Emerging Perspectives on ‘African Development’

Speaking Differently

by George Jerry Sefa Dei (Volume editor) Paul Banahene Adjei (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook X, 209 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 443


Emerging Perspectives on ‘African Development’: Speaking Differently discusses numerous areas of interest and issues about Africa, including contemporary challenges and possibilities of development. The book critically engages the many ways of presenting ‘development,’ highlighting the interplay of tradition and modernity as well as contestations over knowledge production in ‘post-colonial’ Africa. It offers cautionary words to field practitioners, researchers, and social theorists who work in development using language that is easily accessible to laypersons. This book is also for undergraduate and graduate courses on development, global education, rural development, and Africa studies. For readers looking for something new about Africa beyond the old stories of catastrophes and human misery, this book will be indispensable. It demonstrates that even in the face of many failures, tragedies, and suffering, Africa’s stories can be told with hope and a sense of possibility.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Dedication
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Democracy, Good Governance, and Education: Rethinking African Possibilities
  • Asking Some Questions
  • Discursive Positions
  • The Role of Education in African Governance and Democracy
  • The Concept of Democracy in Contemporary Africa
  • On the Binary of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Governance
  • Indigenous Leadership, Governance, and the Conceptualization of African Democracy
  • What Is the Way Forward for Africa?
  • a) A Focus on Social Democracy
  • b) A Critical Examination of the Conditions/Conditionalities for the Functioning of Liberal Democracies
  • c) Learning from Indigenous Leadership: Establishing Institutes/Centers for the Study of Indigenous Political Governance on African Democracy in Institutions of Higher Learning
  • d) Establishment of a Council of Elders on African Leadership
  • e) Building Civil Society and Sustaining Local Grassroots Political Organization as Emergent Democracies with Checks and Balances
  • f) The Role of the African Middle Class and the Place of Critical African-Centered Education
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Toward an Ontological and Epistemological Understanding of Indigenous African Process of Conflicts and Disputes Mediations and Settlements (CADMAS)
  • Framing the Story: Indigenous Ghanaian Processes of CADMAS
  • 1. Indigenous Institutions for CADMAS
  • 2. Reporting Conflicts and Disputes to Traditional Leaders
  • 3. Adjudicating Conflict or Dispute in the King’s Court
  • Implications of Indigenous Processes of CADMAS for Policy Building, Good Governance, and Social Democracy
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Dreaming Beyond the State
  • Pursuing African Development through an Anticolonial Indigenist Framework
  • An African Story for Our Guidance
  • The Role of Indigenous Governance in Africa’s Development from Within
  • Dreaming Beyond the State: Imagining the Decolonial Future
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Transforming Canada’s Hegemonic Global Education Paradigm through an Anticolonial Framework
  • Introduction
  • Anticolonial Framework and Critical Development
  • Global Education in Canada Today
  • Global Education Case Study
  • The Way Forward
  • Anticolonial Global Education in the Classroom
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Challenging the Euro-Western Epistemological Dominance of Development through African Cosmovision
  • Introduction
  • Situating Myself
  • Discursive Framework
  • Deconstructing Epistemological, Ontological, and Axiological Dominance
  • Development as Epistemological Dominance
  • Deconstructing Euro-Western Development Ideology: Enlightenment and Evolutionary Theories
  • Epistemological Dominance of Development in African Contexts
  • The Epistemology of Spirit: The Foundation of African Cosmovision
  • Theorizing the Role of the African Cosmovision as an Epistemological Framework for Development
  • Asset-Based Development
  • Reframing “Expertise”
  • Link between Schooling and Development
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 6. Centering African Indigenous Women within the Context of Social-Economic and Political Development
  • Introduction
  • Toward Anticolonial Readings of Women and Development
  • History, Struggle, Feminism, Education, and Development: The Indigenous Epistemology and the Life of Queen Nana Yaa Asantewaa of Ghana
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter 7. Regional Integration, a Prospect for Development
  • Introduction
  • The Formation of the East African Community
  • Prospects from the East African Community (Lessons from Rwanda)
  • A Move toward Political Federation
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 8. Rethinking Development: An Indigenous African Communal Approach
  • Introduction
  • Conceptualizing Indigenous African Development Approaches
  • African Cultures and Development
  • African Communalism
  • Implications for Education
  • References
  • Chapter 9. Basic Education and Sustainable Development in the Era of Globalization: Does Nigeria Mortgage Her Future in Accepting International Assistance for Her Primary Education Projects?
  • Introduction
  • Subject Location: Where Am I Coming From?
  • Primary Education in Nigeria: A Historical Perspective
  • Nigeria and Sustainable Development: Charting a Culturally Sensitive Posture
  • The Violence and Coloniality of Western Perspectives on Development
  • The Failed Promises of the World Bank, IMF, and Global Partnership for Education
  • Subversion of the Indigenous Educational System: Implications for Sustainable Development
  • Nigerian Indigenous Education in Relation to Its Socio-Economic Development
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 10. Environmental Stewardship and Indigenous Education in Africa: Looking Beyond Eurocentric Dominated Curricula
  • Introduction
  • What Is Indigenous African Knowledge?
  • Challenges to Indigenous Knowledge Adaptability
  • Indigenous Africans’ Perspective on the Environment
  • Indigenous/Traditional African Education
  • Challenges to Indigenous Education
  • Why Integration Seems Difficult
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors

