George J. Sefa Dei, Department of Sociology, OISE, University of Toronto
Locating indigenousness in the application of the cultural resource knowledge base of local peoples, this paper critically explores alternative ways of presenting the discourse and practice of African development. The paper examines the relevance and implications of indigenous knowledge; that is, knowledge associated with longterm occupancy of a place, for the process and objective of development in postcolonial Africa. The author calls for locally-defined development; that is, development that reflects the lived realities, and the cultural and political goals and aspirations of African peoples. It is a form of development rooted in indigenous peoples’ sense of moral and spiritual values, and the connections between the social and natural worlds.
In this paper, I examine indigenous cultural knowledge of African peoples as a counter-hegemonic knowledge to the conventional discourse on African development. My interest lies in the examination of African cultural resource knowledge as a form of epistemological recuperation for local peoples. It does not require any great sense of intellectual imagination or a stretched theoretical understanding of social reality to declare that international development, as is conventionally practised, has met with disappointment in Africa. The euphoria of international development is fast wearing thin, at least in the minds of many local peoples. The development obituary is about to be written, if not already composed (Sachs, 1992). The valorization of international development is justifiably replaced with pillorization. So-called development has come at a high human, ecological, political and ethical cost to Africans, literally putting to shame any assumption of innocence in the conventional development agenda and practice. Development, with an emphasis on materialization/materialism, has been uneven, uncertain and inequitable. Any economic gains have been spurious at best and channelled to the already wealthy segments of society. Meanwhile, the social, spiritual, emotional and psychological aspects of development remain largely unaddressed.
What has been institutionalized as development is economically unjustified (e.g., rising income and wealth disparities among local peoples), ecologically unsound (e.g., the problem of ecocide), and socially and morally bankrupt (e.g., economic agreements that work for a small minority of corporate capital interests). A striking feature of African urban social life is a disturbing spiritual and cultural decadence in the midst of political and economic disintegration in the face of an encroachment of global finance capital. The African poor are repeatedly being told to tighten their belts. But how can the poor tighten their belts when people do not have the luxury of a belt in the first place? Unfortunately, if these remarks appear to be a pessimistic rendition of African development it is indeed a situation that cannot be lost on the critical observer of the contemporary African scene.
It is no exaggeration to say that the cultural resource base and knowledge of local peoples have been the least analyzed for their contributions to African development (see also Matowanyika, 1990; Warren, Slikkerveer and Brokensha, 1995). This paper calls for a shift in the development paradigm to examine what the indigenous African cultural knowledge base can offer in terms of an alternative approach to African development. Enthusing an alternative, African-centred development1 is bound to raise an array of complex and contentious theoretical, methodological and policy issues. In this discussion, I locate indigenousness in the context of the application of the local cultural resource information in developing a genuinely African-centred development. My discursive practice is to extend analytical debates about development by implicating the African indigenousness in both the objective and practice of social development. I argue for an alternative approach to African development, one which is anchored in a retrieval, revitalization or restoration of the indigenous African sense of shared, sustainable social values. It is contended that African peoples have to reclaim or reappropriate their cultural resource knowledge in order to appreciate the power of collective responsibility for social development.
Indigenousness may be defined as knowledge consciousness arising locally and in association with long-term occupancy of a place. Indigenousness refers to the traditional2 norms and social values, as well as mental constructs which guide, organize and regulate African ways of living and making sense of their world. Indigenous knowledge differs from conventional knowledge because of an absence of colonial and imperial imposition. The notion of indigenousness highlights the power relations and dynamics embedded in the production, interrogation, validation and dissemination of global knowledge about international development. It also recognizes the multiple and collective origins of knowledge and affirms that the interpretation or analysis of social reality is subject to different and sometimes oppositional perspectives.
There are different ways to think about and conceptualize the processes of knowledge production. What constitutes valid theoretical and empirical knowledge in development practice has today become a point of contention for many. Local peoples are forcefully articulating their concerns about the historical denigration and manipulation of the traditional cultural values of African peoples. They have asked why Euro-American values and norms are privileged in the development process without an acknowledgement of the value of indigenous African knowledge (see also Fals-Borda and Rahman, 1991, writing in a different context). In the process of questioning hitherto taken-for-granted assumptions about development, many indigenous and local peoples are attempting to reclaim and reinvigorate their marginalized knowledges. They are challenging common-sense views about international development. They are unpacking the institutional ideologies that tend to obscure and distort their social realities. The social vibrancy, political and cultural revival being exhibited, particularly in certain rural communities, provide a base for launching such criticisms.
