Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Decolonizing Imperialized Upbringing Styles in the African Context

Written By

Julius Kithinji Kiambi

Submitted: 25 August 2021 Reviewed: 02 September 2021 Published: 04 May 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.100256

From the Edited Volume

Parenting - Challenges of Child Rearing in a Changing Society

Edited by Sayyed Ali Samadi

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In the African traditional society, parenting was something everyone looked forward to. Right from childhood the African people were brought up and socialized towards this great expectation. Moreover, parenting was not just a couple’s assignment but communal and all societal structures were aligned in such a way that there was parenting everywhere. However, given the realities of our changing times, the promise of an enjoyable and easy time in parenting has highly been curtailed by many factors. Parenting in the African context has been challenged from many quarters. Many parents are grappling with the question of errant and extremely independent breed of children. Part of the problem has been Africa’s alignment to globalizing forces. For example, the decades of the 90s saw crusades in advocacy for Africa to adopt more alien styles of families. With this came smaller families mimicked and modeled more from Western and global conceptualizations of family. Parenting has been left to nuclear parents, and single parents. Opportunities for parenting have been minimized and this has complicated the equation for a balanced African society. This chapter explores imperializing factors that have complicated parenting in Africa contributing to continued loss of African communality and proposes superlative imperative as a method of decolonizing and neutralizing this tide of influence without reverting to the extremely traditional styles of parenting. It particularly places the African Christian church at the centre of the decolonization process.


  • Parenting
  • Africa
  • Postcolonial
  • Superlative imperative
  • Upbringing
  • Church
  • Communal

1. Introduction

Parenting is the basic foundation of every stable society. Each generation longs for the time it can confidently boast of bringing up a stable generation. Upbring is about socialization. The content of socialization is information concerning what a society approves as right and what it denounces as wrong. African people treasure a communal ordering within their societies. Their parenting systems are hence geared towards protecting and enhancing the values that uphold oneness in community. The pedagogy of upbringing can involve apprenticeship, telling, church programs or religious gatherings, mass media – television, radio talk shows and social media among others. The most impactful methods raising up reliable youth is where these methods involve ideological images in legacies, personalities who are authorities and role models in the society… or equally when unfit people that have made their way into mainstream popularity use these platforms to negatively impact a generation.

In the contemporary African1 scene, upbringing has become a complicated field. Parenting which used to be communal in the African society has been compounded by many factors especially those that concern a society that is spiraling towards self. The securities that involved an African upbring space have all been eroded by pursuits for modernity. The “modern” family and society that is the crave of many Africans is characterized by aping, mimicry and resulting in hybridity. The hybrid African is a distorted being who is “same but not the same” to use Said’s words. Many forces have contributed to complicate this picture. An upbringing vacuum therefore plays out and since nature entertains no vacuums, various ways of coping and growing up together have emerged. The objectives of this chapter are to present the intersections between postcolonialism and African parenting, to assess the values that informed African upbringing before encounter with colonial missionaries, to highlight imperialized contemporary realities that African parents have to grapple with, to discuss the role of the church in shaping the future of African upbringing and to propose a superlative imperative model for African upbringing. The postcolonial theoretical stance under which this chapter is developed has two aspects: first, to analyze the diverse strategies by which the colonizers construct images of the colonized; and second, to study how the colonized themselves make use of and go beyond many of those strategies in order to articulate their identity, self-worth, and empowerment. The chapter therefore goes back and forth as a way of looking at both old and new forms of domination. In the long run and through subtopics that follow, the chapter proposes ways of enhancing contemporary African parenting so as to remain truly communalistic African in upbringing. Probably, the proposals made in this chapter will be resourceful for family therapists, pastors and all actors who desire a stable Africa in the future.


