The Political Kingdom: Toward Reconstruction in Africa

F. Abiola

In our times, one can no longer be a barbarian; as a barbarian, one gets cheated, trodden on, despised, abused. -– Johann Gottfried Herder, “Patriotism”

On his return to Earth from his flight in space in 1997, the astronaut Michael Foale gave an interview that was broadcast on National Public Radio. He reported that throughout the 137 days of his sojourn in outer space, he kept in close and constant touch with events on Earth. This was of course a normal preoccupation on his part, since he looked forward to returning to the company of fellow mortals on our planet. What is notable about his interview, however, is that he referred specifically to Africa, noting that he had been kept fully informed of the situation of general chaos that prevailed on the continent. This statement from an astronaut who, presumably, should have had other things on his mind during his flight than the state of Africa, comes as yet another indication of the surprising and perverse turn that Africa’s hold on the western consciousness can sometimes take. Indeed, a remarkable feature of recent discourse on Africa is the predominantly negative character it has assumed, contrasting sharply with the expressions of goodwill that we enjoyed at independence. Given the insidious power of imagery, and the objective force of the symbolic in interpersonal relations, it is well to consider the nature of this discourse, in order to place the contemporary situation of Africa within the general perspective of historical experience which gives it meaning, and thus to try to move the debate on Africa forward.


As was the case during the colonial period, imaginative literature serves today as a significant channel for the negative representation of Africa in the West, with the difference that where, in the past, a certain exotic interest was determined by cultural preconceptions, there is now an intense focus on the political situation, presented as the most telling manifestation of the nature of the African. This is clearly the tenor and intent of V. S. Naipaul’s In a Free State and A Bend in the River, works for which Africa serves as a setting, and which provide him the occasion to give free rein to a spiteful bigotry that has been for too long a constitutive element of his fictional imagination. John Updike’s The Coup and Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day are also directly centered on the political phenomenon in Africa, with both conveying the impression that events in contemporary Africa reflect not merely the institutional dilemmas of African polities in the post-colonial era, but an existential condition hardly amenable to human solutions. The tone of Stoppard’s play is especially revealing, spanning the full scale of a derogatory language that provides its keynote, from the blatantly racist "uppity niggers" to the vicious irony of the following passage:

Yes sir, Colonel Shimbu, tell us about the wonderful world you’re going to build in that vulture's garbage dump you want to call a country.

Stoppard gives this passage to the African President to speak, in an outburst against an officer of his country’s army who is apparently plotting a coup; its unlikely context thus makes it fully expressive of the profound attitude of contempt towards Africans held by Tom Stoppard and his like, such as Paul Johnson, to whom the play is dedicated: men whose nostalgia for empire renders them unable to imagine a world in which Africans can exist in any but an unequal relationship with Europeans.1

Works such as those I’ve cited have little claim to literary merit. What they do indicate is the baleful image of Africa that continues to haunt the western mind up to the present time. Thus, reviewing a book entitled The Coming Plague, a certain S. Hall presents the following scenario, as the point of departure for his reflection on the crisis of world health that is the subject of the book under review:

Civil war erupts in a small, politically unstable country in equatorial Africa. Decades?old ethnic enmities, suddenly aroused, lead to the wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Fleeing almost certain death, a quarter million refugees stream into neighbouring countries. There, incubated in the overcrowded unsanitary refugee camps, the old familiar contagions -– cholera, drug?resistant malaria and tuberculosis -– soften up the crowds for a final, swiftly fatal punch by an even more terrifying pathogen, an airborne version of the highly lethal Ebola virus.2

As the passage makes clear, our reviewer did not have to exercise much imagination, for events related to the crisis in Rwanda, and extending into the Congo, provide both the factual basis and the dramatic elements of his scenario.3 It is important to note, however, that the sensational thrust of the passage depends not merely on its reproduction of the tendentious style of reports in the popular press about current events in Africa but on the standard stereotype of a "pestilential" Africa, for so ready-to-hand is disease as a metaphor for Africa in the western imagination that our author can rely on this image to do all his work for him. It provides him with the symbolic ground for the rhetorical move in the passage, in which the universal menace of “the coming plague” is massively evoked by the simple reference to Africa, a move guaranteed to stir up deep fears lurking in the western consciousness around the image of the continent as the "heart of darkness." The details of the evocation are not, however, redundant to the overall message conveyed by the passage, in which the pathological and the lurid combine in such as way as to reinforce what one might call a primal response to a reference invested with a powerful negative significance. The passage thus derives its validating force for its intended (American) audience from the same order of discourse as that constituted by colonial ideology, which worked towards the symbolic devaluation of Africa as a functional aspect of imperial domination. It provides one more demonstration of the persistence of the menacing image of Africa in the West, highlighted at the present time by the gratuitous attribution to Africa of the origin of AIDS.4 Even more significant in Hall's review is the fact that the standard metaphor that governs western perception of Africa as an area of danger and contamination is both expanded and updated, so that the very idea of disease becomes associated with the political and social situation in post?independence Africa. It is in this way that the intersection between the factual and the symbolic is established in the current discourse on Africa.5

The discursive trajectory traced above leads directly to the phenomenon referred to in western academic circles as "afropessimism," a buzz word that has its origin in France, and is associated with the work of Jean-François Bayart (1993). The term has made its way to North America, and serves to designate a general mood of despondency that pervades current scholarship on and reporting about Africa. It is employed to translate in a summary way what is thought to be a well-founded despair arising from a contemplation of the desperate turn of events and the tragic human situation in Africa since the era of independence. In this sense, "afropessimism" represents a reversal of the buoyant spirit displayed by an earlier generation of western Africanists, exemplified by scholars such as the late James Coleman, and by the work of David Apter, currently upheld by Basil Davidson: scholars whose approach to African Studies was animated by a deep understanding of African aspirations and the conviction of the continent's potential for positive development.6 In contrast, the current language of western scholarship invites rather to an unremittingly bleak view of Africa, now perceived as a continent without a future, racked as it is thought to be, through its length and breadth, by the twin demons of political instability and economic deprivation.

