Panel 28

Knowledge Production and Decolonization in African and Development Studies

Panel organiser: Henning Melber, Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden and EADI.


Global knowledge production is still characterized by asymmetries and non-reciprocal relations between the hegemonic global North and its eurocentrism since the era of enlightenment and the so-called global South. Institutions of higher learning as well as research reproduce to a large extent the perceptions and criteria for academic relevance and value as well as knowledge and its production shaped in this history. This is obviously so also the case in African and Development Studies, despite their focus mainly on Southern societies. Current efforts, i.a. by the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) seek to interrogate such practices and mindsets.

This panel is linked to the EADI agenda. It engages with the definition of knowledge and the nature and role of research related activities reproducing paradigms and realities, thereby often at risk to reaffirm the reproduction of one-dimensional perspectives. It seeks to explore alternatives both for a re-assessment of knowledge and its production and dissemination, to counteract the long-established and internalized hegemonic power of definition by predominantly Northern agencies and scholars. It invites contributions engaging with challenges facing genuine research collaboration and knowledge production in a North-South interaction, mapping asymmetries generally and in African realities specifically. It also invites for thoughts on how these limitations might be reduced or eliminated in favour of a truly joint effort towards partnership and mutual respect and recognition as integral part of African Studies. Special attention should be given to the variety of views from within the African continent and African scholars elsewhere engaged in related debates.

Approved abstracts panel 28

Session 1

1. Knowledge Production and Decolonization

Author: Henning Melber, Nordic Africa Institute, University of Pretoria and University of the Free State.


2. Decolonizing Methodologies: A Critical Engagement with and Appraisal of Knowledge production in Africa

Author: V.O Afolabi & Idowu A.H., Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria & O.S. Afolabi, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

This paper argues that the problematic of decolonization and knowledge production in Africa are steeped in controversy and are affected by ideology, race, history and knowledge. This is in turn affected by different societal nuances and mediations that shape the conception and production of knowledge in different climes and epochs. To argue that colonization has no effect on the totality of the colonized African States and that knowledge production is not influenced by colonization is to ignore Africa’s history and enforced knowledge acquisition and production. The very basis of such doubt and argument, especially by academics, shows the success of the embedded western liberal ideology and knowledge entrapment of colonialism and its continuation through neo imperial educational frameworks.  The paper, therefore engages with and untangles teaching, research and curriculum methodologies as well with academic environment that has served as obstacles to Africanized knowledge production in the continent. This is with a view to providing alternative frameworks for Africa’s educational and knowledge development.

Keywords: Methodologies, Knowledge production, teaching, research, curriculum, Africa

3. Reflecting the identity and future directions of Development Studies in Tanzania

Authors: Rehema Kilonzo, Department of Development Studies, University of Dodoma, Tanzania & Tiina Kontinen, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland & Colman Msoka, Institute of Development Studies, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania & Ajali Nguyahambi, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

The paper is a product of long-term academic collaboration between Finnish and Tanzanian universities. It contributes to the ongoing debates over the identity of Development Studies (DS) in different contexts. In a continuation of the historical overview of Tanzanian DS to be published in a volume edited by EADI in 2018, this paper scrutinizes the current identity struggles and potential future directions. The paper presents initial observations on individual interviews conducted with development studies staff from the University of Dodoma, University of Dar es Salaam, and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro in February-June 2018. In its history of over 40 years of teaching, DS has been rooted in most higher learning institutions as compulsory courses provided to all students. Recently, it has taken a turn and is also offered within the frameworks of independent BA and MA of Development Studies programmes. In addition to reviewing the arguments concerning the future direction and institutional arrangements in regard to teaching development studies, the paper seeks to articulate how theoretical and methodological orientations in Tanzanian DS speak to the changing global contexts and relate to the ongoing debates concerning multi-disciplinarity, inter-disciplinarity and the relationship with communities, policy makers and international development system. Finally, we reflect on the implications of the Tanzanian case, in which the identity of DS is embedded in the legacy of the post-colonial nation-building which was geared towards teaching rather than research, to the general discussion about decolonizing the knowledge production in DS.  

4. Mainstream economics in Africa - a (r)evolutionary appraisal

Author: Deniz Kellecioglu, Macroeconomic Policy Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

