Africa must regain confidence in its knowledge systems


BY Richard Farekaye
IT has become a heartbreaking trend that Africa has come to rely on knowledge systems from outside its shores on practically all spheres of life, be it business, education, science, technology and medicine.

This, unfortunately, limits realisation of the continent’s optimum potential and is the number one cause of Africa’s dependency on East and West innovations.

What are knowledge systems?
Indigenous knowledge systems refer to any form of knowledge that is developed within an indigenous society to address issues and challenges that are peculiar to that environment.

And basing on this understanding, a vernacular Shona proverb emphasises that muzivi wenzira yeparuvare ndiye mufambi wayo (He who knows the way across a rocky surface is the one who regularly uses it) aptly speaks to this matter.

While there is nothing wrong with adopting new forms of knowledge, it is depressing to witness a total abandonment of indigenous forms of knowledge for those brought to us by the West and most recently the East, yet Africa progressed well in the past long before it was colonised by the West.

In terms of architecture, for instance, evidence abounds of African prowess in monuments such as the Egyptian pyramids and the majestic walls of the Great Zimbabwe.

Given time and a freedom to progress at its own pace, Africa was sure to rise and compete with other continents in the drive towards modernity.

However, there is nothing wrong adopting new knowledge systems considering the benefits.

So what is the problem?
It is a worrying trend in local universities and colleges of using scholarly evidence from Europe and the United States as if we do not have African intellectuals.

In many fields of study, students are required to cite sources of information and on average, scholars from outside the continent are preferred.

Yet in Africa we have so many intellectuals researching and offering solutions to Africa’s socio-economic and political challenges.

Scholars such as Achille Mbembe, Blessing Miles Tendi, the late Gordon Chavunduka (traditional medicine), Innocent Pikirayi and Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri, among others are writing and researching on African stories for African people, but their works are either ignored or not held to the same esteem as the likes of Karl Marx, Phillip Kotler, Louis Althusser and many other familiar European names that make up the bulk of African universities’ academic discourse and research.

Scientific and technological backwardness
While it is conceivable to say traditional medicines need to go through rigorous improvements to rely on them as Africa’s medicine solutions, their relevance has undergone a lot of unsanctioned scrutiny.

A case in point being the scramble for the COVID-19 vaccine in early 2020, but when Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina claimed to have found a remedy in the form of the CVO+ remedy, his assertions failed to gain much traction because of a number of factors such as lack of funding, but the biggest of all was the lack of confidence in traditional medicine which was an inconceivable notion in pre-colonial Africa.

Because of this, Africa always finds itself at the back of the line when it comes to medicines rollouts and other medical and scientific breakthroughs and often times, these come to Africa with a backbreaking price-tag.

It is hard to believe that Africa is the home of the Shaduf, an ancient irrigation system born from Egyptian innovation.

Where did reliance on outside solutions begin? Africa has many bright stars who are being cast under the shadow of European and Asian technologies by its own people.

Take for instance Mureza, a car manufacturer founded by Tatenda Mungofa, Pheladi Chiloane and Thulisa Sosibo which manufactures cars able to compete with the likes of Toyota and Honda franchises, but suffer from the lack of confidence by the local markets.

Cultural convergence
By definition, cultural convergence refers to a phenomenon whereby cultures are becoming similar. The aspect of power relations in convergence is downplayed by most, however.

In Africa, most cultures have eroded or faded or completely died.

For example, Zimbabwe is one of many African nations with diverse languages, but these are slowly fizzling out and paving way for languages alien to Africa.

Have you ever wondered why when studying in most European countries, one is required to first learn their language, but when they come to Africa, English is enough?

The scales of balance when it comes to cultural convergence are tipped towards others and not the African peoples themselves.

What can be done?
Fund African research! Most of the troubles in maintaining African knowledge systems lies in the unwillingness of many African States to fund research.

It is said that the only thing that is constant in life is change, but African leaders fail to comprehend this concept. Since things change, research is fundamental in monitoring changes and tailoring them to be of convenience to the African people. But when data about Africans is not documented and written by Africans themselves, there are a lot of grey areas that remain behind. As per the definition by Robnson and Moulton (2002), academic freedom refers to the freedom to teach and do research without constraint to discover and promote new ideas. In Zimbabwe however, we have leadership that is allergic to scrutiny both within the ruling party and the opposition. Nonetheless, in order to progress and develop, ideas are born out of our own knowledge systems; we need to appreciate the need for academic freedom as it opens doors to new possibilities for Zimbabwe and Africa.

Trust local
Perhaps the obvious solution to regaining control of our indigenous knowledge system is putting more trust in our local products and knowledge systems. This helps us dictate the value of our economies and trade as opposed to importing goods from outside Africa. Africans should learn to trust that the continent was once self-sustained and it can still sustain itself if its peoples coherently trust and trade with each other for their much needed resources.

  • Richard Farekaye is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here on his personal capacity.