Critical Thinking and the African Identity

I start this piece by stating emphatically that if lack of critical thinking or inability to apply one’s common sense to issues is what makes one an African, then I am not an African. I say this – and I really mean it. That I hereby renounce my African identity if it means that I should not exercise my critical intelligence or apply reason and science in all areas of human endeavor. If being an African means I should suspend and shut down my thinking faculty and blindly accept whatever any person or prophet says or preaches, then, I say, count me out. Don’t count me as an African. I am making this assertion because very often blind faith, dogma and fetishism are identified with African mentality.

Whenever I try to apply logic, critical reasoning and scientific temper to issues during public debates, I am often accused of not thinking like an African. I am always told that I think like a white man or that I have a western mentality. As if critical thinking or the scientific outlook is for westerners alone or that critical thinking can only be exercised by people from a particular race or region. No, this is not the case.

Surprisingly, nobody has ever stepped forward to tell me how an ‘African’ thinks. For me it is either this ‘African mode of thought’ is one which nobody knows about or is one that does not exist or qualify to be called a thinking pattern. Nobody has tried to let me know if Africans think at all. Because this misguided view that one is unAfrican or western in outlook is often employed to block or suppress critical reasoning or inquiry particularly when it is used to challenge traditions, positions and opinions informed by blind faith or dogma.

While holding on to beliefs and outlooks informed by superstition and primordial thinking is often glorified as African. Even in this 21st century, reason and science are still perceived as western, and not African values. I have yet to understand how we came about this mistaken idea. Hence, it is often portrayed as if the African does not reason and dare not reason or that the African does not think or cannot think critically. It seems thinking like an African means suspension of thought, logic or common sense. Thinking like an African means not thinking at all- thoughtlessness or thinking in spiritual, occult or magical ways.

For instance, whenever I try to challenge or question the irrational and absurd claims of witchcraft, juju and charms, and other ritualistic and religious nonsense that dominate the mental space of Africans, I am often reminded that my mentality is western. And you know what, whenever in the course of a public debate, somebody allges that a position is western, it means that it is unacceptable though it may be reasonable or may have a superior argument. Is that not unfortunate?

Whenever I try to fault or expose the absurdity of witchcraft accusations or the persecution of alleged witches or wizards, many people often urge me to set aside this my oyibo(white man’s) mentality. As if critical thinking is the exclusive cultural preserve of white people while mystical thinking is for blacks and for Africans. Personally, I am aware that the white race and the western world have recorded significant achievements in the areas of science and technology, in rational and critical disourses. They also have their own share of dark age nonsense, dogmas and superstitions.

But that does not make the values of science, reason and critical thinking western or white. The values of science and reason constitute part of human heritage, which all human beings can lay claim to, exercise, access, express, celebrate, cultivate and nurture. The progress which the western world has recorded as a result of their institutionalization of reason and science is one which any society can realize and supercede if it wants. Africans should stop hiding behind this misrepresentation thatreason and science are unAfrican western values. Africans should embrace the enlightening matrices of critical mindedness and work to dispel the dark age and barbaric mentality that loom large on the continent.

Those who are propagating this erroneous idea that critical thinking is alien to African identity and mentality are doing the African race and civilization a great disservice. They are frustrating the take off of African enlightenment, emancipation and emergence. There is no sound mind who would fault this logic. The syllogism that says –

All human beings can think critically. All Africans are human beings. Therefore all Africans can think critically.

So Africans should rise up to the challenge of critical evaluation of issues. Because lack of critical thinking is at the root of most problems that plague the continent. Africans should strive and make critical inquiry part of African culture, identity and civilization. I am also appealing to all all lovers of science, reason and critical thought around the globe to help Africans realize this intellectual breakthrough.

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