African Philosophy

Mutombo Nkulu-N’Sengha. Encyclopedia of Black Studies. Editor: Molefi Kete Asante & Ama Mazama. Sage Reference, 2005.

The Google search engine indicates a strong African presence in the world of philosophy. Indeed, while there is no category for white philosophy in cyberspace, statistics from February of 2004 indicate 3,050,000 hits for black philosophy, 1,620,000 hits for African philosophy, and 1,220,000 hits for African American philosophy. African philosophy received many more hits than Indian philosophy (1,340,000), Japanese philosophy (1,320,000), Jewish philosophy (1,300,000), Arab philosophy (367,000), Islamic philosophy (644,000), and Spanish philosophy (6,180). African philosophy comes closest in number of hits received to Chinese philosophy (1,650,000) and Greek philosophy (1,770,000). Although the presence of African philosophy in cyberspace comes after that of major European traditions, the presence of black philosophy surpasses that of British philosophy (2,090,000) and German philosophy (2,610,000) and is equal to the presence of French philosophy (3,050,000). The presence of American philosophy, with 5,130,000 hits, reigns supreme in cyberspace.

Although merely indicative, this presence of philosophical literature in cyberspace points in its own limited way to the presence and influence of African philosophy in today’s world. Nowadays, African philosophy is part of the regular curriculum in philosophy departments in Africa and around the world. And yet, just three decades ago, the very notion of the existence of African philosophy was controversial, and many in philosophy departments believed that the rational enterprise of philosophy was incompatible with African cultures, if not antithetical to the structure of the African mind itself. Furthermore, in some corners of the world community, some philosophers remain skeptical and suspicious of African rationality, despite the presence of numerous books, journals, and associations of African philosophy. Considerations of African history, especially of the slave trade and colonialism, have since 1945 put the following questions at the center of the debate about African philosophy: What is African philosophy? Who qualifies as an African philosopher? What makes specific African thought philosophical? What makes a philosophy African? However, the history of African philosophy and its object of study are broader and deeper than this preoccupation with relatively recent African history suggests.

The notion of African philosophy refers simply to the African love for wisdom, that relentless passion of the African mind to know and to know the truth about human existence and the world. African philosophy is indeed a careful examination of life and of living beings. As such, it involves a rational meditation on love, suffering, mortality, and immortality. It is a reflection on ways of living a good life and a constant questioning of the credibility of institutions created for the purpose of achieving such a good life. It proceeds by way of a methodic, systematic analysis of knowledge and known phenomena, a study of the fundamental questions of human existence, articulated in an explicit, critical, autocritical, and systematic discourse that is sometimes symbolic and proverbial but very often discursive.

What is meant by African philosophy, then, is the specific African way of understanding and explaining the world and the drama of the human condition. It is the systematic effort of the African mind to understand the world as a meaningful cosmos and to understand the place and role of human beings and other creatures in the universe. It is thus a rigorous pursuit of truth and a rational search for the meaning of human existence. African philosophy is at once an activity of the mind, a way of expression, and a way of life based on genuine knowledge and wisdom. Indeed, it is a way of thinking, speaking, being, and living wisely. Such an enterprise entails the use of critical thinking not to achieve skepticism and cynicism but to enhance human flourishing. Since time immemorial, Africa has praised wisdom over age and titles and maintained that the unexamined life is not worth living. Thus the Baluba, like many other African people, established a clear distinction between kunena (“to speak eloquently and wisely”) and kunenakanya (“to speak incoherently and unwisely”) and between kulanga (“to think well”) and kulangakanya (“to think with confusion or to have evil thought”). In fact, the person with a lack of knowledge and unwise conduct was regarded in traditional Africa as kivila, kidingidingi, that is, an “empty well” or a worthless being. Thus according to African philosophy, the goal of life is to become humane by pursuing wisdom.

