“What is Africanness?” Contesting nativism in race, culture and sexualities, new book by Prof. Charles Ngwena

Congratulations to Professor Charles G. Ngwena from the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, whose peer-reviewed monograph is now freely available for download through the open-access Pretoria University Law Press.

Charles Ngwena,  What is Africanness?  : Contesting nativism in culture, race and sexualities,  (Pretoria University Law Press (PULP), 2018) 306 pages.
Detailed Table of Contents, Overview, Comments from scholars, and PDFs of all chapters.

This important book contributes to the ongoing scholarly conversation about who is African and what is African.  It aims to implicate a reductive sameness in the naming of Africans (‘nativism’) by showing its teleology and effects, then offers an alternative liberating and decentred understanding of Africa as the land of diverse identifications.   As the author states in the opening chapter: “The intention of this book . . . is to offer a discourse on how Africans can name themselves in the present and in the future without succumbing to nativist impulses requiring a homogeneous past and establishing a transcendental ontology as essential elements of Africanness.  The book seeks to develop a plausible account of African identifications, but ultimately leaves the question Who/what is African? open to debate.”  (p.17)  Accordingly, the book ends with an epilogue, rather than a conclusion.

The book has three major parts:



The third part of the book “comprises three chapters organised around interrogating representations of African sexualities and ultimately suggesting a philosophical way forward in the manner sexual citizenship is contested.” (p. 14)  The REPROHEALTHLAW Blog is pleased to circulate brief overviews of these chapters, as excerpted from the author’s introduction to the book:

Chapter 6.   Representing African Sexualities: Contesting Nativism from Without     PDF online 
This chapter “speaks to nativism from without. It highlights that narratives which represent African sexualities should always be understood as being culturally and historically situated. They are representations constructed within the knowledge and power system(s) of a given polity at a particular historical time and location, together with a social and political dynamics for social stratification, domination and status subordination. The chapter uses the representation of African sexualities in colonial discourses to make this point. I do not argue that colonial discourses tell us everything we need to know about African sexualities or that, historically, they are the single most important archive on the representation of African sexualities.
“Rather, the value of colonial discourses lies in their stubbornly persistent power, which continues to summon ‘Africans’ into place. In many ways, the construction of stereotypical representations of African sexualities is anchored in the nativisation of African cultures by colonial discourses. The argument in this chapter draws in part on Edward Said’s ‘orientalism’ and Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘nativism’. The works of Said and Mamdani serve as important resources in implicating ‘surface regularities’ in colonial discourses and their effects in typologising Africans as ‘natives’.
“I argue in this chapter for the importance of understanding the representation of Africanness in colonial discourses as an effect of the construction of colonial whiteness.”  (pp. 14-15)

Chapter 7.  ‘Transgressive’ Sexualities:  Contesting Nativism from within and Overcoming Status Subordination.      PDF online
“[F]rom time to time, ‘African values’ are invoked by political and cultural authorities to continentalise sexuality and to prescribe a regimented and homogenised African sexuality that specifically excludes sexualities outside heterosexuality and, more specifically, delegitimises non-heteronormative and same-sex sexualities. I advance counter-arguments to the legitimacy of claims that heterosexuality is the only culturally acceptable sexuality for Africans. The chapter develops a framework for recognising diversities of sexuality in ways that are informed by a transformative understanding of sexuality and, ultimately, of an inclusive equality. The framework seeks to deconstruct scripted knowledge about sexuality in order to build an understanding that reveals the complexity, diversity and ultimately political nature of sexuality. I argue that recognising difference in the realm of sexuality requires a radical epistemology that is capable of moving beyond the raw physicality of the body, the genitalia, biological impulse and a capacity for language in order to take cognisance of how sexuality is socially constructed in historical time and place. Necessarily, representations of African sexualities ought to acknowledge that norms and frameworks which give coherence to heterosexuality and its congruent gender binaries are but one cultural variant that exists in juxtaposition with pluralistic articulations of sexualities.” (pp. 15-16)

Chapter 8. Mediating Conflicting Sexuality Identifications through Politics and an Ethics of Pluralism.   PDF online.
This chapter “concludes Part 3 with a discussion of how we might mediate conflicting sexuality identifications through first promoting an understanding of the politics and ethics of pluralism. The discussion is predicated on an assumption, regardless of contradictory praxis, that African states in their independence as well as post-independence constitutions formally commit themselves to political pluralism. Against this backdrop the overarching premise is that in political communities committed to liberal democracy, differences are an ordinary part of our political lives.  Even if we agree as to how we should be governed and share political space, it is not necessary or warranted that we should also reach agreement on all moral issues, including conceptions of our sexual and reproductive selves.
“Chapter 8 builds its arguments partly by appropriating to the concept of ‘equality’ two political notions: the notion of an ‘overlapping consensus’ as advocated by John Rawls, and the notion of ‘dissensus’ as advocated by Nicholas Rescher.  In part the chapter builds its arguments by linking equality with participatory democracy using mainly Iris Young’s argument for recognising difference in a heterogeneous public in which there is mutual recognition between different sexuality identifications, and Hannah Arendt’s concept of citizenship in a plural political community.
“The main thesis in Chapter 8 is that overcoming an impasse which arises where there is strong communitarian opposition to a given sexuality does not lie in dismissing such opposition as without a rational political foundation. Rather, it lies in accepting the legitimacy of the opposition through a democratic polity that  is committed to non-hierarchical inclusiveness and relations of cooperation in matters of moral and religious controversy.”   (pp. 16-17)

Detailed overview of the entire book, with comments by legal specialists,  a complete Table of Contents and links to PDF chapters are available here from the Pretoria University Law Press.

Recent publications by Prof. Charles Ngwena:
“Reproductive Autonomy of Women and Girls under the Disabilities Convention.”  International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 140.1 (Jan. 2018): 128-133.  Article abstract.

“Taking Women’s Rights Seriously: Using Human Rights to Require State Implementation of Domestic Abortion Laws in African Countries with Reference to Uganda,” Journal of African Law 60.1 (Feb 2016): 110-140.   Article abstract

“Human Rights Advances in Women’s Reproductive Health in Africa” by Charles G. Ngwena, Eunice Brookman-Amissah,  and Patty Skuster,  International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 129.2 (May 2015): 184-187.    Article download from SSRN.  Article online.

“Reforming African Abortion Laws and Practice: The Place of Transparency,” (in Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies, ed. Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman and Bernard M. Dickens (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) Article abstract.

“Conscientious Objection to Abortion and Accommodating Women’s Reproductive Health Rights: Reflections on a Decision of the Constitutional Court of Colombia from an African Regional Human Rights Perspective.” Journal of African Law, 58 (2014): 183-209. Article abstract.

“A Commentary on LC v Peru: The CEDAW Committee’s First Decision on Abortion.” Journal of African Law, 57.2 (Oct 2013): 310-324;   available online here.”  Abstract online.

Compiled by the Coordinator of the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program, reprohealth*law at utoronto.ca For Program publications and resources, see our website, online here. TO JOIN THIS BLOG: enter your email address in upper right corner of this webpage, then check your email to confirm the subscription.




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