By Prof Artwell Nhemachena
MEN collaborated and partnered in pulling the wagons of the colonial Pioneer Column of the 1890s into Zimbabwe.
Did they realise the coloniality of such partnerships and collaborations?
The 21st Century is awash with calls for international partnerships and collaborations but the world is never reminded about the coloniality of collaborations and international partnerships.
The fact that Africans have been forced into collaborations and partnerships since the enslavement and colonial eras is hardly made in contemporary discourses on international partnerships and collaborations.
There are calls for partnership and collaboration in politics, in economic projects, in religious projects, in social and cultural projects and in education and research projects across the continent of Africa.
There are calls for collaboration and partnerships in the medical, scientific and technological fields on the continent of Africa.
Africans were forced into slave trade; African chiefs and kings were forced into colonial ‘Protection Treaties’ and colonial ‘Treaties of Friendship’; Africans were forced into becoming colonial policemen and women; they were forced into becoming colonial soldiers.
Put succinctly, Africans were forced into colonial partnerships and collaborations that served the colonial agenda and projects.
As is evident in the picture above, Africans were forced to partner and to collaborate with the Pioneer Column which spearheaded the colonisation of Zimbabwe.
Some Africans were forced to collaborate in pulling the wagons of the colonial Pioneer Column which spearheaded the colonisation of Zimbabwe.
Some Africans were forced to become police officers who ensured the security of the property which colonialists had stolen from Africans. Similarly, some Africans were forced to become army officers to ensure the peace of the colonialists terrorising Africans.
Some African chiefs were forced to partner and collaborate with colonialists to serve the colonial agenda and projects.
Some African mothers and fathers were forced to collaborate and partner colonists as they were made to reproduce colonial labour.
They reproduced sons and daughters who were then recruited into colonial forced labour and cheap labour designed to serve the colonial agenda and projects.
Forced collaboration and forced partnerships involved direct coercion under the threat of brute force. Forced collaborations and partnerships involved covert and indirect coercion designed to coerce Africans into collaborating with the colonialists.
To indirectly coerce Africans to collaborate and partner with the colonialists, colonialists dispossessed Africans of their land, mines, livestock, game and other alternative means of subsistence.
This left Africans with no choice but to collaborate and partner colonialists.
Deprived of alternative means of subsistence, some Africans could only survive by collaborating and partnering with their colonisers.
The point is that colonialists established structures that forced Africans to collaborate and partner with them. This is what I call structural coercion into collaborating and partnering with colonialists.
While the terms ‘partnership and collaboration’ appear and sound neutral and innocent, it is necessary to understand that colonialists put in place structural constraints that force Africans to collaborate and partner in their own subjugation and exploitation.
One cannot understand global or international collaborations and partnerships without taking into consideration the structural constraints that the imperial order has imposed on Africans to force them to collaborate and partner, including in projects that ironically perpetuate the exploitation, dispossession and subjugation of Africans.
At the time of independence, colonialists and imperialists retained the land, mines, livestock and other resources which they stole from Africans.
This was designed to ensure that the structural constraints remained intact to coerce post-independence Africans to collaborate and partner with colonialists and imperialists who still held the economic trump card over Africans.
Because Africans do not own and control their economies, they are forced to collaborate and partner with colonialists and imperialists who still hold sway over economies and resources in Africa.
Because Africans do not own and control their land, they are forced to collaborate and partner with colonialists and imperialists who still hold sway in African land ownership.
Because Africans do not own and control their economies, universities in Africa are forced to collaborate and partner with Western universities, institutions and foundations in research, teaching and innovations.
And because Africans do not own and control their economies, African universities cannot make and control their own agendas.
Collaborators and partners do not decide and control the agendas as much as Africans who collaborated and partnered in pulling the wagons of the Pioneer Column did not own and control the colonial agendas for which the Pioneer Column was entering Zimbabwe.
African universities need to understand that collaborations and partnerships come at a cost to Africans.
Collaborations and partnerships are Janus-faced and so African universities need to do cost-benefit analysis.
Research ethics do not only pertain to fieldwork praxis but it is also part of the ethical mandate of African universities to do cost-benefit analysis on collaborations and partnerships that come their way.
Just as Africans do cost-benefit analysis when they consider what spousal partners to partner with or collaborate with, African universities need to do cost-benefit analysis to appraise collaborations and partnership they are entering into.
It is not only the funds that are important but the potential neo-colonial implications of the projects, around which partnerships and collaborations are sought, that matter.
Responsible African universities exercise ethics of responsibility which include appraising potential colonial implications of projects for which they are asked to enter collaborations and partnerships. It would be irresponsible of African universities to open up Africa for neo-colonisation in the 21st Century.
