Volume 28, 2008
Philosophy in Africa
Rethinking Political Philosophy in Modern Africa
What would happen if, instead of taking an instrumentalist view of the ideas of modern African political thinkers, we consider those ideas as indeed they are, attempts by them to proffer answers to the central questions of political philosophy as those are apprehended in the African context? If we did, we would end up
with a robust, sophisticated discourse properly denominated ‘Modern African Political Philosophy’ in which we recognize, possibly celebrate and, ultimately, assess the quality of answers that African thinkers have provided. The importance of recognizing a body of work under this genre cannot be overemphasized given the many debates, controversies, misrepresentations abroad in accounts of the relationship between Africa and modernity. It is almost as if there is only one way that African thinkers have related to modernity: in antagonism. I argue that one can give an account in political philosophy that shows that the received wisdom is profoundly mistaken. To do so requires that we rethink political philosophy in the modern African context.