TO CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN SOCIETY
JAMES K. KIGONGO
As we grapple
with issues of development, we need to place them in the appropriate historical
and social context. In the case of
Africa, this context has been determined by the encounter of two cultural and
ethical paradigms that many observers and critics are inherently contradictory. The position of the paper is that whereas we may perceive a
contradiction in the conceptualization of the paradigms, the social reality is
that they do co-exist. This
contradiction and co-existence calls for a critical inquiry from which we can
discern fundamental elements vital for development.
First co-existence is stressed in the section, “The reality of a
synthesis.” Second, “African” is seen as problematic in the process of
change” to some the idea of African, let alone Africa as a single entity, is
an illusion. Third, Human relationship in African ethics attempts to present the
substance of African traditional ethics. Fourth, “The problematic of social
and moral change,” discusses the social paradigm that emerged subsequent to
the cultural encounter, which was both a destabilising social pluralism and an
enriching experience. Finally, “The problematic of the old moral order,”
speaks of the tendency to fail to appreciate the relevance of African
traditional ethics for contemporary African society. 1
We need to recognize first of all the meeting of the African ethical
tradition and the European ethical tradition when we conceive ethics in the
contemporary African context, for this meeting causes conflict in our ethical
conception and empirical experience. African
colonial experience shook the traditional conceptual paradigms and institutions
bringing into question the African cultural foundation.
Despite the conflict, there tends to be a synthesis between the two
traditions. Indeed, historically
contemporary Africa in most of its social domains is to a large extent a
combination of the European and African cultural dynamics. In fact, what is
happening in the moral sphere of contemporary African society is a manifestation
of the convergence of European ethics and traditional African ethics, and,
subsequently, a synthesis between the two emerges.
From the African experience, however, one notices the problematic
identity. Whereas on the one hand,
some people conceive and suggest a heightened awareness and strong attachment to
African cultural values (including the ethical values) that underlie Africa’s
socio-cultural change, on the other hand, some incline towards alien values as
more relevant to the modernization entailed in the change.
In the former position, there is a perception and concern for the
relevance and continuity of African cultural values; hence a manifestation of
the perception of continuity of African identity.
This position, however, does not deny the importance of European values.
While the African values are seen as more fundamental to the change, that
is, as having primary importance, the European values are considered secondary.
According to the second position, the African values are of secondary relevance
to the new socio-cultural reality, for as modernity continues to gain a
dominating impact on our life, there is a corresponding decline of the influence
of the tradition and, therefore, a decline in its relevance to contemporary
It is in light of this dichotomous position that “the reality of a
synthesis” is suggested. This
gives us a third position.2 The African
and the alien are perceived as having equal importance in affecting the process
of change because they are historical and contemporary realities.
That is to say, they are embedded in our history since the emergence of
colonialism and thus significantly affect our contemporary perceptions.
We notice here a desire to be what we were originally yet, at the same
time, a desire to embrace change, that is an identification with two contrasting
realities. We can notice a
possibility here of deriving what is positive in the traditional African ethics
and in the European ethics, thus a possibility of each enriching the other.
The aesthetic and moral richness of human relationships in the African
culture would be some of the elements contributed by the traditional African
ethics. From European ethics, the
emphasis of the autonomy and freedom of the individual, subsequently a
person’s critical inclination, would be significant elements.
Some would argue that you cannot have such a synthesis in reality, that
it would be a mere mental abstraction in a situation of the cultural tendencies
of one tradition to dominate the other. The
argument is drawn out of the colonial experience of Africa in which colonialism
began a process of uprooting African culture from its “natural habitat,” and
infusing its own. This put in question the African cultural foundation,
manifesting what Serequeberhan aptly refers to as “the
historical-political-existential crisis of an African saddled with a broken and
ambiguous heritage.”3 My conception
of synthesis here is the possibility of the cultural or ethical traditions
enriching each other when they exist in a single social context.