← vi | vii → Acknowledgments

The late President Julius Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania has noted that Africans have a certain kind of power and that is “the power of the ‘debt.’” This comment is fully captured in this African proverb: “Those who forget the language of gratitude will never be at peace with laughter.” What these words of wisdom teach us is to learn to show appreciation to those who do us good.

Spurred by these wise words, the authors of this edited book, George Dei and Paul Banahene Adjei, acknowledge the contributions of certain individuals who made this book project possible. We thank our creator and God who remains our helper even in difficult times for His support in making this book possible. We also acknowledge those who have gone before us and thank them for laying the foundation upon which we continue to build our knowledge. Special mention should be made of the students in Professor George Dei’s graduate-level course, SES 1924H Modernization, Development, and Education, fall 2011, for ideas shared that informed thinking toward this book project. For Shirley Steinberg, Christopher Myers, and publisher Peter Lang, we thank you for believing in this book project from the beginning. We also thank all the contributing authors for their chapters.

Paul Banahene Adjei makes special mention of Professor George Dei for remaining his mentor, encourager, and supporter in this difficult journey in the academy. In this era in which the academy is gradually becoming that which “eats ← vii | viii → its own,” you have taught me that it is possible to maintain one’s integrity while doing critical intellectual work. You have taught me many things that I could never have discovered even if I had read all books in the world. I am what I am today because you planted something special in me. Words are not enough to express my gratitude. For my colleagues and staff at St John’s School of Social Work, Memorial University of Newfoundland, I thank you for your opening welcome and making me feel at home right from day one.

We dedicate this book to all who continually resist imposed colonial development “from above and beyond.”← ix | x →

Many books have been written about Africa, so the obvious question is: Why another book about Africa? What is this book saying about Africa that has not already been said in other scholarly works? The continent over the years has been disserted, discussed, and heavily analyzed and theorized. The words ‘risk’ and ‘crisis’ have been synonymous with Africa. However, beyond stories of tragedies, failures, and sadness there are other stories of hope. Stories of possibilities, agency, and resistance are waiting to be told. So we ask: How does one write and think differently about Africa? What are the theoretical and methodological frameworks that can best tell Africa’s stories in their complex and nuanced forms? This collection will seek some answers and it is hoped begin a critical discussion.

The book is written from the perspectives of field development practitioners, researchers, and social theorists who have been involved in different capacities of doing ‘development’ in African contexts. These contributors are writing from their experiences and knowledge bases as a starting point to recast, rethink, and reframe ‘African development.’ The book is especially timely given the relatively recent controversy over KONY 2012 and how altruism and a ‘do-good feeling’ shape conventional thinking of ‘development.’ As authors, scholars, and researchers on Africa, we weigh in on the raging debates about ‘African development,’ paying attention to the ‘anti-development’ thesis as well.

← 1 | 2 → It is also important for any new work on Africa to re-examine the implications of the development and education linked, as broadly defined, within the modernization and post-modernization thesis on Africa. Our work examines and interrogates ‘African development’ from African-centered, anticolonial, and Indigenous knowledges and science perspectives. There are emerging works that hope to do just that, i.e., examine and interrogate the various theoretical conceptions of ‘development’ and the role of education in social change. In a scholarly engagement about Africa, we must uncover the myriad interests and issues about Africa including contemporary challenges and possibilities. We must critically engage the many ways of presenting current challenges on ‘development’ and the interplay of tradition and modernity, as well as contestations over knowledge production in ‘post-colonial’ Africa. We must include the roles and significance of Indigenous/local cultural resource knowledges, science, gender, ethnicity, language, and religion for understanding of African development. Other related questions of interest should include social stratification and cultural pluralism; formulation of national identity; political ideology and the growth of nationalism; and the search for peace, cooperation, and social justice. Although the discussions in these chapters basically use African case material, they are placed in global/transnational contexts, particularly in looking at themes common to many Southern peoples contending with, and resisting the effects of, [neo-] colonial and imperial knowledge production, validation, and dissemination.

