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Changing the past to make a better tomorrow

By creating alternative scenarios from and for the past, research may find ways to articulate future possibilities. NAI guest researcher Martins Kwazema combines the disciplines of history and futures studies in his work.

Without a deeper understanding of history, we cannot really discuss the future. With this idea in mind, Kwazema took the step from futures studies into the field of history, where, by creating alternative pasts, he aims to find alternative futures.

“As l see it, all past events were, before they happened, the future. In other words, while historians record past events as history, I see past futures. This presents me with a much-needed radical approach to thinking about the future. It is much contested within history research and I was vigorously questioned by some colleagues in a historical seminar”, Kwazema notes.

Martins Kwazema

More specifically, he looks at the shift in rhetoric and policy of the administration of Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings in the 1980s. At the height of economic turmoil in the country, Rawlings shifted from anti-imperialist to neo-liberal rhetoric. Kwazema hopes to understand the dynamics behind the shift, but also intends to discover and depict unrecorded past futures of that time. Then he can imagine what Ghana would have been like today if the shift in policy had never happened.

“At NAI l collect data. Its library has proved invaluable to me since l found several speeches made by Rawlings in the institute’s collections. Thanks to them I can probe the events around the shift in rhetoric and what the consequences were”, he remarks.

Futures studies emerged as an academic discipline in the mid-1960s during the cold war era. The Western bloc wanted to understand and anticipate tactical moves by the Eastern bloc. After the fall of the USSR futures studies lost some of its popularity. Now, however, it is a growing discipline again.

“We are not soothsayers predicting the future, nor do we dream widely. It is rather about building consistent alternative scenarios based on trends and drivers of change, and then trying to implement desirable solutions”, Kwazema adds.

No doubt, he admits, futures studies has a progressive outlook on things. The normative approach might be one of the reasons many people contest whether the discipline is a science.

“One may say that the purpose of futures studies is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past”, Kwazema states.

TEXT: Johan Sävström

More reading from the NAI library

The Ghana reader : history, culture, politics  / editors: Kwasi Konadu, Clifton C. Campbell (2016)

  J. J. Rawlings and the democratic transition in Ghana / Kwaku Danso-Boafo. (2014)

Selected speeches of Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings, chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council. (1983)

Futures studies: Africa 2050 : realizing the continent's full potential / edited by Theodore Ahlers, Hiroshi Kato, Harinder S. Kohli, Callisto Madavo, Anil Sood. (2014)

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