Against Decolonization (African Arguments)


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Decolonization has lost its way. Originally conceived as a struggle to escape the West’s direct political and economic control, it has become a catch-all idea, often used to perform contemporary ‘morality’ or ‘authenticity’. In the process, it suffocates African thought, and denies African agency.

Olúfemi Táíwò fiercely rejects the indiscriminate application of ‘decolonization’ to everything from literature, language and philosophy to sociology, psychology and medicine. He argues that the decolonization industry, obsessed with exposing slights and cataloguing wrongs, is seriously harming scholarship on and in Africa. He finds decolonization as applied to culture intellectually unsound and wholly unrealistic, conflating modernity with coloniality, and groundlessly advocating an open-ended undoing of global society’s foundations. Worst of all, today’s movement attacks its own proclaimed cause: ‘decolonizers’ themselves are disregarding, infantilizing and imposing values on contemporary African thinkers.

This powerful, much-needed intervention questions whether today’s ‘decolonization’ truly serves African empowerment. Táíwò’s is a bold challenge to all concerned for Africa’s future: to resist sweeping moralities, and grant the respect due to African intellectuals as innovative adaptors, appropriators and synthesizers of ideas they have always seen as universally relevant. It’s time to reclaim decolonization, within the constraints of what is measurable, achievable and desirable.


It doesn’t happen very often, but now and again one comes across a book that is really transformative. An author who simply changes the narrative and argues so persuasively there is really little more to be said on the subject. Olufemi Taiwo’s Against Decolonization is one such author and this is one such book. — Martin Plaut, journalist and former Africa editor for BBC World Service NewsAgainst Decolonization launches a trench war. Its flaming arrows hit all, sparing no axiom of reflex decolonization. This is a bolekaja (come-down-let-us-slug-it-out) critique in its most consequential form. If you are not provoked by its argument, you sabe nothing. — Adeleke Adéeko, Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University

With characteristic cogency, lucidity and audacity, Táíwò shows that decolonization has become an idea promoting indiscriminate hostility to forms of thought and practice wrongly tarred with malign colonial auspices. The ironic result is a rhetoric that gives short shrift to African agency. It’s time to drop the erroneous conflations and recognize our right to inventive appropriation of the human commons. — Ato Sekyi-Otu, Emeritus Professor of Social and Political Thought, York University, Toronto, and author of Left Universalism, Africacentric EssaysTáíwò has written an indispensable book. To sloganize for cultural and ideological decolonization is to deny history and agency to Africa. He makes his point through a thorough analysis of politics, economics and debates around language and philosophy. — Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University, author of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason

A bracing and much-needed riposte to contemporary efforts to ‘decolonize’ culture, language and politics in the Global South. Elegantly demonstrating the ignorance and violence of such aims, Táíwò inaugurates a new way of thinking about the persistence of empire as one of the great intellectual and political themes of our times. — Faisal Devji, Director of the Asian Studies Centre, University of OxfordThis is a book whose time has come. Basing his arguments principally on philosophy and language, Táíwò demonstrates how ‘decolonizers’ reject as inauthentically African the works of even the most gifted and influential African scholars, thinkers, and writers. Consistently cogent, commonsensical, powerful, and wise, this book will not be the last word on decolonization–but it is close to it. — Biodun Jeyifo, Professor of African and African American Studies and of Comparative Literature, Harvard University

A highly important and deeply argued book. Táíwò asks us not to succumb to the simplistic siren song of the word ‘decolonization’. A vague word, an easy trope does not help to create the modern African with complicated agency amidst complex historical and twenty-first-century demands. — Stephen Chan OBE, SOAS University of London, author of African Political Thought

With immense brio and a generous dose of common sense, Táíwò exposes the weaknesses of an over-extended notion of decolonization and offers a convincing alternative. This highly readable, engaging, and challenging book is a must for everyone interested in modern Africa. — Dame Karin Barber, Emeritus Professor of African Cultural Anthropology, University of Birmingham

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Against Decolonization (African Arguments)