Throughout the ages, African philosophy has been expressed orally and in written texts, in both African and foreign languages, notably in Latin, Arabic, French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Over the last 5,000 years, African philosophy has trodden many paths, constantly adapting its method and language to the evolution of its object of inquiry, which constantly changes according to ecological, economic, political, and cultural circumstances.

In ancient times, African societies produced their own philosophers, the sages who articulated their thought in creation myths, proverbs, sapiential folktales, and the ethical vision that governed political, religious, and other social institutions. At that time, people philosophized entirely in African languages. It was a philosophy of Africans, by Africans, and for Africans. It produced African cosmologies such as those of the Yoruba and the Dogon, a vision of human nature, and a theory of human dignity and human rights; it also produced ethical norms and the wisdom of a good life. African investiture speeches embodied an entire political philosophy, the African vision of the meaning and aim of political power, the distinction between a bad ruler (like Kilopwe) and a sage king (like Mulopwe), the centrality of the welfare of the people in the art of government. In addition, ancient philosophers meditated on metaphysical questions regarding the spiritual world, immortality, and the afterlife.

African Philosophy in the Western Mind

In modern times, however, colonialism and enslavement introduced a rupture with the past, a rupture so deep that the very notion of the existence of an African philosophy was put into question. The new schools created by the colonial masters and slaveholders in the 19th and 20th centuries aim to destroy African historical consciousness. Both in Africa and in the Americas, Africans and those descended from Africans were taught to regard their past as aphilosophical, irrational, and worthless. Since the tragic encounter between Africa and Europe in the 15th century, almost all the prominent Western philosophers vigorously denied Africans’ ability to think properly. Following in the footsteps of renowned Western philosophers—Hume, Montesquieu, and Voltaire—Kant, who is celebrated as a paragon of critical thinking, denied philosophy to Africans on somatic grounds. Despite the presence of Amo Afer, an African professor of philosophy, in Germany during his own time, Kant wrote of the African man that he “was black from head to toe, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.”

After Kant, Hegel, in his Philosophy of World History (1827), proclaimed ex cathedra that Africans were not only outside the kingdom of reason but also outside history and outside humanity itself. After Hegel, Lévy-Bruhl, applying Darwin’s theory of evolution to the human mind, declared the African mind “prelogic” and radically antithetic to the Western mind. This epistemic violence, which served as the rationalization of the necessity of colonialism, soon provoked a reaction that led to the rise of African contemporary philosophy. Initiated as a literary movement by Africans and those of African descent in the Americas and Europe, this movement was to turn into a powerful laboratory for new philosophical ideas, which crystallized mainly in the Négritude and pan-African movements at the beginning of the 20th century.

However, it was the publication of Bantu Philosophy in 1945 that generated the most consistent and explicit philosophical tradition of modern Africa. Written by an obscure Belgian missionary, Placide Tempels, working among the Baluba people of Katanga (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), the book articulated the metaphysical and ethical vision of Baluba wisdom. It was warmly embraced by Léopold Sédar Senghor and other prominent figures in the Négritude movement and adopted by the newly created publishing house Présence Africaine. Writing to approve or disprove the philosophical ideas of the Baluba proposed in the book, which radically challenged the Western dogmatic monopoly on reason, armies of philosophers in Europe and Africa engaged into a heated debate that, from 1945 to 1975, produced the fundamental literature of the contemporary African philosophical discourse.

This contemporary African philosophy was largely produced in Western languages by thinkers trained in schools established by Europeans. In response, the pan-African and Négritude movements stressed the need to decolonize the mind by articulating a way of philosophizing in tune with ancestral African traditions and contemporary African concerns. Many questions emerged in this early period of defining African philosophy, which stretched from 1940 to 1980. First and foremost, Africans were asked to prove the philosophical quality of African thought to a skeptical Western establishment, which controlled publishing policies and even continued to run the educational system and faculties of philosophy in postcolonial Africa until the 1980s. In this context dominated by the hermeneutics of suspicion, whether there could be an African philosophy became a focal topic for many articles and books over several years. It was still an important topic in the 1990s, as publications by Kwame Gyekye in Ghana and Lucius Outlaw in the United States indicate. In wrestling with this question, African philosophy gained an expertise in the scrutiny of the pitfalls and dissonance of Western philosophical traditions, as well as in the vast semantic field of the concept of philosophy.

