To Be Is Not to Be Alone: Interrogating Exclusivism from an African Context

Interrogating Exclusivism from an African Context
  • Victor C. A. NwekeEmail author
  • L. Uchenna Ogbonnaya
Living reference work entry
Part of the Handbooks in Philosophy book series (HP)


In this chapter, we posit that if the social ontology of humans suggests that to be is not to be alone, then it is both unsound and counterproductive for any individual or group of individuals to act in a manner that negates or ignores the rights and well-being of others. We buttress this position through a careful study of the challenge of exclusivism from the perspective of a theory in African philosophy called Ibuanyidanda or complementary ontology. Ibuanyidanda ontology buttresses the presupposition that to be is not to be alone. In line with this presupposition, Ibuanyidanda ontology would maintain that any exclusionist policy or action that tends to negate or ignore the rights or well-being of a specific individual or group of individuals is inherently unsound and counterproductive. This chapter exposes the nature of Ibuanyidanda ontology and the role it plays in bridging the gap between the self and the other. It submits that Ibuanyidanda ontology proffers a valid repudiation of exclusivism from the African place.


African philosophy Complementary reflection Ibuanyidanda ontology Innocent Asouzu Exclusivism the Self Social ontology the Other 


Self-preservation is widely recognized as a basic instinct in human beings and other animal species. Leading philosophers and theorists across different cultures and intellectual orientations are also of the view that humans are inherently social and endowed with higher intellectual abilities that enable them to think, communicate, interact, and relate with each other in their daily quest for self-preservation as different members of the same species. This means that the human being is, among other things, a relational and intelligent being that is aware of the existence of diverse entities in the world and can also conceptualize itself as distinct from every other entity in the world. Closely related to this is the ability to categorize other entities into different groups which includes the act of defining and choosing how to relate with the respective groups. Thus, the concept of the “self” and “others” and the necessary relations between the self and others are the products of human conceptualizations. The question is what is this thing called self that recognizes itself as different from others? What is the relationship between this self-conscious self and the others? Can the self know or preserve itself without the others? Can a self-conscious self discover and relate with another self that is distinct from itself? Philosophers have approach these and similar questions from a specific area of philosophy such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, or an interface between any of these or other traditional branches or subbranches of philosophy. Our approach in this chapter is from the area of social ontology.

Broadly construed, social ontology is the critical and systematic reflection on the experiences of humans as intelligent social animals using mainly the tools of logical analysis, evaluation, and argumentation. It uses the conceptual tools of philosophy to study the formation and mode of existence of the diverse social groups in the world and how the members of these groups perceive as well as define how to relate with each other in relation to their quest for self-preservation (Searle 1995, 2006; Lawson 1997, 2009). So conceived, social ontology includes the study of what John Searle describes as social objects, social facts, and social processes and events. The social objects consist of a group of people bonded by a common social attribute such as ethnicity (Efik, Kanuri, Zulu, Akan, etc.), nationality (South African, Nigerian, German, etc.), race (white people, black people, people of color, etc.), gender, religion, politics, and so on. Social facts refer to a conventionally defined social reality such as Nigeria is an African country. Ghana was colonized by the British. The last, social events and processes, refers to perceptible social procedures and experiences such as electioneering, governance, racism, colonialism, globalization, etc. In this regard, it could be deduced that the scope of social ontology revolves around the construction of social objects. For social facts and social processes or events are by-products of the existence of the social objects. And what Searle calls social objects are placeholders for the self, a definite group of people that see themselves as distinct from others based on the possession of a defined common attribute. Let call it the social-self (cf. Okolo 1993). The self in self-determination (the right of peoples, a group of human beings) and self-defense which primarily applies to the right of a person, an individual human being, is basically social. And both concepts have a necessary link with the idea of self-preservation. Thus, the diverse group of people united by ethnicity, health condition, gender, nationality, and so on is a form of social-self.

Although there are many prominent philosophical works on the social-self, like many other issues, most of the extant philosophical works are mainly articulated from the experiences of human beings in the Western (Anglo-American and European) lifeworld and therefore belong to the Western traditions of philosophy. Given that the binary concepts of the self and others and its effects are also evident in the African lifeworld, an articulate account of the African experience as a social-self both within and outside Africa will enrich our understanding of the challenges associated with the concept of the self and others as a social reality. Against this backdrop, our specific goal is to present an articulate account of how and why the existence of the social-self in different societies affects the African quest for self-preservation. Consequently, we shall explicate the nature of the social-self and its mode of existence in Africa and beyond and then proceed to define exclusivism as the operational principle of the social-self in the world. Thereafter, we shall examine the plausibility of exclusivism in relation to the quest for self-preservation from the standpoint of a specific ontological theory in African philosophy known as Ibuanyidanda ontology. We shall at the end submit that Ibuanyidanda ontology is an African school of social ontology that repudiates exclusivism as an operational principle of the social-self in a world that is diverse and intricately interconnected.