2. Decolonizing parenting models and upbringing in Africa

A postcolonial approach has been employed in many disciplines and in a considerable manner but not so much in decolonizing the parenting scene in former colonies especially in Africa. A postcolonial perspective alerts to imperial socialization of contexts and articulates ways in which the margins can rework their emancipation. In parenting, a postcolonial perspective helps to examine parental aspects that fall prey to imperial standards by effacing subaltern styles while at the same time offering alternatives for the subalternity to articulate their emancipation. The usefulness of such an approach is in the way it helps re-articulate importance of the indigene and creative methods of retaining aspects of a subaltern society that can be helpful and most meaningful in informing contemporary parenting models.

Core to the existence and continuance of any society is its method of socialization. Many African writers2 though not overtly employing the postcolonial perspective, have attested to the fact that the African parenting model was among the things that colonialism replaced with other worlds models of existence. Arguing from a point of education, Lucy Wairimu Kibera3 has argued that decolonization of now independent former colonies from colonial cultural heritage has been a very slow process. For this reason, African continues to be subtly authored and re-authored by imperialization to suit colonizers interests and values. To date alien models continue to author African upbringing and parenting much to her detriment. If Africa is notoriously religious [6], then it can be said in the same breath that she is also inescapably colonial in her outlook. Colonialism was so ingrained in the African lifestyle that it became another religion, in deed another opiate for the African. She is so fossilized in that state that a new horizon is almost unimaginable. The result is rearing masses of colonized generations even after the aftermath of colonialism. However, with the emergence of a postcolonial thinking, there is a possibility of decolonizing upbringing through “the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization.”4 According to Sugirtharajah5, postcolonialism is a discipline in which everything is contested, everything is contestable, from the use of terms to the defining of chronological boundaries. It signifies a reactive resistance discourse of the colonized who critically interrogate dominant knowledge systems in order to recover the past from the Western slander and misinformation of the colonial period, and who also continue to interrogate neo-colonizing tendencies after the declaration of independence.

Postcolonial criticism is employed in this chapter as a an instrument or method of analyzing the cultural heritage that is today’s culture which is the result of subtly imposed imperial ethos that continue to dominate and author the African space and especially as related to upbringing. Although a critical look at the Western influence on African culture reveals both good and bad influences, it is necessary to point out that loss of African cultural tenets as mediated by colonialism also lost good and bad aspects. This made much of African native culture give way to European worlding. Either by design or accident, Africans imbibed the Western culture and continue to appropriate it so much that it now becomes almost part and parcel of their lives [9]. This re-worlding has infiltrated all spheres of the African life including upbringing and with it the current dissonance in the contemporary African generations. It is this space that needs decolonization. Before delving into decolonized upbring models, let us consider where Africa has come in terms of parenting as the ideal model.


3. African upbring: the ideal that was

Upbring in many African societies was characterized by, a communitarian ethic. The communitarian ethic calls upon the individual to look after the well-being of others as others are required to look after the wellbeing of the individual [10]. Mbiti’s popular cliché of “I am because you are and you are because I am” best captures this scenario. Analysts of the popular African “Ubuntu” philosophy have also revealed dimensions in which African life is generally communal. What interpreters of Mbiti and analysts of ubuntu have not extensively done is to break up these philosophies and show how they are directly anchored on upbringing. If they would have done so, it would be revealed that in Africa, being human is not enough; it is the being among beings and this emanates from parenting. To be or not to be is judged by being or not being in community. It is this aspect of “being in community” that was guided and redirected according to the ethics of the community. The family as the foundation of society and was tasked primarily with this communitarian. The concept of family was far broader than the western nuclear family. There was no nucleus family in the Eurocentric sense or mathematical sense. In so far as upbringing was concerned, primary or biological parents were just agents of the community which was per se the nucleus family. Among the Meru people of Kenya as it for many African contexts, for example, as long as children were within the community, they were at “home”. Children could spend the night in any home, they could have meals in any home and perform duties in any home. The primary parents could be rest assured that wherever the children were, the eyes of the community (superior than the modern CCTV) were watching over their behavior. Family chores could be performed by any member of the community and in any homestead. Basic family units were only necessary in so far as they acted as agents of the community. Chiroma admits that the family embraced the extended family and sometimes even neighbors [11]. The influence of community roles in upbringing can be evidenced in proverbs like, “it takes a whole village to raise a child”, and “the child belongs to the clan”. This means that moral and other values were seen as shared and not private. They were passed on through intergenerational socializations in folk tales, songs, proverbs etc. and what resulted was a morally stable Africa. This chapter alone cannot recapture all that Africa was. But the picture of the climate painted here stands to show that Africa was all sufficient in her upbringing methodologies and through them she attained a morally stable society that lived a wholesome life.

