By Charles Dhewa
Digital inclusion, financial inclusion, gender inclusion and several other forms of inclusion have received too much attention over the past few years including 2020. What has been ignored is the mother of all inclusions – knowledge inclusion. All forms of inclusion are meaningless when knowledge existing within ordinary people and communities is excluded.
What is worsening this dilemma in Africa is the fact that governments continue to confuse knowledge management with higher and tertiary education yet these are completely different processes although they sometimes overlap.
To the extent, it tries to maximize the capabilities of the academically gifted, the imported formal education system of which higher and tertiary education is a component, excludes the majority. On the other hand, knowledge management recognizes all forms of knowledge wherever they exist and that includes knowledge generated by communities as well as ordinary people as they strive to make a difference.
Knowledge management is conscious of the fact that African communities are good at providing a platform for people to recognize, preserve, and build on their many intangible cultural assets. While external knowledge systems imported through formal education do not have clear pathways for tapping into the knowledge held by retired knowledge workers, communities are adept at utilizing elders and retired knowledge workers in respectful ways.
Development will not be achieved without intentional knowledge inclusion
As 2021 beckons, African countries should revisit their knowledge agendas rather than continue with external research agendas that have been making it difficult for Africa to upscale and deepen its knowledge systems toward achieving inclusive development. For all countries in the world, natural endowments were the foundation of economic development.
People started by understanding how they could add value to natural resources for the purposes of economic development. Western countries had all the time to experiment and develop knowledge for exploiting their natural resources. These countries did not just depend on formal education but harnessed inclusive knowledge which they packaged for exploiting and turning natural resources into tradable commodities.
This is what is lacking in Africa. Western countries started trading their own knowledge through formal education which was extended to Africa, the main focus being to get manpower which could convert African resources into tradable commodities for the benefit of the West. To the extent formal education was used to extract African resources, physical slavery has given way to intellectual slave trade. There is no doubt that the West has used formal education to access African knowledge. Vehicles and machines produced using natural resources from Africa are coming back to Africa as finished products instead of the machines and vehicles being manufactured in Africa.
The West went further and converted part of its knowledge into academia but hid the formula for producing tangible tradable commodities. This was part of extending Western knowledge to exploit African natural resources because Africans have not been smart enough to process their indigenous knowledge into tradable products using their natural resources. No wonder most natural resources from Africa are being processed using external knowledge. As African countries process their natural resources using imported knowledge, whose agenda are they serving?
What is the science behind producing seed varieties in the laboratory and what is the nutrition content? It cannot just be a one-size-fits-all knowledge system because people are different depending on their context such that a single recipe cannot apply everywhere. Having exhausted their natural resources, Western countries have invested in developing knowledge that they use to package products required to supplement their own food systems. As African countries promote exports, the demand for those exports are guided by Western countries’ desires to meet their nutrition baskets.
This means Africa is basically dancing to the Western agenda in relation to consumption patterns and food systems. That is why the West is cherry-picking African countries in which to produce particular commodities. For instance, in Zimbabwe (blueberries, mange tout peas and others), Kenya (sugar snap, fruits and flowers, etc.,), Ghana and Ivory Coast (Cocoa) and so on. Western countries are interested in specific commodities not everything that can really lift masses out of poverty.
There is no way, a country serious about lifting its farmers out of poverty can dream of doing so through growing sugar snap, flowers, and other commodities demanded by the West. The West looks at different countries where particular commodities can be produced economically to meet their needs.
Africa’s medical and health space is facing the same predicament
Africa is just a market for knowledge generated in the West as Western countries are interested in finding a market for their knowledge by exporting their medical syllabus to Africa. Western countries have realized that they no longer have their own natural resources on which to apply their old and new knowledge.
In Africa, they have several options and can look at several diseases like Ebola, Cholera, Malaria, and others. They use their knowledge to get natural products from diverse herbs and trees used to make pharmaceutical products through hidden scientific formulae. When the knowledge is converted into products it comes back as finished products. Africa is only buying back its own knowledge extracted from Africa.
As if that is not enough, the West then takes an academic route and starts training doctors and pharmacists as well as bringing X-ray machines and other medical equipment. By doing so, the West is basically developing distribution channels for its knowledge. African countries are not developers or inventers but implementers of other people’s knowledge. The Western industrial revolution has moved beyond manufacturing to embedding knowledge into goods and services.
During the COVID19 era African countries, including industrial ones like South Africa are clamoring for equitable distribution of vaccines developed in UK and USA yet they have been doing nothing on the research and vaccine development front. African policy makers have not taken time to look and learn from how ordinary people are innovating using concoctions of local herbs to combat the pandemic.
In spite of being custodians of local and indigenous health systems for time immemorial, African herbalists are largely neglected. African governments are not even trying to enhance the development of vaccines by working with local herbalists. African policymakers remain blind to the fact that the Western agenda is to develop a market for Western knowledge because all Western countries have exhausted their natural resources.
What is more important foreign currency or food?
Africans have not developed and packaged their knowledge consistent with their own food systems. If you search for information about an apple, you get tons of information including nutritional compositions, allergies, and others.
But the same has not been done for indigenous fruits like mawuyu. Africans are running for grapes, ignoring their own muzambiringa to extinction. Matamba and diverse edible natural fruits are not being developed so that knowledge is embedded in ways that turn them into exportable products. African countries are being persuaded to grow blueberries for the sake of earning foreign currency. What is more important foreign currency or food?
It is now very clear that the external agenda has suppressed the development of African food systems. The West no longer has adequate natural resources like land, fresh water, and favorable climatic conditions not polluted by industrial fumes to be able to produce diverse foods that meet their consumption preferences.
They go to Africa dangling foreign currency as an incentive. African countries are exploiting and plundering their land, water, labor, immunity, and other assets for the sake of foreign currency. What is stopping African countries from converting their natural resources like minerals, wildlife, and abundant tourism potential into sources of better nutrition?