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Toward a Postcolonial Universal Ontology

Notes on the Thought of Achille Mbembe

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The critique of Western metaphysics outlines how the African other has been depicted as not fully human in relation to the western subject’s identity. Hence, on an ontological level, the other or difference has been denied or excluded, which accounts for the violence of the colonial logic of conceptualizing African alterity or difference. The challenge of thinking the postcolonial situation in the African context has mostly been how to think liberating difference and alterity outside the violent colonial paradigm constituted by the creation of race as Blackness, the Black man and the fiction of Africa. Hence the problem may be formulated accordingly in the following question: How may a sense of identity be thought that does not deny the existence of the other or difference as fully human? Restated: How may postcolonial African thought avoid constituting the same logic of race as it aims to overcome the colonial logic of alterity? Accordingly, this essay aims to critically engage with the thought of Achille Mbembe and his attempts to address the question. Even though Mbembe attends to the question of essentialism in African imaginations of otherness in On the Postcolony, he largely remains silent in this work on the ethical question of violent contemporary ways of conceptualizing otherness in African thoughts and sociopolitical practices. Therefore, while taking Mbembe’s social ontology that takes existence of difference and how difference constitutes identity (but largely remaining violent) as a point of departure, this essay will, subsequently, argue that in the Critique of Black Reason, one finds a step toward a postcolonial nonviolent notion of alterity based on the recognition of the in-common existence within one world we share, firstly, by outlining Mbembe’s formulation of a non-essentialist African identity that, in turn, opens the way for what we will call here a postcolonial ontology and, secondly, to outline how this ontology reimagines the relation of the universal and particular making it a postcolonial universal ontology.


  • Achille Mbembe
  • Race
  • Ontology
  • Postcolonial
  • Otherness
  • Alterity
  • Blackness
  • Reparation

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Tembo, J., Gerber, S. (2019). Toward a Postcolonial Universal Ontology. In: Imafidon, E. (eds) Handbook of African Philosophy of Difference. Handbooks in Philosophy. Springer, Cham.

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