‘Western cultures do not value indigenous practices’

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Cultures of Development and Indigenous Knowledge: The erosion of Traditional Boundaries 

By Bill Derman

Source: Africa Today, Vol. 50, No 2, Oral Heritage and Indigenous Knowledge (Autumn-Winter, 2003), pp 67-85

Published by Indiana University Press (2003)

A GROUP of people is identified by their culture, their way of life, which forms a greater part of their identity.

As such, the older generations make efforts to pass down cultural practices and knowledge to the younger generations.

By so doing, their history and identity is preserved.

The coming of the whiteman to Africa threatened the indigenous cultures as they introduced Western practices and traditions.

Africans, however, did not fold their hands and allow the foreigners to take away what they held dear.

Efforts were made to preserve local African cultures.

In a journal article titled Cultures of Development and Indigenous Knowledge: The Erosion of Traditional Boundaries, anthropologist Bill Derman interrogates how Western-sponsored development programmes have overlooked the importance of incorporating local cultures and knowledge.  

The journal article seeks to demonstrate how new institutions have become incorporated into local knowledge and practices.

“Smaller-scale societies and cultures have lived in harmony with nature and practiced sustainable development,” writes Derman, adding, “In doing so, it often says these societies have constructed profound knowledge of their environments, knowledge that is in danger of being lost and/or appropriated.

The assertion of the importance of indigenous knowledge and practices is used in Africa to counter notions that only Western development can bring progress.”

Derman highlights how some development programmes introduced by Western cultures do not value indigenous knowledge and practices.

“Development has overwhelmingly been viewed as antagonistic to indigenous peoples and knowledge and there is a large and overwhelming literature on the atrocities committed by the expanding European and North American nations against indigenous peoples throughout the world,” he writes.

“Development that incorporates indigenous knowledge and practice is now often viewed as morally and practically better than past colonial, statist and national policies to pursue development.

Significantly, indigenous peoples have organised themselves to pursue their rights in national and international organisations and forums.”

Given the resistance by indigenous people to cower to manipulative developmental programmes, some institutions are making deliberate moves to include the views of local people before implementing projects.

“The separation of indigenous knowledge and practices from development no longer seems as prevalent as before,” writes Derman.

“More recently, much attention is given to how local knowledge or idigenous knowledge can be used for development or to counter misplaced ideas and practices.”

Derman writes on how African leaders, to avoid being manipulated by Western powers, have implemented developmental programmes to empower their people.

“Different African leaders and intellectuals have formulated and attempted to implement different frameworks for development,” writes Derman.

“Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Leopold Senghor, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral and Julius Nyerere, among others, placed development issues as central to the attainment of independence and political power.

Development, leaving aside the range of significant debates about its content and definitions, remains at the core of African people’s aspirations, and in the early years of independence resonated with the promises of national independence.

Development became incorporated into the knowledges and practices in rural Africa, although often in ways different from those intended.”

Zimbabwe has not been left out in implementing developmental programmes with the aim of empowering locals.

Various programmes, that include the Land Reform Programme, have been put in place to ensure locals play a pivotal role in contributing to the development of the economy.

Supporting programmes, such as Farm Mechanisation and, more recently, Pfumvudza, have been rolled out to assist the farmers produce bigger yields.

The Indigenisation and Empowerment Programme was put in place to help locals participate in key economic sectors such as mining and manufacturing.

In September, Government availed the comprehensive Devolution and Decentralisation Policy which focuses on the strategies for the successful implementation of the national agenda to promote development in all provinces.

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