KAAD-Seminar: „Decolonizing and Contextualizing Education in African Countries“

|   Afrika, Aktuelles, Seminare, Veranstaltungen

The colonial era dates back sixty years in most African countries but has powerful repercussions to date not only on infrastructure and economic structures but also in people's minds.

Power structures, alienations, narratives of white superiority are often the resulting consequences, and the Christian mission has played a very problematic role here too by literally demonizing elements of traditional African culture. However, there are few areas where the lack of decolonization is as evident as in the curricula of African schools and educational institutions. Decades after the end of the colonial era, this KAAD wanted to ask: What success did these movements have? To what extent is it opportune for ruling elites to maintain colonial traditions today? How much of the colonial racial thinking is still in people's minds today and how can this be prevented from being passed on to the next generation? How can clichés be eliminated and which narratives can be counteracted by colonial “customs” in order to make education a positive and constructive element of Africa's future? These questions not only focused on (primary and secondary) school education, but also on scientific, academic traditions that shape everyday life at universities and thus the reality of KAAD scholars. The seminar, led by Dr. Marko Kuhn and accompanied by P. Prof. Dr. Ulrich Engel OP and Miriam Rossmerkel took place from December 4th to 7th at Franz-Hitze Haus in Münster.

In various group work sessions, participant presentations and under the professional expertise of the two speakers Dr Boniface Mabanza and Dr John Mugo, neo-colonial structures, geopolitical power relations and colonial influences on African education systems and possible solutions were discussed. Boniface Mabanza, coordinator of Kirchliche Arbeitsstelle Südliches Afrika (KASA) in Heidelberg, conducts research, conveys information and runs education campaigns on topics of social and economic justice, trade policy, culture and education in the interaction between African societies and European donors. He also works as a trainer for policy making in development cooperation and anti-racism trainings in organizations that engage in development cooperation. His presentation aimed, among other things, at the complicated issue of colonial languages and referenced the Senegalese philosopher Felwine Sarr, who points to a return to African languages as a way to decolonize not only the mind and imagination, but also inner worlds and to open up contexts of meaning that are familiar to Africans. As a result, language opens up “galaxies, universes and worlds” and offers the best possible access to the corresponding cultures, their intellectual content and forms of knowledge. In his presentation, he repeatedly referred to the economic and trade policy foundations of decolonization and the effort to oppose neo-colonial structures without forgetting the importance of conducive trade structures. The focus was primarily on the opportunities and hurdles of the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). While looking at the use of colonial and indigenous languages, Boniface Mabanza then also queried the content of the curricula and asked through which “lenses” research is carried out and how it can be directed in such a way that vulnerable population groups (especially in the context of climate change ) can really be listened to and 'Policy' recommendations become relevant for them. The short presentation by seminar participant Sonya Tesfaye from Ethiopia also dealt with the production of knowledge/insight, trying to path ways for the emergence of an indigenous African epistemology that overcomes the philosophical ideological paradigms of the colonial era. The short presentation by Jonathan Doe from Ghana also referred to indigenous/ancestral knowledge in African societies and how observation and experience can and must be incorporated into knowledge building in science. He explained that knowledge preserved and acquired in the colonial period (in colonial museums, zoos and botanical gardens) must be made accessible to today's African scientists, just as is the case with the restitution of works of art and artifacts stolen in the colonial period.

The participant presentation of Chemwi Mutiwanyuka from Zimbabwe then also referred to the curricula by talking about 'hidden curricula' and the hierarchies in schools, the dress code (school uniforms) or the culture and sports activities of schools in African countries. There are still many relics of colonial thinking to be found and she found many examples that showed how long it will still take to replace them.

John Mugo, the speaker of the second keynote presentation, is executive director of the Zizi Afrique Foundation based in Nairobi, Kenya. He researches and works on educational topics such as fundamental learning and empowerment as well as the assessment of core competencies and values. He is also the Chairman of the KAAD Partner Committee in Nairobi. Delivered through a digital medium, it called for a movement away from Eurocentric and towards Afrocentric knowledge and a freedom to propagate African values, beliefs and ideologies. In some cases and in his own experience, this entails the risk of not receiving research funding from donors in the global north. However, he did not advocate moving away from “Western” knowledge, but rather an elimination of the dominance of this knowledge, which excludes alternative and contextualized knowledge from the curriculum. The aim is to put Africa itself at the centre of African educational content and to recognize its importance in promoting African development. At the same time he showed where, in his opinion, the limits of the decolonization paradigm are, namely where it sets itself as an absolute value, counteracts the need for global educational content and makes it impossible for students to later participate in a globalized educational system. For John Mugo, intra-African ('South-South') collaborations are just as excellent a path forward as the accelerated emergence of African academics, who show that they are equals and deserve to be recognized as such.

During the seminar’s lively discussions, it was mentioned many times that the need to decolonize education, commerce and culture is one side of the coin while the other side represents the need for African countries to better manage their public affairs, particularly schools and educational institutions. The participants repeatedly referred to this connection and the question arose as to whether the biggest problem in African societies today was a lack of decolonization or poor management. The short talk by Sharon Mada from Zimbabwe, for example, addressed this tension. The Zimbabwean KAAD scholar described how in her country it was tried to rid curricula and institutions of the colonial “dust” after independence (“practical application to be used to solve real-life problems”). She decried however, how today many students in rural areas are denied access to good education due to deficiancies in the use of public money. She demonstrated this in her presentation with pictures of remote village schools, which are often in extremely poor condition. In the very lively discussions at the seminar, it was repeatedly discussed that there should be no antagonism as to whether decolonization takes priority over good management. Rather, decolonization and management must both be the path to a better future for Africa's education systems.

Every KAAD seminar also includes a religious service/holy mass, which this time was led by Fr. Ulrich Engel and  characterized by elements of African church music performed by the participants. Co-celebrants were Fr. James Musana from Uganda, who has just received his doctorate in education, and the Ethiopian priest and KAAD scholar Tesfaye Petros.

The seminar's excursion this time led to traces of the colonial period and colonial ideologies in the cityscape of Münster: the former zoo as the site of the now unimaginably racist "Völkerschauen", the "train monument" and the long-standing controversy about the glorification of soldiers who took part in the colonial war of annihilation against the Herero and Nama and finally to the buildings of the old university with a look at the former “Colonial Studies” cluster and the eventful history of the institute of “Missionswissenschaft” (mission studies). Individual participants prepared information for the purpose of this city tour and presented it to the group.

The essence of the seminar can be found in the words which Gordon Dakuu, participant from Ghana: used in his presentation: “Decolonization is a process, not a one-time event. It cannot be declared complete at any point, but must be continually reflected upon as a process. It is important not to be discouraged despite a lot of internal (‘decolonizing your own mind’) and external (‘who is driving the agenda?’) resistance.”