Many African writers nostalgically write a relish of these memories and in their writing almost wish for a return. However, when Mazrui argues that “the present world culture is Eurocentric, the next world culture is unlikely to be Afrocentric, even if that were desirable” he means that the best solution is therefore in “a more culturally balanced world civilization;” [12] rather, a return to the tradition and indigene Africa is not progressive even if it were possible. In this chapter, a similar tour or romanticization of the indigene African upbringing is not meant to champion a pure return, but a burden principle that tasks the precent and next generations not to provide an alternative hegemony, but to provide a new balance. Highlighting important aspects of African upbringing rather than nostalgically plunging into the former therefore, suffices. A retrieval of African methods of transmitting upbringing e.g., metaphors, sayings and proverbs, as also of visual symbols from oral tradition, is meant to prove that upbringing does not have to take only a backward drift form to convey deep truths arrived at by a people.


4. Contemporary realities

There are many contemporary realities which like winds of change have bombarded Africa and changed much of her transactions and especially those that involve upbringing. A full portrait of the contemporary upbringing scene cannot be sculptured here. A few facets will suffice. First, it can be observed that when African native culture gave way to European cultural imperialism, it considered European culture as the norm of society. Through many influences Africans quickly adopted a manufactured sense of being civilized with “whiteness” becoming an object of “black” consumption. Europeanism was equated with being godly/religious/moral and civilized/cultured. In abandoning their Africanity, Africans forgot that whiteness was not the measure of being human. To date post-independence Africa has continued to wrestle with the question of what it means to be African. Either by design or accident, Africans continue to consume whiteness and to imbibe the Western culture and have appropriated it so much that it now becomes almost part and parcel of their lives [13]. Although not entirely to be blamed, colonial and imperial cultural structures contribute to erosion of African values including those parenting.

Second, contemporary Africa finds herself in an increasingly globalized space. Part of the package that comes with globalization is the renewed interests in the child. Recent decades have witnessed a new shift towards the ‘derivatization’ of childhood and parenthood. The fact that issues concerning childhood and child upbringing in both national and international settings are now progressively dealt with in legal terms is a manifestation of this development. Africa has not been left behind or spared in this race. Africa is submerged in the new global interest in childhood and what has been termed the ‘globalization of childhood.’ Since the West globalizes and Africa is the globalized, in the name of global, particular Western concepts of what childhood is and what a ‘good’ and ‘proper’ childhood should be, have been pushed to Africans. This also comes with the garbage of what parenting ought to be and from a global perspective. Critiques of the globalized child have pointed out that global engrossment on raising a ‘globalized child’ have tended to overshadow notions of parenting in globalized communities [14].

As Tatjana and Haukanes have pointed out, ideologies and parenting trends have traveled in the global arena which now threaten particular cultures ideal of the proper child and the proper parent leading to the proper community. As has been alluded to, dominant ideas are translated through various channels, including social and mass media, national legislations and educational or child protection policies, to name but a few. There is a growing politicization of childhood in the world arena and Africa has not been spared. Contemporary African parents have therefore to grapple with a protected “child space” without an equally protected “parent space.” As Tatjan and Haukanes observe, delinking childhood even in studies as a separate field from parenting leads to foregrounding of child rights space without parallel parenting conceptualizations. This concept is alien to African upbring and the African value of communality. Owing to this compartmentalization of the “child’, many emerging African parents have resigned from the communal motif with the result that every child for him/herself and every home with its own children. Zoning off generations has been witnessed and the consequent competition by parents to save their children from a perceptibly sinking society. In African upbringing, the reverse is true where children are directed into the ship that is the healthy society. Therefore, the current scene is characterized by parents outdoing each other in this fencing of children with the result that we have all lost it.