A typical example of this dismal vision of Africa is offered by the article entitled "Africa: The Long Goodbye" by David Ewing Duncan. Remarking on the progressive marginalization of Africa since the mid?1980s (what he calls "a not so splendid isolation"), Duncan goes on to observe: "There is every indication that conditions in Africa will worsen in the 1990s, and that Africa's position in world will become even more peripheral.” One cannot help but wonder if the wish isn’t indeed father to the thought here. It is perhaps no coincidence that it is in the same journal in which Duncan's article appeared that Robert Kaplan's now celebrated essay, "The Coming Anarchy," was also published, an essay in which he speaks disdainfully of a return to “premodern formlessness” in Africa, a continent that features prominently as the centerpiece of his apocalyptic vision of a worldwide disorder which, according to him, poses a dire threat to contemporary humanity.7

In reality, Kaplan has simply recalled and expanded upon long-held prejudices on the part of many western scholars. Typical among them is John Dunn, who, commenting on varieties of nationalism, distinguishes a form for which, as he says, “a good many of the states of tropical Africa would serve as very adequate prototypes, in which social groupings are in the simplest descriptive sense backward, largely preliterate, with low productivity, weak overarching social solidarities and slight abilities to organize themselves for the better.”8 Views such as these, with their racist presuppositions and their gloomy view of Africa's prospects, find their dismal culmination in this passage by David Rieff, reminiscent of the worst projections of Africa in colonial literature:

Africa has been the scene not only of the third great genocide of the twentieth century, but also of many of the world’s most intractable wars, of immense and deepening poverty, of an AIDS epidemic that seems likely to undo the economic gains of the few countries that are not almost beyond economic help. Africa is surely the most hopeless part of the human world, the place to which anyone wishing to confront the human inheritance at its most ruinous must look.9

The hyperbole of this passage is integral to its significance, an effect of its motivation and a condition of its message. We have an entire continent consigned here to the gloom of a fervid imagination, on the part of an individual who has little or no information about it, but who feels nonetheless entitled to a damning judgment upon it. Thus, amid the somberness generated by “afropessimism,” a partial and distorted image of Africa has emerged, so that even scholarly discourse begins to lend authority to a perception of Africa as a continent beyond the pale of human decencies. In this discourse, Africa has reemerged as, in Achebe’s words, “a place of negations.”

I have dwelt at this length upon the negative thrust of the current discourse on Africa because it seems to me important at this time to take special cognizance of it and to consider its implications, as we embark upon a new phase of historical experience, signaled by significant political developments on the continent. That an actively hostile racism often runs through the constructions proffered by the authors of this discourse makes it all the more imperative to confront them, to resist the pernicious meanings they bear for us at this critical moment of our historical adventure. For their strident insistence upon our failures, undoubted though these may be, have nothing to do with solicitude for us. They have no other objective but to instill in us and cultivate anew a diffidence engendered by colonial domination, a mental state from which we can barely be said to have been delivered. Yet, so extensive and so urgent are the tasks ahead of us that we cannot allow our consciousness to be damaged and our resolve weakened by the insinuations of the afropessimists. To understand this is to see through the dark veil cast upon African realities by afropessimism, which now needs to be questioned as regards its profound motivation. For we must make a distinction between a responsiveness to genuine and informed criticism and the kind of self-flagellation that is ready to acquiesce in the distortions produced by western discourse on Africa, in order to claim the honor of a candor and honesty that ultimately plays into the hands of our detractors.10

The fact needs to be stated: the negative literature on Africa is inadequate and partial, and this, on at least two grounds. The first has to do with its claim to truth, its degree of correspondence to the actualities of the African experience at the present moment. For, contrary to the bleak depiction of David Rieff, life proceeds normally in several African countries, indeed the majority, despite the undoubted problems of underdevelopment and the inevitable tensions of political conflicts in the difficult aftermath of the colonial experience. With some notable and truly spectacular exceptions, the prevailing situation simply does not justify the theme of African exceptionalism, characterized by a generalized anomie, on which the present discourse on Africa has been so persistently rung.11

To say this is not to deny that we are confronted in Africa with formidable problems of existence, having to do as much with internal stresses inherent in the process of adjustment to a western-imposed modernity, as with the various external pressures on our collective lives, with their devastating consequences for our economies and their implications, direct and indirect, for our political systems. But afropessimism cannot be regarded as an expression of genuine concern for Africa; rather, it reflects a deeply patronizing and even cynical attitude towards our continent, one that has enabled some western scholars to make a career out of programs for governance in Africa. It is a question not merely of these scholars attempting to moralize for us –- viewing us as incompetent pupils who have proved incapable of absorbing the lessons of western liberal democracy and its economic corollary, free market capitalism -– but of their manifesting a cultural arrogance, allied to a profound contempt of the same order as that which drove the proponents of the colonial ideology to posit Africa as the homeland of a different and degenerate category of humanity.

But, as with all human societies, no unilateral or blanket view can suffice as an adequate account of the African situation, which has to be considered in the broader context of the contemporary African dilemma, in order to be understood in all its complexity. It comes as a relief to observe at least one western scholar, Peter Lewis, displaying some understanding of this complexity when he writes:

As the millennium draws to a close, Africa reflects greater intraregional diversity than at any time since independence. Across the continent, growth has contended with stagnation, democracy with dictatorship, and stability with turmoil. (1998: 6)

The comment calls attention to the dialectics of a history in the making, and it is well to bear in mind that universal dissatisfaction with the social and political arrangements of the postcolonial era in Africa represents the latest expression of this historical phenomenon. This observation leads to the other point that needs to be made concerning the negative focus on Africa, and the exceptionalism that is so often inferred from it: this view ignores historical experience worldwide, beginning with the dismal record of the western world itself in the matter of political instability. Western commentators who promote the exceptionalist view of Africa seem to have forgotten their own history, or seem unaware that those of us who were perforce brought up on a colonial education are familiar with this history. For war, violence and large-scale upheavals have been the stuff of western history from classical times to the present. We first encounter this in the Iliad, the epic narrative depicting in gory detail the brutality of the Trojan War. And given Thucydides’ account of the ferocity of the combatants during the Peloponnesian War, it is hard to accept the idealization of the classical-era Greeks that has been a staple of western cultural history.12 The pattern of violence continues through the medieval period and later, with wars and unspeakable crimes clinging to the Christian religion as its development became intertwined with that of Europe. There has been no abatement of the violent temper of Europe, the consequences of which we have witnessed in our own times. For, as the British historian Lewis Namier has shown in his work, 1848: The Revolution of the Intellectuals, the agitated state of Europe in the 19th century, reflected in the clash of ideologies, culminated a century later in the destructive fury of two world wars and the calculated murders of whole populations.

As for political instability, we know that the European nations have had their fair share of this phenomenon. It does not occur to Professor Dunn, when he makes his disparaging remarks about Africa, that his own country has known devastating civil wars and produced, in the person of Oliver Cromwell, the first dictator of modern times. The turbulent history of France in the wake of the Revolution offers an especially striking illustration of instability, for it took nearly a hundred years for that country to settle into any form of stable government.13 And who can forget that, for a good part of the 20th century, and within living memory, Europe was nearly everywhere under the heel of authoritarian regimes, with dictators ruling in its very heartland – in Spain, Germany and Italy – and its fringes in Portugal and Yugoslavia. Russia and its associated states within the Soviet Union were locked into a totalitarian system that also blanketed the nations of Eastern Europe until just about two decades ago. As for economic and social problems, the widespread distress caused by the Great Depression is a matter of historical record.

