May
30

Epistemic Freedom in Africa

For students looking for an introduction to decolonization, or faculty looking to catch up on conversations they have been missing (or conversations they have avoided or actively sought not take part in), Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni has brought it together for you in Epistemic Freedom in Africa: Deprovincialization and Decolonization (2018). As the title implies, this book is rooted in the African perspective of decolonization, which makes it somewhat unique that books written from other vantage points (e.g. Mignolo). For those deeply embedded into these conversations, Sabelo's other work presents more of his own contributions, whereas this book summarizes much of what the major leaders have contributed (the book includes a lot of quoted content from these leading thinkers, which is a resource for those not familiar with those works). Two chapters are Open Access here.

Some notes:

"This affirmation and validation take the form of publication in the so-called international, high-impact and peer-reviewed journals. Europe and North America constitute the 'international' and the rest of the world is 'local'. Consequently, international, high-impact, and peer-reviewed journals and internationally respected publishing houses and presses are those located in Europe and North America. Highly ranked universities are located in Europe and North America. Taken together, these realities confirm the existence of epistemic hegemony. The signature of epistemic hegemony is the idea of 'knowledge' rather than 'knowledges'" (p. 8)

"Hountondji (1990: 10) distilled 13 "indices of scientific dependence". The first is dependence on technical apparatuses made in Europe and North America. The second is dependence on foreign libraries and documentation centres for up-to-date scientific information. The third is what he termed "institutional nomadism, a restless going to and fro" European and North American universities. The fourth dependence manifests itself as 'brain-drain'. The fifth is importation of theory from the North to enlighten the data gathered in the South. The sixth dependence is aversion to basic research and sticking to the colonial ideology of instrumentality of knowledge. The seventh problem is in choice of research topics that is determined by interests of the North where knowledge is validated (Hountondji 1990: 12). The eighth dependence is confinement to territorial specialisations in which African scholars are often reduced to native informants. The ninth form of dependence is that African scholars are engaged in scientific research that is of direct service to coloniality. The tenth issue relates to research into indigenous knowledge which eventually is disciplined to fit into the modes of Western science. The eleventh challenge is that of linguistic dependence on six European languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese) in teaching and research. The twelfth index of scientific dependence is a lack of communication among African scholars as most prefer "a vertical exchange and dialogue with scientists from the North than horizontal exchange with fellow scholars from the South" (Hountondji 1990: 13)." (p. 25-26)

"What emerges from these questions is the importance of the material to which students are exposed and the consciousness of the teachers in the delivery of the material. Most often one gets the impression that it is the quality of students that is discussed and very little is said about the quality of the teachers and their consciousness. There is a lot that is wrong with the academics produced by Western-style universities... If indeed the key problem with the African academics is that of consciousness caused by miseducation, then the focus on changing the very idea of the university as the factory that produced the academics and intellectuals should be accompanied by re-education of its products." (p. 84)

"It is not surprising that, as an institution, the Westernized university in Africa is today the key site of struggles for decolonization. In the first place, it is the universities that promised freedom of thought only to stifle it through religiously adhering to a Eurocentric epistemology and Western-centric cultures and practices. In the second place, the university has the highest concentration of young people who are eager to understand why the institution is still maintaining alienating Eurocentric cultures and is not resolving and question of cultural and practical relevance of what it delivers. In the third place, despite the institutional constraints, the university is still the space where ideas are explored endlessly. Finally, it is within the confines of the Westernized university located in Africa that the youth encounter face-to-face epistemic and pedagogical brutalities that provoke them to rebel." (p. 163) 

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Mar
14

Secure the Base

Secure the Base (2016) is a collection of speeches that Ngugi wa Thiong'o gave. His other works include Decolonizing the Mind (1986), An African Renaissance (2009) and Theory and Politics of Knowing (2012), amongst many others. A few quotes:

"It is fair to say that 'tribe', 'tribalism' and 'tribal wars', the terms so often used to explain conflict in Africa were colonial inventions. Most African languages do not have the equivalent of the English word tribe, with its pejorative connotations that sprung up in the evolution of the anthropological vocabulary of eighteenth -and nineteenth-century European adventurism in Africa. The words have companionship with other colonial conceptions, such as 'primitive', the 'Dark Continent', 'backward races' and 'warrior communities.'" (p. 9)

"It is not hard to see the roots of this identification with cultural symbols of Western power. The education of the black elite is entirely in European languages. Their conceptualization of the world is within the parameters of the language of their inheritance. Most importantly, it makes the elite an integral part of a global-speech community. Within the African nations, European tongues continue to be what they were during the colonial period: the language of power, conception and articulation of the worlds of science, technology, politics, law, commerce administration and even culture." (p. 42)

"For a long time now, I have advocated moving the centre from a handful of European nations to marginalized nations, and then creating conditions for a healthy dialogue and equal exchange among them all. Although this has been couched in mainly linguistic and cultural terms, my concerns embrace the wholeness of a community - the economic, political, cultural and psychic." (p. 59)

"I want to suggest that our various fields of knowledge of Africa are in many ways rooted in that colonial tradition of the outsider looking in, gathering knowledge with the help of native informants, and then storing the final product in a European language for consumption by those who have access to that language." (p. 71)

"We cannot afford to be intellectual outsiders in our own land. We must reconnect with the buried alluvium of the African memory - that must become the base for planting African memory anew in the continent and in the world. This can only result in the empowerment of African languages and cultures and make them pillars of a more self-confident Africa ready to engage with the world, through give-and-take, from its base in African memory." (p. 76) 

