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Opinion - African philosophers are deep and legit

2021-10-20  Staff Reporter

Opinion - African philosophers are deep and legit
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This opinion piece is inspired by Prof. Makala Lilemba’s piece: “Sage Philosophy vis-à-vis Western Thinking’ that appeared in the New Era of 8 October 2021. I cannot agree more with Prof Lilemba that African philosophers are as deep and witty as their counterparts elsewhere in the world. 

One may not be able to attribute some ancient African sayings to a particular African as one can with some Asian and European sayings. Buddha and Socrates, for example, did not write anything but we can attribute particular sayings to them.

This is so because Buddha’s and Socrates’ sayings were captured and transmitted in letters while those of their counterparts or contemporaries in Africa were not written but continue to be transmitted orally today. 

However, the orality of African sagacity is no justification for its inferiorisation. The profundity of a statement should only be a function of a judgment that is based on content, not record or systematisation. 

As a formal academic course of study philosophy is “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence” (Google). Miriam-Webster dictionary simply defines philosophy as “a pursuit of wisdom”.  

From these definitions, we conclude that philosophy is both a course of study and casual activity. The content and concern of philosophy are primarily to reflect on life as one experiences it or observes phenomena around him or her.

This being the case, therefore, the tendencies of superioritisation of one way of philosophising over the other is itself poor philosophy. These tendencies lack logic. 

Logic is a fundamental tenet of philosophy. There is a fundamental difference between philosophy and sophistry. The former is objective while the latter is subjective. The former seeks the truth while the latter seeks to deceive through manipulation. 

It is only pseudo-philosophers that attempt to underrate, devalue and obscure African sages. Of course, the intention to devalue or obscure African sages cannot be divorced from the twin curses of racism (tribalism) and exploitation (oppression). It is for this reason that keen readers should be weary of writers of modern history and/or philosophers. 

For reasons we can only speculate, one comes across some writers or thinkers who produce some literature that minimises the legitimacy or relevance of one tribal polity and extol that of another. 

I personally find the knowledge that is produced from such works counterproductive and diabolic. Any wisdom, practice or policy that could be based on that kind of knowledge could be built on shifting sand. 

In conclusion, earlier I posited that content is the only objective criteria for judging the profundity of a wise saying. Consider the following: The Sifwe (African) equivalent of the profound statement “All that glitters is not gold” is “Mumu kokka kalyi momwi nyama” (Traces or marks of a dragged carcass doesn’t mean there is meat”). 

Although the imagery employed in the advice in both the African version and the English version is different, the meaning is the same – One should be careful not to assume that everything is what it appears to be. The two civilizations interpret the same reality using elements of nature to which they are akin. This is a testament that Africans are capable of both logic and mystique just like other peoples of the world.

*Opinions expressed are my own, for I write in my personal capacity.

2021-10-20  Staff Reporter

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