Modern African Women Versus Traditional African Women: A Reply to Simphiwe Sesanti's "African Philosophy for African Women's Leadership: An Urgent Project for the African Renaissance".

AuthorOmotoyinbo, Femi Richard

Introduction: Simphiwe's Key Claim and Arguments

Simphiwe's key claim is about the restoration of African women's leadership; that women's leadership (liberation), which should be part of the African Renaissance Project (hereinafter ARP), is realizable through historical and cultural ideals concerning women celebration as informed by traditional African philosophy. His paper suggests that the restoration of women's leadership is important for (1) the liberation of modern African women from patriarchal dominance nourished by falsified history, and for (2) the perfect reclamation of African culture. Before going further, I will briefly explore points or arguments raised in his paper.

The paper begins with the difficulty for women to gain leadership role in and through the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and the biased linkage of the challenge to African tradition and culture, considered as fundamentally patriarchal. Simphiwe rejects claims that African culture is patriarchal and a cause of the women's exclusion in leadership. For Simphiwe (like other Africanists), the patriarchal system in the ANC and Africa generally is an establishment of European colonialism, and it is unconnected to African culture or tradition. He further cites instances of African women celebration/leadership at both social and individual levels before the European invasion. Simphiwe argues, "African history demonstrates that women were free to participate in public life to their full capacity"; (1) nevertheless, the doctrines of Christianity and colonialism caused the (political and economic) exclusion of African women.

The third section of the paper shows how Christian doctrines promote the exclusion of African women by making God masculine, especially the creation example that presents woman as originating from man and even guilty for the fall of man (humanity) as reiterated by St. Paul. (2) The composition of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ or the tradition of counting only men among beneficiaries of his collective miracles could also buttress the view that Christianity is male-dominant. These would withstand possible retorts to Simphiwe that the creation example is an Old Testament issue and less connected with Christianity, which honors the woman as 'the mother of God'. Nevertheless, Simphiwe's examples remain apt to contrast the European masculine identification of God with the usually neuter depiction of God in the traditional African setting.

The fourth and fifth sections of Simphiwe's paper focus on colonialism as a cause of women's political exclusion and economic exclusion respectively. Politically, Simphiwe argues that the European colonial policies disregard women's participation in leadership roles. Since the European political culture is predominantly patriarchal, the culture was replicated in the African colonies and only men had access to develop their political capacity. For Simphiwe, the economic exclusion of African women begins with the disruption in land ownership and repression of land inheritance. Land became a commercial commodity acquirable only by the head of the family (i.e., the man). Women, therefore, cannot possess land either by inheritance or through commercial means.

In consistency with his Afrocentric approach, Simphiwe uses historical instances of the AmaZulus, the Queens, Queen mothers, and Queen sister to present the effaced reality that African culture has much to offer (modern African) women since it is fundamental to African culture that the woman is sacred and deserving celebration. Despite this approach, Simphiwe concludes with a careful avoidance of ethnocentrism, as he acknowledges that not everything is perfect about African culture; but the ARP should incorporate the good part, specifically that which celebrates African women.

Critical Review of Simphiwe's Claim and Arguments

Actually, Simphiwe's paper has three major elements: (1) the problem [exclusion of African women], (2) the cause [European Christianity and colonialism], (3) and proposed solution [what African culture has to offer]. These three elements will guide the following critical focus on the potential limitations of his paper. Here are the four potential limitations: (1) loose ties between article body and the title, (2) limited or even biased coverage of the African continent, (3) shallow assessment of African culture and history regarding women celebration and leadership, and misidentification of the major problem.

Article Body and the Title: Loose Ties

Whereas the paper is (broadly) a call to action seeking the application of the proposed solution (i.e., the third element); information provided on the third element is quite thin in contrast to the four pages dedicated to the second element. (3) The body of the paper has loose ties with its title because of the lack of in-depth presentation of the core part of the paper as represented in the title. For example, Simphiwe argues that women celebration is part of traditional African culture and history, but the 'philosophy' (which seems to be ethnophilosophy) behind such celebration, its modern relevance, and the mechanisms to integrate the philosophy in modern context are unclear. Going by the title: "African Philosophy for African Women's Leadership: An Urgent Project for the African Renaissance", the reader does...

To continue reading

Request your trial