Given these facts, it is hardly an exaggeration to observe that western history presents us with what T.S. Eliot has called, commenting on the perversities of the modern age, “an immense panorama of futility and misery.” One cannot but recall that the African experience of centuries of slavery followed by decades of colonial domination, represents a significant dimension of this sordid and inglorious history. But we need not dwell on this, for the immediate point here is that nobody in the world has a special lesson in political morality to teach us, least of all the West. The issue, then, is that our problems are not so much African problems as human ones, part of our experience of history. These problems are peculiar to that new phase inaugurated by the end of colonial rule; as Mahmoud Mamdani has pointed out, they form part of its legacy, and constitute the rough path we have to tread as we grope in its aftermath towards a new order of life and awareness. It is in this sense that the Beninois philosopher, Paulin Hountondji, has argued in the specific context of the Benin Republic, that the instability that has marked the evolution of his country since independence can be interpreted as the sign of a quest for a new order. This observation can be extended to the rest of Africa, for it can be said that what we have been witnessing on our continent in the post-colonial era is a painful groping towards a new mode of reference for collective organization, towards a new existential center of gravity.14

It is not, therefore, a question of closing one’s eyes to the disasters enacted in Africa in recent times, but placing these and other factors of the contemporary African experience in a global perspective. But, as we contemplate our place in the world, the disabilities from which we suffer, and the dangers with which we are surrounded, we cannot rest content with the thought that we are no worse than the rest of humanity. Far from encouraging a mood of complacency on our part, our precarious situation in the affairs of the contemporary world makes it imperative for us to begin to put our house in order. It is not indeed the case that we have ever been tempted to complacency, for we have lived in Africa for some forty years now with an ever-deepening dissatisfaction with our situation, a collective state of mind that has found expression in a vigorous current of social criticism and self-interrogation, as part of a newly emerging internal African discourse.15 It is surely time for a new affirmation of resolve that takes account of the real potential in Africa for new beginnings, after the depredations of colonialism and the disappointments and tragedies of independence. It is in this sense that the term “reconstruction” has to be understood.


The whole idea of reconstruction in Africa revolves around the question of our accession to modernity, in terms of a workable and effective social and political organization of our national communities, and the productive management of our physical environment and material resources -– all this in a world dominated as never before by “instrumental reason” and controlled from ever fewer centers of power and decision. It points at once to what posture we are to adopt towards that world today in order to claim a place within it. The question arises from the argument that is being increasingly invoked, that the forms of modern social organization do not correspond to our profound inclinations, since, we are told, they do not derive from our African inheritance, which placed a premium on harmony with nature, not technological dominance over it. This argument is a carry-over from the discourse of cultural nationalism, with its inversion into a virtue of what was read as pathology by the West.16 The argument has lately been taken up again in the language of sociology and economics by Axelle Kabou, in her essay, Et si l’Afrique refusait le développement.17 The recourse at this time to such an argument must be a matter for serious concern, for it can no longer represent a justified reclamation of cultural antecedents, as part of the response to our devaluation by the colonial ideology. Today, it can only be interpreted as the sign of a demoralization that threatens to sap our collective spirit as we grapple with the myriad difficulties of finding our footing in the modern world. These difficulties range from the institutional ones of fashioning new polities appropriate to our peculiar circumstances and present condition, to those involved in our effort to create the material conditions that will bring the amenities of modern life within the reach of our populations.

Indeed, in the past twenty-five years, with the imposition of so-called structural adjustment programs all over the continent, we have witnessed a marked regression of our economies. As SAPs have eroded early gains, the goals of nation-building and economic development -– twin pillars of our project of modernity –- seem as remote for us today as fifty years ago, when we entered massively into the era of independence. These problems have contributed to the acute sense of crisis that besets us at the present moment. But to rehash the cultural arguments of nationalism at this time is to encourage an attitude of flight, if not of irresponsibility, in the face of urgent tasks. We must recognize that the African crisis today is as much inward, psychological and moral, as it is structural, related to objective realities. The effort of reconstruction must therefore be undertaken at two levels: that of the mind, in the first place, as the necessary foundation for the second level, that of action, the two correlated in the reconstitution of our world, so as to create within it our own unique space of life and expression.

To speak of reconstruction at the level of mind is to suggest a new mode of self-apprehension. This means that we must banish the image of a naive and simple Africa that gave a powerful affective charge to the literature of cultural emancipation, but which can have no place in any serious proposition concerning our place and status in the contemporary world. To invoke this image as a statement of our collective disposition, as Chinweizu and his friends have done, as a function of our post-independence situation, is not merely self-indulgent and even, in a very real sense, demeaning, but ultimately disabling for the requirements of today. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that a collective image that seeks to elude the demands of modernity cannot be part of a serious project of intellectual reconstruction in Africa.18

But a far more insidious threat to the contemporary African mind is that posed by the prevailing intellectual fashions in the West, specifically the anti?rationalism that lends such fascination to those currents of thought associated with postmodernism. It must be said that this fascination has as much to do with the exceptional power of expression of its leading lights -– such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida –- as it does with the content and general thrust of their thought, in particular, their radical questioning of the historical and philosophical legacy of the Enlightenment. Although the postmodernist project is one which our historical experience predisposes us to understand and to rally to, we must ask ourselves whether the critique of the western ratio corresponds to our intellectual and practical requirements at this time. For if it is argued that the forms of rationality developed in the West no longer represent an acceptable logical or moral compass of human endeavor, the question remains what else we can put in their place, not merely as a common ground of human understanding, but as a functional reference for the contemplation of action in and upon the real world, where our attention must needs be concentrated at this time, as a matter of historical necessity. It is not certain that, for all its theoretical interest, the system of “gnosis” advocated by Valentin Mudimbe (1988), with its association of a playful "bricolage" as its unique method of exploring the world, can have for us the practical value that we can expect to derive from a rigorous scientific understanding of our lived universe. For whereas the categories of a formalized rationality are either explicit and objective, or are nothing, the “silent codes” of Mudimbe’s system (to be derived, according to him, via the methods of structuralist analysis proposed by Claude Lévi-Strauss) cannot, by their very nature, be other than implicit and subjective, without the compelling force of verifiable laws constructed from sustained investigation of observable facts.19

It is true of course that scientists tend to make extravagant claims for their discipline, and, from an epistemological point of view, there are indeed limits to the rationality embodied by science, but this is no reason to jettison its real triumphs. At the very least it provides us, as part of general humanity, with a common measure for the processes of thought and for understanding the world. This is too precious an asset to be repudiated, either in a vexed reaction against the West, or in what can only be a hopeless quest for novelty. It does not appear, therefore, that the philosophical anarchy of postmodernism offers any real prospect of advancing our interests in the modern world; for us, as Africans, Foucault, Derrida and their cohorts can be nothing other than “strange gods,” in the sense that T.S. Eliot gave to the phrase.20

