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Politically correct decolonization ideology?

Against Decolonisation. Taking African Agency Seriously
Forfatter: Olùfèmi Táíwò
Forlag: Hurst (Storbritannia)
MODERNIZATION / The Nigerian professor Olùfèmi Táíwò looks at power relations between the formerly colonized and colonialists. All states strive to adapt modern institutions to their own history, cultural context and ideological climate. But can the demand to decolonize the language become absurd?

Olùfèmi Táíwò has written a book of just over 250 pages where the main point comes out already in the book's title; Táíwò clearly distances himself from the whole ideological decolonization project that has ridden academic discussions about Africa in the last decade. He claims that the decolonization project passives Africans and deprives them of both authority and responsibility. The book is praised by the Indian literary theorist, author and Columbia professor Gayatri Spivak, who claims the book is absolutely indispensable for anyone interested in power relations between the formerly colonized and colonialists.

Olùfèmi Táíwò is not just anyone. The Nigerian is a philosophy professor at Cornell (USA) and has an impressive academic output behind him, mostly on African philosophy, but also texts on politics and history. His Ted Talk about why Africa must become a more central producer of knowledge in the world, has been seen over a million times.

The political decolonization

Political decolonization occurred for most African states in the 1960s. Táíwò acknowledges that the colonial era has had an impact on the lives and thoughts of the colonized, but insists that colonialism does not define who Africans are today. "I am Yoruba, I am Nigerian, I am African, I am a human being, and I have and have had a number of different roles in my life," he writes.

He argues that Africans – like everyone else – can choose their identities and roles. His argument is that unless Africans choose to let themselves be defined by colonialism, we also cannot demand that everything – such as education, university subjects and state institutions – be decolonised.

If multi-party elections and liberal democracy are a Western invention that the colonialists have imposed on Africa, which many decolonization ideologues claim, we must not decolonize liberal democracy. We absolutely have to get rid of it, he argues. But since, for example, it has not been done, and people protest every time a multi-party election is not carried out relatively freely, or every time an African president tries to change the constitution to extend his own presidency – it must mean that Africans want a liberal democracy with multi-party elections . Táíwò believes that if they choose to organize the modern African states with the institutions that the colonial powers established, they must adapt the institutions to their reality and anchor them in their own philosophy.

Here, African states do not differ significantly from other states. All states strive to adapt modern institutions to their own history, cultural context and ideological climate. The Africans have accepted the state institutions since liberation in the 1960s, and by demanding they be decolonized only now, "we implicitly say that we have accepted to be ruled by Europe for close to 60 years". According to Táíwò, depriving the Africans of both responsibility, authority and agency. The demand for decolonization pacifies and marginalizes Africans.

Correspondence between language and identity?

One long chapter (60 pages) Olùfèmi Táíwò devotes to various language issues. Which language is used both in schools, in administration and in literature has been central to many decolonization debates. Táíwò is critical of the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, who claims that there is a strong correspondence between language and identity.

The Breath of the Wild

So strong a match did Ngũgĩ think it was, that in 1970 he changed his own name from James Ngugi to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and began writing in Kikuyu instead of English. Táíwò claims that the demand to decolonize the language becomes absurd if one only wants to prove that an African language can express exactly the same as English, French or Portuguese. Then we get a form of "equivalism" that neither adds anything new to one or the other language. Without him saying it explicitly, we sense a small kick towards Ngũgĩ: Ngũgĩ wrote his last two novels in Kikuyu and then translated them into English himself. Which language one chooses to use is a personal choice and has nothing to do with colonial oppression, argues Táíwò.

In Nigeria, one can read books and take higher education in English or Yoruba as desired. And like all other languages, the African languages ​​are also constantly developing. New words and expressions are invented and used; loanwords from other languages ​​are included and make the languages ​​both richer, more nuanced and precise. We just have to make the languages ​​ours like the Indians have done with their English – London English is not the same as New Dehli English. As a sigh of relief at the absurdity of the ideologically driven decolonization debate, Táíwò says that many Africans who speak and write in one-world languages ​​are often not invited to events about decolonization because they cannot be considered proper Africans – with a politically correct decolonization ideology.

Táíwò fails to understand why some Africans, more than 60 years after colonial
the end of time, still blaming the colonists and the West for everything that doesn't work, thus underestimating their ability and strength to eventually defeat the colonial oppressions.

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Ketil Fred Hansen
Hansen is a professor of social sciences at UiS and a regular reviewer at Ny Tid.

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