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Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa



Africa Development, Volume 31, No 4, 2006

In this book, Messay Kebede attempts to unravel the fundamental problems of African philosophy by examining different trends in contemporary African philosophy. Walking us through the terrain of a rapidly growing field of study, Kebede’s book uncovers, widens and enriches our understanding of African philosophy. He notes that European colonialists adopted the hierarchical notions of human races with its blunt promulgation of the superiority of the white race over all other peoples in order to justify slavery and colonialism. He persuasively demonstrates how the idea of the ‘white man’ was an invention, and the mental architecture of the postcolonial African the major cause of underdevelopment in Africa. He has a firm belief that philosophy has a role to play in understanding Africa and decolonising the African mind. According to Kebede,

  • The rethinking of philosophical concepts in the direction of deconstruction for the purpose of achieving mental decolonization teams up modernization with philosophical questions. Nothing can be accomplished in the direction of overcoming marginality unless Africa repositions itself by means of philosophical premises free of Eurocentric conditionings. Decolonization is primarily a philosophical problem, given that the emancipation of the African mind from the debilitating ascendancy of Western episteme is its inaugural moment (p. xii).

Kebede thus makes a strong case for his view that freedom and development presuppose prior decolonisation of the African mind. He believes that decolonisation is unthinkable so long as we endorse Eurocentrism, that is, the conception that there is a unlinear history and that the West is the driving force of that history while other cultures are either lagging behind or frankly inferior or primitive. Mental liberation requires the radical dissipation of Western categories. ‘What comes first is thus subjective liberation, the decolonization of the mind. The gateway to liberation is the prior and complete deconstruction of the mental setup, not the adoption of a revolutionary theory, as African Marxists believed wrongly. Some such dismantling alone is liable to initiate an authentic, unspoiled comprehension of African traditionality’ (Messay 2004:125).

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