by Eyob Balcha Gebremariam
I joined PARC as an Associate Researcher after spending four academic years at the LSE teaching African Political Economy and African Development. The most important stepping stone to my current role at PARC is my exciting and successful teaching of African Development using decolonial perspectives in the 2020/21 academic year. In the course, we questioned, learned and examined how the dominant knowledge framework thrives on by silencing and discrediting alternative knowledges and worldviews. The course also helped us to rethink the ideas, theories and debates dominating African development. The main task was the active unlearning of the Eurocentric knowledge framework and proactive learning of decolonial perspectives.
The decolonial perspectives I applied in the classroom will remain the main analytical instruments for my work at PARC. One of my key responsibilities is examining the current state of the African research and partnership landscape. This task also involves raising critical questions about the global research and knowledge production ecosystem and Africa’s position in this ecosystem. I will continue to adopt decolonial perspectives to answer these questions.
Adopting decolonial perspectives means identifying and analytically incorporating the long-lasting patterns of power relations created and nurtured by the experiences of colonialism. Doing so requires transcending the narrow understanding of Africa’s colonial experience, which usually refers to the 1884 Berlin Conference and the 1960s, the decade of independence, as its beginning and end.
Such time-bounded understanding of Africa’s colonial experience is inadequate to capture both the actual experiences, legacies and current manifestations of colonialism. As Mudimbe argues, colonisation has “physical, human and spiritual” manifestations. In particular, the spiritual manifestations are not confined to specific periods but have the power to remain active after the official declaration of independence. This is why we need the concept of coloniality to connect past colonial experiences with present socio-economic and political relations. Coloniality allows us to uncover trans-historical power asymmetries at the global level and question Eurocentric knowledge’s universalisation as the only valid and higher form of knowledge. Coloniality also gives a critical eye to examine colonial logics, relations, systems of production and consumption – of goods, services and knowledge products – and how they remained intact, rebranded and consolidated.
Decolonial perspectives will help to examine the epistemological orientations of the current research and partnership landscape and the broader knowledge production ecosystem. Beninese philosopher Paulin Hountondji argues that dependency and extraversion are dominant features of Africa’s research and higher education system. Dependency refers to the significant reliance on Euro-American financial, material, technical, institutional and theoretical support for academic studies conducted in Africa. On the other hand, extraversion refers to the externally oriented scientific and academic activity by African higher education and research institutions.
The structure of knowledge production and management in Africa operates within the same colonial logic as African economies. Most African economies produce and export raw materials to the “global north” and import manufactured products with added value. Such extractive colonial economic system helped colonial metropoles accumulate resources, build political and economic power, and massively benefit at the expense of African economies. Similarly, the current knowledge production ecosystem also makes African academics, research institutions, and knowledge products less valued and recognised. The so-called ‘international standard’ is also significantly skewed in favour of the global north.
Within the current research and knowledge production ecosystem, Africa is constructed as “a field site” where raw data is generated, usually with the help of African academics and their institutions as data collectors. In most cases, studies are informed by Eurocentric values, concepts and theories and financed by research or “development” institutions in the global north. End products are then published in exclusive academic journals inaccessible to African academics and the research subjects. Recognition and rewards derived from the knowledge production processes and the final outputs are also accumulated into the profiles of the individuals and institutions based in the global north. These power asymmetries and structural inequalities in the research ecosystem need deeper analysis, reflections and practical ways of redressing the colonial legacies.
My research activity at PARC will primarily focus on studying the dynamics within the abovementioned research/partnership landscape and the ecosystem of knowledge production using decolonial perspectives. The research activities will include a thorough analysis and explanation about the epistemological orientations of the existing research ecosystem producing knowledge in/on Africa. The research activity will also involve identifying and mapping the actors involved in the knowledge production ecosystem and the power dynamics therein. I aim to contribute to one of PARC’s program areas, i.e., transforming research cooperation. More specifically, I believe my work will be part of PARC’s initiative to develop a “Charter” towards new standards and models for Africa research collaboration.