By Serges Kamga, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of the Free State, South Africa

As Toyin Falola temporarily relocates to East and South Africa in the summer, giving lectures in Kenya, South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, and Botswana, he moves into what one can describe as “the orbit of intellectual comparison.” He is not like the figures they are used to: Nurudeen Farah, Ngugi Wa Thing’o, and Wole Soyinka. He does not deal with the ambiguities of creative writing but the directness of intellectualism. He is a front-rank figure in African nationalist and political thought. As I prepare a public lecture on Toyin Falola, to be presented on May 13, 2-24, as part of an intellectual feast, I began to see how he resembles Wilmot Biden, Marcus Garvey, and W. B. Dubois. I eventually settled for an intellectual paradigm that linked him more to Ali Mazrui, who had tremendous respect for Falola while he was alive. At one time, Mazrui likened himself to John the Baptist while talking about Falola, whom he called Ndugu.

Intellectuals across different generations are known for the outstanding contributions they make to issues that concern the progress of their people in their ways. Through what they postulate and the ideologies that they project, they are drawn to a community of followers that identify the light in their engagements and decide to be associated with them because of their constellation of ideas that are useful for personal and even collective development. This occurs in every aspect of human endeavor. Shakespeare, for example, commanded a swath of literary disciples who wanted to be like him and postulate exactly like that great man. Interestingly, it was not only Shakespeare that attained that feat. In the field of philosophy, several individuals understand that Aristotle made intimidating accomplishments that are commonly used as the benchmark for quality intellection in the ages and centuries far after his own. Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Wole Soyinka, among others, have made such an indelible mark in the literary industry in recent years, and they have had a massive impact on a crowd of intelligent folks who intend to be like that and carry out similar lights in their endeavors. Toyin Falola is another bright scholar who has blazed the trail in historical writings, and his popularity is a product of his undying love for intellectual engagements involving human history, particularly African history, for a global overview. Falola is indeed a brilliant scholar who traverses many disciplines. In a world flattened by the thorns of partial criticism by Western scholars who are scarcely educated about African realities and history, Falola has erected himself as an irrepressible voice challenging newfangled rhetoric against Afrocentric ideas.

All these scholars in the category mentioned above and those who are unintentionally omitted have one thing in common: they are consistent in their ideological projection and committed to their life-long philosophy. At the heart of every writing is a philosophical argument made by writers for the purpose of bringing to the attention of people certain issues that can potentially challenge their sociocultural or ontological realities or educating them on the most effective ways to prevent unwholesome damage and challenges that could come to them spasmodically. To that extent, writers are considered the light of their society and would be looked up to when expectations of a refined social environment are rife. In the African legal discourse, such writers would include the Senegalese Jurist Keba Mbaye, who, after a good analysis of the state of (under)development in Africa, posits in his Inaugural Lecture back in the 70s that development is a human right or an entitlement. His ideas germinated, and today, not only is the right to development binding in the African human rights system, but it is also clearly provided in the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development. There is also currently a Draft treaty on the Right to Development for debate at the UN.

Falola, however, stands out and is very different in this category of African scholars for some very important reasons. He shares compelling attributes with the scholars in this category by using his intellectual engagements as a force to remedy the wrongs that the world has done against Africans. Just as Ali Mazrui employed history to demystify the negative perception that people have against Africans, Falola has used that discipline and others as launchpads for his shining ideas that primarily dislodge the poor notions that are generated and spread about Africans from the West to the world. Mazrui was popular for discrediting the untested hypothesis about Africans, and he was seen for who he was: an uncompromising individual channeling his ideas regardless of the circumstances, protests, and criticism that people hurled against him.

Toyin Falola explains to people how the deliberately (mis)constructed identity of Africans by the West has obstructed the people from actualizing their fullest potential. Although many people have always been critical of that position, it remains true to the extent that sufficient resources and evidence are provided to substantiate that position. All the works of man have always centered on the exploration of different aspects of African life so that they would assist in projecting the ideas that challenge the very negative remarks and overview that the world has about Africans through the reliance on Western history and historical narratives that are purely doctored to achieve a particular intention. Perhaps his resourceful intelligence is enhanced by the reality of his active participation in African cultural engagement; the understanding that he brings values to the table of discourse shows the reason why many people accept his positions in ways that challenge the superordinate projection of the universalists. Falola has researched African political history, and we cannot but marvel at how much evidence he has brought to the debate as to how the precolonial African societies were filled with organized political systems, effective economic templates, sound philosophical debates, and more, that helped to shape their corresponding families, settlements, and states. Contrary to the misconception that individuals peopled Africa without the quality intellection needed for the transformation of their societies, evidence abounds through Falola’s work that they really evolved intellectually just like other peoples of the world, and they erected vibrant and sound structures during the various phases of their growth. In one of his talks at UNISA, Falola problematized customary law to demonstrate that before the arrival of colonial masters, Africans were governed by their laws, customs, and traditions, which now characterized universalists to be customary vis a vis (Western law).

