It doesn’t happen very often, but now and again one comes across a book that is really transformative. An author who simply changes the narrative and argues so persuasively there is really little more to be said on the subject. Olufemi Taiwo’s “Against Decolonisation – Taking African Agency Seriously” is one such author and this is one such book.
Professor Taiwo, a Nigerian who teaches African Political Thought at Cornell University, is a subtle and complex author. But his aim is simple: to take the call for decolonisation seriously.
Taiwo’s arguments are angry, articulate and devastating. Like the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen’s story – the Emperor’s New Clothes – all that is left once you have read this book is and wonderment that anyone ever took ideas of decolonisation seriously.
This is not because Taiwo ignores what colonisation did to Africa, but because he assesses its current impact rather than remaining trapped in the past. This is his argument:
“It does not mean a denial of the impact of colonialism on the life, times and thoughts of the colonised. But it surely means, and I cannot overemphasise this enough, refusing to define the colonised strictly by the colonial experience, however profound colonialism’s impact may have been on them.”
As he rightly points out, to believe that Africa is trapped forever in a colonial intellectual and material universe denies Africa any agency. “The importance and the agency of the ex-colonised cannot be overstressed,” he argues.
Take, for example, the history of political systems under which Africans have lived. As the professor points out these range from absolute monarchies, Morocco, Ethiopia and Swaziland (now Eswatini), to a range of socialist experiments and “even an ill-fated empire in Central Africa.” The continent has been a “veritable workshop of political experiments,” he contends.
Of course Africans have the right to change and remove any of these. And they have done so, repeatedly since independence in the 1960’s.
They can only be held to be incapable of change if its people effectively accept “that white supremacists are right and we are permanent children whose will is forever at the mercy of our erstwhile colonisers.”
Clearly this is nonsense. It is time to stop blaming everything on the colonisers and believing redemption will be achieved by decolonisation!
Africa needs to decide for itself whether it can reconcile its systems of governance with the rule of law, separation of powers, free and fair elections, the principle of accountability etc. This is the quest Africa must get on with, and show agency, rather than pretend it is still totally dependent on the control and benevolence (or malevolence) of the colonisers.
“Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously” is published by Hurst in June.
‘Against Decolonisation launches a trench war. Its flaming arrows hit all, sparing no axiom of reflex decolonisation. This is a bọ́lẹ̀kájà (come-down-let-us-slug-it-out) critique in its most consequential form. If you are not provoked by its argument, you sabe nothing.’ — Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́, Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University
‘With characteristic cogency, lucidity and audacity, Táíwò shows that “decolonisation” has become an idea promoting indiscriminate hostility to forms of thought and practice wrongly tarred with malign colonial auspices. The ironic result is a rhetoric that gives short shrift to African agency. It’s time to drop the erroneous conflations and recognise our right to inventive appropriation of the human commons.’ — Ato Sekyi-Otu, Emeritus Professor of Social and Political Thought, York University, Toronto, and author of Left Universalism, Africacentric Essays