AuthorWariboko, Nimi

If your philosophy fails you in the face of the African predicament, your philosophy is poor.*

The interpretation of a pleromatic philosophy is an act of (a) uncovering it as a palimpsest of earlier ideas, even as one finds the philosopher's voice and walks with her on her solitary path to wisdom; (b) dialogical interaction with its deep structure: both found and created. Scholars have always interpreted other scholars, in various ways. The point is, however, to make legible their deep structures of thought, and (c) going beyond the "letters" of the conclusions of her work to grasp the key dimensions or recover the creative impulses that she missed in the actualization of her thought.**


What becomes of philosophy--I mean African philosophy--if the predicament of Africa is placed at the center of its inquiry? This essay explores the conceptual framework, interpretative logic, and discursive practices of a Nigerian philosopher, Adeshina Afolayan of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, whose body of work responds to this question. By framing philosophical inquiry around the African predicament, he points out the grave inadequacies of philosophy in Africa and the potential for its transformation into a major interlocutor for human flourishing on the continent. (1) Taking the quest for overcoming this predicament as the starting point for African philosophy allows Afolayan to interrogate the impact of the discipline on the everyday life of Africans, ground the connections between Africa and philosophy, and generate an original assemblage of concepts to articulate a new vision for human flourishing.

In Afolayan's scholarship we encounter creative and analytical thought that speaks to contemporary debates about the conceptualization of African development. His burgeoning philosophy, produced between 2002 and 2020 and distilled into a thousand pages, has been directed at the explication of five key subject matters that are highly relevant in postcolonial Nigeria. His is a provocative turn to the poverty of development, to the crisis of Africa's self-identity, its quest for modernity, and the disorder of the postcolonial order--the fundaments of African predicament in his oeuvre--as the primary symbols, generative sources, and articulatory architectonics for philosophical reflection. It is, indeed, a turn to the people (demos)--for his thought stands in and stands out of the people--and their existential conditions. In the excruciating existential conditions of Africans, Afolayan's philosophy lives and moves. His scholarship is a bold attempt to turn philosophy into a ball-head emancipatory project, whose embrace must swing wide open the door of liberatory development for Africans. Afolayan's scholarly endeavor is directed at correlating the problems of Africa with the resources in African philosophy. For him, both the African postcolony and African philosophy are missing something in their individual cores. They are circulating or structured around a void. They lack the power to address or satisfy the fundamental task of promoting human flourishing. In particular, African philosophy is as empty of power as the statues of Greek gods which no longer bend the knees of devotees of the gods. The deep grooves of his scholarship are structured around how to precisely identify this "lack" and repair it.

There is a certain emptiness in African philosophy or in the African post-colony that traumatizes. Afolayan's scholarship portrays the void that this absence of spirit creates. The void that Afolayan denotes reminds one of the emptiness evoked by Romanian artist Albert Gyorgy's sculpture Melancholie (Figure 1). This is a figure of a man sitting on a bench, slumped over, with a giant hole as his core. The hollowness portrays the massive hole created by grief when we lose a loved one. For Gyorgy, the massive hole at the center of the figure denotes the abysmal void he felt when he lost his wife.

The close reading of Afolayan's philosophical publications left me with a sentiment like the effect on me of Gyorgy's sculpture. I got the unmistakable feeling that the heart, soul, or spirit of either African philosophy or the African postcolony has been devoured by the imps of imperialism and of traumas generated by the crises of self-identity.

The combined weight of a thousand pages of Afolayan's philosophical corpus comes down to this one point: the African postcolony and African philosophy are "spiritless." The curriculum for philosophical education in Africa decidedly does not represent an African philosophical framework that speaks to Africa's indigenous, colonial, and postcolonial realities. He writes: "The implication here is straightforward: teachers of philosophy in [African] universities teach a philosophy curriculum that is grossly out of touch with their immediate realities and sociocultural dynamics." (2) His turn to focus on the African predicament as the starting point of philosophy is structured around his desire to breathe spirit into African philosophy so it can become the living soul in the African body (body politic). Afolayan's philosophy makes visible African bodies (physical, textual, and sociopolitical) in pain, in melancholy. His body of work is a system of philosophical analysis, critique, and deep meditation on the body in pain. His body of work is simultaneously an analysis of the physical suffering of the body in pain and a body of his scholarship bursting out from the forehead of its androgynous parental body in pain.