The Social-Self and Its Mode of Existence in Africa and the World

As stated earlier, by the social-self, we refer to a definite group of people that see themselves or are seen as distinct from another group of people base on the possession of a defined common attribute. This goes to show that the social-self is concern with interpersonal rather than intrapersonal experience. In other words, by the social-self, we do not refer to an entity within an individual human being akin to topics in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and related areas. Rather, we mean a human being as a member of a given group of people. In his essay “Social-self in African Philosophy: Dimensions of the Problematique,” the late Nigerian philosopher, Chukwudum B. Okolo, argues that the self in African philosophy is “essentially social” (1993, 125). True to its title, Okolo noted that reflections on this social nature of the self do invite many questions in social and political philosophy such as individual freedom, human rights, and cognate issues. In fact, the entire chapters of his book, African Social & Political Philosophy: Selected Essays, deal with diverse dimensions of the challenge associated with the social-self. In a sense, the individual-community debate, which is one of the most recurrent themes in African philosophy, is a battle to see how the individual is separated from a specific social-self (community) that she/he is identified with. The question is what are the criteria for the construction and categorization of human beings into different forms of social-self? And, who does the construction and categorization?

There are different classifications of the social-self. The most general is classification according to race. The use of predicates such as white and black to refer to a group of people is indication of a racial classification of human beings. Although such classifications are no longer in vogue, next to race is classification according to geographical location, thus the idea of continents. To wit, phrases such as the African, the Asian, and the European are all instances of a social-self. It is important to note that although the racial classification is mainly physiological unlike the continental that is basically geographical, both are fundamentally related in that the predominant physiological properties of human beings that inhabit a given geographical location of the world are similar. Besides, every individual that is classified as black in the contemporary world is often seen and treated as an African. Thus, as a social-self in the world, the black man is synonymous with the African man. The African as a social-self in the world is therefore more than just a geographical description. Before we proceed to buttress this claim, there is more to the African experience as a social-self in the world. And this has something to do with the African experience within Africa. Within Africa, the African loses its identity as a social-self to acquire another social-self that is tied to nationality. The African now becomes the Angolan, the Nigerian, the South African, and so on. And within every African country, we have another form of social-self that is based on ethnicity. For instance, the Nigerian becomes the Efik, the Kanuri, the Igbo, the Yoruba, the Hausa, etc. These ethnic nationalities that make up every country in Africa also have categories of human beings that they see and treat as unwanted. The case of people with albinism and other forms of segregation falls among this domain. We have so far defined the African as a social-self and then identified two categories of the social-self within Africa. These are (1) social-self according to nationality and (2) social-self according to ethnicity. Admittedly, there are other forms of the social-self that are formed using criteria such as religion and gender. Our focus on race, nationality, and ethnicity should not be interpreted to mean that these are the only forms of the social-self in the world.

At this point, it should be clear that the African is not a single indivisible social-self. Despite the shared experiences of the African as a social-self, every African person is often scrutinized and permitted to enter another country strictly on her/his nationality as a Nigerian, a Togolese, etc. A Nigerian in South Africa is not seen as the African, but she/he is the Nigerian and vice versa. Also, the Nigerian in Nigeria is not seen as a Nigerian, s/he is the Igbo, the Hausa, the Efik, the Yoruba, and so on. Yet, the same individual who was scrutinized and permitted to enter a non-African country as a Nigerian, seen and treated as the Nigerian by the African community, and as the Igbo by the Nigerian community, and, in some cases, segregated against by the Igbo community, is addressed and treated as the African.