In fact, when we have the strong attachment to what is traditional or
African (hence African identity) despite, at the same time, the conspicuous
existence of the alien, it seems that our perception of the dominating influence
is rather more imagination than actually reality. Though colonialism strongly
impinged on the African traditions and cultural consciousness and indeed shook
the African cultural foundation, much of African cultural dynamism persisted.
Whereas the European cultural and intellectual colonization is a
historical reality for Africa, it did not completely erode the sense of
Africanity that was, in fact, the fundamental motivating factor of the
independence struggle. We may note here that the two traditions (African and
European) do not only exist in a single social unity, but were fundamental
opposites. The sense of Africanity
continues to have a strong impact on the African psyche and is bound to continue
into the future through generational inheritance, though there is need for
sensitization to it through education, both formal and informal, as explained
towards the conclusion of this paper.
The synthesis is an enriching experience in the mind of the individual,
enabling critical appreciation of the cultural and intellectual wealth of each
of the two cultural traditions and an appreciation that we belong to both
intellectual traditions. Nevertheless, what probably emerges clearly in view of
the conflicting cultural and ethical traditions is a sense of doubt as to how we
can proceed out of the apparent conflict, whether to give primary importance to
what is African or to what is alien and how to merge the two.
While it may not be possible to resolve this skepticism, it could itself
be a positive disposition because it could continue to sensitize us to the
importance of both traditions. It is the sensitivity rather than the resolution
that is more crucial, given that we cannot foresee with certainty the historical
trends of the two traditions though we can be sure of their continued existence
in the social context.
In short, the main idea in this section is to draw our attention to the
persistence of a strong ethical tradition inherited from the African traditional
milieu. This exists together with the European ethical tradition,
notwithstanding the colonial impingement. The
perceptual contradiction and the subsequent empirical experience though real,
should not keep us from drawing on both strands to enrich our contemporary life
In view of the doubt noted in the previous section, the mention of
“African society” tends to raise skepticism among some people, especially
with regard to the concept of “African” in contemporary times.
The issue here is whether we can justifiably talk about “African
society,” and hence “African culture” and “African ethics” in the
context of contemporary changes. The
underlying idea is that as a result of the cultural change in Africa, especially
during the last 100 years, Africanity is undergoing a process of erosion. An
extreme position is that we cannot have a viable existence of the “African”
given the overwhelming impact of alien elements, leading to what is perceived as
a collapse of traditional culture and of traditional ethics.
The impact of globalization whose propelling cultural and economic
elements are predominantly alien (especially European) and tend to be hegemonic
enhances this skepticism.
The viability of the African, however, can be justified in the sense that
we can still talk of a continuity of the African cultural content despite the
change, though the essence and intensity of this content cannot be established
with certainty. In fact, African
culture and ethics did not collapse. Instead
they lost their intrinsic importance in people’s thinking and assumed a
peripheral role in the event of colonization and its attendant cultural
impingement. Culture was viewed as the source which nourished all human activity
in traditional society. At the same
time all human activity in the social context was viewed as having an ethical
end, namely, that it would not only be good in itself but beneficial to the
community as a whole, in the sense of enhancing the community’s well-being,
such as cohesion and prosperity. Today,
as we realize the gaps of modernization, especially its de-emphasis of the
traditional (in fact, traditional and modernity are perceived as contradictory
terms, and culture as inimical to modernization), we revisit the past in order
to develop new conceptual paradigms and find for modernization a strong ethical
content. Hence, the contemporary critical investigation of values and culture, a
kind of cultural renaissance, is a question for cultural and ethical renewal.4
The contemporary debate is a recognition not only of the persistence and
relevance of traditional thought and values to the contemporary milieu, but also
of the importance of a critical study and evaluation of the concepts and values.
There are central to traditional thought as they underlie human culture and play
a significant role in influencing change and thought in contemporary African
society. The influence,
nevertheless, quite often tends to be subtle and not easily noticeable.
Indeed, such concepts and values constitute the background to the whole
spectrum of human experience, not only the African. This renaissance,
however, is not only an academic appreciation.
