Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Examining Gyekye's Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience through the Lens of Fanon's the Wretched of the Earth

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Examining Gyekye's Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience through the Lens of Fanon's the Wretched of the Earth

Article excerpt

This paper will critically analyze Kwame Gyekye's thoughtful work, Tradition and Modernity: Reflections on the African Experience (1997), while mobilizing Frantz Fanon's scintillating and penetrating examination of the violence inherent in the process of decolonization to diagnose prospects for alternative futures of African development. The contemporary Ghanaian philosopher, Kwame Gyekye, has received praise for bringing insights from Anglo-American moral and political philosophy to bear on African traditions, experiences and philosophical systems past and present.1 Gyekye's examination of the utility of Western philosophy to illuminate the many development problems and challenges of contemporary Africa also raises questions about the limits of Western philosophical categories to explicate the complexity, diversity and depth of African experiences. Given the complexity of African experience- past and present- clean distinctions made in Western categories of thought tend to dissolve quickly, thus opening new imaginative possibilities to link questions of justice and sustainable development. In that light, this paper will argue that certain impulses and radical critiques from Frantz Fanon's epic classic, The Wretched of the Earth, can help foster and deepen the analyses initiated in Gyekye's Tradition and Modernity. It is our hypothesis that creative moments at the dawn of decolonization have fundamental significance for our understanding of the rise of Global South nations who are shaping development in the early 21st century.2

Gyekye's insights and command of the Western Anglo-American philosophical canon are formidable. In a section titled "Philosophy and the African Experience" in Chapter 1, which is titled "Philosophy and Human Affairs," Gyekye summarizes the task of philosophy as:

Philosophy speculates about the whole range of the human experience: it provides conceptual interpretation and analysis of that experience, necessarily doing so not only by responding to the basic issues and problems generated by that experience but also by suggesting new or alternative ways of thought and action.3

This is an entirely plausible view of the nature and task of philosophy. But from the outset one can pose serious questions. What if the Western philosophical canon from the Pre-Socratic Greeks to 20th century Anglo - American analytic philosophy and Anglo-American and European 'continental philosophy' is too limited to handle the task that Gyekye sets out as the 'speculation of the whole range of human experience?' If Hegel said that 'all philosophy is its own age conceptualized in thought' and if his time was one of an undeniable Eurocentric sense of superiority vis a vis non-European cultures, then one can see how limited modern Western philosophy was at the time of its dawn, i.e. the birth of Hegel's system. For Hegel, also said that 'Africa is where the Spirit is nocturnal' in contrast to the 'day-light of selfconsciousness.'4

Africa has never been asleep, but is alive and vibrant. And in its granular complexity down to the depths of the most minute, local experiences to the grandeur of the continent that cuts across an immense diversity over historical space and time suggests that Hegel might have been the one who was asleep in his belligerent account of the sweep of world history. Polemics, aside, however, Africa's problematic and highly challenged development experiences after decolonization is also where philosophy's urgency is most felt. If Hegel was wrong about the Spirit in Africa, then Africa is a place crying out for great philosophical speculation. Gyekye outlines the problems and issues that will require 'alternative ways of thought and action.' He states:

Confronted with a deep and resilient development crisis; with frequent military disruptions of the democratic political process resulting, inevitably, in political instability, uncertainty, and confusion, and with a poor demonstration of political morality resulting in pervasive and rampant political corruption; riven by almost incessant communocultural (or "ethnic") turmoil that threatens national unity and integration; filled with a colonial mentality that hamstrings the cultivation of an endogenous innovative spirit; and bedeviled by aspects of their cultural traditions that thwart attempts to evolve forms of life in harmony with the ethos of the contemporary world, while those aspects of the traditional culture that can be considered relevant have not been given adequate recognition in the creation of modern political and economic institutions, African life on the eve of the 21st century is not only confused but at a low ebb. …

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