The exploitative effects of the current Western development paradigm are not only felt in Africa and the Global South. They are also felt within Western/Euro-American communities. The current tides of resistance and uprisings that started in Tunisia, through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Libya, and the rest of the Arab world, to the ‘Occupy Movements’ in Canada and the United States attest to the ongoing tensions, contentions, and contestations about development and its implications for global relations. Our work seeks to move beyond the discursive prism of African development and critically engage the ways in which race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and colonialism conflate in critical debates about African development. The role of schooling and education in both producing and resisting the creation of a ‘pathological personality’ is not in doubt. Thus, the question of how to transform schools in the context of post- and anti-revolutionary class, gender, race, sexuality, and disability is paramount. Today others may speak of a postmodern/post-colonial/post-racial context. The stark reality of African development is that there is no ‘post’ in colonialism/racism and its impact on Africa. Today colonial and racist relations continue to be reproduced at the political, economic, cultural, and ideological levels of society by internal and external forces. There are higher and more sophisticated forms of colonialism and racism today ← 2 | 3 → that mark the contention of ‘post’ in phases of ‘colonial’ and ‘coloniality,’ ‘race,’ and ‘raciality’ as hypocritical and intellectually dishonest at best. Sardar (1999) and Omi and Winant (1994) have differently proposed that Eurocentrism has its origins in colonialism and racism and that, in fact, “many categories of Western thought, from political concepts to analytical tools, stem from European colonial cultural milieus and are therefore intrinsically Eurocentric” (Sardar, 1999, p. 47). So we are obliged to ask that when others speak of ‘post-coloniality’ and post-raciality, are they other examples of intellectual fixation toward the word ‘post’ as in postmodernism, post-Marxism, post-feminism, post-structuralism, and even post-postmodernism (see Adjei & Gill, 2013), or is there an actual reason that we can truly claim to be a post-colonial or post-racial state? How do we contextualize the re-organization of the vestiges of coloniality and raciality and the fragile boundaries around relations of difference (Mercer, 1996, p. 129)? What are ways through which the social and cultural organizations of colonial and racial domination operate beyond discourses about development or the lack of development? Why is an examination of the ‘revolutionary agent of history’ so important to questions of development? What are the limitations in the failure to see theory as a lens through which to read history? What sorts of intellectual and political paralyses are created in the struggle to redefine our own development in local context? What is the problem of modernity? We believe these are good questions begging for answers in contemporary discussions of African development.

As we search for theory to understand colonialism and resistance to Western-style development, our goal is more than a search for theoretical clarity. We note, for example, that the worth of a social theory is measured in two ways: first, the philosophical grounding of the theory; and second, the ability of the theory to offer a social and political corrective. Epistemological positioning is always critical in such endeavours. Our educational strategies should not only be a discursive approach to change but also must allow for actual political intervention. The power of the ‘psychology of the mind’ also requires the development of a critical consciousness which informs and anchors a political ideology for social action and transformation.

Much of ongoing intellectual discussion on ‘development’ is caught up in the dominant paradigms of Western thinking. Alternative visions and counter theoretical perspectives of development even struggle to disengage themselves from the influence of a Eurocentric paradigm. As Munck (1999) rightly observes, Jacques Derrida’s concept of ‘logocentrism’ is apt in demonstrating “how even the most radically critical discourse easily slips into the form, the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest” (Manzo, 1991, p. 8). Eurocentrism is intrinsic in the ways we think, conceptualize, and organize knowledge about development. Development has been shaped by the cultural forces and the political agendas of the ← 3 | 4 → West (Sardar, 1999, p. 52). Thus, in order for meaningful and sustained development to proceed, we must interrogate the power of ideas to bring about social change. We must also begin by developing Indigenous, non-Western concepts and categories for understanding African societies. This requires that we pay particular attention to the production and the social organization of knowledge, and particularly to culture and the cultural dimensions of development. The question of who controls ‘development’ discourse is significant, especially when we begin to interrogate issues of power and resistance under development initiatives supported by the West in Africa through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But in working with critical and alternative and counter ideas, how do we think through ‘development’ and avoid an easy slippage into the form, logic, and implicit assumptions and postulations of what exactly we are contesting? Development is not just about an increase in physical and human capital. Development requires changes both in ways of thinking and in the social, political, cultural, and economic institutions of society.

In recasting and bringing new readings to ‘African development’ we call for placing at the center the questions of the environment (specifically Land and Earth), spirituality and culture, and different ontological and epistemological bases for knowledge production and practice within an Indigenous African context. This approach begins with a deeper appreciation of the Land and the Earth and how they may inform the ways in which groups live their lives as peoples. Understanding the Land and the Earth is an acknowledgment of the environment and the spiritual knowings that guide everyday social interactions—be they political, economic, material, or physical. Development begins with local peoples’ understandings of the self and connections to others and communities. Development is about satisfying locally determined needs and aspirations in synchrony with what the local environments (defined as social, physical, and natural) have to offer. Development is about developing our relations with the Divine, Mother Earth, and the Land and creating a self and the collective connection. This also means developing a higher purpose of life and social existence for all. Development is living in relation to the Land, Earth, and Nature and coming to know how these relations inform the way we act responsibly.

