Make indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) accessible to the youths


Guest column: Peter Makwanya

The era of knowledge banks and community libraries which were repositories of indigenous knowledge systems should be demystified and make the knowledge available to the youths for sustainable development. Orienting the youths into IKS practices is not taking them back to time immemorial, removing them from their trendy lifestyles, and replacing them with animal skins or making them traditional healers or ancestors. The idea is to make available vital knowledge that was a preserve of the few although it would benefit the whole community by making it accessible. Youths should not continue to be marginalised from this essential community of practice, which is direct from their physical and socio-cultural environment.

Indigenous knowledge is a sustainable development concept and the youths should never be concsientised to downplay its significance because of being left out or through being intoxicated with new media technologies. Therefore, making the power of technology relevant to IKS as a form of integration will tame the youths. As a result of falsified belief systems, worldview and distorted history, African elders ended up paying lip-service to IKS as a valuable resource hence there was no one to pass this vital knowledge to young generations. As a result of this neglect, IKS was threatened with collapse and extinction and the youths were left without the ability to use the environment as a resourceful base and laboratory to solve their socio-cultural and ecological problems.

Once described as the social capital of the poor, the absence of teachings of IKS to the young generations meant challenges to their survival, leading to food insecurity and lack of resilience. Once sufficiently oriented to the youths, indigenous knowledge systems could situate them at the heart of sustainable development. Indigenous knowledge systems determine the people’s heritage, identity, humanism and worldview. The current climate change phenomena minus sufficient knowledge and integration of IKS, cannot provide climate solutions which the world is looking for. Local communities have a duty to deconstruct myths, share their knowledge banks, documented or undocumented, with the youths so that they would also preserve them and pass the knowledge to the next generations in retrievable ways.

Due to the fact that the youths have never been sufficiently nurtured on IKS and that they don’t have firm community knowledge base to stand on, developmental solutions are always prescriptive and not home grown. They would need somebody to tell them what to do about their own situations and that the solutions are not from within but from elsewhere as if they cannot tell their own story. While the significance of IKS is already in the public domain, the youths have never been convinced about the essence of an obscure community of practice.
For the youths to sufficiently embrace the virtues of IKS, they see as if they would be stripping their dignity, value, modernity, knowledge and wisdom. In this regard, nobody has taught them that they are better off and wiser with the community knowledge at their disposal. Worse still, without comprehensive knowledge of IKS, the youths cannot engage in meaningful research, aimed at managing impacts of climate change.

By empowering the youths with indigenous knowledge systems, their mindsets would be transformed, to be creative and innovative in order to design developmental pathways and goals, using sustainable methodologies, cultivating positive thoughts, solving community problems and staying relevant. Youths’ orientation with IKS as integrated with climate change would contribute towards a heritage-based design, geared towards the production of goods and services for wealth creation. The youths can only reach this milestone if they are inspired, motivated and incentivised in order for them to see the relevance of participating in IKS based research and projects.

The youths cannot just start by integrating IKS with climate change without having an understanding of the broad interface of IKS with other knowledge systems so that they are sufficiently oriented into the new knowledge-based economy. The youths need to demonstrate enough footprints in transforming IKS as it has always been and continue to be a leading factor in the survival and welfare of indigenous African communities. The reason being that the youths as future leaders should be in a position to see the value of ownership of using IKS in regulating, promoting and protecting intellectual property rights. Indigenous knowledge systems are significant in shaping and informing the African thinking holistically hence the youths stand to benefit more from this transformation in order to participate in peer orientation. Even women who are largely viewed as custodians of IKS, did not start like that, they were nurtured as youths. That is why it is necessary to orient the youths of today to give value to IKS.

Nurturing of indigenous knowledge systems to the youths should be done in the context of sustainable development goals not only not to leave them behind, but also to ensure their active participation especially now when the majority of SDGs are threatened by climate change. Climate change pose serious consequences for people’s livelihoods hence serious orientation of IKS and climate change should be given to the youths because it is easier for them to learn, unlearn and relearn within their environments. It is also the youths who need to be capacitated on how they can deal with current and future environmental problems of droughts, floods, famine and diseases using the integration of IKS into climate change.

The prominence of young African scientists is becoming well pronounced than ever before. The integration of indigenous knowledge systems and climate change would shape the clear path for the future investments in Africa and is expected to be in the hands of the youths.

 Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: