies in whether all correct processes and procedures were properly followed in the assumption of power. He is of the view that military coups should not be tolerated as they lack legitimacy although they might have justification usurping power. He also argues that popular uprisings may have the justification to assume power but should subject themselves to a plebiscite to have legitimacy. In this paper I seek to argue that Gyekye's distinction between legitimacy and justification of exercise of political power is unsustainable. In contrast to Gyekye I seek to argue for a more plausible account of legitimacy that takes the substantive requirement much more seriously. I do this by showing the importance of the function of institutional checks on power in traditional African societies and seek to argue for the urgent need of such institutionalised checks on power in post-colonial Africa.
This article examines Nnamdi Azikiwe’s idea of mental emancipation as the intellectual foundation for his political philosophy. Mental emancipation involves re-educating Africans to adopt scientific, critical, analytic, and logical modes of thinking. Azikiwe argues that development must involve changing Africans’ intellectual attitudes and educational system. He argues that Western education, through perpetuating negative stereotypes and engendering ‘colonial mentality’, has neither fostered critical and scientific thinking, nor enabled Africans to apply their knowledge for development. Mental emancipation would enable Africans to develop self-confidence, and the critical examination of superstitious beliefs that have hindered Africa’s development. I show that Azikiwe’s ideas have been recaptured by African philosophers like Bodunrin and Wiredu, regarding their critique of aspects of African tradition and prescription for how African philosophy can contribute to development.
African Philosophy and Rights
Motsamai Molefe and Chris Allsobrook
A useful way to approach the discourse of rights in African philosophy is in terms of Kwasi Wiredu’s (1996) distinction between cultural particulars and universals. According to Wiredu, cultural particulars are contingent and context-dependent. They fail to hold in all circumstances and for everyone (Wiredu 2005). Cultural universals are transcultural or objective (Wiredu 2005). Examples of cultural particulars include dress styles, religious rituals, social etiquette and so on. One example of a cultural universal is the norm of truth. One may imagine a society with different methods of greeting, dress, and raising children, but one cannot imagine a robust society which rejects the norm of truth as the basis of social practices.
An Article on the African Philosophy of Rights
A common communitarian criticism of rights discourse picks at the individualistic picture of rights which is said to presuppose a society where persons are conscious of their separateness. In contrast, an African communitarian society is said to put less emphasis on individual interests; it encourages harmony, not divergence of interests, competition, and conflict. Thus, preoccupation with rights would be incompatible with and even hostile to the possibility of community. This article argues the opposite; it submits that rights and community are mutually constitutive. To this end, I explore T. H. Green’s social recognition thesis which reconceptualises rights and obligations in a teleological framework. When conceived in this fashion, rights transcend antithetical relations between individuals and society as typified by classical natural rights thinkers. I argue that, considering a normative significance of the common good, a compelling account of rights in African philosophy is better conceived in a teleological framework.
Siseko H. Kumalo
The historical debate, in African philosophy, on personhood has been characterised by radical and moderate communitarianism seen through the scholarship of Menkiti (1984) and Gyekye (1997) and continues contemporarily with scholars considering its implications on contemporary conceptions of rights.
Responding to Chemhuru’s compatibilist view that, he maintains, safeguards and guarantees individual rights, I showcase how his conception of the community as prior to the individual betrays his project. Using the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights to contextualise rights discourse in Afro-communitarianism, Chemhuru avers that once collective rights have been gained, individuals can claim their rights. I critique this position to suggest that Chemhuru undermines his own project of compatibilism through placing the community prior to the individual. Using the Civil Union Act (2006) as a legislative framework that safeguards and guarantees individual human rights, I test Chemhuru’s compatibilist view. I conclude by highlighting the divergences between constitutionalism and Afro-communitarianism.