The Breadth of African Philosophical Discourse

Moreover, African philosophers turned to a serious study of the history of philosophy in Africa, which culminated in the articulation of a comprehensive history of African philosophy going back to pharaonic Egypt. The result of the superb research done by Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga in this field led to the overthrow of the “Greek miracle” dogma and the articulation of a fundamental paradigm shift in the history of world philosophy. The question of the conditions for the possibility of a specific philosophy was turned on the West, which had to justify its own originality and rationality in view of new historical evidence proving that the founders of Western philosophy—including thinkers like Pythagoras and Plato and many other scientists and philosophers—had been trained by Egyptian philosophers in Nile Valley schools for many years. The new findings made clear that Western cultural arrogance and Lévy-Bruhlism were baseless, founded as they were on myths of Western primacy. As a result, a confident African philosophy emerged and directed its energy to productive preoccupation: to think the human condition in Africa.

While most of the contemporary African philosophers are trained professionals, with master’s and/or doctoral degrees in philosophy, and very often professors in departments of philosophy and Black Studies, the field of contemporary philosophical discourse is broader than the circle of academics. If what makes a thought philosophical is its substance, then rational and rigorous thinkers are also found outside the often narrow circle of academic philosophers. Thus significant philosophies are also found among novelists, poets, and dramatists, such as Léopold Sédar Senghor, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Th’iongo, Sembene Ousmane, Mongo Beti, and many feminist novelists, to name but a few. Philosophy is also found in the writings of professional theologians whose training generally includes many years of philosophical studies, as well as in the works of professional anthropologists, political activists, lawyers, and artists. Thus, African philosophy exists in a multitude of literary genres. In many libraries, important philosophical texts can be found in the sections of religion, anthropology, art, and literature in addition to on the shelves in the philosophy section or in philosophical journals. Likewise, the question of authorship is not limited by birth certificate or somatic complexion. As recent anthologies of African philosophy edited by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze and other Africans attest, the African philosophers include thinkers of African descent in Europe and the Americas, as well as the white, Western coalition of those willing to write on the subject.

Indeed, this latter category includes scholars such as the British Africanist Basil Davidson, who has written about the African philosophy of history and African politics; Martin Bernal, whose work, like that of Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga, challenges the Greek miracle ideology; Johannes Fabian, who like V. Y. Mudimbe has deconstructed anthropology and colonial epistemic violence; Jean-Paul Sartre, whose solidarity with the colonized people and his sophisticated analysis of colonialism and racism has prompted Mudimbe and some other scholars to welcome him among “African philosophers”; and the British philosopher Robert Bernasconi, who has done an analysis of racism in Western philosophy that is enlightening and can usefully be read along with Lucius Outlaw, Cornel West, or Lewis Gordon. Since Western philosophers are insiders who have the ability to better understand the passion of the Western mind, those who have for years contributed to Africans’ struggle for full humanity through a denunciation of colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and racism or through a genuine study of African languages, culture, and wisdom bring a valuable contribution to African philosophy.

The African Philosophical Tradition

With regard to the means of expression, Africa has both the tradition of oral philosophy and that of written texts. Although most of the traditional philosophy was done orally, there is also a long tradition of written texts that goes back to ancient Egypt, where there existed, long before the rise of philosophy in ancient Greece in the 6th century B.C.E., one of the most ancient philosophies in the world. This Kemetic philosophical tradition flourished from around the 27th century B.C.E. (in shortest chronology) to the 4th century C.E. Then, during the era of the Roman Empire, a new tradition flourished in North Africa, led by thinkers converted to Christianity, such as Saint Augustine. The Islamic University of Sankore in Timbuktu flourished from the Middle Ages into the 17th century and produced powerful thinkers like professor Ahmed Baba (1556-1627), who wrote more than 40 books on subjects as diverse as philosophy, theology, astronomy, and biography.