The African body that captures Afolayan's gaze is postcolonial. This is the framework of rule and subjection, colonial rationality, material practices, symbols, and more that holds Africans under the captivity of violence, disorder, the crisis of self-identity and self-interpretation, and poverty. Postcoloniality for him is

a complex motif that persistently confronts... Africans with the question of agency, identity and development as well as the persistent possibility of alternative material, intellectual and cultural configurations around these issues. The postcolonial challenge, therefore, is that of facilitating the emancipatory project embedded in decolonization but which, like decolonization itself, stands arrested... . I am not sure, as we are wont to say, whether it takes little reflection to see the place and role of philosophy in this postcolonial challenge. But philosophy matters in the postcolonial and its attempt at achieving emancipation from colonialism in all its forms. Since it cannot afford to be pretentious or playful, philosophy in a postcolonial context cannot afford theoretical playfulness or complacency. (3)

The task of philosophy is to show the pathway out of this entrapment. But African philosophers--especially Nigerian philosophers he named as homo academicus Nigerianus--have not paid adequate attention to this duty. (4) Their so-called theoretically sophisticated philosophies, written to compare themselves with themselves, are at best only the last beautiful veil that covers the specter of extreme poverty that haunts Africans. (5) His abiding attention to this emancipatory task, engaging the populace in philosophy and eschewing "theoretical playfulness" that only thrives in the rarified air of the seminar rooms, led him to develop a philosophy that I will call demosophy (demos/common people + sophia/wisdom or knowledge). I use this term to describe a self-correcting method of properly applying philosophical reason coded in a popular, democratically accessible discourse to resolve national problems and undergird relentless efforts to cast a vision for human flourishing in an egalitarian community. This is a philosophy that is deliberately demotic in character and conscious of its role in human life as a site for the conception and discussion of the key human values by which a good social order and episteme could be constructed and sustained.

This paradigm of philosophy is not without its problems or tensions. One is compelled to ask: Has the configuration of philosophy as presented by Afolayan not conflated everyday philosophy of governance with professional philosophy? (6) Is philosophizing for emancipation the only valid way of doing philosophy in Africa? Are philosophers in Africa who can afford "theoretical playfulness" not genuinely African? How does Afolayan handle differences? Has he reduced philosophy to social transformation and identified it with only the just ordering of society? In this reduction, how does the "other" to his program of philosophy survive? How should the irreducible presence of the other retune or reorient Afolayan's philosophical praxis? Will he allow the "other philosophy" which he rejects to retain its "otherness"--its particularity and self? Or is it reduced to some projection, caricature, and the ethical domestication of the other? (7) Is Afolayan's philosophy capable of emerging into a new, authentic African philosophy in its encounter with the alterity of the other, with the uncanny strangeness of neighboring philosophies? These are some of the questions we will address in this essay on the contemporary task of African philosophy as understood by Afolayan.

We have just completed the survey of the territory of Afolayan's philosophy. Let us proceed to map the terrain as our next job at hand; after that we will execute a structural examination of its mansion. In this mansion, there are many rooms, and I will take time to give you a guided tour of some of them. While at it, I will seek out and identify the "spirit" that dwells in the mansion, that is, the soul (Geist) that inhabits his philosophical constructions. In engaging Afolayan's work along these three dimensions, I will follow the trail of his thinking as it folds, enfolds, and unfolds implicitly through his publications. The goal is to regain or uncover the creative impulse that he missed in the actualization of his thought, "to connect to what was...

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