Explorations in African Political Thought: Identity, Community, Ethics

By Welch, Ashton Wesley | Ethnic Studies Review, October 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Explorations in African Political Thought: Identity, Community, Ethics


Welch, Ashton Wesley, Ethnic Studies Review


Teodros Kiros, ed. Explorations in African Political Thought: Identity, Community, Ethics. (New York: Routledge, 2001). X + 214 pp. Diagrams. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $22.95. Paper.

Explorations in African Political Thought: Identity, Community, Ethics is a collection of ten essays written both by newcomers and by well-known African philosophers. Most of the authors are currently teaching in American universities. It is part of the growing literature that cements African philosophy as an integral part of the discipline of philosophy while charting new venues for the field. The objective of this book is to illustrate that African philosophy can serve African people as a moralactivity guided by the principles of practical reason in addressing the underlying problems of African economic, political, and social institutions. Teodros Kiros, the volume's editor, chose the contributors because they were willing to describe phenomenologically entrenched practices of today's Africa, "subject them to critical assessment, and, when necessary, displace them with better visions and research." Kiros writes in the introduction that the authors address "perennial cultural, political, and ethical problems that plague the human condition in Africa."

The interdisciplinary sweep of this study is extraordinary, incorporating as it does examples from the anthropology, history, law, political science, and sociology of Africa and elsewhere. As such it has meaning for practitioners of the social sciences and the humanities. In the first chapter Gail M. Presbey argues that there are many wise sages in Africa who warrant further study by philosophers and others. She begins by referencing subjects of H. Odera Oruka's "sages philosophy" project which began in 1977 and introduces candidates from Kenya she believes merit consideration as sages. Her approach should ask social scientists to broaden their notions of leadership and community improvement. Claude Summer uses his "The Proverband Oral Society" to venture from his lifetime devotion to working on the Oromo to "delve into the problematique of orality." By problematique Sumner means not just "the problem itself but also elements of the problem, its 'situation/ and the context within which its arises and grows." G. Katsiaficas' explorations into lbn Khaldun's theory of an Ethical Community are addressed to historians as much as to philosophers, Katsiaficas' primary audience. So too is Kiros' own chapter on the 17th century Ethiopian philosopher Zara Yacob. Readers of Ethnic Studies Review should find K. Anthony Appiah's "Ethnic Identity as a Political Resource" especially appealing. Appiah, who wrote the introduction to the volume, uses the Asante of Ghana to argue that ethnicity is a materially and psychologically useful political resource and not merely a part of civil society.

This work should be stimulating to devotees of philosophy in general, not only African philosophy. Critical rationalism, communitarianism, and justice and morality are among the topics covered. Some of the authors engage the work of other contributors. …

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