Among the many scholars at the University of Sankore during the 15th and 16th centuries were Mohammed el-Mrili (a professor of law), Ahmed ben Said (a professor of logic), and Ben Mohammed Aquit (a professor of logic). As a jurist, philosopher, and theologian, Ahmed Baba confronted the issue of slavery in the Islamic context. He challenged the legal and theological arguments used at the time to justify the practice of enslavement. Unlike the Moroccan jurist al-Wansharisi, Ahmad Baba placed the burden of proof not on the slave but on the slavedealer, who must prove his lawful right of ownership of the slave he offers for sale. To the question “Can one take the word of an enslaved person?” that many Arabic jurists answered “No,” Ahmad Baba replied with a firm and documented “Yes.” With regard to theological arguments, he dismissed the story that the black person could not create philosophy. Ahmad Baba was an avowed believer in the capabilities of all humans, and as a black man himself, he thoroughly understood the issues of his day. Despite the limitations imposed by his condition as a Muslim, Baba contributed in his own way to the articulation of an African philosophy of human rights.

The Ethiopian Tradition

In the 16th and 17th centuries, a rationalistic philosophical tradition flourished in Ethiopia with authors such as Zär’a Yacob or Zera Yagob (1592-1685), a contemporary of René Descartes (1596-1650) whose book Hatata (meaning “Analysis” or “Treatise”) clearly deals with a rationalistic philosophy. Zera began his journey toward knowledge by identifying the obstacles that hinder humans’ effort to know the truth. Zera observed that because the knowing process is a difficult labor, people “shy from any critical examination” and “hastily accept what they have heard from their fathers.” Thus Zera adopted criticism as the initial step toward knowledge, followed by steps such as analysis (Hatata), inquiry, and the light of reason and the goodness of the created things, as the basis of his cognitive method. The Baluba Bwino epistemology agrees with this Zera’s Hatata epistemology, as does the Ofamfa-Matemasie epistemology of the Akan. The Akan people used the artistic Adinkra symbol to express their love for the wisdom of critical thinking. They used the symbol called Ofamfa or Pempan Hwemu Dua, which literally means “search rod” or “measuring rod” and stands for “critical examination and excellence.” Aware of the pitfalls of cold logic and excessive rationalism, they added to Ofamfa another epistemological dimension called Matemasie, the symbol of “wisdom and insight,” thus making it clear that the purpose of knowledge is to ensure a good life for oneself and the community.

The Philosophy’s Rendezvous with the West

In the century of the Enlightenment, African philosophy was still in the process of discovering its correct path. The Western world had a rendezvous with African philosophy with Amo Guinea Afer (1703-after 1753), Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), and Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797). These African authors grew up in the Western world and used their knowledge of the Western languages and writing system to articulate a systematic view of the African conception of freedom and human rights by denouncing theories and practices they considered to be harmful to human dignity and human aspiration to happiness. While Baba struggled for African dignity in the Islamic world, Afer, who became known as Anthony William Amo, had to face the question of the enslavement of Africans in the Western Christian world. Coming from a Christian perspective, Amo used his studies of Western philosophy to articulate a doctrine on the rights of black people in Europe. With two doctorates, in philosophy and law, and in 1738 having authored Tractatus de Arte Sobrie et Accurate Philosophandi, a book on logic and epistemology, Amo was the first African philosopher of modern times. In the very era of the Enlightenment, this contemporary of Kant studied and thought philosophy in Europe.

