Critical thinking and the African identity
By Leo Igwe,
Published in Malawi's Sunday Times on 29 January 2011
Nigerian, Leo Igwe, is the regional representative of IHEU. We edited an article of his that is relevant to cultural considerations of witchcraft which was published in the regular ASH Science & Critical Thinking column in Malawi's SundayTimes
If lack of critical thinking or inability to apply common sense to issues is what makes one an African, then I am not an African. I hereby renounce my African identity if it means that I should not exercise my critical intelligence or apply reason and science.
If being African means I should suspend my thinking faculty and blindly accept whatever any person or prophet says or preaches, don’t count me as an African. I make this assertion because often blind faith, dogma and fetishism are identified with African mentality.
Whenever I apply logic, critical reasoning and science during debates, I am often accused of not thinking like an African. I am told that I think like a white man. As if critical thinking or the scientific outlook is for westerners alone or that it can only be exercised by people from a particular race.
Even in this 21st Century, reason and science are still perceived as western, not African values. How did we arrive at this mistaken idea? It is often portrayed as if the African does not reason and dare not reason or does not think or cannot think critically - thinking like an African means suspension of logic or common sense! Thinking like an African means not thinking at all – but thoughtlessly thinking in spiritual, occultic or magical ways.
Whenever I challenge or question the irrational and absurd claims of witchcraft, charms and other ritualistic and religious nonsense that dominate the mental space of Africans, I am often reminded that my mentality is western. Whenever somebody alleges that a position is western, though it may be reasonable or may have a superior argument, does it mean that it is unacceptable? Is that not unfortunate?
Whenever I expose the absurdity of witchcraft accusations or the persecution of alleged witches or wizards, many often urge me to set aside my ‘white man’s mentality’, as if critical thinking is for white people while mystical thinking is for blacks and Africans.
The white race and the West have recorded significant achievements in science and technology, and in rational and critical discourses. That does not make the values of science, reason and critical thinking western or white. These values constitute part of human heritage, which all human beings can lay claim to, exercise, access, express, celebrate, cultivate and nurture. The progress which the West has recorded as a result of their institutionalisation of reason and science is one which any society can realise. Africans should stop hiding behind this misrepresentation that reason and science are un-African western values. Africans should embrace critical mindedness and work to dispel the Dark Age and barbaric mentality that looms large on the continent.
Those maintaining that critical thinking is alien to African identity and mentality are doing the African race and civilization a great disservice. They are frustrating the African enlightenment, emancipation and emergence.