With What Do You Replace A Decolonized African Mind?

Kole Omotoso

Prof. Kole Omotoso

Prof. Kole Omotoso

Ngugi wa Thiong’O, hereafter referred to as Ngugi, is world famous and generally popular
especially among South African university students and other African students for calling on the
need to decolonize the African mind. Who does the decolonizing and how it is to be done are
subjects for later answers. South Africa minister of arts and culture Mr. Nathi Mthethwa remembers
hearing Ben Okri, famous author of The Famished Road, ask the question in the 2015 Africa Month
lecture. Like the struggle for independence we seek first political freedom and all other things –
economic freedom, administrative freedom, responsibility freedom, accountability freedom etc etc –
shall be added unto us. Alas, half a century after the winning of political freedom, none of these
freedoms have been added unto us. Again, because we did not do enough scenario planning the
who and the how were never spelt out. Same thing is happening now with decolonizing the African

What is the content of the African Mind at present? If we are to be fair to ourselves, the African
Mind today contains, in every subject we might like to touch, both an African material and a
European material. Let’s take Language to begin with. Most Africans speak more than one language, many two or three and a considerable number even four or more. They speak an African language as well as a European language. These languages are not spewing words. These languages describe worlds, they most times prescribe morals, they also communicate knowledges. Languages describe African worlds and European worlds. Languages prescribe African morals such as respect for elders no matter what. They also prescribe European morals like scepticism and cynicism. Languages communicate African knowledge like the uses of leaves and roots and barks and extended families. They also communicate European knowledge of self-dependence and individualism and the nuclear family. Is it possible to decolonize the African Mind of European languages without doing damage to that mind?

Let us go to History. As my African Mind grew up, I was told the history of my town, how it was founded, who founded it and how it developed. Thereafter I learnt the history of my ethnic Nation. Where did my people come from? How did they get to where they were? What were the prevailing items of their uniqueness as a people? What physical battles did they fight with outsiders? What internal battles did they fight with themselves? What have been distilled in their language as their national treasures by whose tenets they could secure their lives and their survival?
To these histories were later added at school and college the history of the British and their empire along with the celebration of empire day. Still later university studies led to other histories, histories of the Arabs and their spread to Africa, history of their invasions of Europe and retreat into North Africa. Which of these histories must Africans decolonize? This is important for the simple reason that every history you know tells you not only about others and their place in the world. It also teaches you about your place in the universe of humanity.

When we come to the Geography of Borders, we encounter another subject for decolonisation. What are our senses of boundaries and borders? Over our long history of survival rivers and mountains, valleys and highlands have worked as markers of our present spaces and obvious physical limits. Then the European scramble for Africa happened and we were demarcated willy-nilly, wispy-washy between European nations. We have, as part of the consequence, trans-border Languages, trans-border trading and even trans-border existence and of course trans-border criminalistics. What are the consequences of decolonizing African international borders?

What about the Sciences, how do you decolonize them? What all cultures have done when they encounter each other’s Sciences is to domesticate it and inculcate it with their own Sciences. The human necessity for greater and deeper and wider knowledge of the known and the unknown worlds contribute to the quality of human survival on Earth and in the universe. There is no final ownership of any Science, no limit to adding to human Science. To this end, what we need to begin to preach are new thinking, fresh thinking.

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If we get to Politics, and we ask the same question, what answers do we get? More than in any other issue our politics in the last one thousand years has been prompted by our encounter with the Arabs in North Africa and the Europeans in Africa. How politics is played has not differed from people to people, from place to place, from one era to another. Kingships, empires, dictatorships, republics, democracies. Rulerships determined by birth, secured by arms and maintained by threat of violence. Which of these can we decolonize?

Technology, from handmade to machine made to electrical driven to nano-engineered, technology belongs to the human race. Can we detach ourselves from the human race in its wish to make life easier, cosier, fuller at every turn of our existence? Does decolonizing here mean going primitive? Can we decolonize the advance of technology?

Finally, Economics. The basis of all economy is work. The consequence of work is produce. We produce to consume. How to control work, how to control produce, how to control consumption rolls into what becomes economics. Soil, rain and sunshine affect these things and soil, rain and sunshine are not easily controlled. Add the ideologies of share and share alike (communism), no food for lazy man (capitalism), from every person according to their ability and to every person according to their need (welfarism) and we have more complications to difficulty of breathing, drinking, eating, clothing and housing. Do not forget demand and supply, input and output, balance and accountability and we are in the realms of the mind that needs to be decolonized and refilled.

What we need is new thinking. What we need is fresh thinking. What we need is to get out of the abundance of our heritage, out of the fecundity of the human mind, a new package to confront poverty in Africa and the world, greed in Africa and the world, oppression in Africa and the world. New thinking. Fresh thinking.

Kole Omotoso, 06/05/2017

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