Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 150-154
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Appraisal of African Identity for Sustainable Development
Michael Chugozie Anyaehie
Department of Philosophy, Universit y o f N i g e ria, Nsukka, Nigeria
Received November 9th, 2012; revised December 10th, 2012; accepted Decembe r 25th, 2012
Africa is the poorest continent in the world despite her huge human and material resources. She is at the
periphery of global development. Some people attribute the African predicament to her experience of
slavery and colonialism which distorted her identity and disoriented her values. But she is not the only
continent that was colonised. Other colonised continents are already finding their bearing in global de-
velopment. What is that unique factor about African identity that hinders her from having her own stake
in global development? This paper argues that Africa’s stable and rich natural environment which does
not coerce her to struggle for survival makes Africa docile and complacent. This psychological disposi-
tion makes her to take her survival for granted and to live on the providence of her environment without
conscientious effort to conquer and drive it to enhance her state of life. The search for African identity
should not focus on just exhuming her past culture and lamenting her experiences, but on discovering the
latent prowess of Africa that will help her to positively and effectively confront her existential challenges.
Colonialism and neo-colonialism are parts of Africa’s existential challenges which she has to tackle to de-
fine her identity. For sustainable development, Africa has to wake up from her slumber of eulogising her
cultural heritage and blaming others for her predicament, and brace up to critically, constructively and
pragmatically evaluate her past, confront her current challenges and take responsibility for the effect of
her actions and inactions.
Keywords: African Identity; Sustainable Development; Colonialism; Complacency; Responsibility;
Authentic Existence
Since the middle of 20th century, African scholars have been
battling with rediscovery of African identity after the devastat-
ing effect of European slavery and colonisation. Most of the
scholars argue that European slavery and colonialism devas-
tated African psyche, rubbished her culture and values, and left
her empty of any coherent world view of reality. The travails
and backwardness of Africa in social, economical, and political
development have been blamed on European colonialism and
neo-colonialism. Fifty years after most African nations have
become politically independent; many African scholars still
blame the Western world for the backwardness of the continent.
The situation is worrisome when we consider that other conti-
nents that were colonised like Africa are picking their pieces
and advancing their development.
The question that agitates the mind here is, why is it that Af-
rica cannot rise above her experience of European invasion and
actualise herself? Man is always confronted with challenges
and what distinguishes a people is how they are able to manage
and overcome their challenges. It is the opinion of this paper
that part of the problems of African underdevelopment is the
Africa psychological complacency necessitated by abundant
resources and environmental friendliness that sustains life at
minimal stress. The search for African identity should not just
focus on the past culture and achievements of the continent but
also on the contemporary prowess of the continent that can
propel her to overcome this psychological complacency and
work towards greater heights in achievements that will attract
the attention of the world. It is of age that Africans should stop
lamenting the evils of European invasion and continual ma-
nipulation of the continent and confront the challenges the con-
temporary world order has in stock for her. The continent can-
not develop on the terms of sympathy from other continents but
on the strength of authentic and realistic confrontation of her
challenges with the intention of overcoming them by herself
and defining her e xi s te nce in the world affairs.
Colonialism and Loss of African Identity
The Europeans propelled by spirit of modernism aimed at
conquest of the world to enhanced their living and aided by
sophisticated culture and technology; embarked on empire ex-
pansion and subordination of other regions of the world. The
progressive industrialised European culture was contrasted with
traditional societies of the parts of the world they conquered
and colonised, such as America, Africa, Australia and Asia.
“Other cultures were identified as having reached a stage
through which Europe itself had already passed—primitive
hunter-gatherer; farming; early civilisation; feudalism; and
modern liberal-capitalism. Only Europe was considered to have
achieved the last stage.” Many European writers of this time
construed the history of Europe as paradigmatic for the rest of
the world (Eurocentrism (2012) Wikipedia, The free encyclope-
dia). The perception of European as having superior cultural
and technological sophistication led to widespread assumptions
of her superior personal, intellectual and moral value. Such
racist orientation was used to justify slavery, genocide and
other forms of political and economic exploitation.
