Dr. Ayanda Nombila, University of the Western Cape
Africanity and its Discontents
This paper focuses on the intellectual debate about the idea of Africanity that took place at the Codesria Bulletin of 2000. I argue that the fundamental question that drives this intellectual debate is that of intellectual autonomy/sovereignty. What does it mean to theorize Africa from the “concrete” historical and political experience, and how does that allow for an independent African intellectual subject? This debate allows us to think through the question about the place of Africa in the world and the universal, while also asking us to search for an African politics that is shaped by the “concrete” and not an abstract idealism. It asks us to think about the grounds from which to speak about Africa. Must Africa be theorized from anywhere, by anyone, and for anything? Who has the right to theorize Africa? Is the African subject part of a universal global subjectivity? How is Africa differently part of that universal global subjectivity? The paper will focus on a conversation on this issue of the Codesria Bulletin, between two prominent African intellectuals, one Archie Mafeje and the other Achille Mbembe. In answering the question as to how we might understand this debate we will deploy the following strategies. We will put the debate within the institutional context of a pan-African tradition of Codesria, the historical and political context of postcolonial Africa and the influences of different schools of thought in the formation of intellectuals. In an attempt to theorize this debate, we also take influence from the work of the political philosopher of “neo-realist” politics Raymond Geuss, Thandika Mkandawire’s work on the historical context of intellectual labor, and David Scott’s work on the idea of the “problem-space”.