Elsewhere, (Dei, 1993a) I have presented my thoughts about some of the theoretical and methodological issues concerning African development. I have argued that it is immoral for us to continue to articulate a development agenda in terms relevant to global capital and transnational corporate interest, at the same time that the daily needs of local peoples are not being met. Current processes of economic, political and cultural globalization have resulted in a crisis of knowledge about society, the crisis manifest in the contradictions and tensions of a competitive knowledge economy, the internationalization of labour, and the concomitant struggles over power-sharing among social groups. Globalization has also accelerated the flow of cultures across geographical, political, and cultural borders. The commodification of knowledge and culture across space and time has implications far beyond a maintenance of the integrity of local cultural production. As Ahmad (1995) shows, the developing world has to vigorously confront current insidious attempts at cultural, economic, and political recolonization.
An alternative approach to African development must deal with the dilemmas and contradictions of globalization such as the devaluation and fragmentation of traditional values and beliefs, the erosion of spirituality, and the distortions in local, regional and national economies. There is some urgency for an appropriate social theory of development - a theory of development well-rooted in indigenous African worldviews. An approach to development must reclaim and tap local peoples’ world views in order to identify, generate and articulate new visions of social transformation. An understanding of local experiences provides the requisite building blocks for developing strategies for social and economic change.
For the idea of development to have any credibility at all, it must speak to the social, cultural, economic, political, spiritual and cosmological aspects of local peoples’ lives, as well as to their specific needs and aspirations. Debates about “development” must be situated in appropriate social contexts that provide practical and social meaning to the actors as subjects, rather than as objects of development discourse. This is a critical perspective on development that argues that local communities should own and control the solutions to their own problems (see also Kankwenda, 1994). It is a critique of the North’s approach to development in the South and also of the sub-text that shapes conventional development practice (see also Heron, 1996). This critical perspective also recognizes that real and effective local community control (over the development process) is possible only if the development agenda seeks to centre indigenous knowledge systems in the search for solutions to human problems. This means articulating an alternative conception and praxis of development, one which does not reproduce the existing total local dependency on external (expert) advice, knowledge and resource. Local input must be from the grassroots and should tap the diverse views, opinions, resources and interests manifested in the cultural values and norms of local communities.
To discuss the African indigenousness, it is important to acknowledge the ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as the historical contingencies and specificities of African peoples. I am also aware of the fact that some common elements in African indigenous knowledge systems can be found in diverse or variant forms among indigenous peoples in other parts of the world (see also Dia, 1991). Furthermore, indigenous knowledge systems and traditions contain sites and sources of cultural disempowerment for certain groups in society (e.g., women and ethnic/cultural minorities)[Machila, 1992: 18]. Cultural resource knowledge is not frozen in time and space. While I focus on some common underlying socio-cultural themes and values (see also Machila, 1992: 16), I also recognize that the actual practices associated with these social values may differ across space and time.
Understanding the social, natural, cultural, spiritual, individual and collective components of development requires an interrogation of Africa’s “...traditional knowledge and know-how, those which have precisely maintained our societies throughout the ages....” (Gueye, 1995: 10). The indigenous past is informative. The African past provides positive (solutionoriented) lessons about sustainable traditions of group mutuality, spirituality, selfhelp, communal bonding and social responsibility that can be appropriated to aid the search for an alternative approach to development.
The African past speaks to sustainable traditions and social values that can be recovered and reconstituted for social development. Indigenousness does not engender ignorance or backwardness. On the contrary, it provides avenues for creativity and resourcefulness on the part of local peoples. As argued elsewhere (Dei, 1994a), the indigenous African sense of being human speaks about the wholeness of relationships, compassion, hospitality and generosity, in a world today which is fragmented, polarized and is destructive of people. The African humanness as a value system speaks to the importance of relating to, rather than mastery over nature and the environment. Many indigenous African cultural traditions emphasize and reward individual sensibilities and social consciousness. The indigenous African civilization was not simply a matter of technological advancement. It was one of social responsibility.