The African as an indivisible social-self in the world is therefore a social construction for meeting the demands for self-preservation. This also applies to the status of every African country (the Nigerian) as a social-self in the world. The only social-self that appears to be natural to the African is the social-self that is built on ethnicity. The African naturally identify with, think, and speaks from, feels obligated, and is even compelled to, defend, preserve, and promote her/his being as a social-self that is strictly defined by ethnicity. In this sense, the African experience is ultimately the experience of an Igbo, Akan, Efik, Ibibio, Zulu, or Shona as a social-self in different parts of the world. The works of cerebral African writers such as Chinua Achebe and even renowned African philosophers such Kwasi Wiredu or Mogobe Ramose buttress this point. A consideration of who is responsible for the construction and categorization of the African and the Nigerian as a social-self, when, and why will help to explicate this point and the challenge that arise from it. As a social-self, the African is a product of leading European intellectual, including thinkers and philosophers of the Enlightenment such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and G. W. F. Hegel (cf. Eze 1998; Ramose 2002; Bernasconi 2003). They constructed an imaginary image of the African as a being that is not as human as the European and as such can be acquired and used to further the European interest through whatever means possible and whenever it is necessary to do so. The consistent projection and consolidation of this odious image of the African elevated it to the status of indubitable truth. The nature and duration of the transatlantic slave trade bear testimony to this. It lasted as long it was profitable for the European to do so. And when it was no longer very beneficial, it was replaced with another form of slavery that is euphemistically called colonialism. The European as a social-self were also responsible for the construction of a second artificial social-self in Africa. They share the continent among themselves into countries. Using Nigeria as a reference point, Achebe (2012, 1-3) gave a typical account of how this was done.

Different ethnic nationalities that see themselves as different from each other were consciously joined together by leading European nations for the purpose of achieving their own interest. They were able to do this through constant conquest and subordination of one nation at a time, followed by gradual unification and use of the conquered ones to subdue the unconquered ones. But the unification was only in principle. The European did not attempt to foster any form of national consciousness among either the African or the Nigerian as a self. It was the shared experiences of humiliation from a common enemy that instilled the African consciousness in the African at home and in the diaspora. Hence, the birth of Pan-African nationalism and related nationalist movement in every country. As the case with Pan-Africanism, the national consciousness in a country with many nations such as Nigeria, was only strong in the face of the external enemy, the European colonizers. As the withdrawal of the European become obvious, the nationalists returned to their primordial social-self and then try to ensure that her/his primordial social-self takes the position of the withdrawing European colonizer through whatever means possible. This attitude makes the members of a competing primordial social-self within the social-self constructed in Africa by the European to see and treat members of another primordial social-self within their country as the other that can be used to further the interest of their primordial social-self. This attitude is akin to the European construction of the African as the other. What all these comes to is that human beings often think that the best way to self-preservation is through the exclusion and conceptualization of human beings that belong to another social-self as the dispensable other. Every intentional policy or action that is design mainly for the preservation of one’s social-self even to the detriment of another social-self is what we call exclusivism. The question is whether exclusivism is the best approach to optimal human flourishing in a diverse world that is interconnected. We shall examine this question from the standpoint of Ibuanyidanda ontology. Hence, there is a need for a brief reflection on Ibuanyidanda ontology.

A Synopsis on Ibuanyidanda (Complementary) Ontology

Ibuanyidanda ontology is a philosophical theory articulated by the Nigerian philosopher, Innocent Izuchukwu Asouzu. Our choice for Ibuanyidanda ontology is predicated on Asouzu’s approach and focus. Rather than speak under the veil of a group, “African”, “Igbo”, or any other group of people like many of his predecessors and contemporaries, Asouzu took a novel approach. He presented Ibuanyidanda ontology as an African ontology not the African ontology. Asouzu often underscores this point by emphasizing that the Africanity of Ibuanyidanda ontology lies specifically in the fact that it was primarily generated from the predominant views of different African communities about the nature of reality encapsulated in their social norms, as well as the oral and written works of their intellectuals. It is in this sense that we consider Asouzu’s approach to fall within the confines of conversational philosophy, that is, the act of doing African philosophy as a critical and systematic reflection of an individual on any given issue using salient ideas in the intellectual heritage of Africa as the fundamental theoretical base. In relation to content, the focus of Ibuanyidanda ontology is on the social-self. It should be noted that Ibuanyidanda ontology is only an aspect of Asouzu’s Ibuanyidanda philosophy that deals with the question of the ultimate constituent of reality. Ibuanyidanda philosophy is therefore not synonymous with Ibuanyidanda ontology even if it is reducible to it. Asouzu’s publications on Ibuanyidanda philosophy contain and have inspired theories in other areas of philosophy such as epistemology, axiology, and logic. However, the core principles that underlie the diverse aspects of Ibuanyidanda philosophy are primarily derived from Asouzu’s interpretation of the term Ibuanyidanda.

