Book Review: African Voices In Search of a Decolonial Turn-Edited by Siphamandla Zondi

This book may be summed up, as one among successful contemporary texts which deserve to be gregariously welcomed, as part of ongoing epistemic efforts, contributing towards incomplete ‚Äúdebates about decolonization and the Africanization of knowledge‚ÄĚ (Pp.1), by African scholars refusing to be ‚Äúsilenced, erased, ignored, denigrated  and submerged‚ÄĚ (Pp. 9). This book ought to be read, as a useful manual ‚Äúto join the call for epistemic rebellion and disobedience‚ÄĚ (Pp. 10) from literature expected from the decolonial library (as opposed to Paul Zeleza‚Äôs paraphrased reference in this book of the existence of a ‚Äėcolonial library‚Äô (Pp.1). The aforesaid forms part of an epistemic quest, by African scholar-activists ‚Äúto recentre Africa‚ÄĚ (Pp.1). The cohort of contributors in this book, systematically mused about marginalized insights, from historically obscured African scholarship. The method of achieving the latter goal, aptly involved current African scholars selecting an African predecessor of their choice and addressing their oeuvre, for the purpose of ascertaining the germaneness of their philosophical ideas, to ‚Äėdecolonization‚Äô and ‚ÄėAfricanization‚Äô. 

In the maiden chapter Siphamandla Zondi opens, with a pedagogic overview befitting of an editor, who goes out of his way to channel the direction of the ‚Äúprotracted process‚ÄĚ (Pp. 6) of engaging issues of an ‚ÄúAfrican archive‚ÄĚ (Pp.7). Zondi‚Äôs Chapter 1 built upon the useful foundation and tone, already set by Ethiopian scholar Mammo Muchie, in the didactic foreword. Muchie stated upfront that this book was ‚Äúabout what African scholars and activists in the struggle for intellectual decolonization have written and said over the past few decades‚ÄĚ (Pp. v). I support Muchie‚Äôs view, that this book ought to be ‚Äúunderstood in the context of the long road toward the decolonization and Africanization of knowledge and education‚ÄĚ (Pp. v). Muchie however could have avoided misspelling the name of South Africa‚Äôs pioneering female Pan-Africanist, not as Anne but as Alice Victoria Kinloch (AVK). Zondi‚Äôs Chapter 1, is an instructive overview of this book. As an opening chapter it vitally offers a historical background of Africa‚Äôs ‚Äúepistemicides‚ÄĚ (Pp.3), which support efforts following Ngugi Wa Thiong‚Äôo‚Äôs call to ‚Äėdecolonize our minds‚Äô, to liberate African minds. Zondi furthermore introduced and evoked authoritative scholars and their jargon, such as Anibal Quijano and Ramon Grosfiguel‚Äôs ‚Äėcoloniality‚Äô (Pp.2), Boaventura de Sousa Santos‚Äôs ‚Äėepistimicide‚Äô (Pp.3), Lewis Gordon‚Äôs ‚Äėgeography of reason‚Äô (Pp.3), Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni‚Äôs ‚Äėcolonial matrices of power‚Äô (Pp.4), ‚Äėabysmal knowledge‚Äô (Pp.4) and ‚Äėepistemic disobedience‚Äô (Pp.6). 

For reasons of whetting the curiosity of likely readers, while being mindful of amongst others the signicance of one‚Äôs locus of enunciation in the pursuit of a ‚Äúdecolonial turn‚ÄĚ (Pp.1), it may be useful to enlist the ‚ÄúAfrican thinkers‚ÄĚ (Pp.1) in this book, which I referred to earlier as the selected cohort of African predecessors. In chronological order the list includes Uganda‚Äôs Mahmood Mamdani (Chapter 2), North Africa‚Äôs Ibn Rushd (Chapter 3),  Libya‚Äôs Ibrahim al-koni (Chapter 4), Nigeria‚Äôs Chinua Achebe (Chapter 5), South Africa‚Äôs Bernard Magubane (Chapter 6), Jamaica‚Äôs Marcus Garvey (Chapter 7), South Africa‚Äôs Archie Mafeje (Chapter 8), America‚Äôs Molefe Kete Asante (Chapter 9), South Africa‚Äôs Steve Biko, Senegal‚Äôs Leopold Senghor and Egypt‚Äôs Taha Hussein (the latter 3 are collectively addressed in Chapter 10),  Kenya‚Äôs Wangari Maathai (Chapter 11), Nigeria‚Äôs Claude Ake (Chapter 12), Kenya‚Äôs Ali Mazrui (Chapter 13), Martinique‚Äôs Frantz Fanon (Chapter 14), Guinea-Bissau‚Äôs Amilcar Cabral (Chapter 15), South Africa‚Äôs Isaac Tabata (Chapter 16) and alas Nigeria‚Äôs Adebayo Adedeji (Chapter 17). It didn‚Äôt escape me how this list of both familiar and obscure African voices, problematically featured only a solitary African woman. For this, Zondi must account to the justified oversight about patriarchy. 

Mindful of other books, also addressing epistemic ventures vis-a-vie contentious themes of ‚ÄėDecolonisation‚Äô and ‚ÄėAfricanisation‚Äô, readers are expected to differ about the strengths and weaknesses of this book. I opine that the strengths of this book, exceed its weaknesses.  Part of the strengths included the realization that all contributors, provided sufficient contents in their responses to this book‚Äôs seminal questions, addressing the whereabouts of African voices, in efforts to ‚Äúbreaking out of the silence and liberating African discourse from the traps of Eurocentric epistemology and the tropes of the colonial library‚ÄĚ (Pp.1). Another strength of this book is the showcasing of the promising priorities of South African research institutions, in this case, namely, this book‚Äôs publishers, the Africa Instute of South Africa (AISA) of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). It is vital to acknowledge AISA‚Äôs agreement to publish, what begun as discussions among members, of the locally founded African Decolonial Research Network (ADERN) in Pretoria, South Africa. Indeed the value of this book to ‚Äėrecentre Africa‚Äô (Pp.1), in order to sagaciously contest the hegemony of Western epistemology, must be embraced as part of the ‚Äúagency of Africa and Africans‚ÄĚ (Pp.4), as reminded by the nationwide tertiary outcry of RhodesMustfall and Feesmustfall

On the basis that no book can be perfect, the weaknesses of this book similar to its strengths may expectedly differ, amongst its readers. Whatever other critics may say, for me the gravest weakness of this book was its gender imbalance. Having read how South Africa’s AVK (Pp. v) and the South African born author (who later became a citizen of Botswana) Bessie Head (Pp.7) were fleetingly evoked, in this book’s opening sections yet in the looming chapters, only Kenya’s Wangari Maathai was engaged, left me troubled. Being mindful of my locus of enunciation as a South African black male scholar, such sparse reference to especially black South African woman amongst women from elsewhere in Africa, left the impression that Zondi, as the editor of this book fell into the pitfall of privileging patriarchal views of African voices, at the expense of the continually obscured matriarchal views. Overall, I highly recommend this book.

Dr. Tshepo Mvulane Moloi

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies (AMCHES) and a Research Associate at the African Center for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (ACEPS) – University of Johannesburg.