Reclaiming Your Identity Through Decolonized Institutions

A few weeks ago, I phoned my mother and my aunt. Over the call, I quizzed them about my childhood. That discourse had brought me much conflict because I felt detached from some parts of my identity until that point. I could not own some facets of my identity because society, and the education it proffered, did not permit them. I needed clarity. Like me, many others face similar problems within the continent: grasping to uphold their identities while consistently being subdued by the effects of colonized educational institutions and the institutions themselves. In essence, Western Epistemology (knowledge with foundations built upon colonial institutions and values) in African Education has ensured the continued suppression of marginalized people within the continent through the subjugation of the mind. Hence, an existential need to study Africa is created. 

There are numerous extensions of western epistemologies which seek to withdraw the people from their roots/heritage. One of them is language. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o asserts, in his piece, Decolonising the mind: the politics of language in African literature, that ‘Language was the most important vehicle through which the power fascinated and held the soul prisoner’ (Wa Thiong’o 286). Here, Wa Thiong’o implies that language had been used to lure people since the incidence of colonization. Furthermore, this language is so captivating that these people were willing to stay in this prison, even without physical force; hence, why the ‘soul’ is and remains the ‘prisoner’. It is now a norm to see Africans who cannot speak their languages, engage with their literature, and immerse themselves in their own cultures. Consequently, these people now become oppositions to their people, and another hand performing the deeds of imperialist nations.

Another manifestation of this purported colonial extension can be seen in academia. Whilst African scholars have bid to uphold the continent on a global stage, Amina Mama notes their “most rigorous analyses are thus reduced to nothing more than futile protest literature, while the continent’s fortunes continue to decline” (Mama). She implies that their aching attempts to alter the perception of the continent are foiled. Why? Because they seek to gain traction through the same westernized institutions they decry. There is a lack of focus here. The most incisive problem is not being addressed in this current establishment. Rather than focus efforts on revolutionizing the perception of the African continent through western institutions, efforts should be made to uphold the people and allow greater self-acceptance within these states.

These colonial institutions are not and will never be the basis for us to reclaim our identities. Instead, they will continue to drive us from our roots. In discussion with some of my classmates a few weeks ago, I likened this methodology to a parasite. When you dig deeper into the content covered in most of our curriculums, it becomes apparent that these inclinations are not aimed to benefit the people who are learning them. Instead, they address issues these western bodies face, or even worse, end up being means to subjugate the mind. 

To overcome the aforementioned issues, the curriculum needs to be decolonized. Decolonizing a curriculum means refocusing the curriculum from its Eurocentric lens to a more relevant perspective, making it more relevant to those studying it. How can this be done? Like I mentioned before, I believe those in academia–on African Studies–have a misplaced priority. Rather than focus on altering the global narratives of the continent through western institutions, they should focus, first, on upholding our stories within our communities.

In addition, the curriculum should require students to be aware that current educational systems work actively to subjugate identity. Hence, they will be more conscious of the biases driving their learning and be better suited to respond to them. Next, opportunities need to be made for each person to explore their roots–by reading historical text from their regions, looking at case studies, and interacting with historians from those regions. This process of self-discovery should be coupled with active collaboration so that other students begin to develop a clear understanding of each other’s identities. 


Mama, Amina. “Is It Ethical to Study Africa? Preliminary Thoughts on Scholarship and Freedom.” African Studies Review, vol. 50, no. 1, 2007, pp. 1–26. JSTOR, Accessed 26 Aug. 2021.

Wa Thiong’o, Ngugi. Decolonising the mind: the politics of language in African literature. James Curry, 1986.

One thought on “Reclaiming Your Identity Through Decolonized Institutions

  1. The issue of decolonization of the African society is an interesting one because it is at the core of our essence as Africans. I totally agree with Ngugi that language is an important tool in this mission. That’s why it is disheartening whenever I hear someone say she’s Yoruba or Igbo but does not speak the language. Like WTF. You can’t claim to be Yoruba when you can’t speak the language but language is at the center of Yoruba experiences and world view. It was Edward Sapir who said that language influences our thought process and I totally agree. If we are serious about decolonizing Africa, we need to start from speaking our Nigerian languages and being comfortable doing so.

    I would like to point your attention to what I would describe as neocolonialism- this one is subtle and steep unlike colonialism that’s brutal and demeaning. Neoclassicism rears its ugly in the fact that we model our lifestyle to fit in with the western ideologies. A reality check – look at the music you listen to. I bet many of them aren’t Nigerian. I’m one person who can’t stand Nigerian movies but have Netflix and Prime subscriptions. Even those of who think we have been decolonized, are we really? It’s food for thought.


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