The point here is that the postmodernist case has been overstated. Moreover, there is no reason for us to adopt a position that is not congruent with our specific situation and interests. What we need then is to reformulate for ourselves the philosophical project of modernity with which some of the brightest minds in the West have become disillusioned, for reasons outside our immediate sphere of experience. It is apparent that, in our circumstances, such a project can only be founded upon a pragmatic conception of rationality, one that defines it as the principle underlying those material transformations and social arrangements that work best for mankind as a whole. It is largely on this basis that the German thinker Jürgen Habermas has argued the case for a return to the rational ideal of the Enlightenment, by way of what he calls "the logic of communicative action." It is true that his Eurocentric bias leads him to a privileging of the western tradition, elevated to a universal standard of thought and expression, thus betraying a regrettable insensitivity to the range of cultural forms within which the human mind finds expression. Despite this handicap which has to do with presentation, the ideal defended by Habermas is just as relevant to us as it is to the West, as a reference for our intellectual project.21

The appropriate context for this project is, of course, the universities. For this reason, they will be central to the reconstruction of Africa that is our preoccupation here. But as we are aware, all too painfully, the universities have been major casualties of the economic depression that has been ravaging Africa in the past three decades; almost without exception, African universities are today in a shambles. The present damage can be measured against the hopes inspired by the steady development of higher education in Africa all through the 1960s, and its potential as a key factor of economic and social development. The consequences of the precipitous decline of our universities, the effect upon our future prospects, are yet to be fully grasped, but it is plain that one of the most urgent tasks in Africa today is the restoration of the universities to something of their earlier position. This, incidentally, affords an opportunity for a return to the debates of the late fifties and early sixties concerning their role and function in the African context.

The received wisdom at that time was that the universities served strictly utilitarian purposes: they were required primarily for the development of executive capacity, which would enable the new African States begin to function, while at the same time they contributed to the growth of an indigenous middle class, considered essential to the modernization process. This line of reasoning was dictated by the times, and had much to recommend it. It remains valid today, now that a major preoccupation is to roll back the disasters of SAP by reconstituting the university as an institution, so that it can continue to function as an agent of economic and social development. There can be no argument as to the practical aspects of this undertaking, which will involve not merely a “retooling” of the universities in terms of rebuilding infrastructure and refurbishing facilities, but also an overhaul of the entire system of higher education, in order to make them cost effective.

But it is just as important to re-energize our universities so as to enable them to reconnect with the academic and intellectual tradition that was supposed to be their inheritance at their foundation, but which they have not been able to sustain, much less consolidate. In this light, the dichotomy that was posited in earlier discussions between fundamental research and applied research, and the debates as to the opposition between them for African universities, can now be seen to be meaningless, for no serious form of applied research can disregard the fundamental principles on which such research is based. The academic ethos that has established the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake as the driving force of scholarship derives not from mere idealism but from a practical experience of the intimate connection between these two aspects of scientific activity. More generally, this ethos enshrines the university as the ideal locus for the unfettered exercise of thought and imagination.

This point leads to the larger question of the nature of the university, as a powerhouse of ideas. The discipline that is the perfect embodiment of this aspect of the university as an institution is of course that of Philosophy. Its relevance to the African situation has never been greater, for, as Gyekye has demonstrated, the concern of philosophy with fundamental principles constitutes it as a discipline essential to the process of reflection upon questions of communal existence that a society in transition like ours stands in dire need of.22 Thus, politics as the very framework of human activity comes directly within the purview of philosophy: the outstanding issues here concern the development and expansion of civil society as a countervailing force to the overbearing character that the State – with its associated development paradigm – has assumed in most parts of Africa. African reflection on these and other issues will work towards the elaboration of concepts and values appropriate to our own circumstances. One hardly needs to add that the condition for this is academic freedom, as the bedrock of all the other freedoms that a democratic society must guarantee to its citizens.23

It is this background that lends significance to philosophy in the context of the contemporary African experience, summed up admirably in this statement by the Cameroonian philosopher, Jean-Godefroy Bidima:

Africa is not merely the domain of misery, of dictators, of experimentations with varieties of fundamentalism, it is also an area of possibilities, a space where individuals raise their problems to the level of concept. Within it are posed the ethical problems of justice, political authority and legitimacy, of education, communication and religion. Philosophy becomes in this context not merely an academic pursuit but a commitment of the self, in which the African interrogates his becoming, his doubts in the confrontation with history.24

Within the intellectual perspective opened up by the comprehensive interrogation proposed by Bidima, philosophy can stake its claim to preeminence in our intellectual life as a form of sustained reflection on Science and its place in our society. This is a theme that has been highlighted by Marcien Towa and Paulin Hountondji, as part of their critique of ethnophilosophy. Hountondji himself has moved beyond this critique towards a reappraisal and a re-actualization, so to speak, of indigenous forms of ascertainable knowledge and of the technologies they enable. The interest of his project resides in the possibility it suggests of their integration within a rational system of positive science: in other words, of universalizing them, for it is within this comprehensive conceptual framework that an African reflection on science can hope to take on either theoretical or practical significance.25

To advocate a focusing of African thought on science in this way is to insist upon the essential role science and technology are destined to play in the shaping of Africa’s future, a recognition that, in order to be meaningful, needs to advance on a broader front than is implied by the superficial idea of “technology transfer.” A recognition of this role must also find expression in a steady and intense effort for the promotion of science at all levels of the educational system, the objective being to create the conditions for the full integration of science into life and consciousness on our continent.

Placed then at the apex of the educational system, the university presents itself as the presiding agency for raising the intellectual quotient of the African population, and its principal vocation in this direction can be defined as the incorporation of a scientific culture into our habits of mind, as an essential component of our modernity project. As a former Director General of UNESCO, René Maheu, has said, “Development is when science has become culture.”26

Given these considerations, we must now broaden the utilitarian conception of the university with which we’ve more or less been stuck, so that, as an institution, it can begin to function among us as the very center of our intellectual life, in order to fully come into its own. We must of course make allowance for the fact that, as with all human institutions everywhere, a university is made up of people who most of the time have no thought but for themselves, whose only preoccupation is to pursue their careers. But we have a right to expect that by its very constitution, the university in Africa will also become for us what it has proved to be in other societies, the seedbed of a responsible and committed intellectual elite, providing therefore unfettered scope for generating a new body of intellectual and cultural capital and affording us thereby the ground on which to establish the authority of our own discourse and systems of knowledge production. It is no exaggeration to assert that the destiny of the continent may well be premised on the development of the African university along the lines I have tried to evoke here. To see the university in Africa as what I’ve called a powerhouse of ideas is, quite legitimately, to invest immense hopes in the institution for the expansion of our intellectual horizons and the perfection of our moral universe.