One notices also a call for a cultural renewal in the general society,
which reflects an apparent doubt regarding the capacity of modernization without
a culture enhancing human well-being. It
is, indeed, this society’s perception of the continuity and relevance of
culture that nourishes the scholars’ perception of the persistence and
relevance of traditional thought in the contemporary milieu, placing particular
interest on ethical concerns.
We may call this continuity the traditional identity.5
The empirical aspect of human social relations in the traditional African
society has an abstract or conceptual form that underlies it and gives meaning
and sense to the relations. This mental or spiritual heritage in which the
community is rooted, Evandro Agazzi refers to as an implicit ethics.6
It is implicit because it is not expressed and formulated in definitive
form. But it has considerable
influence on the people who belong to the culture, guiding and giving sense to
the human social relations. As people undergo change in the different aspects of
their life certain basic conceptions which persist and these constitute their
It is in this sense that we can talk of an African ethical heritage in
contemporary times. However, when we try to understand this ethical heritage, it
is important to distinguish it from custom, especially given the tendency to
view African ethics and African custom as synonymous. Whereas custom may be defined as the cultural norms of the
society, ethics is the human social relations to which the cultural norms make a
contribution. The idea of “ethics
in traditional Africa society” may be obvious, the same clarity may not obtain
with regard to “ethics in the contemporary African society.”
Some, however, would object to the idea of African ethics in a
generalized sense, referring to Africa as a single entity encompassing the whole
ethnic range of the traditional African society.
Wiredu, Gyekye and others have written extensively about the reality of
common features across the ethnic diversity and, in the perspective of ethics,
stressed the sense of communalism and its pervasiveness in each of the ethnic
entities and in the different aspects of the African society such as religion,
art, and music. But K. A. Appiah,
P. Hountondji, and D.A. Masolo would deny this unity and its implied conceptual
The denial of universals or commonalities across the ethnic diversity is
a relativistic view of human society
Probably they would deny the notion of “African religion” in the
singular sense rather than African religions, African art, etc., and by
implication the notion of (traditional) “African society.”
In fact, Masolo suggests that “this generalization of an African
identity, like most universals, is not real because it does not reflect the
social experience of single subjects.”9
I assume that by subjects he refers to individual human beings. If used
of individual ethnic groups, the generalization would not reflect the social
experience of such groups.
Of course, the individual human beings in the traditional society may not
have significantly appreciated their belonging to a larger entity, beyond the
ethnic. But we cannot rule out any appreciation of it at all.
To them the ethnic was more primary than the larger one because it was
closer in the person’s social milieu and level of mental abstraction.
The universal is more a conceptualisation of the philosopher(s) than of
the individual in traditional society. But
this is in line with the professional philosopher’s task of conceptualization
and abstraction of objective entities, notwithstanding the subjective awareness
of the members of society, and in our case of traditional African society?
On the whole, if we accept the persistence of the traditional ethical
strand in the contemporary milieu, the concept of what is African becomes real
rather than an illusion. We
continue to cherish African identity, which cannot be given another cultural
tag. Whereas we can talk of the ethics of a specific ethnic group in Africa,
there are different ethnic groups in Africa that are described as African, for
they share commonalities (among then ethical) that gives them the collective
identity of African.
A fundamental unity between the different human beings in the community,
i.e., a unity of human relationship, underlies traditional African ethics.
African ethics places considerable value on conformity of the individual
to the social group in order to preserve the unity of human relationship.
It could be said that in a way African thought is, indeed, more concerned
with the relationship than with the different entities which constitute the
relationship. All human behaviour is expected to conform to this value to
ensure social harmony. Human
relationship and social harmony are vital elements in the African sense of moral
According to John S. Mbiti, it is only in terms of other people that the
individual himself is conscious of his own being, his own duties, his privileges
and responsibilities towards himself and towards other people: “I am because
we are, and since we are, therefore I am.”11
This is “a morality of `conduct’ rather than a morality of
‘being,’”12 or of personal
morality. It is a morality of
conduct in the sense that it is one’s relationships and, therefore, conduct in
the social sphere that dictates one’s sense of morality. This morality occurs
in contrast to emphasizing an individual’s sense of self, autonomy or being,
that is, of the self which does not place much value on the social
relationships. The former was a
strong awareness of one’s existence and relationship with others in the
community, a strong sense of “social self.” The support of others was more
important than one’s capacities to achieve one’s existential ends—hence
the value of corporate existence.
