Introducing Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò to African Psychologists

Olufemi Taiwo


My introduction to Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò was via his book Africa Must Be Modern: a Manifesto. Professor of African political thought at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University in the United States of America, Táíwò is a philosopher. But the book is an easy non-philosophical read. On the faculty page of the Africana Studies and Research Center, this is what it says Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò. Or better yet, this is what Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò says about Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò):

I aim to expand the African reach in philosophy and, simultaneously, to indigenize the discipline and make it more relevant to Africa and African students.  My scholarly activities aim to contribute to the creation, at the intellectual level, of the categories that will enable all who share similar experiences to indigenize the alien idioms of our philosophical training and, simultaneously, globalize the historical experience of African peoples and their modes of discourse towards the emergence of authentic African voices in the ongoing polylogue among the world’s peoples.


Why should you know Táíwò?

Because African psychology is not, as people often erroneously make it out be, a psychology of an ancient African thought and practices – even though it is completely acceptable for someone to be interesed in studying such topics. African psychology is a very modern body of work, even when some do want to look back into the past. It’s birth or growth takes places in the post-colony. It may even be said to be post-modern, given its fragmentation, self-consciousness of marginality, and distrust of grand truths. And African psychology, because of that awareness of Africa as marginal in global psychology, is also cognisant of the technological and scientific developments that are shaping and disrupting and remaking Africa, as well as the universe, humans and post-human futures.

Because the best African psychologists, in my calculation are ones that are alive to developments and shifting interests in sister disciplines that are interested in Africa, like politics and philosophy, and the world of knowledge and its making as a whole.

And because Táíwò has some interesting, provocative things to say. In September this year he gave a TED Talk, “Why Africa must become a center of knowledge again.” In his talk he says such basic but true and neglected things like:

What stands between Africa’s current prostrate condition and a future of prosperity and abundance for its long-suffering populations? One word: knowledge. If Africa is to become a continent that offers the best life for humans, it must become a knowledge society immediately. This is what I have called “Africa’s knowledge imperative.”

Knowldge is my emphasis. You may not – or is it you should not – agree with everything Táíwò has to say. You may feel that the main problem that “stands between Africa’s current prostrate condition and a future of prosperity and abundance for its long-suffering populations” is corruption. Or vampire capitalism. But I don’t see how you can disagree with the point that without up-to-date knowledge, including knowledge about how to make African countries uncorruptible and African governments people-focussed instead of worshiping unscrupulous leaders, many of the countries in Africa will always come last in all the human development indices.

Watch Táíwò’s TED talk.



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