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Feb
27

Decolonising the University

Following demands - Rhodes Must Fall, Why is My Curriculum White?, #LiberateMyDegree - three editors brought together a diverse group of authors to think about what decolonising the university means (historically and pedagogically) and its experience (in universities and curricula) and reflections of those leading such efforts. Decolonising the University is edited by G. K. Bhambra, D. Gebrial and K. Nisancioglu (2018). I find most edited books challenging to review, as each chapter tells its own unique story, the book aimed to "question the epistemological authority assigned uniquely to the Western university as the privileged site of knowledge production and to contribute to the broader project of decolonising through a discussion of strategies and interventions emanating from within the imperial metropoles." (p. 3)

Dalia Gebrial (one of the editors) writes a chapter on the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement, and situates it as "the university is a site of knowledge production and, most crucially, consecration; it has the power to decide which histories, knowledges and intellectual contributions are considered valuable and worthy of further critical attention and dissemination. This has knock-on effects: public discourse might seem far off from the academy's sphere of influence, but 'common sense' ideas of worthy knowledge do not come out of the blue, or removed from the context of power - and the university is a key shaping force in this discursive flux." (p. 19)

From Shauneen Pete: "When I question faculty about why they want me to do this work for them [e.g. guest lectures], they often reply, 'You are so good at it...' or 'You have the experience...' and when I press them further, then I come to understand that their lack of understanding actually makes them feel fearful of saying the wrong thing, or being perceived as racist. That settler 'move to innocence' that Tuck and Yang address has a real effect on the distribution of work in our faculty. Now that I've been here for ten years, and have served as the cultural broker for all that time, I am no longer willing to allow my colleagues to shirk the responsibility for this work. This is not my work alone. I need my colleagues to address their own learning needs and I need them to engage deeply in the process of curricular decolonisation." (p. 183-184)

Why curriculum? William Jamal Richardson suggests that as "a basic unit of the university itself, the classroom is, I argue, one of the key places that the colonial nature of universities, especially in the metropoles and settler colonies, manifests itself. Works such as The Death of White Sociology and White Logic, White Methods have highlighted how the 'imperial unconscious' of these curricula shapes how undergraduates, graduate students and academics understand and study the world. This is one of the reasons why curricula have become a popular target of marginalised students and academics seeking to decolonise the university." (p. 231) 

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Sep
15

An African Renaissance: Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Ngugi wa Thiong'o is one of the most important voices on language and decolonization. His works include Decolonizing the Mind (1986) and Theory and Politics of Knowing (2012). This post shares some notes on his 2009 Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance (copy appears available here).

"colonialists did not literally cut off the heads of the colonized or physically bury them alive. Rather, they dismembered the colonized from memory, turning their heads upside down and burying all the memories they carried. Wherever they went, in their voyages of land, sea, and mind, Europeans planted their own memories on whatever they contacted." (p. 7)

"In his attempt to remake the land and its peoples in his image, the conqueror acquires and asserts the right to name the land and its subjects, demanding that the subjugated accept the names and culture of the conqueror. When Japan occupied Korea in 1906, it banned Korean names and required the colonized to take on Japanese ones. But one might ask: What is in a name? It is said that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet; however, the truth is that its identity would no longer be expressed in terms of roses but, instead, would assume that of the new name. Names have everything to do with how we identify objects, classify them, and remember them." (p. 9)

"Africans, in the diaspora and on the continent, were soon to be the recipients of this linguistic logic of conquest, with two results: linguicide in the case of the diaspora and linguistic famine, or linguifam, on the continent." (p. 17)

"In the continent as a whole, the postcolonial slumber would not be disturbed by memories of the African holocaust. Slavery and colonialism become events of shame, of guilt. Their memory is shut up in a crypt, a collective psychic tomb, which is what Oduche symbolically does when he shuts the python, a central image of his people's cosmic view, in a box." (p. 61)

"Pan-Africanism has not outlived its mission. Seen as an economic, political, cultural, and psychological re-membering vision, it should continue to guide remembering practices. Economic Pan-Africanism will translate into a network of communications—air, sea, land, telephone, Internet—that ease intracontinental movements of peoples, goods, businesses, and services. Africa becomes a power bloc able to negotiate on an equal basis with all other global economies. But this is impossible without a powerful political union, as championed by Kwame Nkrumah." (p. 88-89)

"In the year 2000, a number of African scholars and writers met in Eritrea and came up with the Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures, a ten-point document that begins by calling on African languages to take on the duty, challenge, and responsibility of speaking for the continent. It then lists nine other conditions—including recognition of the vitality, equality, and diversity of African languages as a basis for the future empowerment of African peoples; the necessity of communication among African languages and their development at all levels of the schooling system; promotion of research, science, and technology in African languages; and the necessity of democracy and gender equality in the development of African languages—and it concludes by emphasizing that African languages are essential for the decolonization of African minds as well as for the African renaissance." (p. 93)

"Memory resides in language and is clarified by language. By incorporating the colonial world into the international capitalist order and relations, with itself as the center of such order and relations, the imperialist West also subjected the rest of the world to its memory through a vast naming system. It planted its memory on our landscape. Egoli became Johannesburg. The great East African Lake, known by the Luo people as Namlolwe, became Lake Victoria." (p. 113)

"We have languages, but our keepers of memory feel that they cannot store knowledge, emotions, and intellect in African languages. It is like possessing a granary but, at harvest, storing your produce in somebody else's granary." (p. 114)

"We must produce knowledge in African languages and then use translation as a means of conversation in and among African languages. We must also translate from European and Asian languages into our own, for our languages must not remain isolated from the mainstream of progressive human thought in the languages and cultures of the globe." (p. 124)

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