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Franz Gmainer-Pranzl

In Between Colonialism and Culturalism

On Olusegun Oladipo (ed.): The Third Way in African Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Kwasi Wiredu

Beyond Traditionalism and Modernism

Olusegun Oladipo (ed.):
The Third Way in African Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Kwasi Wiredu.
Ibadan: Hope Publications, 2002.
345 pages
ISBN 978-35981-7-X
book cover
Hope Publications Ltd.
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1 For the occasion of the 70th birthday of Kwasi Wiredu's (born in Ghana on October 3rd, 1931), Olusegun Oladipo, professor of philosophy at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria), prepared the anthology The Third Way in African Philosophy for publication. Consisting of fourteen essays examining Wiredu's thinking, as well as two contributions by Wiredu himself, it allows insight into the philosophical work of a lifetime that paradigmatically represents the challenges of contemporary philosophising in Africa.
2 The anthology is about the »third way« that Wiredu has embarked upon: neither the traditionalistic desire for ancient cultures, that allegedly guarantee »real life«, nor the uncritical adoption – motivated by a wish for »modernity« – of Western forms of thought and living prove to be seminal paths. Rather – as Olusegun Oladipo indicates in his introduction (11-16) – critical and constructive mediation is possible in such a manner »that, indeed, we can work within a tradition, and at the same time, move beyond it; that we can explore developments in other philosophies without endangering the evolution of our own philosophical tradition« (13). What can we learn from Kwasi Wiredu's »third way«?

Wiredu's Thought as Liberation Critique of Cultures

3 Moses Oke (19-35), from the Obafemi Awolowo University (Ile-Ife, Nigeria), characterises Wiredu's thinking as an »intellectual liberation critique of culture« (23) through which the term »African philosophy« loses its naturalistic connotations. Olusegun Oladipu (36-60) examines the idiosyncrasy of Wiredu's (cultural-)philosophical analysis, summing up that »[a]lthough Wiredu's conception of African philosophy is Western in form, it is decidely African in content« (56). Philosophy in Africa is not bound to traditional world views, but must be rooted in »contemporary African culture« (71). Similarly, the authenticity of African philosophy is not assured by rejecting foreign influences, but by a responsibly conducted interlacing of different traditions – thus elucidates Godfrey Igwebuike Onah (61-97), from the Pontifical Urbaniana University (Rome), writing that »Wiredu has shown that it does not really matter if the nets are not locally made. The important thing is that one knows how to use them profitably« (90).
4 Udo Etuk (98-116), lecturer at the University of Uyo (Nigeria), makes the attempt to identify the essentials of an »African logic«, resorting in particular to the factors of »time« and (social) »status« to work out an »Affective Logic« (114). J. Obi Oguejiofor (117-134), from the Faculty of Philosophy in Enugu (Nigeria), explores the possibilities of a history of philosophy inspired by Wiredu's thinking. According to Oguejiofor, the complexity as well as the contradiction of African cultures has to be assumed and must be taken seriously. These cultures, for example, also include Islamic-Arabic North Africa. In Oguejofor's belief, »[t]here is in fact no single monolithic culture but rather cultures in Africa« (129).

Wiredu in the Context of African Philosophies

»To be an authentic African philosopher one does not need to reject whatever may be regarded as foreign influence in one’s conceptual formation.«

Godfrey Igwebuike Onah
5 Nkeonye Otakpor (137-154), from the University Benin City (Nigeria), precedes his essay with a question in Igbo, »Onye ma ebe one?« – »Who knows, where he is?«, in order to make readers conscious about the relativity of all orientations and fixed beliefs: »Who owns the world? Nobody. There is no life without this incessant fluctuation, without flexibility and oscillations.« (141) In a second contribution, Olesegun Oladipo (155-167) takes a look at the Yoruba worldview and, with this worldview in mind, calls for a »critical study of traditional African world-views and ideals of life with a view to determining the significance of their constitutive elements for contemporary living« (165).
6 Helen Lauer (171-214), who teaches at the University of Legon (Ghana), points to internal contradictions in the patterns of reasoning within widely-spread (cultural-philosophical) relativism. She notes that »[i]f it makes substantive sense – not just metaphorical sense, but analytical, testable sense – to talk of competing conceptual schemes at all, then there must be ways of contrasting and adjudicating between them« (198), adding that »bridge-building between conceptual schemes« (204) is what is decisive. Kai Kresse (215-232), from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), takes on the task to introduce an important companion and inspirer of Wiredu – the Ugandan poet Okot p'Bitek –, showing »that poetry can very well be part of a critical social discourse which reflects upon the basis of society« (228).
7 A.G.A. Bello (234-251), from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, reflects on the traditional ways of life of African societies, coming to the conclusion that »it is not necessary to exaggerate or overdraw the contrast between communalism and individualism, since the individual, along with his ›rights‹ and ›duties‹ is at the centre of both social ethics« (249). Anke Graness (252-268), from Schwerin (Germany), examines Wiredu's ethics of consensus, which she perceives as a »reconciliation of divergent interests for the sake of a stable community« (257), indeed, even as a »practical basis for peaceful mediation of different interests« (266).
8 J.A.I. Bewaji (271-295), from the University of the West Indies in Kingston (Jamaica), considers the disregard for indigenous African languages (and with this, simultaneously, the European claim to »world languages«) and explains that »[a]ll living languages are dynamic enough to accommodate and express new phenomena« (292). And finally, Oshita O. Oshita (296-312), from the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Abuja (Nigeria), investigates the relationship of written and oral communication, emphasising the communicative nature of traditional orality, writing that »[b]y de-emphasising individualism, apathy and the cult of the self, orality enhances the crucial element of communion in every interaction« (310).

Towards an Integration of Tradition and Modernity

Kwasi Wiredu:
»Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics. A Plea for a Non-party Polity«.
In: polylog 2 (2000).
internal linkArticle
9 An essay by as well as an autobiographical interview with Kwasi Wiredu (315-340) at the end of the anthology once more clarify his fundamental preoccupation and well-known demand for »conceptual decolonisation«. Far from rejecting »foreign« cultural and philosophical influences, Wiredu demands, on the one hand, a thorough examination of all ideas taken on (e.g. from Western thinking) without a critical attitude and, on the other hand, a vigilant perception and (re)acquisition of the own traditions as well as their critical-constructive synthesis with other ways of thinking. And this is precisely what constitutes Wiredu's »third way«: »It is only by such a reflective integration of the traditional and the modern that contemporary African philosophers can contribute to the flourishing of our people and, ultimately, all other peoples.« (337)
10 This anthology is a felicitous example of a new hermeneutic and epistemological reflection, which adopts an awareness of the difficulties of intercultural philosophising and, with creativity, develops it within an African context. It is to be hoped that Kwasi Wiredu's thinking is to set a precedent.
Translation from the German by Marlies Gabriele Prinzl.

polylog. Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 5 (2004).
Online: http://lit.polylog.org/5/rgf-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
Author: Franz Gmainer-Pranzl, Salzburg (Austria)
© 2004 Author & polylog e.V.
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