While we cannot deny that Africa regorges a massive amount of wealth and natural resources, central to the intellectual argument of Ali Mazrui is the fact that Africa’s most influential resources are the resources are people themselves, for they have amazing brainpower, which they translate into concrete results to transform any place where they find themselves. Falola equally holds such a view in a more instructive manner. Falola has been a vibrant voice in the diaspora, helping Africans who are indifferent to the core African values to reconnect to their background and claim their identity in positive ways. By his boldness and confidence in expressing the African truth in ways that accommodate divergent thinking, he has been able to unlock the gridlock of age-long stereotypic sentiment that has placed Africa and Africans in a subaltern position, thus denying a whole continent of people the opportunity to express confidence in themselves and their heritages. Falola takes a sharp departure from Mazrui’s approach here. Falola dips his intellectual fingers into African history, which has received maximum denigration from anti-African advocates or Afro-pessimists, and brings replicable evidence that is required to unsettle otherwise straight-jacketed positions that have held about the continent for a very long time. That Africans at different locations and places have begun to feel alive about their past is not unconnected to the fact that individuals like Falola have taken a frontline position in rendering the destructive or hegemonic narratives against Africans invalid by producing a more credible version of the true history backed by replicable evidence.

One of the most powerful instruments of this scholar is the advocacy for the embracement of African cultural history as their model of development. As I argue in my forthcoming book on Falola’s works, Falola maintains that Africa’s agency is inalienable and, as such, cannot be compromised. This means that, unlike Mazrui, Falola does not solely believe in depending on other people’s epistemic traditions for the safety of the African identity. In fact, rather than this, he has continued to voice his thoughts about African spirituality as a credible source of the people in challenging the crucibles of external power. His approach to liberation and emancipation is all-encompassing in that he continues to demonstrate how the reliance on African indigenous spirituality, such as Ubuntu (or the togetherness of Africans), would help bring several Africans to the awareness that their world has been invaded in ways that have detrimental effects, and consequences on other areas of their existence including socialization, political system, and also economic practices. Just like Mazrui, Falola does not reject Islam and is of the view that it can be practiced in Africa alongside other spirituality but not as a superior spirituality perspective to the pool of what Africans have available in their indigenous stores.

For this reason, he has beamed his searchlight of research and intellectual engagements in various areas where indigenous practices can be explored for common benefits and even exported without prejudice. Falola believes African spirituality contains a number of things, including a scientific approach that is waiting to scale through continental boundaries. Africans have maintained a strong scientific system for centuries and millennia thanks to their knowledge of science and approaches that they had in different dimensions. Their knowledge of sciences enabled them to build pyramids in Egypt, the Mandengue Empire, the Kingdom of Monomotapa, and the Bamoun people of West Cameroon to invent their specific writings.

Falola’s engagement in this way has, therefore, mandated a discovery of methods that are deserving of immediate incorporation into global intellectualism so that the world would have several alternatives to getting problems confronting the human family solved without further acrimony. Therefore, from being an exclusive historian, Falola is believed to have mutated into an epistemologist who uses his vast educational experience to draw information from otherwise marginalized areas and refine mined ideas until they become useful to humanity in many ways. It is, therefore, no coincidence that he has organized many conferences on the continent.

Of all the existing global academics, especially the ones that come from Africa, Falola stands out as one of those who have never compromised the global standard of knowledge production, and he does that in a frequency that would amaze anyone and everyone. For that reason, all the accolades directed towards him are not misdirected or ill-motivated. They are reflective of his unwavering determination and commitment to the resurgence of alternative knowledge in a world stoked by universalist fundamentals that crucify differences. Although preceding intellectuals have made efforts towards rescuing the dying epistemic heritages of Africa, which has suffered malignant damage courtesy of the absence of necessary materials that could serve as counterpoints, Falola has become an irrepressible voice in this domain today by giving his attention and seriousness to the resurgence of these knowledge items so that the world will be blossomed by the presence of alternatives.

Great man, welcome to our part of the world!

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