Indigenous African social values privilege communal solidarity. Traditional social groupings, such as lineages, clans, age sets and grades, acted as corporate bodies, protecting the integrity of critical resources (e.g., land) which could not be divided without being destroyed. At times, such social groupings acted as a work force for tasks requiring larger labour pools than individual families could provide. The groups provided social comfort, identity and a sense of belonging to a community, particularly in times of stress and hardship. One function of such bodies was educating the youth, particularly the inculcation of communal values and a sense of collective commitment. Similarly, traditions of mutuality were exhibited by many indigenous forms of mutual self-help groups. Such indigenous self-help institutions included self-loaning bodies (credit associations) such as upatu among the Chagga of Tanzania (Bendera 1991:126-127), susu among the Akan of Ghana (Goody 1962), and the esusu among the Yoruba of Nigeria (Bascom 1952), and Krio of Sierra Leone. There were also the labour partnerships among many West African societies (e.g., nnoboa among the Akan of Ghana), a collective self-help group of age-mates and friends who assisted each other in farming, trading and marketing activities. In contemporary Africa, traces of such voluntary social groupings (serving as credit associations), continue to enhance community members’ limited economic resources for undertaking individual projects or activities.
The indigenous African epistemological construct is that the rights of citizenship have matching obligations and responsibilities to the community in which one resides. This is the essence of collective responsibility. As Mbiti (1982) pointed out, Africans, historically, have been socialized to define themselves by their social obligations to the wider community. The responsibility of citizenry included providing communal forms of labour at any time when called upon by the traditional polity (e.g., road construction), as well as making compulsory financial and non-financial contributions to assist bereaved families in burying the dead. Death, burial, and bereavement are community affairs, and the close examination of the conduct of traditional funeral ceremonies illustrates both collective responsibility and information-sharing within traditional communities (see Rattray 1927, for Asante of Ghana; Herskovits 1967:352-402, for Fon of Benin; Skinner 1964:49-59 for Mossi of Burkina Faso; and Bascom 1969:65-69 for Yoruba of Nigeria).
In the indigenous African world view, the mere accumulation of individual property/wealth did not necessarily accord status and prestige. For the wealthy to be accorded community reverence, social prestige and status, she or he must share such wealth with the rest of community (see Dei 1992; Dia, 1991: 11). Wealthy individuals who want name and status recognition have to demonstrate their social consciousness and responsibility by contributing to the society’s welfare. The indigenous African view is that the individual is supported by the family and the family by the community. The family is all of one’s kinsfolk while the community is an identification with both kin and non-kin. As O’Manique and Dotse (1991) point out, Africans reject the Hobbesian image of the competitive, isolated individual, living in fear of others and protected from them by the state or community. Thus, the concept of individual makes sense only within the concept of community (see also Karp 1986; Gyekye 1987; Mudimbe 1988). Individual identity emerges from communion with others (Osagie 1980). To the African indigenousness, the dichotomy is not between the individual and community, but between the competitive individual isolated from his/her community and the co-operative individual enriched by the community.
The African indigenousness cultivates respect for the authority of elderly persons (gerontocracy) for their wisdom, knowledge of community affairs and closeness to the ancestors (notion of spirituality). Many African people believe old age comes with wisdom and an understanding of the world. It was the duty of the aged to instruct the youth (in a socially responsible manner) and the latter’s duty to respect the knowledge of the elders (see Boateng 1980:111-8; Mbiti 1982:197). The African world view centred around an intimate understanding and appreciation of the relationship between humans, society and nature. Indigenous African cultures spiritualize the Universe and endow the forces that threatened people with supernatural powers (see Mbiti 1982; Peek 1991). Historically, this served to give moral and spiritual grounding to the African person. Humans as social learners, and knowledge production is the outcome of a dynamic, interactive and reflexive process involving individuals, social groups and nature.
A Ghanaian Case Study
In one contemporary Ghanaian village, there is evidence of how local people are utilizing their traditional cultural resource knowledge to empower themselves and to address economic hardships. I provide this case study to illustrate how a community is able to rely on its social values and norms to deal with problems of development. The town of Ayirebi is situated in the forest zones of southeastern Ghana, about 45 km from Akyem Oda and nearly 180 km north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The town was the subject of a longitudinal research project that began in 1982-83 with the examination of the adaptive responses of the peasant farmers to seasonal food supply cycles and other socioenvironmental stressors of drought, bush fires and population pressure in the early 1980s (see Dei 1986).
In the early 1980s, the people of Ayirebi responded and adapted to domestic economic hardships by using their endogenous understandings of the intricate relationships between social and natural forces, as well as the interplay between domestic and international market pressures. There was a heavy reliance on the local environment to supply household needs as many households had to make do with the absence of imported food and other economic items. A detailed examination of the underlying basis for the apparent success of the local community to deal with the socio-environmental and economic crisis in 1982 and 1983, for example, showed that the assertion of local self-sufficiency in food and other basic economic requirements of the people can be expressed at four levels.