Amo was born in Axim, in the region of Ghana, and arrived in 1707 in the Netherlands, where he was baptized a year later in the Lutheran church at Brunswich-Wolffenbüttel. In his dissertation for his doctorate of law, which he defended in 1729 at the University of Halle in the Netherlands, Amo already revealed his concern for the human rights of Africans. The title of his dissertation, Dissertatio Inauguralis de Jure Maurorum in Europa, makes this clear. After law, he studied philosophy, first at the University of Halle and then at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, where in 1734 he defended his dissertation, De Humanae Mentis Apatheia, written under Martin Löscher. Amo’s philosophy of liberty can best be appreciated by juxtaposing it with the philosophy during that same period of another African, Jacobus Capitein, who wrote and publicly defended at Leiden University in the Netherlands a thesis affirming that there is no opposition between slavery and Christian freedom.

In England in the late 1780s, the brilliant writer Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797), who was originally from West Africa, used his familiarity with the English language and culture to write a book publicizing the evils of the slave trade and strongly condemning the system of slavery. Contrary to Hegel’s conception of slavery, Equiano argued for the African traditional sense of human dignity and moral values. Decades later, in the 19th century, the philosophical scene was occupied by a brilliant elite from the Americas, people like Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), and W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963).

After World War II, a new elite emerged in Africa to carry on the articulation of African philosophy. While Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-Africanism stimulated thought in English-speaking countries, in Francophone Africa, the creation of Présence Africaine in 1947 and the Société Africaine de Culture spread the impact of the Négritude movement, and with it Bantu philosophy. Kwame Nkrumah’s book Towards Colonial Freedom (1947), Aimé Césaire’s Discours sur le Colonialisme (1950), and Frantz Fanon’s Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (1952) played a crucial role in the articulation of an African philosophy of human rights.

Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo became major centers of philosophical production between 1969 and 1990. It is worth noting that in the postcolonial era, beginning in the 1970s, the critique of colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and racism turned progressively into a critique of African sources of estrangement, notably postcolonial tyrannical regimes. At the same time, the struggle for intellectual and spiritual decolonization of the African mind continued. This early trend, which was inaugurated by Stefano Kaoze, well before Placide Tempels, produced vigorous thinkers like Alexis Kagame, Vincent Mulago, and John Mbiti, who turned toward the traditional wisdom contained in proverbs, folktales, and other traditional institutions to articulate a typically African perspective on the world. Although a younger postmodernist and postcolonial generation, which includes such thinkers as Paul Hountondji and Marcien Towa, has mockingly referred to this trend as “ethnophilosophy,” contemporary philosophers’ reconciliation of modern thought with African traditional wisdom has enabled them to productively move beyond a mere repetition of Western philosophical theories. Thus, in their writings, Alexis Kagame, Vincent Mulago, Léopold Senghor, Hampate Ba, and Birago Diop have brought back to academic life a wealth of traditional wisdom, which constitutes a precious source of information for younger generations of philosophers.

Historians of African philosophy have attempted various classifications of dominant trends, from ethnophilosophy to hermeneutical philosophy. Others have spoken of African humanism, Négritude, pan-Africanism, nationalism, political philosophy, critical philosophy, sagacity, and many more. These are all facets of an epistemic tradition that carries the struggle of Africans for full humanity. These ways of thinking often overlap and can even be found in the work of a single author. Because of the mortal danger to Africans of Western domination and local tyrannical regimes, contemporary African philosophy has focused on themes pertaining to political philosophy, ethics, and the philosophy of history. It thus wrestles, among other things, with the issues of personhood, cultural alienation, and the search for an authentically African mode of being and becoming humane. It denounces human rights violations, racism, colonialism, neocolonialism, dictatorship, and sexism, and it struggles to articulate a path for African renaissance and for African survival and global peace in a world where machines and a heartless global market tend to overcome genuine humanism.