This was the global socio-political stage when Europe in-
vaded Africa. On the conquest of Africa, the European colonis-
ers embarked on the domination and suppression of African
culture. There were no efforts to dialogue with African Culture.
It was simply discarded as backward, primitive and lack any
positive value to warrant any serious consideration. African
cultures were disparaged as barbaric, primitive, irrational and
debased. Her gods were declared evil and African race was
classified as inferior to Europe. European colonialism en-
throned eurocentrism in Africa which considers any culture that
does not conform to it as inferior and need to be transformed to
meet European standard. It disrupted and destabilised African
values, beliefs and perception which define the people. Africa
lost her identity. Many scholars have traced the problem of
Africa’s underdevelopment to the issue of identity crisis. Africa
is the poorest continent in the world despite her numerous hu-
man and material resources.
With Eurocentric mentality, the colonisers embarked on re-
orientation of Africa to perceive the world from the European
angle; a programme they called civilisation of African brutes.
Hence the French embarked on assimilation of African elites
into French culture. Fredrick Engels advanced that Africa
should submit to European imperialism and transformation of
her culture if she is to be civilised and avoid being extinct. G.
W. F. Hegel (1956) declares that Africa has no contribution to
human history and that she at best hears only echoes of human
civilisation. Religious groups especially Christians and Mos-
lems also embarked on re-orienting African worldview and
consciousness. The European mission disoriented African psy-
che, perception, values and beliefs. Kwame Nkrumah (1974)
holds that African identity has been distorted by Arab Islam,
European Christianity and colonisation. Maduabuchi Dukor
(2010) following the same line states that African identity is
lost because of three major factors of European imperialist
activities in Africa which includes slavery, colonialism and
racialism. He states that,
It was because Africans were considered racially inferior
and culturally uncivilised that both Arabs and Europeans
felt a moral justification in exploiting them by reducing
them to slavery. Therefore the heart of the whole problem
of African identity lies in Racialism (Dukor, 2010: p. 159).
Quest for Rediscovery of African Identity
Since the middle of 20th century African nationalists and
scholars have been trying to remedy the atrocities of European
colonisation and slavery. Like Dukor, many African scholars
lay the blame of Africa’s stunted development and all the woes
of Africa underdevelopment on the devastating effect of Euro-
pean slavery and colonisation of African, and engage on the
mission of liberating Africa from the clutches of eurocentrism.
They try to rediscover the authentic African self believing that
it is pivotal for African liberation from the impact of colonial
and neo-colonial exploits of the West.
Leopold Senghor (1963) trying to rediscover African identity
canvassed for negritude in which there should be revival and
promotion of traditional African culture and values. He advo-
cated that Africa should be proud and embrace her culture; and
she should not feel inferior to any other race. He argues that
every race is psychologically, metaphysically and epistemo-
logically unique. Each race has its peculiar way of perceiving,
knowing and relating to reality and these are what determine
the uniqueness of people’s civilisation. Senghor argues that the
whole complex of African values is greatly dependent on the
mode of African cognition of reality and his psychology. The
African mode of cognition he says is intuitive reason; all the
values characteristic of Negro-African civilisation is essentially
informed by intuitive reason. By intuitive reason he means that
the Negro African is emotive in his cognition and relation with
reality. He affectively participates in the object of his experi-
ence. The emotions of empathy with nature, rhythm and gift of
myth-making are elements of African consciousness which
manifest in his social and cultural activities. Senghor mainta ins
that the distinctive quality of the European mind is reason. The
European is dispassionate with nature. He rationally encounters
the elements of his experience subjecting them to logic and
analysis. He therefore, declares that reason is European, emo-
tion is African. He then advocates that Africa’s emancipation
from European imperialism and neo-colonialism should be
pursued from appreciating African intuitive reasoning and re-
vival of African culture and attitude to reality with the aim of
universalising and making them relevant to modern reality.
African civilisation must reach out to the meeting point of all
human civilisations and present the gains of African civilisation
to the entire humanity.