Corporate existence signified a responsibility of many for one. First,
the others had to look after the well-being of the individual, i.e., the
responsibility of many for one. Second, the individual had to look after the
well-being of others. The latter
was motivated by the former. Here
we note a collaborative relationship between the individual and society that
helped to build and sustain a moral character in a person and moral order
(social harmony) in the society. These
two elements helped build a strong sense of belonging and identity in the
However, the fact that African ethics emphasizes human relationship shows
the significance attached to the individual human being.
The human being is perceived as the centre of the relationship, and as an
active agent and participant in the relationship. The emphasis is not on the
autonomy, freedom, and critical inclination of the individual in the sense of
Socratic ethics, but on an appreciation of the status and role of the individual
in the ethical and socio-economic pattern, which entails the individuals’
active agency and participation. One
could thus say that whereas European ethics conceives the individual as an
intellectual being, emphasizing the faculty of reason as the basic tenet in
moral conduct, African ethics conceives the individual as an ethical entity. It is, indeed, this ethical perception that makes the
relationship human. Quite often,
however, Africans fail to appreciate the ethical individuality of the human
being in African ethics because most of the authors have concentrated on the
element of African communalism and given an impression that the human
individuality is swallowed up by the sense of communalism and not so
predominant.13 Mbiti probably is the
most outstanding culprit here. Some
perceive an authoritarian strand built in the communalistic culture almost as
the sole determinant of African ethics.
The perception of the authoritarian strand is drawn from the education
system in the traditional society that emphasized socialization of the
individual into the established knowledge already created by former generations.14
Much of this knowledge was custom, which carried with it a very strong communal
content. Moreover, as Njoroge and
Bennaars observe, education was socially controlled and in its different forms
was consciously and deliberately practiced to cultivate ethical values.15
Thus, a tendency emerges to view traditional ethics and custom as synonymous.
Thus, the authoritarian strand is perceived because of the conventional and
authoritarian nature of custom, which is supposed to be respected and obeyed
uncritically or without question. It
arises also out of African ethics placing considerable value on the conformity
of the individual to the social group which sinks deep into the African social
Briefly, while the sense of relationship and community underlies African
traditional ethics, in contrast to the European sense of autonomy, the
individual is not perceived as just a mere presence in the community. As an
individual, he is perceived both as the centre of the relationship and also as
contributing to its sustenance. Hence, he possesses an ethical status and
contributes a role in the ethical and entire social spectrum.
The intrusion of external culture in Africa was such that it did not
allow a reciprocation between the two cultures so that both would benefit from
each other. Instead, Europe began a
process of uprooting the African culture from its “natural habitat,” and
infusing its own culture, hence, beginning a problematic social change. The
process was problematic in the sense that it favoured the colonizer and set a
trend towards marginalization of what was African, both by the colonizer and the
colonized. Hence, the re is now a skepticism about the viability of what
is African exists. The change also
involves an increasing tendency towards social pluralism in the ethnic,
cultural, religious, political, and economic areas of the society.
With this dual social orientation, morality in the African society is
changing from inclination to the collective good—the communalistic
characteristic of traditional society—to personal morality. This, however,
tends to be perverted, rather than to be based on personal autonomy and inner
conviction. From this follows a perversion of the sense of moral value, leading
to its increasing deficiency. Whereas any all societies normally are
characterized by some degree of limitation in morality, the perverted personal
morality has been so fundamental a factor in African society’s historical
evolution, that it has caused a cultural disruption in moral perception, and
hence a problematic moral change. This
became the source of the perceptual instability manifested in the conflict of
the African ethical tradition and the European ethical tradition.
We may speak of a moral consensus in the ethnic community as part of the
community’s cultural evolution. Such
evolution was not ensured in the new heterogeneous national society that emerged
out of a revolutionary change. The
radical departure did not enable the people to grasp and adopt the new social
milieu with its new moral orientation and its moral implications.