Although a small number of agnostics, such as Okot p’Bitek and V. Y. Mudimbe, have emerged in contemporary African philosophy, religion remains generally inseparable from the African philosophical tradition because of the central role that it plays in African lives. However, in a land where Africans have been religiously abused, a critical evaluation of religious practice has become indispensable to the credibility of faith itself. Thus a rich philosophy of religion—articulated by Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, V. Y. Mudimbe, John Mbiti, Jean Marc Ela, Bimwenyi Kweshi, Engelbert Mveng, Chinua Achebe, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, and Mongo Beti—has largely contributed to the Africanization of Christianity, as well as to the purification of both African traditional religions and the bourgeois and colonialist Christianity supported by Western governments and their missionary agents. The fact that the wealthy continent of Africa, blessed with all kinds of natural resources, has one of the poorest populations in the world, while African wealth languishes in Western banks, constitutes one of the most dramatic challenges to Western Christian solidarity with Africa. It clearly appears that Africa needs justice and not charity. Here the global religious charity rhetoric has become too problematic for a continent where people have become beggars, nationalists without nations and capitalists without capital.

The fundamental philosophical question raised here is whether faith and reason can be reconciled in a land so fond of harmony and balance. It seems that a sine qua non condition for the credibility of faith in Africa requires a careful scrutiny of the relationship between religion and economic or political interests of nations. On the other hand, the poet Birago Diop introduced to the world the nobility of African traditional religions by capturing in his famous poem “Souffles” that most essential notion of cosmotheandricity, which characterizes the African spiritual worldview and constitutes the metaphysical foundation of those noble African virtues of solidarity and universal hospitality. Honoring these values requires a philosophical critique of some obscurantist aspects of African social life, from tribalism to blind nationalism and from crass materialism to sexism.

Although contemporary philosophical discourse is still overwhelmingly dominated by male thinkers, the traditional dialectical challenge to patriarchy and sexism has been taken up by a progressively growing generation of feminist philosophers. Creative thinkers like Tanella Boni (from the Ivory Coast), Awa Thiam (from Senegal), Sophie Oluwole (from Nigeria), Marie Pauline Eboh (from Nigeria), and Mercy Amba Oduyoye (from Nigeria) are proudly carrying the torch of women’s liberation inspired by traditional African values.

The study of traditional culture has enhanced esthetics. The environmental crisis of the planet, the looting of African minerals and forests, the pollution of African air and water by modern industries, and the dumping in Africa of nuclear and other toxic waste by foreign corporations has led to the rise of an ecological philosophical discourse. Although still in the making, this thinking has already generated a profound critique of science and technology and a reflection on traditional sciences and technologies. Such critical thinking is likely to produce a vigorous African philosophy of science. Likewise, in light of the deepening human crisis generated by the global market and arms industries, African thinkers are now turning toward the ancestral notion of personhood and creating a powerful African humanism based on the notion of Bumuntu. This notion inspired the South African Peace and Reconciliation commissions, among others. In addition, the recent phenomenon of nonviolent political struggle through a broad national dialogue, popularized under the concept of the national conference, is already generating a new trend referred to as Bumuntu philosophy or humanism of the third millennium.

The peculiarity of the African mode of philosophizing consists in the focus on balance, harmony, and a holistic vision of the world. Thus African philosophy does not reject religious worldviews, nor does it privilege a narrow rationalism. In Africa, philosophy is not an art for art’s sake, but rather, a serious reflection on how to enhance human flourishing. This is why the governing principles of African philosophy are Bumi (life), Bumuntu (a genuine way of being humane), hospitality, and solidarity. In the 21st century, the dangers constituted by globalization and the rise of terrorism and counterterrorism are likely to generate a new trend in African philosophy, a trend that will enlarge the concept of terrorism to include the violence of global marketers and the Machiavellian warlords of world politics.