If African universities are not careful, they risk collaborating and partnering in pulling the wagons of the new Pioneer Columns into 21st Century Africa just as did the Africans who collaborated or partnered in pulling the wagons of the Pioneer Column of the 1890s into Zimbabwe.
Enlightened and responsible African universities do not just get attracted by the funds that partnering and collaborating with Westerners would bring.
They also consider the colonial implications of entering into collaborations and partnerships, particularly in instances where they do not own and control the agenda of the projects.
African researchers and university administrators need to be exposed to ethics of responsibility to Africa as a whole; they need exposure to ethics of decolonisation so that they are equipped to appraise the potential colonial implications of collaborations and partnerships.
It is not only research ethics that are important in African universities, but also ethics of responsibility more broadly and ethics of decolonisation are imperative if Africa is to navigate the treacherous terrains of the 21st Century international collaborations and partnerships.
Ethics of responsibility and ethics of decolonisation are particularly important in the 21st Century which is full of experimentations with genome editing, genetic engineering, genetic editing, memory editing, brain rewiring, brain scanning and uploading, and techno-science, more
The One Health projects that are being driven by Westerners seek to connect Africans to non-human entities and things in ways that deprive Africans of their sovereignty.
The One Digital Health project seeks to connect Africans in the Internet of Medical Things and Internet of Health Things in ways that deprive Africans of their privacy and autonomy.
Zimbabweans, and Africans more generally, need to remember that even slaveholders valued connections which is why they chained Africans to one another, to non-human logs and wharves of slave ships.
Chains are being deceptively addressed as networks and connections in the 21st Century.
Similarly, the WHO-driven Pandemic Treaty seeks to connect Africans to non-human things and entities in ways that deprive Africans of their autonomy, sovereignty and privacy.
And Africans are being called upon to collaborate and partner with Western institutions, universities and corporations which are pushing the agendas of these innovations.
Yet there is very little, if any, robust discussions of the potential implications of these projects on Africans.
Cost-benefit analysis requires considering not only one side but both sides of the potentiality of the interventions.
It behoves responsible 21st Century African universities to ensure robust discussions, robust cost-benefit analyses before they enter into international partnerships and collaborations. The obsession, in African universities, with securing Western research funds often clouds judgments about cost-benefit analysis and the real agendas behind the projects that are introduced in Africa.
Higher Education Ministries in Africa, research bodies and councils in Africa and university administrators in Africa need to rethink ethics.
They should not be narrowly concerned about research ethics but they need to broaden ethics to include decolonial ethics and ethics of responsibility.
In other words, the African universities themselves should be ethical.
Responsible African universities not only know and understand African agendas and peculiarities but they also teach students to understand African agendas and peculiarities. Responsible and decolonial universities teach African students to set their own African agendas.
African students often do not understand the African agendas and peculiarities.
This lack of knowledge of African agendas and peculiarities exposes them to risks of being tricked into pulling neo-colonial wagons instead of pulling African wagons.
A child or student who does not understand or has not been taught to design his/her own agenda risks being used and abused by those who can craft their own agendas.
It is not ethical for African universities to graduate students who do not understand and cannot design their own African agendas.
Of course, I have seen some African universities boastfully displaying the numbers of students they are graduating every year. But the key question should be: Whose agendas do they understand and can they set their own African agendas?
African students graduate to become employees of other people because they lack agenda-setting to design their own African companies.
Graduating students who aim to simply get employment is not an African agenda in a century where Africans need to assert economic sovereignty.
In any case, it is not ethical to graduate students merely for the job market and for the world of work; and never for the world of investors.
One big reason some Zimbabweans have been bewailing the departure of whites post-2000, is that they are incapable of setting their own (economic) agendas.
They have not been trained by the universities to be able to set their own agendas, beyond drawing water and hewing wood.
Twenty-first Century African universities may transform curricula and introduce more practical courses but if students are not trained to set their own agendas, they will continue to seek jobs instead of becoming investors in their own countries.
Africans can cease to be drawers of water and hewers of wood only if they are able to set their own agendas – and they cease to pull the wagons of others in collaborative endeavors of various kinds.
The world of work is a world of colonisation, particularly when Africans are hired as partners and collaborators. There is a need for broader decolonial ethics here.
Preoccupation with narrow research ethics in African universities does not pass the sufficiency test for a decolonial 21st Century Africa. The research agendas that African universities should be owning and driving must emerge from African communities, agendas and African peculiarities.
It is not responsible for African universities to be wasting African resources and time on agendas that have very little to do with African communities or that serve to facilitate the recolonisation of Africans.
Of course, agendas can be and are often sugar-coated to appear alluringly beneficial.
But responsible universities have searching and keen eyes that can see through facades and freaks of coloniality.
African universities need to pull African wagons.
They should stop collaborating or partnering in pulling the wagons of neo-colonial pioneer columns.