There was a fundamental moral challenge in synthesizing the two
conflicting moral tendencies of individuality and the collective good, let alone
the need to identify oneself with the common good as entailed by the diversity.
As a consequence, appropriate moral values could not evolve.
Such deficiency in moral development entailed a potential for the
development of individualism.16
In the contemporary society, the increasing consciousness of personal
freedom and personal interests, coupled with the increasing social pluralism and
increasing diversity of individually-oriented interests, without a corresponding
increase in appreciation of social obligation, makes the fundamental moral
challenge still more problematic. The individuality of the person and the
diversity of interests in themselves do not hinder the development of a moral
unity of individual interests within the universalizable common good. Rather, it
is the failure of the mental orientation of the individual to appreciate the
moral question and its ramifications. The sense of self and personal interests
(the negative sense of individuality) tends to override the sense of a social
being to pursue one’s interests while at the same time being attentive to the
interests of the others—those interests that are universal.
With the tendency towards individualism, a person’s sense of moral
value tends to incline more to what benefits him, his family or his ethnic
group, which entails a narrow or restricted sense of moral value.
In the family and ethnic group, one anticipates some immediate gain
because these are closer to him in his social perspective and relationships. One
perceives in them a sense of identity and belonging.
Within the context of the nation and the contemporary urbanized society
generally, which is increasingly becoming pluralistic and materialistic, a sense
of identity and belonging is present but not adequate. The materialistic
inclination that makes our conception of value more utilitarian, thus
undermining the conception of moral value, manifests itself in the increasing
practice of corruption and generally in the pursuit of life in the society as an
economic activity. Primarily, economics is pursued without due regard to the
rights and interests of other persons, except where they add to one’s economic
advantages. We see an increasing
trend towards materialization and commercialization of human and social life,
though at the same time this is provoking great ethical concern and, in many
instances, a public call to return to traditional ethics. This legitimises the
relevance of African ethics to contemporary African society.
In short, the new social and moral context of Africa consequent to the
intrusion of external culture not only began the alienation of African from the
traditional ethical orientation but also caused a social pluralism.
Because external coercion motivated the two trends, they did not enable
an internal dynamism in the African society to evolve an appropriate ethical
consciousness. The personal
morality that was the dominant strand in the external culture—and to large
extent in its perverted individualistic form—became the dominant moral trend,
hence perpetuating the perversion of the African ethical sense.
With regard to the question of identifying with the common good, though
we see continuity in the sense of humanity and its derivative sense of corporate
existence, both deriving their roots from traditional morality, society tends to
fail to appreciate the meaning and relevance of the “old moral order” for
the new and complex moral order. Thus,
many people take the new moral milieu for granted.
This uncritical response to the contemporary moral predicament for some
points to the “collapse” of the traditional ethics.
Such intellectual inability to grasp the meaning of the old moral order
and its relevance in the contemporary moral situation means that we are not only
unable to comprehend the fundamental nature of this order, but also to
comprehend a fundamental solution to the moral conflict.
One fundamental practical consequence of the moral deficiency, besides
the intellectual inability to grasp its nature, let alone its solution, is the
increasing polarization between individualism and the common good.
This dichotomization is compounded by the lack of a conscious
institutionalized effort by the society to grasp the problem and seek a
However, whereas the problem of ethics has not received a serious
critical discussion by African scholars, the relevance of African ethics to
contemporary African society has manifested itself in the theorization by
African scholars of the relevant political and economic theory for contemporary
development. In particular, they theorize on what the nature of the African
state should be and the course of the socio-economic development Africa ought to
The relevance of African ethics in this theorization can be discerned in
terms of the theme of the African sense of communalism. Contemporary African
scholars have, indeed, reminded us that this communalism was not only a matter
of social cooperation, but also of the inherent relationship of all human beings
in the society, besides a perception of the centrality of the individual person
in this relationship and its socio-economic configuration.