African Philosophy and Religion

In the field of the philosophy of religion, there is a need to articulate an African critique of “just war” ideologies and to formulate a vision of African self-defense in the face of a gathering danger of extermination. This will be an entirely new direction, which can be referred to as African polemiology. Its challenge will be to find an alternative to the Machiavellian ethos of modern real politik and to the war ethic of Pax Romana articulated in the famous militarist dogma of Flavius Vegetius Renatus: Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. The notion that war is a necessary tool for bringing peace, and that in war violence itself becomes the highest form of love, was characteristic of Hitler’s philosophers, as Kurt Flasch reminds us in his enlightening Die Geistige Mobilmachung; Die Deutschen Intellektuellen und der Erste Weltkrieg. But Africa, the cradle of humanity, has other philosophical commitments. And rightly so. In this highly competitive global village, in this era of perpetual war for perpetual peace, African survival itself is at stake, and so is the credibility of African modes of philosophizing.

In this era of global economic and political turbulences, in this world where nations come together to ensure their economic and political survival, the early philosophical dream of African unity articulated by pan-Africanist thinkers acquires a greater significance. Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism (1950), Patrice Lumumba’s political thought, and Nkrumah’s conscientism and critique of imperialism are of great value, as this is an imperial era. The vision of a new political order envisaged by Nyerere’s Ujamaa and the African humanism of Kaunda are also worthy of consideration. For it is self-evident that no real salvation can come from Western ideologies of communism, Marxism, or selfish capitalism. The African traditional virtues of hospitality and solidarity call for the creation of a new world order. And in this context, the ideology of pan-Africanism needs to be reshaped. It is worth recalling that African philosophy has been pan-African since its very inception in the modern era. Both the pan-Africanism of Nkrumah and the Négritude of Senghor drew from the vitality of thinkers from the Americas. Since the 1990s, Asante’s Afrocentricity—the vigorous philosophical movement that originated in the United States and has now globally popularized the vision of Cheikh Anta Diop—has followed in the footsteps of pan-Africanism. Afrocentricity has contributed to the dismantling of the Greek miracle ideology and the decolonization of the history of philosophy.

African Philosophy in the American Context

Today, the United States constitutes one of the major centers, perhaps the most significant center, of African philosophical production. This intellectual relationship among Africa, Europe, and America, which contributed to the dismantling of the system of the slave trade as well as the defeat of colonialism, is perhaps the only chance to face the dangers of this new era of global empires. To reread Du Bois, Nkrumah, Lumumba, Cabral, and Fanon in the light of current state of world affairs implies a reexamination of some of the premises of the current trend of postmodernism, for it is too obvious that in this imperial era, where 18th- and 19th-century rhetoric has come back to the fore, there is nothing “post” in the dominant postcolonial discourse of our time, especially when we recall that postcolonies are to a certain extent none other than an Africanization of Western colonies. In other words, the fundamental deconstructionist task of African philosophy and its hermeneutics of suspicion, its prophetic gadfly role, remains and will continue to be diseminating the noblest expressions of African love of wisdom, for humans continue to philosophize to know how to live carefully and meaningfully.

Finally, it should be noted that the contribution of African philosophy to the world is already felt, especially in the field of philosophy of history. The rediscovery of Kemetic philosophy, and the acknowledgment that Pythagoras, Plato, and some early Greek philosophers studied in Egypt, has revolutionized our understanding of the global history of philosophy and challenged the dualistic view articulated by thinkers such as Lévy-Bruhl, Kant, Hegel, Gobineau, and Voltaire regarding Africans’ ability for philosophical reasoning. Thus, African philosophy has challenged many of the Western assumptions regarding non-European people, and in so doing, it has contributed to the decolonization of knowledge in general and philosophical knowledge in particular. The challenge for Africa, as for many people around the world, is now how to build a peaceful global village. African suffering; the genius of African languages (which are gender inclusive); the traditional values of community, interdependence, interconnectedness, solidarity, and hospitality; the respect for nature and for spiritual values; the respect for life; and the wisdom of African proverbs constitute an important asset for a new way of philosophizing so needed at the present time.