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The problem for Africa today is that it has to a large extent internalised the discourse of its former masters in its research and educational activities, including, as we have already seen, their denigrating views on African ways of life and thought. At the same time there is the opposite danger, that of closing off its heritage without any critical approach, without any attempt to update and renew the intellectual legacy, in a way that allows a higher degree of rationality, and a steadier march towards efficiency and self-reliance. Things have to be considered afresh, therefore, at an equal distance from cultural alienation, which takes up the colonial masters' prejudices and any self-denigration, both of which results in a kind of intellectual self-imprisonment.

Paulin Hountondji, The Struggle for Meaning (1)



While stepping back into the original African Constitution (local grounding), the need for renewal (local-global emergence) requires of societies in Africa that they combine the past with the present and future, and, as such, tradition with modernity. Ghanaian political philosopher Kwame Gyekye (2), following in the footsteps of Kwame Nkrumah (3), is one of a significant band of contemporary Ghanaian intellectuals who have engaged in such. In setting the stage of tradition and modernity in Africa, he raises the kinds of question which are very much our concern, in relation to philosophy and transformation on the continent.

For Gyekye then, among the issues on which philosophical attention could be brought to bear are the problems of:

• inculcating political morality to deal a death blow to corruption;

• dealing with traditional moral standards that seem to be crumbling in the wake of rapid social change;

• evolving appropriate, credible, and viable ideologies for contemporary African nations;

• reappraising inherited cultural traditions to help come to terms with the cultural realities of the times and, thus, to hammer out a new modernity on the anvil of the African people's experience of the past and vision of the future;

• nation-building – integrating and wielding together several ethnic groups into a large cohesive political community called a nation state, or, more appropriately, multi-nation state, to help eliminate communo-cultural conflicts and transfer ethnic loyalties to a central government;

• evolving viable and appropriate democratic political institutions that will be impervious to sudden and violent disruptions by the military or the imperious will of a tyrannical or corrupt leader.

Because of the dynamic relationship between politics and economics, unstable and corrupt politics, in the long run, usually begets bad economics. Hence it is not surprising, for Gyekye, that African nations have fared pretty disastrously in the post-colonial era. Despite the constant infusion of capital and other forms of assistance from the developed nations of the world and other international organizations, Africa is in a deep development crisis. The causes, for him, are legion.

Choosing an appropriate and effective ideology, firstly, has been a besetting problem. The ideology pursued by a very large majority of African political leaders on attainment of political independence was socialism, though they preferred to refer to it as "African Socialism" because they regarded it as having an African ancestry. The pursuit of socialism was aggressive and unrelenting, but with disastrous consequences that, over time, led some African leaders to change ideological choice or direction. Thus it can be said that African nations in the post-colonial era have been groping their way through an ideological labyrinth. Philosophical insights such as his own, for Gyekye, might serve as an Ariadne's thread.

It would be correct to say that no human culture has remained pure since its creation, free from external influences. But the most important thing is what to do with the ideas, concepts and institutions that come from different cultures. This is especially so when, as in Africa, these are foisted on it, without its having, or being given, the opportunity to select or adopt what it considers desirable or worth its while, and adapt it to suit its own circumstances. It seems to Gyekye then, that Africa today must deal most seriously with the ideas, values, practices and institutions that it has received from other cultural sources, if the cultural situation in Africa is to be vitalized and made a viable framework for development. The viability of such a framework is determined by the characteristics of that culture. Several characteristics of that culture can be considered obstacles to development.


Science and technology, firstly, do not seem to have fared well in African societies of the post-colonial era. The emphasis has been on transfer from the technologically advanced countries of the world. But without firm grounding in the scientific disciplines of the technologies, the transfer of technology has not had any real impact on African economic development. Perhaps the whole approach to the cultivation of technology has been misconceived. For Africa to participate meaningfully, serious attention, as we shall see, needs to be given to the traditional African perceptions of science, technology and the external world.

An important feature, secondly, of the African colonial and post-colonial experience that has had enduring effects is the mentality required by the African people regarding the perceptions of "the African way of life" compared with "the European way of life". That mentality almost always leads Africans to prefer European things – values, practices, institutions and so on – even if a closer look might suggest that the equivalent African "thing" is of equal worth. Thus, that colonial mentality engenders apism and so subverts originality and creativity, because it makes people look outside rather than inside for standards of judgment. It seems to be that the most enduring effect of the colonial experience on the African people relates to their self-perceptions, to skewed perceptions of their own values – some of which can, on normative grounds, be said to be appropriate for life in the modern world.

The continent has been confronted, thirdly, with a deep and resilient development crisis, and with frequent military disruptions of the democratic political process resulting, inevitably, in political instability, uncertainty and confusion, and with a poor demonstration of political morality resulting in pervasive and rampant political corruption. Africa, moreover, has been riven by almost incessant ethnic turmoil that threatens national unity and integration. Related to such, it has been filled with the aforementioned colonial mentality that hamstrings the cultivation of an endogenous innovative spirit. It has been bedevilled by aspects of its cultural traditions that thwart attempts to evolve forms of life in harmony with the ethos of the contemporary world. Moreover those aspects of the traditional culture that can be considered relevant have not been given adequate recognition in the creation of modern political and economic institutions, so that African life on the eve of the 21st century is not only confused but at a low ebb. And many wonder why.

In times of wonder, confusion, instability and uncertainty, in times when the definition and articulation of values and goals becomes most urgent, in times when the search for fundamental principles of human activity becomes most pressing and is seen as the way to dispel confusions as well as the way to draw attention to new modes – of thought and action – in such times, the services of the intellectual enterprise called philosophy, for Gyekye, become indispensable. For philosophy is a conceptual response to the problems posed in any époque for a given society or culture. We start then with a political perspective.

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