Third, it is agreeable is that Africa has changed over the years and so also have her goals and values especially those that concern upbringing. Africanity in communality, though still scantily in existence has been transformed [sometimes for worse] by many global waves. Communality is no longer the fabric that holds together the African society. Writers6 who continue to write on African value of communality more often than not paint a wrong picture of the contemporary African scene. The fact is that the African value of communality has not been spared by the modern waves of change orchestrated by the waves of globalization and has irreversibly been eroded. The family unit too has experienced irreversible change imbibing more the values of Western individualism that have ushered each family into the arena of bring up its own children. This ripple has not stopped at the family unit for, the family too has remained powerless in the face of individual rights. Viewed in such a manner for example, democracy, a Western value, is not merely a political category, or a championing of the rule of the people or the voice of the majority. Primarily, it is the rule of the individual who has ruled him/herself. Democracy viewed against an African communality perspective is the principle of those who have defied any communalistic pool of influence and created a pool ‘somebodies’ who defy the pool of the community. This strong force that shifts from community to family and from family to the individual can be termed as an ingredient that has negatively impinged on African upbringing. African children are being brought up as democratic children. On the surface, a democratic child is one who is free to be if being constitutes extreme individuality. The being is an individual protected by imperialized laws which have been couched without cultural sensibilities or contextual considerations. For this reason, many a such have become free from institutions like church, schools, etc. which still remain important institutions for socialization whether African or otherwise. However, for the “free” individual, if the church is found to be a stumbling block to the envisaged freedom, they not only abandon it but also oppose it from the platforms of their professions in media houses, political arenas etc. Equally, if schools have become a stumbling block, they riot and cause destruction as has been experienced in the recent past in Kenya and many other African contexts [15].

On account of the issues outlined above, the contemporary African scene is faced with many moral dilemmas. There is a thin line between what is considered moral or immoral and greater still, who has the defining power. Talk of sexual morality for example – a world advocating for individual rights is a power to reckon with. Such a world is accessible through the virtual spaces in social and other media. The globalized scene is inescapable and Africa has to deal with it from an individual and a communal perspective. Among the moral issues that Africa has to grapple with is reproductive rights and with them permission of many practices that were unheard of in Africa including pegging unacceptable abortion to these rights. Is it possible to mainstream a purely African morality for reproductive health? This too could be lost as Africa is increasingly being bombarded by alien sexual moralities and it has also to grapple with minority groups including sexual minorities and their individual or group rights. Though increasingly penetrating the African spaces, advocacy for the LGBTQ in Africa has had its own challenges; some of the challenges are intergenerational, some religious and others ideological. In brief, the African moral scene is complicated by all these plays and with them the turns and twists of their plots – and with all these, the question of upbringing and raising a counter-generation rests.