Senghor’s racialising the cognitive process of people has
been criticised by scholars as presenting the Africans to be
cognitively different from the Europeans. It tends to suggest
that the Africans lack the ability of rational analysis necessary
for modern science and technology and that Africans should
evolve a distinct African science to showcase to the world.
Intuitive reasoning cannot be said to be peculiar to Africa but it
is an attribute of people at certain level of development irre-
spective of their race. His racial distinction of cognition to pre-
sent Africa as unique and not inferior to Europe to boast the ego
of Africa cannot help her to overcome her underdevelopment
and marginalised status in the world.
Many scholars and nationalist pursuing culture revival try to
come up with certain solutions to African problems. Julius
Nyerere (1968) in his Ujamaa socialism tried to transform tra-
ditional Africa communalism based on family values into mod-
ern economic system and state administration. His trial of Uja-
maa socialism in Kenya failed. The failure of the programme is
to a great extent because of its inability to address the current
existential reality of the time. The socioeconomic situation of
the time where the people has imbibed capitalist ideologies and
the global economic forces crumbled the programme.
Paulin Hountondji (1983) arguing for Africa overcoming her
predicament states that Africa should not be sentimental about
their culture in appraising their relevance to the contemporary
challenges. Traditional culture and collective thoughts of Afri-
cans should be submitted to a critical assessment and not being
unnecessarily apologetic. Those cultural traits that stand the test
of critical scrutiny should be appropriated and advanced while
those that fail should be modified or jettisoned. Hountonji tried
to overcome the anachronistic orientation of negritude. Africa
should come to terms with the current realities and not try to
isolate herself or over lament about her past. Africa should
address the current picture of things for her to be relevant in the
global socio-politics and effectively handle her challenges.
Propagandist approach of negritude which is popular with many
African scholars confuses and complicates the problems of
Kwame Nkrumah (1970) in his Consciencism teaches that
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 151
African mind has been adulterated with influences from Islam,
Christianity and colonialism. It will be almost impossible to
decipher traditional African culture from the foreign ones.
What should concern Africa now is to understand her current
plight and to address issues from that perspective. She can bor-
row ideas from other cultures of the world and adapt them to
serve her interest. Nkrumah emphasises that there are nothing
particular about the races; what matters is interest.
We need to appreciate with Nkrumah that African culture
like every other culture is dynamic. The psyche and worldview
of contemporary Africa have changed from that of her forefa-
thers. When people agitate for the revival of traditional African
culture the question that comes to mind is whether it is that of
ancient Africa that addressed the challenges of that age. Many
of the solutions of that age are no longer relevant to current
problems of Africa. The search for African identity should fo-
cus on how to understand the present mind set of Africans,
highlighting his potentials and limitations in tackling current
existential global problems. A look at Africa’s past history may
be informative to her current perception of reality, but the
search should go beyond that to analyse her present challenges
and attitude to things.
Actualising African Identity for
Sustainable Development
It is important to highlight here that we need not over em-
phasis the evils of European invasion and colonialism as the
major causes of Africa’s underdevelopment. The plight of any
people is interplay of both objective and subjective factors, and
external and internal factors. The West may not be paternalistic,
but self centred in their dealings with Africa and other parts of
the world. But who is paternalistic in the face of global compe-
tition. What drive global affairs are national interests. Africa
should jettison the idea that any people will spend their re-
sources to salvage her if it does not serve their interest. Africans
are the only people who can salvage Africa. No people can be
great on the shoulders of others. The business of the search for
African identity should be to discover the current worldview
(metaphysics), psychology and aspiration of Africa that could
be harnessed to elicit authentic, innovative and productive ori-
entation. Africa should wake up from her slumber and crea-
tively confront t h e challenges of h er time.
Africans are intellectually able like any other race. This has
been manifested in the achievement of Africans in diasporas. It
is disturbing that the heights which Africans achieve in other
lands are not replicated in Africa. The problem is environ-
mental. Africa is the most stable continent in the world. It has
stable climate round the year that sustains life with minimal
effort. Other continents yearly battle with extreme weather
conditions like winter that requires serious effort to survive.
