HomePhilosophia: International Journal of Philosophyvol. 38 no. 2 (2009)

Resignifying the Universal: Critical Commentary on Postcolonial African Identity and Development

Adeshina L. Afolayan



The dimension of the debate on the relation between the universal and the particular in African philosophy has been skewed in favor of the universalists who argued that the condition for the possibility of an African conception of philosophy cannot be achieved outside the “universal” idea of the philosophical enterprise. In this sense, the ethnophilosophical project and its attempt to rescue the idea of an African past necessary for the reconstruction of an African postcolonial identity and development become futile. A recent commentator even argues that works concerning African identity are now totally irrelevant and misguided. In this essay, I will be arguing, on the contrary, that the universalists’ argument, much like its critique of ethnophilosophical reason, mistakes the nature, significance, and necessity of such a “resistance (rather than original) identity” that the ethnophilosophical project promises. I will also argue that the fabrication of such an identity facilitates the avoidance of an uncritical submersion in the universal as well as a proper conception of an African development. This, furthermore, is the only avenue by which the imperialistic ontological space of universal humanism, in which most universalist claims are rooted, can be made more polygonal and mutually beneficial for alternative cultural particulars.