The contemplative life entailed by the intellectual and moral function of the university must be given greater weight in our context, through forms of action that are geared towards the improvement of our society. In other words, the process of reflection has to serve as the mobilization of consciousness and as the arming of our collective will and resolve for building a new and better world in Africa. Thought and knowledge must serve as the foundation in our own minds for the tasks that await us in the outer world. But more than that, it will not be enough to conceive of possibilities (“penser le possible,” as Bidima puts it); we will have to act on the fruits of our thoughts. At this, the second level of reconstruction, the task is to define and implement a comprehensive program of African renewal. The terms of reference for this undertaking are clear enough, and they have been well defined in this comment, albeit in broad terms:

The search for stable and legitimate government, the quest for unity among heterogeneous societies, and the aspirations for economic attainment have been perennial themes since the end of the colonial era.27


As will have been evident from the foregoing, I am far from subscribing to the view that independence has been a poisoned gift, as some people would have us believe. At the very least, it has meant the recovery of the historical initiative which was denied us under colonialism, and that in itself is no small thing. What is more, any fair assessment of the African record must concede that it has not been one of utter failure everywhere, as it is now being asserted, for we were beginning to make progress in achieving the twin objectives of nation-building and economic development. Before the reverses that began in the seventies and eighties, we were on our way to providing a better life for our populations than they enjoyed under colonialism. But formal independence -– what Kwame Nkrumah termed “the political kingdom” -– was a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one, for African development., and it must be said that we have not done enough to merit a sense of achievement. What is more, we must still remain accountable for our failures, especially as regards the fundamental issue of the relation between political institutions and economic life.

This issue is central to the reflections of the Nigerian scholar, Claude Aké, in his work entitled Development and Democracy in Africa, published in 1998, shortly after his tragic death in an air crash. Aké argues that the energies of the ruling elite in post-independence Africa have been so absorbed by the struggle for power that this elite has never seriously confronted the requirements of economic development. According to him, the political factor has been the major obstacle to economic development. Thus, the issues of national integration and problems of governance and legitimacy first need to be resolved before Africa can hope to achieve sustained development. As he says:

The use of state power for accumulation, associated as it is with statism, monopoly power, and the interposition of coercion in the labor process, raised to new heights the premium on the capture of state power. (1998: 6)

The consequence of this state of affairs has also been described by Aké:

The state, in the sense of a public force or a truly public sphere, a commonwealth or res publica, hardly exists except in a few instances. In much of Africa, the public sphere is a contested space where strangers converge to appropriate for their interest groups whatever is on offer, including the power of the state. Every interest group is out for itself; each wants to appropriate and privatize state power to its own benefit. (1998: 94)

This situation has contributed to the pathologies of governance that we have witnessed in Africa. In general, the political problem in Africa derives not simply from the fragility of our institutions as experienced in the recent past but from a perception by the majority of citizens of the inauthentic character of the State, despite a formidable and often repressive apparatus, what a political scientist has called "the Leviathan" State in Africa.28 In these circumstances, the alienation of the general population from the State cannot be a cause for surprise. The challenge today is to overcome this estrangement of the people to the State, to reconcile us with the polis which, ideally, should everywhere embody our collective existence.

To achieve this, we must clearly work with a new conception of the State, one that breaks totally with the authoritarian tradition of the colonial regime, and which draws upon the very principles of liberal democracy that the western nations themselves have embraced. We need to remind ourselves that, as the historical evidence indicates, the democratic ideal is not a natural inheritance of these people and their rulers, but has been won through bitter struggle. The concept of democracy relates primarily to ideals and methods of governance; it is thus first and foremost a political concept. It concerns the establishment of appropriate institutions for the orderly conduct of national affairs. There is obviously room for debate about the precise forms these should take, but the one criterion by which they may be judged is how far they respect the fundamental principle of legitimacy, how far they ensure the responsibility of governors to the governed.29

This is not the place to put forward specific proposals for political reform, but I think I ought to give substance to my remarks by indicating the possible directions in which such reform might go. The main interest of what has been taken to be the democratic revival in Africa has been the effort to address by constitutional and legal means the most obvious failure of the political system in Africa, namely that related to the orderly transfer of power. Another major preoccupation has been with maintenance of the rule of law. The attention devoted to these questions is fully justified, but it is useful to draw attention to one of the major factors which has contributed to this failure, namely inadequate representation. It seems to me that the most important piece of political reform we must now contemplate in all our States is decentralization. In practical terms, it must be an axiom of a democratic regime that, in most matters, the local population can be entrusted with its own affairs. It is safe to assume that an administrative arrangement which enables decision-making at the local level, and is related to the economic activity and interests of closely integrated communities, can only advance the cause of democracy. Properly organized, local government gives visible form to legitimacy at those levels where it counts most, and the autonomy it ensures can contribute to easing ethnic tensions that seem endemic to our nations.30 Such a structure will enable direct oversight by the people of their elected representatives and local government officers, thus promoting a greater sense of responsibility on the part of the latter and popular involvement in governance. Moreover, it will help to restore the social code and political morality which governed conduct in traditional communities, and which seem to have lost their force in the modern political and social dispensation.31

The process of political reform should also afford us the opportunity for innovation stemming from our cultural experience. Thus, we might follow up Kwasi Wiredu’s idea of translating our traditional political values to the modern sphere, by providing for the representation in various ways and at various levels of those social categories to which our pre-colonial traditional polities often accorded special recognition: women, age-groups, professional associations, and so on. But the existence of formal institutions may not be enough to guarantee a genuine experience of democracy, for these institutions may sometimes function to provide a framework for what a commentator has called “illiberal democracy.”32 At issue, however, is not just the travesty of democratic functions but the creation of a participatory democracy that has eluded the so-called advanced societies of the West, in all of which the term democracy merely designates a formal system of delegation which does not involve an active and continuing involvement of the population in running the affairs of the state.33 For we must bear in mind that democracy is not only a question of politics in the narrow sense; it encompasses the relation to each other of various aspects of the communal and national life. It is above all a question of values.

The full dimension of this understanding of democracy has been expressed by a Nigerian scholar, Simeon Ilesanmi with his notion of "dialogic politics" which, according to his definition, "proposes a democratic framework marked by accountability, public conversation, mutual respect, and the spirit of humility, as one promising way of confronting the challenge of pluralism and the attendant fragmentation of moral meaning in public life."34 These are recognizably the values that go into the making of what Henri Bergson designated as “the open society,” a term later made current by Karl Popper. We shall return to this question to touch upon its implications for economic development. The main point for now is the bearing of the concept of democracy as a foundation for the collective consciousness. It is essential for the values of democracy to be so profoundly internalized by all the individuals in the national community as to form a binding element of the collective life, and therefore a constitutive part of the general culture. The operative notion of culture here is anthropological rather than aesthetic; it relates specifically to the dynamics of social interaction and political participation; it should be understood not as the attribute and privilege of a social minority, but as a quality informing the general life and consciousness of the national community. This is of course the notion espoused by Matthew Arnold, which seeks to establish culture as a function of the democratic process.35

These, then, are some of the issues we must now attend to, as we consider what appears to be the drive, slow and uncertain as it may be, towards a democratic revival in Africa. The very fact that this revival has to take place in the framework of multiethnic, multilingual and, to a certain extent, multicultural States means that any effort to strengthen democratic institutions must aim, as its primary objective, to build trust and to create conditions for national aims explicitly elaborated and agreed upon in a spirit of understanding, and destined to be implemented for the common good. This seems to me to be the very definition of “consensual democracy” as advocated by Wiredu, who argues its appropriateness to Africa, since it derives from our heritage of values.