5. African church and available upbringing options

It was imagined that the alternative world introduced by colonialists and missionaries would bring the much-prescribed moral “light” to the dark African continent. However, introduction of the Christian church did not help much in this scenario. Initial missionaries introduced church as an institution that came to condemn all that was African; both good and seemingly eccentric African cultural values. It is not an understatement to say that the bulk of the values that were affected were those that had to do with upbringing. Among the Ameru people of Kenya for example, young initiates into manhood were taught never to say sorry. The Christian church came teaching that “sorry” was part of the daily Christian vocabulary. Taken at face value, this meant that the Ameru culture and the Christian culture were at collision courses. A deeper understanding, which the early missionaries did not take time to understand reveals that the Ameru and the church were advocating the same values. What the Ameru taught in the “non-sorry” statements was that a Meru man should be very upright. They should so guard their behavior such that nothing out of commission or omission should bring them to the point of weakness. Guarding against that moment was the concern of every initiate because it portrayed a character weakness and immaturity for the rank that they had achieved through circumcision. Transgressing Meru men were liable to say sorry and with that came fines and punishments imposed upon by the community. All these acted to promote a flawless community, a community of minimized transgressors. Apart from this example, many African communities had many such cultural values that could be used to promote level upbringing. Unfortunately, due to early contact with the church as introduced by initial missionaries and its then pedagogies, Africans who became Christians were stripped of their cultural tools for upbringing and their experience. This loss included African conceptualizations of family and upbringing. The African family was more patterned after the European missionaries dictates that biblical Christianity demands. Church upbringing therefore, raised a generation that was increasingly against everything African not because of biblical reasons but because of secondary missionary reasons. This produced Africans who were christened and those that were not and definitely dividing members of the same kinship systems in many ways.

The emerging posture, it can be noted, was not adequate for sustaining Christianity in Africa and for sustaining African lifestyles. For an African Christian culture to be sustained therefore, there needs a synthesis of the two. Enemies of African religion and life will call it syncretism and in a derogatory way, but in a postcolonial framework it can be termed hybridity. In postcolonial conceptualizations, hybridity [16] stands for an “in-between space” in which the colonialized translate or undo the binaries imposed by the colonial project: “From the perspective of the ‘in-between’, claims to cultural authenticity and sovereignty – supremacy, autonomy, hierarchy – are less significant ‘values’ than an awareness of the hybrid conditions of inter-cultural exchange”7. The African Christian church has the option of mediating a hybrid generation – one that looks back and forth even as it articulates its own identity.

The contemporary church has done much in its programs to aid African parents in parenting and raising up a responsible moral generation. There are Sunday schools, vocational Bible schools, youth camps and many program that act as fora for encouraging a moral generation. Definitely, the approach of the contemporary African church is more advanced than that of the missionary enterprise. However, it is still gripped by colonial shadows and hangovers that curtail its full potential for raising a truly African generation. Although the contemporary African church has done much to rectify the shortcomings of initial missionaries, it remains to be seen how much the African Christian church can foster its programs to advocate for bringing up a generation that not only revives renaissance of African values for upbringing but also makes a huge tide turn for the moral laxity that is currently being experienced in Africa.

The contemporary Africa scene is replete with mushrooming voices in institutions and other spaces calling for a renaissance of Africa cultural values. Although Caws and Jones8 have accused the church of religious indoctrination that interferes with a child’s discovery of freedom, the church still remains the best space for mediating on African cultural values renaissance transaction. Although the church was largely responsible for indoctrinating Africans “out of” their African values, it still retains the mechanism and religious theories that gives Africans an opportunity to deconstruct these systems and then to reconstruct them in ways they can call their own. Since children are always born into specific situations, into particular social and cultural contexts with already established moral and value systems, within which they become adults, it is paramount that the church postures itself as a worthy institution for mediating a truly African Christian renaissance.


6. Towards a superlative imperative for African upbringing

A superlative imperative can be interpreted as a deliberate phrase that intends to place Africanity as the norm for bringing up African generations. It is an attempt to revive and creatively “legalize” that which was considered backward in African culture. It is a postcolonial category drawn from hybridity that not only resists the imperial modes of parenting and upbringing but also raises up a new breed of Africans that continue the legacy of African epistemologies and in communality. It is a decolonized ubuntu, because much of what passes in scholarship as ubuntu philosophy is one conceived in western categories. It is ability to retrieve, permit and Christianise African values and categories for raising a new breed, a new and counter-generation of Africans.

