The idea of a ‘precolonial’ Africa is theoretically vacuous, racist and plain wrong about the continent’s actual history

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò in Aeon:

We should expunge, forever, the epithet ‘precolonial’ or any of its cognates from all aspects of the study of Africa and its phenomena. We should banish title phrases, names and characterisations of reality and ideas containing the word.

To those who might be put off by the severity of the proposal, or its ideological-police ring, I hear you and ask only that, with just a little patience, you hear me out. It will not take much to jolt us out of the present unthinking in assuming that ‘precolonial’ or ‘traditional’, and ‘indigenous’, has any worthwhile role to play in our attempt to track, describe, explain and make sense of African life and history.

When ‘precolonial’ is used for describing African ideas, processes, institutions and practices, through time, it misrepresents them. When deployed to explain African experience and institutions, and characterise the logic of their evolution through history, it is worthless and theoretically vacuous. The concept of ‘precolonial’ anything hides, it never discloses; it obscures, it never illuminates; it does not aid understanding in any manner, shape or form.

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