The democratic ideal cannot, however, be considered in isolation from the material context of life. It cannot be emphasized enough that a vital connection exists between economic well-being, social progress, and a stable political order: the gravity of the African situation is enough to remind us of these commonplaces of political analysis. Economic satisfaction is not merely a means for the legitimation of the political order, with all the dilemmas this implies, but serves as material condition for an enhanced quality of life. In this sense, economic policy subserves a particular vision of society.

Ideologies of national liberation in Africa were invariably linked to socialist ideology. Today, there is widespread disillusionment with this ideology, for in practice, socialism has too often turned out to be a primitive form of state capitalism, marred by gross inefficiencies and corruption. But we must ask whether the capitalist approach to development now being urged upon us –- an approach based upon the neoliberal notion of the market –- is an appropriate one for Africa. Is our model of development to be the complex economies of western industrialized countries, oriented towards high consumption, calling therefore for very high rates of growth in order to meet constantly rising expectations? Are we to accept the systemic inequities that are built into the neoliberal system in which special interests take precedence over the general good? Is it possible to consider and implement an alternative model, one that has as its objective the creation of a functional and productive economic system conjoined with an egalitarian society marked by an equitable distribution of social benefits?

It is in this perspective that we must consider the current economic debate in Africa, with its focus on the question of privatization. This implies a minimal role for the State, hurled down as it were from the commanding heights of our various national economies. But is there any validity to the assumption linking privatization with prosperity? In our situation, where privatization will almost inevitably lead to the control of our economies by foreign interests, has the idea of national economies become irrelevant? Does the state no longer matter in an era of globalization? More precisely, cannot a case still be made for the kind of mixed economy that, at least until recent times, proved successful in certain western countries, such as France? More broadly, is there still room in Africa for a new and original approach, a via media that is able to overcome the disabilities inherent in the bureaucratic direction of a socialized economy while ensuring real productivity that makes available to the State the resources it requires in order to assume its moral responsibility for the welfare of its citizens? The dilemma here is to strike a satisfactory balance between economic efficiency and social justice.36

These and other questions need to be confronted at this time, especially in view of the ideological alignment of the IMF and the World Bank with the forces of the free market, and the enormous power wielded by these institutions in the management of national economies of the so-called South. But whatever answers we come up with, in whichever direction we wish to take our national economies, on whatever scale we conceive them, we cannot dispense with the discipline required by the culture of modernity. Our commitment to economic development must translate in immediate terms into a developed sense of organization, sustained by those qualities of mind and behavior on which the technical execution of economic programs depends.

This prompts a consideration of what seems to be the most intractable problem of economic policy in Africa, namely the problem of corruption, which pervades the entire fabric of public life in most of our societies and has proved perhaps the most formidable barrier to the implementation of economic programs. The diversion of public funds to private ends has had the doubly negative effect of not only elevating undeserving individuals to heights of material prosperity -– at the same time reinforcing social inequalities –- but also depriving the nation and especially the humble communities within it of resources vital for the amelioration of their living conditions. This has undeniably contributed to the steadily worsening state of poverty in Africa. It is time for us to break out of this vicious circle and to establish a deontology for the principled regulation of public life, sustained by the most severe legal sanctions of offenders. The struggle against corruption will not be won by an appeal to vain moralism, but by a determined effort of reform that will draw its active force from the vigilance of the people.

Only the most disciplined adherence to rigorous standards of conception and performance, sustained by moral probity, will do in order to meet the challenges ahead. These challenges are not to be underestimated. Talking about priorities seems pointless, for everything needs to be done; the new Africa still has to be constructed from the ground up. Everywhere the infrastructure remains threadbare, so that transport and communications are uncertain. Energy supply is inadequate even for common purposes, so that the environment is being degraded as our peasantry forages desperately for firewood. In the area of healthcare, we still have to put up with a variety of diseases that a determined immunization program could hold in check, if not totally eradicate. Primary care and public health have received none of the concentrated attention they deserve.

Here, we must come back to the problem of AIDS that I evoked earlier as a factor of the negative discourse on Africa. The response that consists in denying the problem has been conditioned by a sense of guilt or shame that is totally misapplied. The simple fact is that AIDS is now a universal problem, which is surely proof that we are not more immoral or lascivious than people in other parts of the world. The only responsible position on this question must be an informed consideration of the factors that have contributed to the prevalence and persistence of the disease on our continent: the lower resistance to the virus -– which may well be a sign of its importation -– and the lack of medical resources combined with the extreme poverty of our populations, and the poor understanding among them of the nature of the disease, leading to irrational and often inhuman reactions. It is one of the greatest tragedies of our contemporary experience that our universities have had no role whatsoever in the investigation of perhaps the most serious epidemic our continent has ever known.

Another area of priority is agriculture, which presents an acute problem having to do with our very livelihood, as we become ever more hostage to external producers in the matter of food production. Our peasant farmers have become less and less able to sustain competition from more efficient producers abroad. Above all, we continue to rely on the export of raw materials for our national incomes, and are failing to develop productive capacity necessary to satisfy even our immediate needs. The threat posed by genetic engineering to indigenous crops has moreover compounded the problem of agricultural production in Africa. We are witnessing the disappearance of local varieties in the face of a relentless march of newly manufactured breeds imported from the developed world, which is ruthlessly stacking the cards in its own favor.

To evoke these factors is not only to recognize the gravity of Africa’s economic crisis but also to stress the paradox that underlies this crisis: the fact that the human competence that we have developed and that ought to be available to Africa cannot be placed at the service of its populations. To set right these inadequacies and anomalies constitutes therefore the comprehensive objective of the reconstruction that we must undertake. And for this effort, we shall need not only a more responsible leadership than we have been vouchsafed in the past, but also a more demanding followership that is prepared to hold this leadership to account.

This is one of the lessons that the transformation of the political culture in Latin America in the past decade or so holds out for us in Africa: The re-emergence of a sense of responsibility towards the people, going with a new radicalism on the part of its most prominent leaders, has been propelled and even dictated by the movement to the center of political life of vast sectors of the population that had been excluded from participation in the affairs of the State in virtually all the Latin American countries. It is this that accounts for a new energy of political expression and for the renewal of hope that we are now witnessing in that part of the world.37


At the end of his essay The Trouble with Nigeria (1984), Chinua Achebe voices this lament, in which the note of anguish is unmistakable: “We have lost the twentieth century. Are we bent on seeing that our children also lose the twenty-first?” The implications of Achebe’s cry are even more serious today than when it was first uttered. In the past half-century, the developed world has moved ahead on two fronts that are having a serious impact upon our present and will have incalculable consequences for our future. We must now reckon with the profound impact of the computer/digital revolution upon industry and the economy, and its transformation of the whole range of contemporary life and awareness. Even more ominous will be the effect of that other revolution occasioned by genetic engineering.38

With these developments, the odds against us have become compounded, as it were. After fifty years of independence, Africa is not yet integrated in any meaningful sense into the industrial/technological age, yet we are assailed on all sides by the pressures of a new world order, given momentum by the new technologies that are shaping what Daniel Bell long ago called the postindustrial age, and which Jean-François Lyotard has reinvented as the postmodern.