This paper is grounded in the ‘coloniality’ literature and critical appraisals of mainstream economics in order to contribute with a comprehensive analytical framework of the problems, attached with a solution-oriented agenda for action. This combination of both problem-determination and solution-orientation is here labelled ‘(r)evolutionary appraisal.’ Ideally, this entails a mix of radical and progressive policy changes that are designed to context, optimally sequenced and dynamically enforced. The paper focuses mainly on the implications of the ethics embedded in this economics, arguing that it helps to entrench and exacerbate power imbalances in African societies. These ethical strands are subtle, under-studied, but embedded in policy, education, research and popular media, and help to shape minds and influence human behaviour into subjugation. They include individualism; egoism; competition, as well as ideological choices that favour capital over workers; corporations over states; all of which are combined with Eurocentric narratives that often reproduce prejudice, colour-coded racism and alienation. Altogether, three main mechanisms are at play: one in which subjugatory ethics is strengthened and nurtured; one in which emancipatory ethics is suppressed or appropriated away; and one in which access to power is directly related to the level of one’s acceptance of subjugatory ethics. The resulting subordination makes it easier to sustain an economic system with widespread poverty and inequality, as well as a political system in which political power is increasingly equal to economic power. These processes form a power system that generates a vicious cycle of subjugatory and destructive imbalances, in which societies become ever-more authoritarian. In response to this bleak diagnosis, three broad processes are forwarded: dismantling the dominance of subjugatory institutions (both structural and ideational); establishing and nurturing emancipatory institutions; while ensuring that access to power and accountability increasingly corresponds to knowledge, ethics, and objectives that are people-oriented, emancipatory and Pan-African.

Session 2

1. Decolonizing Knowledge Production in Africa: Examining Limitations, Exploring Possibilities

Author: Afolabi Olugbemiga Samuel, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg, South Africa and Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria.

The debate and controversy about knowledge production in Africa has remained unabated as well as unresolved. This is because western induced knowledge production outputs are unable to address Africa’s social realities as well as solve Africa’s problems. This has resulted in Africa’s developmental quagmire. Yet, it must be pointed out that the roots of Africa’s developmental problem is located in the assimilation and domination of African culture, including its ideas and values, by western knowledge production platforms. Furthermore, the continued domination of Africa’s ideas and its knowledge production has been sustained through inherent advantages by the West, spawned by colonial and neo-colonial ideas, identities and structures. In this wise, knowledge production is inclusive of production, utilization and transfer. Thus, Africa’s knowledge production has been muddled, supplanted and incorporated into the forms and structures designed by western conception of globalization of ideas.  The result has been the continued production of African intellectuals with poorly taught and ill-digested western education, who often offer solutions that are at variance with Africa’s social realities and problems. Therefore, the need for a re-consideration of Africa’s ideas and indigenous knowledge systems that can be incorporated into knowledge production process. This is in recognition that knowledge is local and at the same time universal. The paper argues that enough attention has not been paid to the process of decolonizing knowledge production in Africa through indigenous ideas. Hence, the paper engage with current debates and explore how Western and African knowledge systems can be integrated for the developmental benefits of Africa. This is with a view to exploring possibilities that would offer an integrative approach and solutions that would harness and utilize ideas for Africa’s development.       

Keywords: Decolonization, Culture, Colonialization, Knowledge Production, Africa

2. Epistemicide, Indigenous Languages and the Development Question in Africa

Authors: Olamidotun C. Akinyede, the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria & Adeyemi J. Ademowo, department of sociology, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria.

Despite years of agitations and continued struggle for quality living standard by Africans, and Pan-Africanists, Africa is still among the underdeveloped continents in the world. In this work, we examined the development question in Africa, with particular focus on the effects of colonial epistemicide and linguicide on African developmental philosophy, most especially how indigenous languages, as repository of indigenous knowledge, can be used as a catalyst. Our position here is that the continued neglect of indigenous languages as medium of everyday communication, in education, and their derision by the African elites in favour of the foreign languages, which is a product of colonial epistemicide, have deprived Africans of enjoying the benefits and contributions that indigenous languages can make to development. The authors posit that African scholars and African government officials must reconsider their attitude to indigenous languages if indeed they desire the much 'sought after' development, which can only be achieved when they address the entrenched epistemicide and utilize indigenous knowledge to the benefit of the continent.

Keywords: Africa, Epistemicide, Indigenous languages, African Development

3. A reflection towards the total decolonization of African languages, linguistics and education for the transformation of African continent

Author: Djomeni Gabriel Delmon, The University of Yaoundé I, Cameroon.

This paper aims at shedding a brighter light on what can be done to accomplish a genuine decolonisation of African languages and linguistics, by so doing a total decolonisation and transformation of Africa. It questions why more than 60 years after independence for most African countries, African intellectuals in general and linguists in particular, are still unable to change the thinking paradigms set by the colonial masters and proceed to a thorough transformation of the continent through a revolutionary school system based on the linguistic and cultural truths and realities of the learners. It then sets out to demonstrate that total decolonisation of African minds cannot be operated without a prior shift in the ongoing school systems all over the continent. In addition, the paper actually depicts the ongoing directionality taken by scholarly debates and publications on the continent and questions the still dominance of the West until today. It further argues that it is downgrading that knowledge production and dissemination on the African continent continue not to deserve its merits in the debates and academic discussions in the Western intelligentsia arena. The paper ends with the proposal that a well implemented mother tongue based multilingual education policy on the continent will not only boost African future leaders scientific productions, but will reaffirm and attract foreigners on the continent for knowledge discoveries and knowledge exchange.

Keywords: decolonisation, transformation, African intellectuals, African linguists, education 

To the top