Etymologically, Ibuanyidanda is a composite of three Igbo words: ibu (load or task), anyi (not insurmountable), and danda (a species of ants). Brought together, the three words, ibu anyi danda, are common Igbo aphorism that can be literally translated to mean that no load or task is insurmountable for the ant danda (Asouzu 2007a, 11). Asouzu avers that this aphorism is the refrain of an Igbo work song that is derived from their observation of the said species of ants. He notes that this species of ants, due to their complementary efforts, can lift any load that seemingly appears to be insurmountable, hence, the meaning of the aphorism “no load is insurmountable for ‘danda’ the ant” (2007a, 11). At this point, the aphorism is an observational statement and remains nonphilosophical. Asouzu also notes that the aphorism is also a descriptive statement since it describes what happens among this species of ants. At this descriptive level, the aphorism is still not philosophical. For him, if this aphorism is left at the levels of observational and descriptive statements, it will lead to “picture-type fallacy or error of transformation” (2004, 119–132, 2013, 15). Herein, it can be falsely said that what is observable among the ants “danda” is obtainable among human beings and the human society. It is due to Asouzu’s desire to transcend this error that he transformed the aphorism ibu anyi danda into a single concept Ibuanyidanda. And the nearest English equivalent to Ibuanyidanda is complementarity. Hence, Ibuanyidanda ontology/philosophy is also known as complementary ontology/philosophy.

Asouzu explains that he arrives at the idea of complementarity as the most appropriate English rendition of ibu anyi danda after a careful study of the interpretation of the concept by a respected Igbo scholar, Romanus Ohuche, and that the complementary nature of the Igbo understanding of reality and approach to difficult tasks is widely acknowledged (Basden 1921, 35; Edeh 1983; Oguah 1984, 220; Kamalu 1990, 7; Iroegbu 1995). His contribution lies in the articulate development of some fundamental philosophical principles through a critical and systematic reflection on the salient ideas inherent in the aphorism and its evidences in the Igbo society. In other words, Asouzu’s credit is mainly philosophical. In his 2008 address as President of the Nigerian Philosophical Association (NPA), J. Obi Oguejiofor observes that Asouzu have “unleashed an incredible barrage of steady and original works at an almost superhuman rate and always intended to go beyond the normative sense of African philosophy” (2010a, xv). He has also argued that Ibuanyidanda philosophy is the most promising emerging philosophic system in African philosophy (Oguejiofor 2010b, 21). We shall now concentrate on two foundational principles that define the nature of Ibuanyidanda ontology as a theory in African philosophy, namely, the principle of integration and the principle of progressive transformation.

The principle of integration which is also known as the principle of harmonious complementation states that “anything that exists serves a missing link of reality” (Asouzu 2007b, 110; Edet 2011, 44). Asouzu uses “missing links” in a technical sense to refer to everything that exists, animate and inanimate, material and nonmaterial (2004, 277–278). Hence, the major claim of the principle of integration is that reality consists of everything in the world. Being is a conglomeration of all existents (Edet 2011, 28–32). What this entails is that the existence of every entity is intricately interconnected and interrelated with the existence of another reality; the entities in the world affirm and make possible the being of each other. Thus, to be is not to be alone. To be is to be with others as a missing link of reality; all that exists serve each other in a mutual complementary sense. This point is made clearer in the second principle, the principle of progressive transformation, which is actually the practical variant of the principle of integration. Accordingly, the principle of progressive transformation states that “all human actions are geared towards the joy of being” (Asouzu 2007a, 306; Edet 2011, 44). This implies that human actions are purpose-driven; and the purpose is joy. Sequel to their intelligent and social nature, humans, unlike other entities, can seek the joy of being in a conscious and organized manner with others. Yet, since to be is not to be alone, the most appropriate human disposition toward attaining the joy of being must be in consonance with the interconnected nature of being as stipulated by the principle of integration. Joined together, the two principles of Ibuanyidanda ontology suggest “that all existents are necessary entities that play an essential role for the joy of every being in the universe” (Nweke 2018, 151). In other words, Ibuanyidanda ontology upholds the view that the “wellbeing of every reality in the universe is so intricately interdependent that the constant careless abuse of the wellbeing of a particular entity in order to promote the wellbeing of another entity often leads to negative results” (2018, 151).