In these circumstances, the case for modernization becomes compelling, and it is no exaggeration to say that, for us, it is now quite simply a matter of survival. For our continent finds itself menaced anew. The negative image of Africa has been dragged out of the colonial closet, giving rise to a resurgence of racist discourse and attitudes in the West, buttressed by media portrayals of a continent in disarray. If Paul Johnson and his cohorts appear to be persuasive, it is because the cultural and moral arguments we marshaled against colonialism are no longer sufficient to validate our claim to dignity, or to afford us protection from revamped schemes of exploitation. And if, as Professor Dunn affirms, we are incapable of looking after ourselves, the conclusion is inescapable that we have to be consigned once more to the tender care of the white races, who will once again have all the liberty to dispose of us at their will, and exploit our labor and resources for their own benefit. It is obvious that the theme of the new discourse of African denigration, barely disguised in academic afropessimism, is once more that of the white man’s burden. It amounts to nothing less than the preparation of the ideological ground for our re-colonization.39

It appears in this discourse that Africa is not so marginal that western countries can afford to be indifferent to our resources, especially the mineral wealth about which, in any case, their aerial surveys provide them abundant information. Even without being subjected anew to direct colonization, our situation within the so-called new world order renders us especially vulnerable to the unrestrained power of hegemonies that have emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a world where moral arguments no longer hold, where consideration is accorded strictly on the basis of economic performance and technological achievement, we cannot expect to receive the attention and respect that is now bestowed, however grudgingly, upon the newly emergent economies of Asia.40

But it is time to shove aside dejection and all the other disabling emotions, and begin to put our house in order. We must look around us and take to heart the sneers, the putdowns, the insults, the condescension and the contempt of our detractors, and take them as spurs to a renewed commitment to the welfare of our continent. The tide may be turning for the better in Africa. Despite the vicissitudes it has gone through, the democratization movement that has been making its way through the continent since the early 1990s attests to a new impulse for reform. This suggests a groundswell moving Africa towards a new internal order. It is essential that this new order be marked by a reprise of the modernity project.

We stand at the threshold of new possibilities. It is this potential that Kwame Appiah evokes when, in his influential book In My Father's House, he proposes a new conception of panafricanism as essentially a pragmatic affair. The imperatives of the modern world compel the kind of practical cooperation between Africans, such as that outlined in the Lagos plan of Action and other documents and protocols of the OAU – and of its successor the African Union (AU) -– that will give concrete meaning to the continental solidarity that the Pan-African ideology was originally intended to promote.

Appiah opens up a perspective for mobilizing the energies and resources of Africa for a renewed endeavor of self realization, while avoiding the pitfalls of an aggressive racism and narrow nationalism. Appiah's sustained reappraisal of Du Bois in his book is intended to delink race from questions of culture and concepts of identity; for him, there is simply no need to invoke racial or cultural bonds as a function of African destiny. Appiah's position has a deep moral import related to his preoccupation with what he calls, in Kantian terms, "an ethical universal." But while his position is understandable, it has to be recognized that questions of race and ethnicity cannot altogether be divorced from concepts of identity. This "natural" factor, reinforced by the common experience of the race, has determined the cycle of reciprocities between Africans and African Americans, which, despite the ambivalence that has often marked their attitudes to each other, gave meaning to panafricanism at its inception.

The new panafricanism cannot be a bloodless affair. In a world that remains harsh and forbidding for black people everywhere, we still need to apprehend the image of Africa as the affective link between Africans on the continent and African descendants in the Diaspora, invoking this image as the basis for soliciting their collaboration in the project of African Reconstruction. This project calls for nothing less than the promotion of an Africa refurbished as regards its physical condition, reinvented as a polity, reanimated in all its organic endowments and its intellectual and moral resources, and thus infused with new capacities to assume the burden of modernity. In other words, the Pan?Africanism of W.E.B. Du Bois and Kwame Nkrumah, which envisioned an Africa free and self-assured, is still a relevant concept for us, reinterpreted as it must be in our own time as an ideology of African interests, bent towards the formidable task of repositioning Africa and its Diaspora with dignity in the world.


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1. This is the same Paul Johnson who wrote “Colonialism’s Back -– and Not a Moment Too Soon” (1993), frankly proposing the domination by white masters of non-white races, by deploying what seemed long discredited racist arguments.

2. New York Times Review of Books, October 30, 1994

3. Thus, the special number on Africa of the trendy journal Granta was filled with atrocious photographs of the victims of the Rwanda genocide, giving the impression that this is all there is to know or that is significant about the continent.

4. The association of Africa with disease has taken on a new dimension with the AIDS epidemic. As Susan Sontag remarks: “AIDS is thought to have started in the ‘dark continent’ then spread to Haiti, then to the United States and Europe.... It is understood as a tropical disease: another infestation from the so-called Third World” (1990: 138-9). The point is further developed in a New York Times article February 4, 1998, p. A14, "Study of HIV Family Tree Places Origins a Decade Earlier" -– consequently in Africa. See also Time, February 16, 1988: "When did AIDS Begin?" p. 64; the inset, captioned "Out of Africa" provides the anticipated answer. There has been an effort to counter the unilateral attribution of AIDS to Africa; see for example Geskter 1995. The Afrikaaner writer, Rian Malan, has also contested the statistics that are routinely presented to indicate the prevalence of AIDS in South Africa (“Author claims Aids figures based on false surveys,” Guardian, December 21, 2003). My remarks here are not intended to minimize the seriousness of the epidemic in Africa -– a question to which I return later in this article -– but to highlight its deployment as part of a global symbolism of denigration of Africa.

5. Thus, in his review of Zakes Mda’s Heart of Redness (“Apocalypse When?” New York Review of Books, January 16, 2003, 29-32), Norman Rush reduces Africa to AIDS as literary trope; for him, the epidemic must be considered the only concern of the African writer at this time. Apart from the explicitly patronizing tone of his remark, we must ask what gives an American critic the right to dictate to an African writer what his subject matter should be. Furthermore, what would western literature have been like if it had been focused exclusively on the great epidemics of the past, such as the plague or tuberculosis (“consumption”)?

6. In the case of Basil Davidson (1992), this has not precluded a critical analysis of Africa’s problems in the post-colonial period, the complexities of which are stressed as much as the human failures that have compounded them.

7. Duncan 1990; Kaplan 1994 and his ensuing book (1996); Berkeley 1996.

8. Dunn 1993: 75.

9. Rieff 1998: 39.

10. This comment applies especially to George Ayitteh’s work (1998), which, for all its candor, seems to me to lack the intellectual rigor and discrimination of Davidson’s work (1992).

