Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Eurocentrism and the Separability-Inseparability Debate: Challenges from African Cultural Jurisprudence

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Eurocentrism and the Separability-Inseparability Debate: Challenges from African Cultural Jurisprudence

Article excerpt


Conceptually, what can Africa contribute to the world, and the history of ideas? More specifically, what has Africa contributed to the world? Some, like Hugh Trevor-Roper and Andrew Foote, would say, respectively, that it is pure darkness (1) or earth's catalogue of crimes. (2) The irony of this perception about Africa is obvious: Africa's light was tampered with, and deliberately distorted by those who cast it into the immediacy of eternal loss. Incidentally, this perception has become a pervading and phenomenal characterisation of Africa whose historical past bears the primacy of true human civilisation. (3)

This perception, in its entire ramification, is a grand historical distortion. Thus, the debate over the primacy of Occidentalism and Orientalism in the entire history of thought and thus a classical demonstration of the Eurocentric nature of social history in general, and particularly, how cultural distortions are often sponsored into the substance of intellectual history.

The project of Africa renaissance is an attempt to correct this distasteful perception about Africa. In precise terms, African philosophy, though a latecomer to the scene of philosophical interrogations of history and ideologies of African people is engulfed in the burden of a thematic and cultural search for self definition. The essential task of African philosophy in its half-century existence is the quest for pertinence in what can be called a search for the significance of its hidden history. The thematic and cultural preoccupation of the African philosophy project can be undertaken in the important, though neglected, discipline of jurisprudence. Thus, the implication of an African cultural jurisprudence cannot be overemphasised. What then is jurisprudence? What is its significance for the African philosophical project, and what are the contributions of Africa to jurisprudential controversies?

Generally characterised, it seems evident that jurisprudence and the discussion of its problems has a Eurocentric bias, often couched in the form of a denial. And thus, via Western canonical works, a great denial of the possibility of African jurisprudence often grounded in what I call the 'myth of meritocracy' which is the view that whatever is considered to be African does not have anything intellectually profound and thought-provoking to contribute to investigate aching and puzzling questions and problems in philosophy, generally, and jurisprudence, particularly. What this means is that there exists a fundamental lacuna in relation to the general treatment of fundamental jurisprudential problems within the canons of African jurisprudence; although, the cultural basis for jurisprudence is perceived as a misnomer when, in actual fact, philosophy itself is a cultural inquiry.

Taiwo's capture of this dilemma for Africa is poetic and pungent when he contended that "all too often, when African scholars answer philosophy's questions, they are called upon to justify their claim to philosophical status. And when this status is grudgingly conferred, their theories are consigned to serving as appendices to the main discussions dominated by the perorations of the "Western Tradition" (4) To corroborate Taiwo's timely observation, jurisprudential problems such as the nature of law, the source and grounds of obligation, the nature of justice, the relation between law and morality, and a few others, have received less and insipid attention in Western literature in relationship to jurisprudence. Thus, it is this absence that often serves as the basis for the denial of African jurisprudence altogether. And equally worrisome is the view that the attempts by African legal scholars to contemplate on general jurisprudential problems have been essentially apologetic rather than contributory.

Jurisprudence is, at the utmost, at an abstract level, concerned with an articulation, analysis and critical inquiry into the nature, functions, aims and significance of law. …

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