Energizing pathways for decolonizing knowledge in the Global South

Working at the intersection of formal and informal knowledge systems in Africa, I spend most of my time trying to identify and energize pathways for decolonizing knowledge in ways that benefit both the Global South and Global North. It is from this vantage point that I have noticed that the Global South has gone through more than a century (since 1923) of coerced adoption of hybrids and chemicals from the Global North.  

The Word Web definition for coercion is the act of compelling by force of authority. Using force to cause something to occur.  Such pressure can be through physical, moral or intellectual means. Coercion has happened in several forms such as formal education systems, grants, donations, calls for proposals, mass media advertisement, demonstration sites and conferences where the superiority of hybrids and chemical fertilizers from the Global North has received tons of promotion.  All this coercion has had the effect of undermining local food systems and knowledge ecosystems.

Respectfully accept but throw away

The fact that local food systems continue to exist in spite of this centuries old onslaught indicates a strong foundation for decolonizing knowledge. African communities do not openly refuse gifts from strangers. They accept your gift, take it home and set it aside or throw it away to continue with what is valuable them. This is what has happened to most knowledge from outside. Communities have accepted some hybrids and chemicals but as soon as they face contextual challenges they ignore knowledge from outside and go back to what they know works best.  That is why most development interventions are still struggling with adoption in spite of pouring billions of dollars into Africa countries.  The same has happened to some parts of Asia and Latin America.

While ordinary people may find it difficult to openly resist coercion from socially powerful people like politicians and development officers, by its very nature, external knowledge is difficult to contextualize in most cases, compared to local knowledge and experiences.

What can KM4Devers do?

  1. Identify avenues for decolonizing knowledge in our respective spheres of work.
  2. Persuade development agencies and funders to use donor money for promoting genuine knowledge exchange between the Global North and Global South. COVID19 has shown how the Global South has much to offer the world in the form of local knowledge and coping mechanisms. Vaccines may be coming from the Global North but the source of raw materials for those vaccines is the Global South.
  3. Explore alternative knowledge ownership models and structures. This will enable people in the Global South to benefit from what they know. Knowledge should no longer be confused with the capacity to read or write because even those not able to read and write can contribute valuable experiences and knowledge toward building a better world.
  4. Encourage more young people into the development sector. Young people bring a futuristic vision to the world much better than old people whose perspectives have reached their limits. Most decision-making roles in the development sector are a preserve of old people who have worked in many developing countries.  While such experiences are important, they do not bring a futuristic perspective to development. If young people were given an assignment to evaluate development programs, they would come up with totally different observations and results that would take the world several steps forward.


Parting shot

Organizations and people work in silos because they are trying to achieve things individually. It takes a knowledge broker to bring together silos that may not know that each other exist as well as their level of duplication.  There is real power in working together to share examples and scale things up.

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