Notably, the position of Ibuanyidanda ontology on the inclusive, interconnected, and complementary nature of reality is a prominent view in African philosophy (cf. Mbiti 1969; Iroegbu 2002; Ramose 2002; Oluwole 2014). A detailed analysis of the nature of Ibuanyidanda ontology in relation to different ontological theories in African philosophy is the basic focus of Asouzu’s book, Ibuanyidanda: New Complementary Ontology, Beyond World-Immanentism, Ethnocentric Reduction and Impositions. In this book, Asouzu demonstrates how the extant ontological theories in African philosophy (from Tempels and Kagame down to Ramose) that affirm the complementary nature of reality often end up reducing reality to a specific entity that is fixed. They also tend to absolutize and impose their preferred views as the view of an entire community thereby supporting the myth of unanimity (cf. Hountondji 1996) in a community that has individuals that subscribe to a different view. For instance, what is supposed to be an Igbo ontology (i.e., an interpretation of the nature of reality as encapsulated in the culture of the Igbo people of Nigeria) is often presented as the Igbo or even African ontology. More importantly, Asouzu argues that the reduction, absolutization, and projection of any specific entity as the ultimate constituent of reality necessarily involve the exclusion of other entities. And such exclusion is made possible because of the tendency to always bifurcate reality into two distinct components, the essential and the accidental. Asouzu argues that this tendency to bifurcate, reduce, absolutize, and project a given aspect of reality that one considers to be the essential or ultimate constituent of reality was canonized in Western philosophy by Aristotle’s Metaphysics and transported into African philosophy by Tempels’ Bantu Philosophy. He maintains that many of the academic practitioners of African philosophy still pay allegiance to Tempels’ bifurcative, reductive, and absolutist approach to ontology (Asouzu 2007c). In relation to this, Ibuanyidanda ontology is fundamentally a critique of Aristotle’s metaphysics and its influence in the history academic philosophy (Asouzu 2012, 2016).

According to Asouzu, the definitive subject matter of Aristotle’s metaphysics is the essential as against the accidental features of being. He maintains that this preoccupation with the essential (substance) cuts across the entire edifice of Aristotle’s philosophy and then proceeds to contend that the influence of Aristotle is very pronounced in the history of philosophy. He points out that academic philosophy after Aristotle is mainly presented as the study of “essences.” His problem with this approach is that it promotes the adoption of a bifurcative, disjunctive, and exclusivist disposition toward the study of being. Ibuanyidanda ontology transcends the exclusivist orientation inherent in philosophy of essence by insisting that all aspects of reality are indispensable in understanding, seeking, and maintaining the well-being of the said reality. If being consists of substance and accident, then both substance and accident are intrinsically complementary to each other. Being cannot be exclusively reduced to substance or accident because substance and accident complement themselves as missing links to define a reality. The principle of integration – “anything that exists serves a missing link of reality” – shows that no aspect of reality exists in isolation. To exist is to exist with others.

Asouzu uses the Igbo word ihedi (what is) to disambiguate his theory of being. He writes that ihedi nwere isi na odu meaning whatever that is has head and tail end (2007a, 10, 253, 266, 293). In plain terms, being, whatever exists, exists in relation to its complementary components, the isi and the odu. In this context, isi (head) depicts substance, while odu (tail end) depicts accident. These two components that make up a given entity are indispensable to its existence. What affects one component will affects the well-being of the entity. Buttressing this further, Asouzu sees the first as ihe kachasi mkpa (what is most important – substance) and the second as ihe di mkpa (what is important – accident) (2007a, 254). Left at this point, one may think that, for Asouzu, substance is more important than accident in defining and preserving being. But this is not the case. Asouzu’s affirms that ihedi nwere isi na odu means that being consists of ihe kachasi mkpa (substance) and ihe di mkpa (accident). To strive to protect one to the detriment of the other is contradictory because the mode of being of a specific entity is necessarily a product of all its components. In the same vein, the mode of being of a specific entity is inherently related to that of another entity. All entities in the world are necessary components of being. Whatever exists is a manifestation of the diverse missing links of being. Hence, Asouzu talks of the “future referentiality” of being (2007a, 56, 63, 65, 99). What he mean by future referentiality is the ceaseless manifestation of being in terms of mutual complementary relations between entities (Ogbonnaya 2017, 75). Thus, being is better understood and preserved through a serious consideration of the relations between and among the diverse entities in the world. This emphasizes the idea of inherent complementary relations between all existents. To be is to be in mutual complementary relationship with all existents. Within the framework of Ibuanyidanda ontology, to be (idi) is not to be alone (2011, 30–31, 55; 2007a, 268). Asouzu has applied this principle to question and reconceptualized the idea of ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, language, tribe, culture, and globalization in a diverse world (Asouzu 2007c, 277). In relation to this, Asouzu argues that exclusivism is not the best approach to optimal human flourishing in a diverse, dynamic, and interconnected world. His stance amounts to an Ibuanyidanda critique of exclusivism. We shall in the next section buttress the validity of this critique with allusions to the experiences of the African as a social-self in the world.