Interpreting communalism in the present context, they have conceived the
nation-state as a moral community where human relationships and the good of the
individual are viewed as more important in motivating development than material
considerations. This humanistic consideration thus became the central idea in
African socialism. Where
academicians such as Wiredu and Gyekye recognize the continued existence of this
sense of humanism in the contemporary African society in their numerous
discourses on the African society, political leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius
Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, and Leopold Sedar Senghor have placed considerable
significance on it in their socio-political theories.
Nevertheless, some like Ruch and Anyanwu have argued that Nkrumah
contradicted himself in his advocacy of African communalism in his philosophical
consciencism when he places so much emphasis on the material aspect of
development.17 This is exactly the
source of the ethical dilemma in Africa today, that is, the failure to perceive
the possibility of the co-existence of the material and the moral with the
former strongly motivated by the sense of individualism inherent in European
ethics. They are always perceived as contradictory, opposed to each other, with
no mutuality between them. It is in
view of this possibility that I propose the possibility of a synthesis between
the African and European ethical traditions.
Thus, we have the African ethical heritage persisting to the present, but
its meaning, let alone coexistence with and contribution to the materially
motivated sense of development, cannot be sufficiently appreciated and some are
skeptical about a synthesis. This
presents a fundamental challenge to contemporary African society and
particularly to education. Whereas
the critical investigation of values and culture noted in the first section of
this paper would contribute to sensitizing the African intelligentia to the
appreciation of the synthesis, a broader approach would be required to sensitize
this society in this regard. Curriculum
development in the entire education system needs to be more conscious of the
problematic of the old moral order and give more attention to the paradigms of
the ethical dilemma. The
consciousness of the relevance of African cultural and ethical heritage to the
contemporary society needs strong development in the educational system.
At the same time, education needs to evolve a concept of development that
is not biased in favor of material orientation or motivated by the sense of
individualism. Education must synthesize the individual and human relationships.
The “third way” can most effectively be presented by a conscious and
deliberate orientation of education. African
scholars would be needed to guide this orientation, but can do so only after
they have given focused and sufficient critical attention to the problem of
However, the presence of the African and European ethical tradition would
not in itself be an absolute condition for realizing synthesis, which would
enhance society’s well-being. Whereas
the material orientation and sense of individuality when perverted hinder the
realization of the sense of community, the communalistic character of the
traditional society and its attendant social obligation impinges on the sense of
individuality and the motivation for self-realization.
Thus, another fundamental challenge is posed to education, namely, to
guide the individuals between what would be positive and rational, on one hand,
and negative and irrational, on the other, to an appropriate synthesis fostering
the well-being of society. But this
could not be adequately discussed in this paper.
On the whole, while Africans are conscious of the continuity of the
African ethical tradition in contemporary society, the significance of this old
moral order for contemporary society is not adequately appreciated. This lack
creates an intellectual and moral vacuum in which individualism flourishes. The
vacuum is manifest in our discourse and pursuit of development, endangering our
inability to harmonize the material and the moral interests of development.
But if we did appreciate the need for this harmony, the best place to
root out its underlying concepts and problematic would be the education system.
subject of this paper was first presented by the author and discussed at
seminars involving students and lecturers at the Universities of Witwatersrand,
Durban-Westville, and Zululand in South Africa in April 2000.
The author is grateful to the Department of Philosophy at each of these
universities for their invitation.
author subscribes to this position.
Serequeberhan in the “Introduction to his book African Philosophy: The Essential Readings (St. Paul, Minnesota,
Paragon House, 1996), p.9.
4 Whereas the European renaissance signifies ‘rebirth of knowledge’ and the African ‘a cultural renewal,’ an element of rebirth of knowledge can be discerned in the latter in the sense that the African perception of the intrinsic value of culture was an important epistemological aspect which the African renaissance wanted to restore, hence to this extent it was a rebirth of knowledge. When this cultural renewal is viewed in the specific ethical sense, we see the concern for renewal focused on the African sense of community, which is basic to the traditional ethics. This sense of community manifested itself in, and motivated, the different aspects of the traditional society such as economics and politics. At the same time it was expressed in traditional religion, music, art, etc., and this is an underlying element of culture.
