Published Humanitas, Volume XXI, Nos. 1 and 2, 2008

The relationship between tradition and modernity has been a central theme of postcolonial African philosophy. While African philosophers have examined this theme from many angles, several basic questions have become the focus of ongoing debate and discussion: What is the relevance of indigenous African traditions to the challenges of contemporary life? Do traditional modes of thought and behavior constitute resources or impediments to the projects of development and modernization in Africa? What, precisely, is meant by the terms “development” and “modernization” when they are used in reference to African countries?

Discussion of such questions reveals a conflict between two broad perspectives. The first perspective, which Kwame Gyekye calls “cultural revivalism” (Gyekye 1997b, 233), assumes a basically reverential attitude toward the African cultural heritage. According to this view, the key to effectively addressing contemporary problems lies in reclaiming and revitalizing indigenous traditions that have been degraded and suppressed in the wake of colonialism. Colonialism violently disrupted African cultural traditions and imposed, with varying degrees of success, European forms of thought and social organization upon colonized peoples. Having achieved political independence, postcolonial Africans must now pursue a more decisive liberation, a “decolonization” of African minds and societies.

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