It has been fifty years since independence. Yet, it seems that in all aspects, Africa seems to always be dancing on the same beats of back and forth-One step forward, two steps back. Who is to blame for this? That depends on whom you ask. On a recent issue in Pambazuka, Christopher Zambakari writes on “Africa and the Poverty in Knowledge Production“. He thoroughly explains that Africa needs to make a surge in contributing to the knowledge base. But not just any knowledge- it has to be homegrown knowledge. Like many of his colleagues, past and present, Mr. Zambakari is of the thought that knowledge production is the solution to problems that Africa faces. It might not be the in and all of it, but the author significantly, displays that Africa is seriously lacking in scholarship. He states that “exporting these important questions abroad and expecting good answers and solutions to resolve Africa’s problems has not only proved disastrous but will only deepen Africa’s misery in the decades ahead less Africa take hold of the process and start producing quality knowledge of its own.”Let it be pointed out that the backing of such statement comes from data collected from the West, and not Africa. So who is to say that such data is to be trusted, especially if it is not homegrown data?
The only problem with that statement is that we have heard this very sentiment before. Echoing the sentiments of Fannon, Ake, Ngungi Wa Thiongo, Mamdani, even on a broad spectrum, Amin. We are quiet aware that Africa’s production of knowledge might not be as extensive as that of the west. After all, the West has managed to dissect every part of their society in writing, and that has been the support of many policies. Let us not explore the historical evidence that Africans were at the center of knowledge production. Whether they were the subjects of writings, or the authors, Africans continually play an important role in the way that Knowledge is produced and disseminated.
To be fair to the author, there is a need for increased scholarship on Africa by Africans. It should not be that the expert for Burundi is not Burundian, but a Belgian- this in itself presents a conflict of interest. Nor should an expert on Benin, Rwanda, Congo etc- be outside of that country. Hence in agreement with Zambakari, there is an intellectual battle at hand. But it is not a key to physical growth, but rather a component of growth.
Yet, this disparaging need to reform the way knowledge comes into Africa, is the same problem that causes us to re-examine the so called “poverty in knowledge production”. Years later after Independence, there is an elite, that considers themselves the best that Africa has to offer. The basis of this off course is that they are educated in the West, and have been compelled to “go back home”. One is to imagine that Zambakari might consider himself part of this elite. However, no matter the need for African scholarship to expand, or for the expansion of knowledge, one cannot ignore what history indicates. African history, especially in the last fifty years has shown that the problems of Africa, especially those of leadership have been concentrated on this elite group that consider themselves as the “saviors” of Africa. Least we forget that most of Africa’s “esteemed” leaders were transported from the West. These were the elite who felt they needed to go back and “change” Africa. Fifty years, one can see the results of such movement. Mugabe practices ethnic cleansing in the name of black power, and slowly starves his people to death. Nkrumah, a well-quoted and respected leader collapsed the economy of Ghana, refusing to listen to the people. -God forbid these uneducated citizens would know any better than their very educated president. Toure, a self-made student of Marx and Lenin- remains a disdained leader at home for his mass arrests. These might be very few examples, but a stream of African leaders, and businessmen received their training in the West, and on the basis of “good will” returned to Africa, causing mayhem. Unfortunately, this narcissistic tendency still continues today.
Mamdani might write on the seemingly diactotomy between “saviors and survivors” where the west plays the saviors, bu it seems that there is a missing link in the African elite who consider themselves the ones to carry the mantle of leadership in Africa. The only problem is that being educated, and having the willingness to go back home and “help”. Which is probably why, outside of Africa, there is a rage on “brain drain”, “image restoration”, “knowledge production” and ” changing africa”. The only problem is that unless one is actually on the ground, these words mean nothing. It is easy to want to produce “homegrown” knowledge, but one should not feel a self-entitled sense to use “western” modes as the basis of determine what solutions in Africa will look like. Such sentiments should come from the ground.
There is a danger in having scholars turn into politicians. For theory and practice are two different entities. Being smart does not necessary conclude to good management and sound judgment- key skills in governing. Therefore, a word to Zambakari- Africa might need to put a foot forward with knowledge production, however, this should not be confused with forming solutions. His words should be taken into account because Africa does lack a strong presence in Academia. However, to state that Africa’s growth depends on its knowledge production is a rather over-exaggeration. The task at hand is not disjointing practice and theory, but rather emphasizing the error in the automatic conclusion that education, and theories equal to good practice, good judgment or good leadership. There are many examples where this has not been the case. Contextualization of the problem does not at times require that a problem be under the microscope over and over again- using the same equation. Infact isn’t insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome? Hence: 1. producing knowledge in Africa is not the sum of the total but rather part of the equation. And 2: producers on knowledge should not consider themselves worthy of the mantle of leadership, for pen and paper does not necessarily produce quality action.Knowledge, and any kind of scholarship should be there to guide policy and not dictate solutions.