She is not challenged with natural disasters like hurricanes,
tsunamis and earthquakes. She is blessed with abundant re-
sources that can sustain life with minimal effort. She is not
compelled to develop long term plans to survive. Each day
provides for itself. That is why when there is any disruption in
the other of things it brings untold hardship to the people. The
implication of this is that Africa is not consistently coerced by
nature to struggle for survival. The richness and stability of
Africa’s natural environment made him to be complacent and
not aggressive about life. He takes survival for granted.
The African environment does not demand one to be critical
of his actions for him to survival. The complacency with which
he confronts life makes him to believe anything and be con-
tented with the minimum. He is contented with things around
him and has no zeal to question and disrupt the peaceful status
quo. J. M. Nyasani argues that community norms,
Are merely received but never subjected to the scrutiny of
reason to establish their viability and practicability in the
society … May be, it is lack of personal involvement and
personal scrutiny that has tended to work to the disadvan-
tage of the Africans especially where they are faced with a
critical situation of reckoning about their own destiny and
even dignity (Nyasani, 1997: pp. 63,69).
The sense of security provided by the environment also im-
pacted on African social system. African communalism pro-
motes such social values like liberalism, accommodation, hos-
pitality and docility in human relation which also provides so-
cioeconomic security for survival of all irrespective of individ-
ual productivity. Within the communal context, J. M. Nyasani
states that Africans exhibit an
Endemic and congenital trait of what could be described
as a natural benign docility generally brought about by
years of blind social submission and unquestioning com-
pliance to the mystique of higher authority that reigns
surreptitiously yet effectively in all black African socie-
ties in varying degrees. This benign natural docility is
generally regarded as positive, legitimate and virtuous
strictly within the context of a traditional social regime
(Nyasani, 1997: p. 113).
Kwasi Wiredu discussed three maladies of African culture
that are inimical to development: anachronism, supernaturalism
and authoritarianism. These maladies are consistent with this
African docility.
African society is essentially traditional. A society is tradi-
tional if its members’ behaviour continues with minimal change
of pattern from generation to generation. Such society is always
custom-bound, hierarchical, ascriptive, uncritical and not inno-
vative. Messay Kebede argues that the failure of development
of Africa is due to her persistent attachment to tradition be it
that of Africa or that of her colonial master and not being inno-
vative. This accounts for her orientation of blindly copying
institutions and cultures without critical examination and adap-
tation to suit her existential condition. According to him Af-
rica’s underdevelopment can be traced to her,
internalisation of the colonialist discourse, which in itself
has become a new tradition imposed on older traditions.
For no resurgence of innovative capacity can take place so
long as internalization of the colonialist argument paraly-
ses the African mind. Mental decolonization thus emerges
as top priority in Africa’s development agenda (Messay
Kebede, 2004: p. 108).
Africa is not the only continent that was colonised. The other
colonised continents are consistently making improvements and
impacting on the world development. Asia, South America and
Australia are colonised continents that are strongly emerging in
global affairs. Their driving force is that they are confronting
their challenges as it suits them not as the world want them to
do. Asia aggressively minimised foreign influences on her af-
fairs to constructively position herself for effective develop-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
ment. Conversely, Africa always solicits for foreign interfer-
ences in handling of her challenges.
Human knowledge and development evolve through contri-
bution of insights of people of different epochs as they try to
resolve the challenges of their existence. Each people at every
epoch of their life have existential challenges and how they
manage the challenges define their being. That is why John
Paul Sartre (1977) asserts that man is an indeterminate being.
He defines himself as he acts through life. Situations do not
determine man, but they constitute pillars with which man de-
fines himself. Authentic life is man’s ability to use the chal-
lenges of his situation to actualise his aspiration. Inauthentic
life is when one allows his situation to overwhelm and define
Human needs necessitate human interaction. As human needs
continue to expand, interactions continue to expand to reach
people at the extremes of the world. This brings about culture
contact and interactions. Africa cannot exist in isolation of
other peoples. It is pertinent to observe here that culture is the
totality of a people’s innovativeness in the sustenance of their
existence. Culture could be physical, intellectual or behavioural.