First, there was a strong and viable subsistence farming economy that showed a great diversity of cropping on the part of the local farmers. Farming practices, such as mixed and sequential cropping, crop rotation and the use of local fertilisers (local manure and wood ashes), were part of the cultivation strategies designed to ensure that at least household food supply was maintained during periods of drought and food shortages. Additional food processing methods were devised for local staples (e.g., cassava) in order to sustain household food supply. Many households also experimented with semi-wood foods (e.g., wild yams) for cultivation purposes (see Dei, 1986, 1988).3
Secondly, many local households adopted hitherto little-used subsistence practices such as hunting and gathering of wild forest resources to supplement agricultural production. Bush animal protein and wild food plants were collected for household use and for sale at the local markets for income. The ability to fall back on wild forest products was, and still is, an important asset in African rural economies. Women, in particular, were observed using the surrounding environment to supplement household food supply. Forest products, such as snails, crabs, mushrooms and kola nuts were collected, together with edible and non-edible wild products, such as roots, fibres, leaves, bark, fruits, seeds, nuts, insects, molluscs, honey, sap and syrup (see Dei, 1986). These activities were not new economic inventions. However, what was remarkable, from the point of dealing with village economic hardship and ecological stress, was the intensity with which forest products were exploited to satisfy household needs. In the absence of imported soap and sugar, local households experimented with local products (e.g., using oil palm and wood ash to make local soap, and honey for sugar).
Thirdly, there was a pragmatic dependence on the local market and/or cash economy, including a resurgence of traditional handicrafts. Women farmers sold their produce after meeting basic household needs and then utilized their earnings to pay for their children’s education (e.g., fees, stationery, uniforms) and also to buy medication. Young men were engaged in basket weaving, adults in woodworking, raphia/bamboo making and other handicrafts to fetch additional income for both personal and household use. Many local farmers resisted attempts by government forces to sell their farm produce at ridiculously low (control) prices at urban markets. Those farmers who sold their produce through official channels ensured that they received imported scarce items such as soap, tinned foods, toiletries, medicine and textile clothing rather than hard cash.
Lastly, there was a rebuilding and maintenance of strong social relations among town members. Community members redoubled their efforts to help needy individuals and households, as was evident when town migrants to Nigeria returned home after being deported from Nigeria in the early 1980s. Community leaders placed at the disposal of some households stool land for farming purposes. There was a strong sense of identification and connectedness to the community and several economic exchanges took place among family and community members, as well as between adjacent communities (see Dei, 1986). Town members also relied on remittances from family and close relatives in the cities and urban centres in exchange for local farm produce. Furthermore, individual farmers banded together to form farming co-operatives. During the drought of the early 1980s and through the 1990s, the local women were noted to be relying on long-established traditions of community solidarity to establish credit associations, working on traditional principles of group mutuality to help relieve the economic pain of households.
On the whole, research observations in the 1980s revealed that perhaps conclusions reached about the state of African economies, based solely on studies of the cities and their immediate surroundings, did not always give a true and accurate picture of the health of the local economy. As Posnansky (1984) pointed out, there is the lesson that the major economic changes taking place in much of Africa, at least in the early 1980s, tended to have relatively much less “...long-term deleterious effects on rural areas than they do on the urban and peri-urban areas with their expensive, import-dependent social-service infrastructure....”(p. 2163).
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were follow-up studies to ascertain the degree and extent to which coping strategies were sustained long after the drought and severe national economic contraction of the early 1980s. Research documented the local responses to current state policies to revive the local economy through the promotion of cash cropping and an export-led development strategy. Although many of the economic activities and coping strategies observed in the early 1980s have stayed with the local people, in the late 1980s and early 1990s some households were observed to rely on individual rather than community and group solutions to social and economic problems (Dei, 1992). However, the shared sense of community belongingness and individual identification with the social and natural environments is still very much in place. Households are still living the contradictions and paradoxes of competing, and sometimes conflicting, interests between local, national and international forces. This is particularly exemplified in the current pressures that national and international market forces are placing on the community. For the community, one recourse to maintaining their social well-being is to develop a fit between some of the social and traditional values of community membership and the associated individual and social responsibilities of citizenship. Dei (1993b) has discussed community upholding of traditions of sustainable forestry. The study of local traditions of forest resource use reveals the community’s understanding of the linkage between indigenous cultural knowledge and sustainable development.
