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Resurrecting Mudimbe

For Africa, truly escaping the West involves an exact appreciation of the price we have to pay to detach ourselves from it; it assumes that we are aware of the extent to which the West, perhaps insidiously, has drawn closer to us; it implies knowing what is still Western in that which permits us to think against the West, and that we assess the extent to which our recourse against the West may still be a ruse, at the end of which it lies in wait for us, motionless or elsewhere.

—V.Y. Mudimbe, L’Odeur du père.


This paper emerged accidentally. I had been tasked with conducting an interview with Congolese philosopher, V.Y. Mudimbe. I visited him early February, but he was not in a state to do an interview because of his current health situation. Given my relationship with him and my familiarity with his work, I offered to write this paper in lieu of an interview. Through a chance encounter, I had discovered Mudimbe in graduate school and was so enamoured by his ideas that they became the conceptual anchor of my doctoral dissertation. After my defence, for which he served as external examiner, I won his friendship. He wrote the foreword to my book, Epistemologies of African Conflicts. I would type and edit his papers, which he would dictate to me over the phone, giving a glimpse into how he works. At conferences, colleagues would teasingly refer to me as V.Y. Mudimbe’s son. This relationship, I hope, singularly positions me to write a paper that critically situates his work and initiate a critical conversation on ways of relating to it. While not a substitute for hearing him in his own words, I hope that I am able to draw on my intimate familiarity with his work, and the numerous conversations I have had with him to paint a portrait of a thinker that most people find difficult to read, but whose ideas remain very relevant for conversations about disciplinary transformation in an era characterised as a ‘decolonial turn'.

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Correspondence to Zubairu Wai.

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Wai, Z. Resurrecting Mudimbe. Int Polit Rev 8, 57–78 (2020).

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  • Mudimbe
  • Africa
  • IR
  • Gnosis
  • Colonial library
  • Decolonisation
  • Decoloniality
  • Postcolonial
  • Translation
  • Knowledge production
  • African studies