11. It is to this rather banal truth of the African situation, constantly overlooked in the western media, that Chester Crocker, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Reagan administration, tried to draw the attention of the American public in an Op?ed piece in USA Today. See also "Doomsterism," Paul Kennedy's review of Kaplan's book cited above, in New York Review of Books, September 19, 1996.

12. For the moral significance of violence in Homer’s epic, see Simone Weil 1962. My remarks are directly concerned with the content of the epic, not with bard’s attitude to his material, which can be interpreted as being highly ambivalent, demonstrating a tension between his deep compassion for human subjects of the tale and the heroic ethos on which it is based. For a reappraisal of the idealized image of ancient Greece, see André Bernard, Guerre et violence dans la Grèce antique. Paris: Hachette, 1999.

13. Consider the facts. The events of 1789 swiftly led to violent dissension among the parties, and to regicide and civil war. Robespierre’s dictatorship, backed by the Terror, was a natural consequence of the condition of France during this period. The rise of Napoleon after Thermidor resulted in a short-lived empire, marked by interminable wars. The Restoration of 1815 was followed by two more revolutions, that of 1830 which brought in a new dynasty, and another in 1848, which ushered in another republic, overthrown four years later by the coup d’état of Louis Napoleon, who imposed a dictatorship and instituted the Second Empire. This ended with his fall in 1870, amid the confusion of national humiliation and the desperate uprising of the Commune. It was not until the establishment of the 3rd Republic in 1875 that the French were to experience any semblance of continuity in their forms of political organization. Even then, the constant threats to the Republic, beginning with the Boulanger affair, demonstrate that political stability was always a problem in France, and there are those who have argued that this problem has not been altogether resolved, even with the establishment of the 5th Republic by Charles de Gaulle. It is not without interest to observe that the 5th Republic itself came into being as a result of a coup d’état in 1958.

14. See Mamdani 1996 and Hountondji 1973.

15. A new intellectual tradition is now developing out of the social criticism of African writers and academics, such as Chinua Achebe, Claude Ake, George Ayitteh, Achille Mbebe, Celestin Monga, Wole Soyinka, Kwasi Wiredu, Teodros Kiros and others listed in my bibliography. See also Politique Africaine, No 51. Octobre, 1993, special number, Intellectuels africains

16. The theme was given memorable expression in narrative and symbolic terms in Cheik Hamidou Kane’s celebrated novel, L’Aventure ambigüe (Ambiguous Adventure).

17. Kabou 1991. I have focused on this book here as symptomatic of a certain mood of despair, which is not to deny that debate on the concept of development is necessary. See Zein-Elabdin 1998.

18. For expression of the anti-modern approach, see Chinweizu et al. 1980. As Wole Soyinka has pointed out, what the traditionalism propounded by Chinweizu and his friends amounts to is nothing more than a perpetuation of the western stereotype of Africa; see Soyinka 1988.

19. For a more extensive critique of Mudimbe’s philosophical project, see Masolo 1994.

20. For a probing analysis of the sociological and moral implications of postmodernism, see Tallis 1997.

21. Habermas 1984/87 and 1985. We cannot of course disregard entirely the Eurocentrism of Habermas and other western intellectuals. The claims so often made for the West as embodiment of the universal take on the habitual forms of cultural arrogance, bordering on intolerance, in the work of Alain Finkielkraut (1995). We might note here the important distinction proposed by Kwame Gyekye (1998) between what he calls “essential universalism” and “contingent universalism” (30-33). The question of universalism, in terms of communication between minds, conceived as biologically founded and therefore accessible across cultures, is discussed by Kwasi Wiredu (1996), esp. 1-41.

22. See Gyekye 1998, Introduction.

23. See Zeleza 1997.

24. Bidima 1995: 123 (my translation). In addition to works by Gyekye, Wiredu and Zein-Elabdin already cited, see also Oladipo 1992. On the question of civil society, see D. Irele 1996, which examines the African situation in light of the ideas of Habermas and Tester.

25. Towa 1971; Hountondji 1983.

26. Quoted in Fofana 1997: 183.

27.Lewis 1998, Introduction, p 1.

28. Gallaghy 1986.

29. The historian Owen Chadwick has remarked, “We shall not understand liberalism unless we recognize that it was always a moral doctrine.” (1975: 46). He goes on to link liberalism specifically to humanism when, discussing Comte, he observes: “‘Humanity’ is a personification of the high potentialities of intelligence and morality in human nature” (239). Views such as these must become canons of faith in a new, democratic Africa.

30. See Amselle 1999.

31. Peter Ekeh’s well-known essay, “Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa” (1975) is a theoretical statement of the diversified responses to the public sphere in African communities due to the colonial experience. Achebe’s novel, A Man of the People, explores this phenomenon as part of its narrative development.

32. Zakaria 1997. The outstanding example he gives is, predictably, that of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

33. For a fuller discussion of the limitations of formal democracy that operates in western contemporary societies, see Raby 2006.

34. Ilesanmi 1997: xxix.

35. It is of interest to note that the Constitution of the Republic of Benin makes the democratic education of its citizens a responsibility of the government. Article 40 of the 1992 Constitution stipulates as follows: “The State has a duty to ensure the propagation and the teaching of the Constitution, of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter of the Rights of Man and of Peoples of 1981, as well as all the international instruments relative to Human Rights that have been duly ratified.”

36. The following observation by a writer in another context sums up the question admirably: “The challenge is to democratize prosperity without sacrificing economic dynamism, every bit of which is needed to raise incomes, living standards and fulfillable hopes” (Beatty 1999: 106). For a spirited refutation of economic ideas associated with the concept of globalization, see Galbraith 1999.

37. See The Reawakening of Revolution in Latin America. Special number of Socialism and Democray. Vol. 19, No.3, November 2005.

38. Michio Kaku’s futuristic scenario in How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century (1997) outdoes Alvin Toffler in extravagance, but the book provides a good idea of what these developments hold in store for humanity in the near future.

39. See, in addition to Paul Johnson’s (1993) article, Pfaff 1995, and Helman & Ratner 1992-93.

40. It is this truth that has caused so much dejection in Africa as to generate a mood of self?doubt, a frame of mind that seems to be shared by some African Americans, blocked in their effort to identify with Africa. George B.N. Ayitteh’s Africa in Chaos exemplifies this mood among Africans, while Keith Richburg’s Out of America is the prime example of the African American reaction to the denigration of Africa, the embarrassment and inferiority complex induced in Diaspora blacks by what is regarded as the hopeless condition of the ancestral continent. Richburg specifically contrasts the material deprivation of Africa to the prosperity of the so?called Asian tigers, using this as a standard for both African and African American achievement. For an intelligent corrective to what must be considered the hasty and even vapid generalizations of these two writers, see Chabal 1996.