Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously

November 4, 2023

Olúfémi Táíwò questions whether today's notion of 'decolonization' genuinely serves the empowerment of Africans.
Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously Book cover


ecolonization is a multifaceted and transformative process which has left an indelible mark on the course of modern history. Emerging in the wake of the Second World War, it signaled a seismic shift in the global landscape as nations across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean reclaimed their autonomy from the grasp of colonial powers. This epochal phenomenon was not merely a political or territorial change; it was a profound reconfiguration of identities, cultures, economies, and societies.

At its core, decolonization was a rebellion against the unjust and oppressive systems of colonial rule that had prevailed for centuries. It was a response to the exploitative economic structures, cultural hegemony, and political subjugation that defined the colonial experience. Yet, this once  vital and necessary struggle for self-determination and freedom from Western colonial dominance, has, in recent times, taken a curious and unsettling turn.

In his thought-provoking book Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously, Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, a leading African political philosopher, takes a critical stance on the contemporary trajectory of decolonization, arguing that it has deviated from its original purpose. He makes an important distinction between the past and present trajectory of decolonization; The very ideals that once fueled the fight for independence have undergone a transformation, morphing into a vague and all-encompassing concept.

The unintended consequences of this shift, he argues, demand our attention. Táíwò asserts that decolonization has become a convenient tool for virtue signaling, ultimately stifling African intellectual thought and eroding African agency.

Táíwò’s main contention is that the term ‘decolonization’ has been applied indiscriminately to fields ranging from literature, language, and philosophy to sociology, psychology, and medicine. While this expansion has allowed for critical examination, it has also given rise to a complex and sometimes contentious debate.

As decolonization becomes an all-encompassing idea, there is a risk that it inadvertently undermines the very agency it once aimed to restore. He believes that this overuse of the term is detrimental to scholarship related to Africa. In his view, the decolonization industry’s obsession with cataloging historical wrongs has led to a stagnation of intellectual progress and is harming genuine academic inquiry.

One of the key arguments in Táíwò’s book is that the decolonization of culture is both intellectually unsound and impractical. He contends that this approach erroneously conflates modernity with coloniality and proposes an unrealistic and open-ended dismantling of the foundations of global society.

Moreover, Táíwò suggests that the contemporary decolonization movement paradoxically undermines its own objectives. He points out that some self-proclaimed ‘decolonizers’ are guilty of disregarding, infantilizing, and imposing their values on contemporary African thinkers, thereby impeding their agency.

Táíwò’s intervention in this discourse is a powerful and much-needed one. He questions whether today’s notion of ‘decolonization’ genuinely serves the empowerment of Africans or if it has been co-opted for other agendas. He calls for a reevaluation of the treatment of African intellectuals that should be recognized as innovative adapters and synthesizers of ideas they have always regarded as universally relevant. He aims to shed light on the delicate balance between rectifying historical wrongs and respecting the intellectual agency and creativity of African voices.

Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously offers a bold and critical perspective on the current state of decolonization. It is an intervention that prompts readers to reconsider the genuine objectives and consequences of the decolonization movement, advocating for a more nuanced and respectful approach to African intellectual contributions.

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously (Hurst Publishers,2022) ISBN: 9781787386921, 368 pages

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