An Ibuanyidanda Critique of Exclusivism in a Heterogeneous and Interconnected World

To recap, we define exclusivism to mean any intentional policy or action that is design mainly for the preservation of one social-self even to the detriment of another social-self in any particular society. And by social-self, we refer to a group of human beings that see themselves as distinct from another group due to differences in terms of race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Now, the social-self that makes up a given society (ethnic group, country, continent, or the global community) can be divided into two broad groups, the privileged social-self and the disadvantaged social-self. A privileged social-self in a given society is the social-self that wields the resources that can enable it to subdue another social-self with little or no serious resistance. Any social-self that lacks such resources is a disadvantaged social-self. In the global society, the West (North America and Europe) is a privileged social-self. Africa is a disadvantaged social-self. Just as in the global level, we also have the privileged and the disadvantaged social-self in every social group down to the level of two individuals. The killing of heretics and twins, segregations against people with albinism, and even the preference for male children are typical examples of the possibility of belonging to either a privileged or disadvantaged social-self within a bigger social-self with a different status. The crucial point here is that exclusivism is the operational principle that guides the human quest for self-preservation in the world. Sequel to its fundamental proposition that to be is not to be alone, Ibuanyidanda ontology sees exclusivism as inherently antithetical to the optimal preservation and promotion of the being of any social-self in the world.

From a theoretical point of view, the claim of Ibuanyidanda ontology shows that exclusivism is an invalid principle. If to be is not to be alone, then it is illogical to strive to be alone. Ibuanyidanda ontology states that to be is not to be alone but exclusivism promotes the drive to be alone. Therefore, exclusivism is illogical. The validity of this argument can be demonstrated through the application of the rules of valid inference, specifically hypothetical syllogism, modus ponens, and modus tollens. But we know that not all valid arguments are factually true. Besides, the Nigerian philosopher, T. U. Nwala, notes that the ultimate criterion for checking the veracity of ideas is to evaluate them in terms of practice: “The only check on the irrationality or subjectivity of the human mind is that its ideas must be related to practice. If they are divorced from reality they may falsify reality” (2007, 72). Since we are dealing with a social idea, it will make sense to buttress the plausibility of Ibuanyidanda critique of exclusivism in relation to the experience of humans in the world. Note that the goal is to validate the critique of exclusivism as an illogical principle. So, the focus is on the result of the use of exclusivism as a principle for self-preservation.

It is a historical fact that the members of every social-self often seek to preserve and promote their well-being (their mode of being) without a demonstrable recognition that their mode of being is indispensably tied to the mode of being of all the social-self that they encounter in the world. Self-preservation is mostly approach with the mindset of competition for the being of one’s social-self, rather than the mindset of cooperation for the being of all existents. Thus, the privileged social-self often appears as the winner. However, the conscious attempt of the privileged social-self to continue to preserve and promote its mode of being to the detriment of that of the disadvantaged social-self often leads to tensions that affect the well-being of both members of the privileged social-self and the disadvantaged one. The reason for this is simple, if to be is to be with others, then any intentional or unintentional harm that the privileged social-self inflicts on the disadvantaged social-self invariably mars the mode of being of both the privileged social-self and the disadvantaged social-self. The implication of this is that exclusivism is inherently faulty because it propels the privileged social-self to go against its optimal well-being. A glance at how exclusivism does this will make this point clearer.

