February 17, 2017


​By Richard A. UGBE

Causality is central in African metaphysics. Whenever an event occurs, there is always a tendency for Africans to interrogate what may have necessitated it. For Africans, no event happens by chance. Every event is necessitated by one cause or another. For instance, if a child complains of headache in the hot afternoon and passes on few hours later, it is said that he/she dies of “Ogbanje” spirit or if a woman has miscarriage more than once, it is said that one witch in her husband’s family or her biological family is against her marriage. Many in Africa hold this, as veracity concerning both the child’s sudden demise in the hot afternoon and the woman’s frequent miscarriages. While one may not dispute this belief, it will also be good to raise some pertinent questions concerning this belief system. Why is it that Africans interrogate and search for a cause only when a negative event occur, but keep mute when a positive event occurs? Why is it that Africans do not see the possibility of events happening by chance? Again and most importantly, this cause that they always interrogate and search for, have they been able to find a satisfactory answer to their question and search? In this piece, we shall attempt a definition of Causality, African notion of causality and the need for Africans to interrogate or search for cause(s), if they must, collectively not just when a negative event occur.

Causality: According to Akpan O. C (2010), is one fundamental natural principle that is inevitable in our day to day interpretation, explanation and prediction of phenomena, whether in religion, science, politics, social interaction, philosophy and so many other fields of human endeavour. Akpan went on to view causality from Traditional African Cultural perspective “as a phenomenon that is transcendental and mythical.” Chiedozie Okoro (2014), in line with Akpan viewed causality as religious, supernatural, spiritual, mystical and mythical.

The African Notion of Causality : Kanu I. A. (2014), in an attempt to define African notion of causality started by presenting the views of European scholars on causality and chance as thus: Hume (1902) in treating the compatibilism of freedom and necessity spoke of things happening by chance, meaning that things could happen without any cause. Secondly, that the concept of ‘perchance is recurrent in the works of Shakespeare (1852) precisely in the ‘Twelfth Night’, which reveals the Western poet’s understanding that things can just happen. Kanu, however, pose this question that, “if the question, ‘Does anything just happen? Were put to an African, what would be his response? According to Aja (2001), cited in Kano, “the world is an ordered universe in which all events are caused and potentially explicable.” Gyekye (1987) cited in Kanu, maintains that the doctrine of universal causation in the Akan-African world. The African does not just speak of mechanical, chemical and psychological interactions like his Western counterparts; he also speaks of a metaphysical kind of causality, which binds the creator to the creature. Reacting to the Western concept of chance, which believes that things could happen by chance, Ozumba (2004) cited in Kanu, argues that what they (Westerners) called chance is their ignorance of the series of actions and reactions that have given rise to a given event. Gyekye cited above maintains a universal doctrine of causality in African ontology, he emphasizes that greater attention is paid to extraordinary events and not natural events or regular occurrences when issues of causality is discussed. Gyekye, further avers that regular or natural events would include, rain during raining season, drought during dry season, a pregnancy that lasts nine months, the growth of plants, catching of few fish at some particular times of the year etc. Such events for Gyekye does not constitute a problem for the mind of the African, because, as Gyekye argues “such events are held by them to be part of the order established by the omnipotent creator”. They are empirical, scientific and non-supernaturalistic. They have been observed by people who know that there is a necessary connection between such events, for instance, they know that during dry season, the river dries up, or that a child stays in the mother’s womb for nine months before delivery. Extraordinary or contingent events are those that engage the minds of Africans, and such events would include, a woman being pregnant for more than nine months, drought during raining season, a tree falling and killing a man. These events according to Gyekye have particular traits that make them mind disturbing, “they are infrequent and hence are considered abnormal; they are discrete and isolated; they appear to be puzzling, bizarre, and incomprehensible; they are not considered subsumable under any immediate known law of nature” (p. 78). The events are deemed insufficient to explain their causes, thus, the ultimate cause of the event is sought. The interest is not on what has happened but why it happened. Thus, not that the tree has fallen, but why it fell on a particular man not on the ground or on any other man.

This is the mindset of most Africans: the fact that we see insufficiency in events explaining their causes and also the fact that the cause of these events must be sought. I have a problem with the fact that most Africans are not interested in what happened but why it happened and finally- the fact that typical Africans have no problem with a tree falling on the ground but why it falls on a particular man and not any other man. Deducing from the above is a situation where majority of Africans, identify only with positive events; while shying away from the negative ones. Again, I am seeing a situation where instead of seeking solution to a particular event, Africans prefer to search for why it happened. For instance, a situation where one is down with a particular ailment and needs urgent medical attention, some Africans will prefer to seek for why he/she is sick with such a deadly disease and not the medical attention such a fellow needs. But come to think of it, can we avoid negative events coming our way? Events like; sickness, death, infertility among couples, hurricane or thunderstorm? Definitely, natural laws must bring them to our door steps. I am seeing a situation why modern African preachers continue to succeed in their various religious houses, owing to the fact that as a people we are always in search for what may have caused this or that in our lives. We go to these prayer houses with the mindset of knowing what may have went wrong at a given time in our lives. I am seeing another situation why it is difficult for us as a people to detach ourselves from consulting oracle.

A practical example is the idea of “Ipe” divination by my people, after which one elderly man or woman is accused for been responsible for the sudden death of a young man/woman or infertility case among a particular couple in the family. I am not trying to deny the existence of witches and wizards, principalities and powers. I still not believe in them. They exist only to those who believe and pay homage to them. However, what is my concern is; how Africans must understand cause(s) holistically. And for us to understand cause(s) holistically, we need to ask ourselves the following questions; why interrogating and searching for only negative events? Do Africans bother to ask; why one is healthy, productive, successful, and live above hundred years? Even when they ask, they always attribute for instance, one’s success to have come from one power or another. It is by looking at both the positive and negative events and places them side by side that Africans will find answers to their search. Again, until Africans begin to understand that life is not one sided (only positive events), that they will fall back to the reality of life which Heraclitus of Ephesus captured well when he observed that things in the universe are in opposite direction: dry season against raining season, life against death, old age against youth age and tallness against shortness. But that there is a unifying force that binds them together. Until we begin to view life from this light, we will continue to approach logical issues through illogical means.

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