‘Traditional’ here refers to long-established elements that are indigenous,
i.e., originate from within the culture, are integrated in the way of life of
the people and are passed on to succeeding generations. Some of these elements
persist and continue to change.
6 Here I borrow Agazzi’s idea
of an implicit philosophy, which
underlies the way of life of all human communities, characterizes every culture,
and gives it a typical character distinct from others. See Evandro Agazzi
“Philosophies as Self-consciousness of Cultures,” in H. Odera Oruka and D.A.
Masolo, Philosophy and Culture
(Nairobi, Bookwise Ltd., 1983), pp.1-5. The
concept of African (traditional) ethics is not a body of knowledge in the sense
of a moral philosophy, but an ethical orientation, or a morality. This is not to
suggest that a body of knowledge on African ethics cannot be developed, for we
can distinguish some conceptual knowledge related to ethics that used to guide
human conduct and social relations. In
fact, the theory of European ethics was developed as an interpretation of
certain ethical conceptions and practices in the European society.
‘b. Nasseem talks about the African heritage and its continuity and
contribution in contemporary times, in “African Heritage and Contemporary
Life: An Experience of
Epistemological Change”, in A.T. Dalfovo, The
Foundations of Social Life: Ugandan Philosophical Studies 1 (Washington, D.C:
The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 1992), pp. 17-36.
can be inferred from their denial of African philosophy in the generalized sense
of Africa as a single entity.
See Chyme Anthony Appiah, In My
Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 73-84; Paulin J. Hountondji,
African Philosophy: Myth and Reality,
Trans. Henri Evans (London:
Hutchinson University Library for Africa, 1983), pp. 60-62; and D.A. Masolo,
“African Philosophy and the Postcolonial: Some Misleading Abstractions about
Identity,” in Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Postcolonial
African Philosophy: A Critical Reader (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell
Publishers, 1997), p. 291.
many societies this value tends to persist in time despite the impact of
pluralistic and individualistic tendencies
S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy
(Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers Ltd., 1969), pp.108-109.
Ibid., p. 214. Refer also to Gyekye Chyme, African
Cultural Values: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Sankofa Publishing Company,
elaborates on this appreciation of the status and role of the individual in
society, in African Cultural Values,
p. 50, and in An Essay on African
Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme, rev. ed (London:
Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 154-168.
We need to note that the emphasis on the intellectual and on the ethical
by European and African ethics respectively does not mean that the other element
is not important in the other ethical traditions.
Traditional African education recognized the individual’s intellectual
individuality by its practice of imparting ideas (especially to the young) in
the form of riddles and proverbs, because the learner was thought to have
critical and rational capacity to interpret and appreciate the moral message
involved and, thus, to choose the right course of action.
This method of education was an instrument for building moral character
on the basis of independent thinking. At
the stage of adulthood there was the practice of reaching crucial decisions in
the community by consensus after weighing various individual statements of the
R.J. Njoroge and G.A. Bennaars, Philosophy
and Education in Africa (Nairobi: Transafrica Press, 1986), p. 145; D.A.
Masolo, “Philosophy and Culture: A Critique,” in H. Odera-Oruka and D.A.
Masolo, ibid., p.48; and Asavia
Wandira, Indigenous Education in Uganda
(Kampala: Department of Education Makerere University, 1972), p. 225
We need here to establish a distinction between the notion of
‘individuality’ and ‘individualism.’
Individuality is an expression of one’s being and the source of one’s
freedom, which certainly are two positive elements. In its practical
manifestation, it is the pursuance of goals that are self-oriented, i.e., they
have the individual as the centre of interest.
However, such self-centred or self-oriented goals can, and sometimes, do
have a moral worth or value which can be a source of the common good which is
universalizable. If the fostering
of my self-interests is negative, that is, harms the good of others or obstructs
or is likely to obstruct its realization, then individuality becomes
17 E.A. Ruch and K.C. Anyanwu, African Philosophy: An Introduction to the Main Philosophical Trends in Contemporary Africa (Rome: Catholic Book Agency, 1981), pp. 324-340.