At the global level, exclusivism is responsible for both racism, slave trade, and colonialism. The Western world succeeded and benefited from their unjustified conquest and exploitation of Africa (Ramose 2002). According to Steve Biko, racism connotes the “exclusion of one race by another. It always presupposes that the exclusion is for the purpose of subjugation” (2003, 100–101). In this context, it is the act of excluding blacks from the whites in the realm of politics, economics, and resource control of the world. Occupying the position of a privilege social-self, leading intellectuals of the white race excluded the blacks from the realm of human beings that should be seen and treated with respect (cf. Eze 1997, 103–140; Oguejiofor 2001, 80–87). The leaders of leading European nations concretized the unreasonable propositions of their intellectuals by using the powers at their disposal to enslave and use members of the black race as tools for protecting, promoting, and preserving the optimal well-being of the white race (cf. Okere and Njoku 2005). This was done in a manner that promotes the consistent dehumanization, subjugation, manipulation, exploitation, and impoverishment of members of the black race for the benefit of the white race. What makes the transatlantic slave trade different with the experience of other forms of slave trade is that it was intertwined with racism and anchored on exclusivism. This complex admixture of racism and exclusivism did not end with the slave trade. It only assumed another form known as colonialism (cf. Wiredu 1992, 59; Okere 2005, 6–10).

For Theophilus Okere (2005), colonialism is worse than the slave trade in the sense that while the slave trade only succeeded in the capture, enslavement, and transportation of some Africans out of Africa, colonialism meant the enslavement of all Africans in Africa. Given the racist foundation of colonialism in Africa, it led to a thorough systematic reprogramming of the structure of Africa and the thinking of Africans to be susceptible to the manipulations of the white race toward the underdevelopment of Africa and Africans for the preservation of the white race. There was a conscious attempt to supplant everything African in Africa and in the African all for the purpose of preserving the white race as a social-self. And the said conscious attempt did not end with colonialism. It continues to manifest in the way the West (North America and Europe) as a privileged social-self in the contemporary world always projects and protects its interest across the world irrespective of the interest of others. The recent surge of white supremacist’s movements, ethno-nationalism within North American and European countries, buttress this point. Huge resources that should have help to improve the mode of being of humans in the world have been spent on the development and acquisition of sophisticated weapons and the recruitment of more security forces just to ensure that the white race continues to enjoy “authority, security, wealth, and comfort” (Biko 2003, 94) even to the detriment of the black race everywhere in the world. But instead of leading to global peace, the attempts of the West to acquire that which it denies the African are dotted with tensions, conflicts, mutual distrust, and mutual fear that mar their mode of being in the world.

The adoption of exclusivism within the African continent is also a negative story. At the birth of political independence, exclusivism made every African country to concentrate primarily on protecting its nationals. In so doing, it destroyed the pan-African spirit that enabled Africans to win the political battle against colonialism. Today, the Nigerian finds it difficult to enter South Africa. And those that manage to enter do experience diverse forms of exclusion and marginalization such as xenophobia. Given the dead of the pan-African spirit, every African country is still fighting for economic independence with little or no success. Following the economic status of their different countries, an African in the streets of another continent is ordinarily seen and treated as the African other irrespective of her/his nationality. At the national level, exclusivism became prominent at the eve of political independence in a specific African country in the form of ethnocentrism. It split the cooperation between and among the diverse ethnic groups united for a common purpose. As a result, many of the countries have witnessed full-scale wars and are still suffering from diverse forms of social conflicts. The pitiable state of Nigeria, despite its huge human and material resources, is the dividends of the ceaseless battles between the many primordial social-self that made up the artificial social-self, called Nigeria (cf. Ekeh 1975, 91–112). The division is so strong in Nigeria today that no Nigerian is necessarily seen and treated as a Nigerian. The consequence is that till date, neither Nigeria nor any of the primordial social-self in Nigeria has been able to attain its optimal well-being (Nweke 2016, 26–46). Moreover, anyone seeking to enter another country with a Nigerian passport is normally seen and treated as the Nigerian.

What the above instances show is that the adoption of exclusivism as an operational principle for preserving and promoting the well-being of any social-self is a self-defeatist approach. Thus, Asouzu sees every manifestation of exclusivism as a “pseudo-legitimate strategy of survival.” He defines a pseudo-legitimate strategy of survival as “an act through which people seek to secure consistently their private interests, at the expense of the common good, or in total or partial disregard of the interest of others, in an apparent legitimate manner” (2003, 96). From this definition, one will notice that the quest for self-preservation is not wrong per se. In fact, Asouzu explicitly acknowledged that it is a primordial natural inclination inherent in humans. What he quarrels with is the tendency that suggests that it is beneficial to do so without due consideration of the necessary relations between the interest of others. One prominent question that could be raise in this connection is the prolonged reliance on exclusivism as a principle of social action. If exclusivism is logically and socially unsound, then why have human beings continue to use it over the years?

