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PHILOSOPHY AND THE IDEA OF INDIVIDUAL VERSUS COMMUNITY

My concern today is to interrogate one or two attitudes or if you like call them dogmas. I find these dogmas in theory and practice. Like all dogmas, I will argue that Nigeria is worse off for our inability to properly manage the issues raised by the dogmas.


Dogma 1
Western societies are individualistic and African societies are communalistic. I am aware that many scholars associate liberalism with the west and communitarianism with Africa and other parts of the world with imposed political ideologies on the people.

Dogma 2
There is a romantic attachment to Africa's communitarian tag by Africans and a rejection of the individualistic liberal tradition of western societies. A related dogma is the one that ascribes selfishness as against altruism to western societies.

1. I think we should abandon the idea of Africans being communitarians. The reason is simple; all societies that have existed were once communitarian in nature. In other words, it is not unique to Africans.

2. Communitarianism is a function of the mode of production prevalent in any society. Non industrial societies like we have in Africa tend to show signs of social bond and cooperation closer to what obtains in all preindustrial societies.

3. In segments of societies even in Africa where institutions that rely on individual autonomy such as universities, civil service, commercial banks, industries, etc. we have seen the collapse of or infinitesimal presence of communitarian bond.

4. I think the idea of African societies being communitarian is descriptive of what reflects the stage of Africa's mode of production. All societies including the current western societies passed through the so called communitarian stage of existence. If it is true that all societies were at one stage or the other communal then we should be careful in ascribing that mode of existence to Africa.

5. I have tried to make a distinction between social ties and primordial ties. The societies that we see as liberal have high degree of social ties but not very high degree of primordial ties. Conversely, Africa communal societies have high degree of primordial ties and very low degree of rational social ties.

6. Reason and rationality influence life in liberal societies but emotions and group sentiments are prevalent in African communal societies. Unfortunately for Africa, individuals are the units of evaluating productivity, creativity, and the overall wellbeing of a society.

7. Unfortunately for Africa also, our communal societies are poisoned with and by politicized ethnicity and religious moronism. If you know nothing in Nigeria, you are expected to know your kind just as lions know their kind in terms of where we come from and the religion that enslaves us. Social transformation and sustainable development are the big casualties.

8. Those who argue that Africans are communal should locate the source of their position. Is it in the nature of the genes of Africans, is it in their culture and is culture static?

9. My main position in this discussion is to insist that we see arguments that paint Africans as communal as a debilitating dogma that has delayed Africa's match towards industrialization as social mobility needed for integrated economic activities and growth are too weak in a country like Nigeria.

I hope to discuss the appropriate politics and policies that can help Nigeria and Africa overcome the diseases identified above.


Pro. Andrew Efemini, 
Department of Philosophy, 
University of Port Harcourt.

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