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Darwin Comes to Africa

Social Darwinism and British Imperialism in Northern NigeriaOlufemi Oluniyi

Charles Darwin fathered not just a scientific theory, but a toxic social ideology that fueled racist colonial policies in Africa. In this sobering book, African scholar Olufemi Oluniyi traces the insidious impact of Darwinian ideas on British imperial policies in Northern Nigeria. Drawing on official documents, public statements, and well-attested historical events, Oluniyi documents how concepts such as evolutionary racism and survival of the fittest were systematically used to demean black Africans, consigning some people to a status of permanent inferiority. Rejecting Social Darwinism, Oluniyi makes a compelling argument for the equality of all human beings, and for recognizing Africa’s many seminal contributions to the history of human civilization.

Advance Praise

Ideas rule the world, and corrosive ideologies damage human relations and destroy societies. In this book, Olufemi Oluniyi lucidly exposes how the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism fueled manipulative and exploitative British imperialist policies in Northern Nigeria to damage human relations and destroy societies. The book clearly demonstrates how British colonizers, led by Lord and Lady Lugard, were fully imbued with the ideology of Social Darwinism of the time, which supported the development of scientific racism. This ideology enabled the imperialists and colonizers in Africa to erroneously redefine “fitness” in evolutionary theory as “intelligence,” and “intelligence” as “white” and its close associate “light or fair-skinned.” Thus, British colonizers quickly singled out and labeled the fair-skinned Muslim Fulani people of Northern Nigeria as “superior” on the evolutionary ladder, and therefore, as the supposed rulers over their black or dark-skinned counterparts. The author exposes the pseudo-scientific basis of evolutionary arguments for racism and vividly shows how British Social Darwinist policies were a root cause of the damaged relations among the peoples of Nigeria. This root cause continues to exert its influence in Nigeria’s effort to build a sustainable democracy in the twenty-first century. In all, Oluniyi’s book is interesting, inspiring, and highly informative, and its narrative is captivating.

Mary-Noelle Ethel Ezeh IHM, Professor of Ethics and Christian History, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Nigeria

This book exposes the horrifying extent to which Social Darwinist principles and policies mutilated Northern Nigeria. The author vividly uncovers how British colonizers used Social Darwinism to label Africans as biologically inferior beings lower on the evolutionary ladder, creating a fertile ground for manipulation, oppression, and exploitation. As the book clearly demonstrates, the objectives of Social Darwinism were denigration, subjugation, exploitation, and dehumanization. The author powerfully challenges evolutionary arguments for racism. He also refutes Western myths about the history of Africa as the “dark continent,” recounting Africa’s many contributions to ancient manufacturing, medicine, architecture, mathematics, and more. Overall, the book presents an inspiring vision of the transcendent value of all people as equal members of the same human race.

Richard Ochieng’, PhD, Lecturer and Deputy Director, Academic and Student Affairs, University of Eldoret, Kenya; Chair, BioCosmos Kenya Trust Foundation

Debates over the meaning of Darwin’s work are often treated as merely academic—they have little practical influence on people’s lives. Darwin Comes to Africa puts the lie to this by documenting in vivid detail the role played by Social Darwinism in providing an intellectual foundation for British colonial exploitation of Northern Nigeria, and Africa more generally. Steeped in a white supremacist mindset founded on Darwinian principles, British colonial masters ironically created the very African inferiority they believed in by actively undermining Nigerian advancements in politics, economics, education, and culture. Oluniyi brilliantly paints a picture of why “scientific” theories like Darwinism matter in the real world. 

Robert F. Shedinger, PhD, Wilford A. Johnson Chair in Biblical Studies and Professor of Religion, Luther College; author of The Mystery of Evolutionary Mechanisms: Darwinian Biology’s Grand Narrative of Triumph and the Subversion of Religion

In this interesting and informative book, Oluniyi examines the ideological underpinnings of British imperialism in Nigeria, providing a powerful reminder that Social Darwinism and the scientific racism flowing from it had profoundly damaging influences on real people, especially those—such as black Africans—denigrated by scientific elites as “inferior” on the evolutionary ladder.

Richard Weikart, Professor Emeritus of History at California State University, Stanislaus; Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture; and author of Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism

There are many aspects to the disturbing story of Social Darwinism. Originating with Darwin’s infatuation with the craniometry of Paul Broca and Joseph Barnard Davis, his brand of reductionist evolutionary theory could easily be wedded to preexisting self-serving racial and ethnic prejudices to create a dark and evil “science” that has destroyed millions of lives. Here the late Olufemi Oluniyi tells of the impact upon his native Nigeria primarily through the misguided policies of British colonial administrator Frederick Lugard who, in Oluniyi’s words, was “a key figure in the degradation of Nigeria and, moreover, of Africa at large.” Much of this was done in the name of “science” and Darwinian evolution. The book, however, is more than the story of one misguided colonialist; it gives important context and detail to the unfortunate African experience with Darwinism in general. Here the ghost of Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection who rejected Darwinian evolution, speaks afresh through Oluniyi, harkening to his disgust in 1906 at British colonialism in South Africa. Its policy, he declared, resulted “in the degradation and lingering extermination of so fine a people,” making it “one of the most pathetic of its tragedies.” Darwin Comes to Africa is a disconcerting but valuable historical, scientific, sociological, and political commentary on the tragic intersection of Social Darwinism and indigenous peoples.

Michael A. Flannery, author of Nature’s Prophet: Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural Theology (2018) and Intelligent Evolution: How Alfred Russel Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (2020)

Shocking and eye-opening. This book documents the tragic consequences of exporting Darwin’s ideas to Africa, consequences Nigeria is still living with today.

John G. West, PhD, Vice President, Discovery Institute, and author of Darwin Day in America

Olufemi Oluniyi

Rev. Dr. Olufemi Olayinka Oluniyi (1948-2021) was Executive Director of the Centre for Values and Social Change in Lagos, Nigeria, which he founded. Author of Reconciliation in Northern Nigeria: The Space for Public Apology, he was involved in peace, reconciliation, and social justice efforts in Africa for many years, and he had a particular interest in how European colonial policies toward Africa were shaped by Social Darwinism. Dr. Oluniyi was a C.S. Lewis Fellow of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in the summer of 2017, and he appeared as one of the featured experts in the Institute’s award-winning documentary Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten History of Scientific Racism.