A typical Ibuanyidanda response to the above question lies in Asouzu’s analysis of a distinct “super-maxim” that impairs the natural capacities of humans as intelligible social agents that can seek their primordial natural tendency to self-preservation in a mutually enriching manner. Asouzu defines a super-maxim as “a law-like dictate that fundamentally controls our actions, such that we mistake their hypothetical character for a universal imperative” (2010, xix). In addition to this he explains:

Within the context of Complementary Reflection, all maxims relating to the realization of human interests can be reduced to this one super-maxim of the facultative injunction: The Nearer, the Better, and the Safer. That is to say, the nearer or more intimate a thing is to me, the better and safer I adjudge its being. We can still reformulate it descriptively and negatively thus: The more removed a thing is from our intimate region of belongingness, our immediate neighbourhood, our ethnic, clannish and tribal world of reference, for example, the less we are obliged to it and can even exploit it freely with impunity for our own survival, and in this case even without remorse. (2010, xix)

A close look at the nature of the above super-maxim shows that it is inscribed on human consciousness through socialization as members of one family, gender, clan, ethnic group, socioeconomic group, and political community. Thus, even though we know from experience that those that belong to our most immediate social-self are not always the best people to deal with (Edet 2010, 57–60), our upbringing and intimate interactions as intelligible social beings tend to compel us to think and act as if the survival of our social-self is all that matters. A brief reflection of how we are groomed will bring this to the fore.

As intelligible social agents, human beings have an inherent capacity to think clearly, communicate effectively, judge distinctly, and act responsibly toward meeting a desired goal. And the ultimate objective of all human activities gears toward the joy of being or self-preservation. The said inherent capacity of humans is made explicit in the language and conventional norms of interpersonal relationship between diverse people in a given society overtime. Now, prior to the conscious study of any language or conscious adoption of a given norm, every human being grows up speaking a specific language and naturally feels obligated, as well as expects others to act in line with the definitive norms of our society. Hence, we often judge human actions as plausible if such actions are in line with the conventional norms of our society. But the conventional norms of every society are mainly formulated by members of the privileged social-self aimed at procuring their interest or at best the interest of the entire members of their specific social-self. So, by using the conventional norms of their society to evaluate their actions without a conscious attempt to consider such actions in relation to the interest of others, human beings often design, adopt, and continue to apply exclusivist policies that lead to unintended results. It often takes a deep reflexive look at the guiding principles of one’s social-self for an individual to realize the contradictory nature of exclusivism. The unfortunate thing is that very few individuals engaged in such reflexive reflections. One can find insights on what accounts for this situation and how it can be ameliorated within the framework of Ibuanyidanda philosophy. An analysis of the said insights is outside the scope of this essay.


Our basic argument is that the defining principle of Ibuanyidanda ontology that to be is not to be alone is a thorough-going critique of exclusivism from the intellectual heritage of Africa. We provide strong reasons in terms of logical inference and of acknowledged social realities to support our argument. A basic significance of our Ibuanyidanda repudiation of exclusivism is that it avoids the error that goes with the kind of unintended ethnocentric generalizations which tend to project “African ontology” or “African philosophy” as totally exclusivist or inclusivist. In contrast to this approach, we employ the methodological disposition of Ibuanyidanda philosophy that informs the orientation of the Conversation School of African Philosophy. This disposition sees and engages extant perspectives in African philosophy as ideas articulated by its author/s rather than the unanimous views of any African community. In this regard, our Ibuanyidanda critique shows that fidelity to exclusivism as a principle of human relations has been expressed and is still being expressed in every human society.

Accordingly, we contend that the ultimate foundation of exclusivism lies in the human capacity to adopt inappropriate means toward meeting their basic needs either because of erroneous judgment or deep-seated ignorance fostered by socialization. We explain how the bifurcative philosophical disposition, which became predominant in the history of Western philosophy and the entire edifice of academic philosophy after Aristotle, is exclusivist in nature. We also unveiled how the principles of Ibuanyidanda ontology stem from a careful examination of the prevailing complementary approach to reality in the intellectual heritage of Africa. It is pertinent to note that our basic submission is that Ibuanyidanda ontology provides a plausible critique of exclusivism from an African context. The question of the plausibility of Ibuanyidanda ontology is a different issue that falls outside the scope of our main thesis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cultural StudiesUniversity of Koblenz-LandauKoblenzGermany
  2. 2.The Conversational School of Philosophy (CSP)University of CalabarCalabarNigeria

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