Let us elaborate on this intellectual position by turning our gaze to the ‘Land and the Environment’ and what it means to sustain peoples’ futures while resisting attempts to design the futures for people. As Ghanaians by birth, we (as co-editors) can recall some of the current developmental challenges and tensions in Ghana as a foundational knowledge to rethink development. This observation speaks more to how local people perceived everyday social existence and the importance of land as a critical resource for development to happen. It speaks about the importance of understanding Earth/Land-based teachings, highlighting the interface ← 4 | 5 → of society, culture, and nature, and the nexus of body, mind, soul, and spirit as the key to how we do development, broadly defined as development intended for the common good. Not long ago, we witnessed in Ghana a massive public resistance from local people and bodies, including several organizations, against a proposed directive by the national government to convert a national forest reserve into a commercial center. The Achimota Forest is the only surviving greenway in the Accra metropolis and it was alleged to be sold to an entrepreneur who intended to build a shopping mall. The forest, located in the Accra-Tema Motorway extension, spans 900 acres and was officially named a Forest Reserve in 1930. There was massive local resistance and the stated plans for land sale had to be shelved. This whole development was significant. It brought home some key questions: How we can better understand our relationships to our environments [read as Land] and develop a critical consciousness of sustainability that is informed by key questions of power, social difference, equity, and justice (see Dei, 2010; Selby, Grieg, & Pike, 1987)? How do local cultural resource knowledges impact the ways to rebuilding environmentally and ecologically sound and healthy communities? How do we theorize the environment beyond the physical/natural confines given the inseparability of nature, culture, and society? How do we resist Western attempts to limit the definition of development to what people lack or expect to become? Should we include this ‘progress madness’ that is today setting our planet and its inhabitants up for destruction and extinction as a part of development? Where is the role of human-centeredness in this whole rhetoric about development? What happens to local people and their knowledge, values, worldviews, and culture in this development mantra?

For development to be meaningful, it must foremost be locally owned and sustainable. Local ownership implies that people design their own futures and aspirations of development, using what they have available to them in local environments. Development is not about using other people’s resources, which makes one overly dependent on others. Local dependence speaks to local sustainability as Indigenously produced or created. We agree that there is perhaps no single definition of sustainability and, as Jabareen (2008) proposes, there is the “fluid paradox of sustainability” (p. 188). Sustainability has, in fact, become a much contested value-laden notion (see World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). Sustainability is to be understood in a given political context with particular goals, priorities, and vested interests (Voinov, 2008, p. 488) and as something that local people struggle to achieve to claim a sense of ownership of a process. Sustainability also speaks to particular social-political arrangements with the environment, a product of socio-historical forces and local knowledge systems. Voinov (2008, p. 497) further notes that local, regional, and national sustainability may be at odds ← 5 | 6 → with global sustainability. This is why when broached, development sustainability must be a process that is locally owned, controlled, and collectively arrived at. Sustainability further raises questions about rights, responsibilities, ethics, and moral values (e.g., human conduct as ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ the tensions of the ‘domination of nature’ vis-à-vis the ‘intrinsic right of nature’). Development cannot be pursued simply on the basis of dominating nature. There is also the equity question that makes sustainability more a social issue. For example, there is the extent to which sustainability can be achieved without the “effective balancing of social, economic and environmental objectives” (Jabareen, 2008, p. 183). This is where the question of ‘intergenerational’ and ‘intragenerational’ equity comes into force as we pursue development that is sustainable to communities. Development in this case requires the “fair allocation of resources between current and future generations” and the “equitable distribution of power [and resources] that can contribute to improvements in socio-environmental quality” of populations (Jabareen, 2008, p. 184).


X, 209
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2012 (July)
tradition knowledge production modernity
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 209 pp.

Biographical notes

George Jerry Sefa Dei (Volume editor) Paul Banahene Adjei (Volume editor)

George J. Sefa Dei is an educator, researcher, and writer. Currently, he is Professor of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto (OISE/UT). His teaching and research interests are in the areas of anti-racism, minority schooling, international development, anti-colonial thought, and Indigenous knowledge systems, and he has published extensively in these areas. He edited an international reader, Indigenous Philosophies and Critical Education (Peter Lang, 2011) and co-edited Contemporary Issues in African Science Education. Paul Banahene Adjei is a Ghanaian Canadian. Currently, he is Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. His recent work includes «When Blackness Shows Up Uninvited: Examining the Murder of Trayvon Martin through Fanonian Racial Interpellation» in Contemporary Issues in the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity: A Critical Reader (Peter Lang, 2014). His teaching and research interests include critical race and anticolonial readings of violence and nonviolence, leadership and social justice, spirituality and social work practice, and alternative discourses in development.


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