The meeting of cultures brings about appraisal and crystallisa-
tion of the cultures to bring about a superior culture that will
accommodate, on the principle of efficiency, the positive traits
of the different cultures and discard the negative or less effi-
cient traits. In this act of synthesis of cultures, they influence
and sharpen each other to realise the most efficient system that
will address contemporary issues. This brings in the issue of
globalisation and the need for Africa to proactively appraise her
culture in the light of the current global trend of things.
It is true that Africa came in contact with Western culture as
underdog considering the sophistication of Western culture at
the time; and the colonizers attitude of domination and suppres-
sion of African culture, but the ease with which Africa uncriti-
cally abandon her culture for Western culture reflect the Afri-
can docility and complacency. The search for African identity
should ginger African intellectual and cultural renaissance in
which African metaphysics, epistemology and psychology
should be critically overhauled to bring out the best of curiosity,
creativity, innovativity and productivity from Africa. Both Af-
rican culture and that of other continents should be brought to
the table of critical appraisal with the aim of evolving mental
attitude, values and practices that will pragmatically address
African predicament. This will involve sieving the best of
global cultures as they suit Africa, and creatively and innova-
tively blending them for effectiveness.
For purpose of comparing cultures, let us briefly look at the
emergence of Western modernism which has propelled her to
the pride of place in the world. After centur i e s of suppression of
curiosity and innovative intellectual creativity by dogmatism of
Christendom, the 15th and 16th centuries’ enlightenment and
renaissance of Europe ushered in rapid intellectual development
aimed at liberating the people’s mind and making them to
re-evaluate the efficiency of their traditional beliefs in handling
their challenges. The radical approach to their human existence
gave rise to the 17th and 18th centuries’ industrial revolution
which transformed Europe and gave it a pride of place in the
world history. It transformed the social, political and economic
life of Europe towards maximisation of efficiency of action.
The renaissance brought the world down from its high sacred
place and subjected it to human critical rational scrutiny aimed
at improving human life. Modern Western philosophers like
Hobbes advanced mechanistic conception of the world an-
chored on humanism. Under Berkeley, the mind becomes meas-
ure of all things—to exist is to be perceived. Bentham and the
Mills settled for utilitarian principle for determination of moral-
ity of human action. While Hegel anchored human history on
rationality, Karl Marx reduces it to economic forces. Jean Paul
Sartre leaves the world to what you make out of it. With this
kind of philosophy, the West embarks on the quest to conquer
the world and make the most economic profit of the conquest.
This is what propels the spirit of modernism. Modernism is the
aspiration for innovative creativity unencumbered by traditions
to achieve results in human development.
Africa should emulate the spirit of modernism to transform
her predicament. Emulating the spirit of modernism is not the
same as copying Western culture. It is being critical and subju-
gating every issue to rational examination with the aim of mas-
tering and controlling it for ones interest. Africa should absolve
herself from the life of docility, passivity and dependence on
fate and try to rationally and creatively confront her existence
with the aim to be in charge. Poverty, political instability, cor-
ruption and other social malaise in Africa are due to the fact
that she is too tolerant and permissive of evils around her with
the hope that God and nature will address the evils. This brings
about excessive religiosity, over dependence on the good will
of people, attachment to tradition and resistance to innovations
and changes. All these encumber free rational creativity and
innovativeness necessary for transforming the psyche and ac-
tions of people that will bring about positive changes in socio-
economic life of Africa. The political office holders are corrupt
and the nations are in the state of decay because the people are
not ready to struggle to bring sanity. They look up to God and
foreign nations to come and wage their fight. When the foreign
nations come they do it their own way to satisfy their interest
which most often is inimical to African interest. Africa should
take her destiny into her hand and be ready to take full respon-
sibility of her predicament. No gods or people can be blame for
African backwardness rather African plight is the result of her
actions and inactions. It is only when Africa internalises this
truth that she can be on the part of her renaissance and sustain-
able development.
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