It has already been noted that waves of cultural renaissance are already bashing the ship that is Africa. Mawusi [19] has observed that “African culture contributes immensely in the upbringing of young people.” In order for African upbringing and styles of parenting to have a superlative imperative approach then the following proposals are made. The proposal of this chapter is for Africa and the African church to ride on this new wave and help Africa reimagine parenting that is supposed to herald a new generation. To do this the church has to evolve an epistemology that counters the renaissance of bad culture and promote a renaissance of African upbringing. While Mawusi proposes that an urban rural hybridity through visitation9, should be embraced towards this end, it is worth reinstating that raising a new African generation goes beyond bridging the gaps between rural and urban cultures. There is a tendency only to condemn the urbanized African as the bedeviled culture. The real picture is that all of Africa needs the parenting renaissance which is captured in the superlative imperative concept. It is either all of Africa is renewed or none is renewed at all.

The second proposal is for parenting through children. As has been noted, parenting is about influence. If the child space has been irreversibly marked out, then we need to use children to achieve the children that we want. We need to decolonize the narrative that children can only be parented by parents. The Swahili maxim that asiyefunzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu lit “he who is not educated by the mother will be educated by the world” should be employed to capture the ulimwengu here as including positive peers; the children. Viewed in this way, African children’s groupings can be employed as agents of parenting. Therefore, African institutions that primarily deal with children ought to be onboarded in their programs and curriculum for the success of a counter-generation in Africa.

The last proposal is for the African Christian church to be in front in heralding a truly African spirituality. The church is a respected institution in Africa. It has many programs that help shape Africanity. Moreover, the church in a notoriously religious Africa has the respectable religious voice. The voice of the church is authoritative and can be usefully exploited to decolonize esoteric methods of upbring and to encourage methods of parenting that resonate with Africanity.


7. Conclusion

In ancient and present Africa, generational gaps were a product of time i.e., it took a duration of the approximate modern ten or more years to name or number a generation. The present and recent African generations present many adulterated values that defy Africanity in its truly pure morality. Coupled with this is the constant threat that globalization present to an everchanging African moral landscape. The question that remains to be answered is, what can be done to triumph over global and other factors that impede skilful African parenting? Does Africa possess requisite parenting resources to overcome such factors as urbanism, globalization, and the entire value that secularism presents? Whatever is done, these threats remain real and will continue mutating over generations. By way of conclusion therefore, it is important to note that it remains for each African generation to device its own mechanism for freeing itself from the grip of emerging postures of imperialism. This chapter has argued that it is possible not to wait for time to socialize a new generation. For the contemporary generation, the chapter has presented a superlative imperative proposal for heralding a counter-generation that is truly African in identity and that guards the deposit of true African morality. The chapter sees the church as the institution that can decolonize by Christianising many condemned African values for this venture. The time for that generation is now.


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  • Africa is vast and its subcultures are many. In as much as this is true and may lead questions of the credibility of generalizations about it, however, there are many commonalities in African cultures that permit for reasonable generalizations. Although particular examples are given from Kenya, Africanity in this chapter is meant to endorse the view of a probability of unity of African cultures. For a sustained discourse on Africanity/Africanism, see the article [1].
  • See for example, Mbiti [2], Kwasi Wiredu [3] and Nwadiokwu [4] to mention but a few.
  • [5], pp.14–20.
  • [7], p.108.
  • [8], p.8.
  • Especially the theorists of Ubuntu philosophy.
  • [17], p.139.
  • The indoctrination project Peter Caws and Stefani Jones [18]. Religious Upbringing and the Costs of Freedom: Personal and Philosophical Essays, edited by Peter Caws, and Stefani Jones, Penn State University Press, 2010.
  • This exposition is calling on our African nuclear families to rise up if they have completely neglected the extended family. The extended family is tearing apart especially in our bigger, busy cities. Nuclear families should make it a point to visit their hometowns and patch up with their extended families. Parents should frequently introduce their children to their extended families on both sides.

Written By

Julius Kithinji Kiambi

Submitted: 25 August 2021 Reviewed: 02 September 2021 Published: 04 May 2022