Towards a New Enlightenment

Towards a New Enlightenment

Written By

Leo Igwe

The Enlightenment denotes the intellectual trends in 18th century Europe that espoused the use of reason and science as a universal method for obtaining knowledge and solving human problems. The Enlightenment writers argued that the light of reason and science could free humanity from the darkness of ignorance, the burden of false beliefs, and the destructive influence of prejudices and superstition. They believed in liberty, equality, secular society, and democracy, as well as in the potentials of education, science and technology for transforming the human condition by reducing poverty, misery and diseases.

The Enlightenment intellectuals emphasised universal ethical norms that transcend the narrow confines of race, colour, sex, religion, ethnicity, nationality and birth status. The values of the Enlightenment inspired Europe and brought the Western World tremendous progress and advancement. The Enlightenment also inspired the democratic, scientific and technological revolutions at the root of contemporary western civilisation and development.

So, for Europe, the 18th century "Age of Light" was a true Enlightenment. But for Africa, it was not. While Europe was glowing with the light of reason and science, Africa was groaning under the burden of European slavery, tyranny and imperialism. It could be rightly said that the European Enlightenment caused darkness in Africa.

European Christian missionaries invaded Africa to create "believers" in what they self-styled a civilising mission, "La mission civilatrice". At the same time, European merchants thronged the continent in search of raw materials to feed the industrial revolution. In actual fact, the Christian reign that Europe rejected and abandoned to get ‘enlighten’ was forced and foisted on Africans as a civilizing or enlightening matrix.

As if that was not enough, as Christian crusaders were ravaging the continent, Arab jihadists were fighting, raiding, enslaving and killing their way to "enlighten" Africans on the basis of Islam and the Arab culture.

So, in the past centuries, the black continent has been plagued by the false, alien "enlightening" missions of Christianity and Islam. Africa has been the clash point and the flash point of these Dark Age forces and mentalities. These militant, racist and fanatical creeds exploit women, sanctify ignorance and sacrifice human welfare and happiness in pursuit of the will of mythical gods and their earthly instruments.

The real tragedy is not that Europeans and Arabs infiltrated and darkened the continent with their cultural myths and superstitions. After all, Africa has its own traditional myths and taboos which have also undermined the process of African enlightenment and emancipation. The tragedy is that Africans have, at the end of the day, blindly embraced these alien dogmas and misconceptions at the expense of social peace, intellectual growth, moral progress, truth and originality.

Today, most Africans want to order their lives and organise their societies based on Christian and Islamic norms, not on the basis of human rights, human values, rational thoughts and commonsense knowledge. This had led to a lot of confusion, stagnation, division and conflict. For two decades, the Islamic government in Khartoum waged a vicious war on the Christians and animists in the South who rejected Sharia law. This crisis in Darfur has lingered partly because the Sudanese government, which claims to have a divine mandate from Allah, has refused to make necessary concessions. In Algeria, Islamic militants massacred over a hundred thousand people in protest over the cancellation of an election, which an Islamic party was set to win. As to the imagined fate of Algeria if that electoral victory was upheld, your guess is as good as mine.

In Egypt, Islamic armies have been terrorising the country in their quest to impose an Islamic social order, while Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been without a central government for fifteen years due to clan and sectarian fighting among the Islamic militants and warlords. In Uganda, Joseph Kono and his Lord's Resistance Army have been fighting to remove the government of Yoweri Museveni and enthrone a government based on the Ten Commandments.

In Nigeria, thousands of people have lost their lives to religious riots and clashes since independence. Muslim fundamentalists have foisted Sharia law on the Islamic majority states in the North. Throughout the continent, religious fanatics are prosecuting an inquisition. They oppose the legalisation of abortion and gay marriage, as well as the abolition of the death penalty, female genital mutilation, child marriage and homophobia.

All these are clear pointers to the fact that the African continent is in a Dark Age. Now in this 21st Century, Africa is in dire need of a New Enlightenment - a rediscovery of the ideals of the old Enlightenment but this time with a global emphasis and application. The New Enlightenment entails the promotion of universal ethical norms, universal education, universal human rights, and the secularisation and humanisation of all societies.

We need to critically examine religious creeds and dogmas, and challenge their totalitarian and intolerant tendencies. We need to promote free thought, freedom of expression, search for truth and educational reform. We need to combat superstition and irrationalism.

The New Enlightenment project requires that no race or religion be left out, that no place or people be left in the dark. It requires that the entire human race be aglow with the illuminating matrices of reason, science, critical thinking and free inquiry. I am deeply persuaded that it is only on the basis of the New Enlightenment that Africa can experience a genuine renaissance and realise a civilisation with a global dimension.

Leo Igwe is director of the Centre for Inquiry in Nigeria.

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Latest Comments

Ajayi Olutayo

Ajayi Olutayo

11. October, 2012 |

People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!

Marcus Edibogi Akor

Marcus Edibogi Akor

11. October, 2012 |

Thanks for this powerful article. I am very glad I read it. Keep up your great work and remain Blessed Law!

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