Implications for African Development
The examination of African cultural resource information reveals a body of knowledge about community values, definitions of collective responsibility and social security arrangements, as well as practices of communal governance and health provision that are useful for developing social and ecological sustainability. In the remaining half of this discussion I will briefly touch on five significant and interrelated lessons of African indigenousness to further the cause of new and transformed development. The African indigenousness constitutes a body of generated, shared and applied knowledge for thoughtful and responsible action among local peoples.
Firstly, development must take into account local understandings of the workings of culture, society, and nature. Devising an African-centred development would require knowledge of African realities and conditionalities. There is an inseparable relation between the material and the spiritual worlds of African peoples. As Gueye (1995) notes, there is a specific cultural understanding in African communities that is “....centred around a particular conception of the world which assigns the human being a specific role, around a certain representation of time and space which structures mentalities and behaviours....” (p. 11). Such knowledge is central to effective development practice. Development must be informed by local understandings of the complex linkages between natural, spiritual, social, cultural, political, and economic forces of society. Local peoples are agents in the construction of their own knowledge.
Social development is a project about social and ecological unity of peoples and their habitats. Social unity entails mutual respect and justice for all. Ecological unity is ensuring responsible usage of land and natural resources in the interest of sustainability. African cosmology view humans as part of nature. Therefore, any development approach that affects natural environmental resources is bound to have consequences for social relations. An emancipative approach to development should be able to build on the ability of local peoples to generate and apply their own knowledges and cultural and social histories. This means an understanding of local conceptions of lived realities and how daily human experiences are sustained by community and individual networks and ties, political and ecological associations and other social support systems.
Secondly, the emotional and spiritual well-being of the individual and the social group is the bedrock of any development process. Social transformation is only possible if it proceeds from a development of the inner self and spiritual values. A genuinely human-centred approach to development should examine African philosophies in terms of person, personhood, self, individual, community, environment, values and spirituality. Development is a complex relational process building on the African humanness and social responsibility, as well as communal and spiritual values. For example, the understanding of philosophical assumptions underlying local conceptions of land and material resource could provide significant lessons for developing strategies to promote natural and human resource management. There is a need for the development process in Africa to address diverse political, moral, spiritual and ethical concerns and to redefine both individual and corporate responsibilities to family, community, nation and global citizenry. Development must engender a spiritual awakening but not in the sense of subscription to a particular high moral order. An effective development framework is built on strong spiritual values oriented to the satisfaction of the needs, interests and aspirations of all peoples. There is lacking a sense of global moral outrage at the corporate rape of local wealth and resources in Africa. I am referring in particular to immoral and unethical dimensions of corporate pursuance of economic profits with little regard for the development of the African humanity and spirituality. Development must be human-centred, culturally affirming, and should seek to centre local group interests vis-à-vis private and corporate (transnational) interests.
Thirdly, development is a socialization of knowledge. The notion of development must be invoked in the name of the common good. For example, an alternative approach to genuine development in Africa must reassess existing definitions of property and individual ownership or rights to social goods and services. The colonial and post-colonial imposition of Western-style property rights continues to be a critical challenge facing African development, as governments and civil societies attempt to find a fit between the values of indigenousness and modernity. In an era of Africa’s full integration into the global capital market, the philosophy of individual ownership and privatization has served to govern the state’s new approach to communal/national property [commons] and definitions of obligations. The commodification and privatization of social knowledge and wealth have served to alienate and disenfranchise many Africans. Development must seek to appropriate long-standing traditions of mutuality and sustainability to meet local needs and aspirations.
Fourthly, social development means matching individual rights of group membership with corresponding social responsibilities. This is democratic development and has implications for social justice and political democracy in contemporary Africa. Those accorded the right and privilege to lead and govern have a responsibility to deliver to the people, otherwise leaders lose their legitimacy and credibility. The allocation and use of political power in communities must promote sustainable forms of local representation, accountability, transparency and good governance. Unfortunately, this is the dilemma and paradox of the modern state in Africa, as national governments shed their responsibilities to their citizenry while succumbing to the whims and caprices of the international financial community. The redefinition of state obligations and responsibilities to a large citizenry continues to have deleterious consequences for the least advantaged in society (e.g., women, ethnic minorities and children). The commitment to privatization and private property rights has led to a neglect of the provision of social service infrastructures. By allowing private, and transnational corporate greed to dictate what should constitute social development, the emphasis now is on rights, rather than responsibilities. While customary relations to property and social goods ensured elements of social differentiation among groups, individuals and communities, such differentiation was not as marked as is evident today. In the African indigenousness, ownership of property is an abstract phenomenon. Property is not a thing but a relation between peoples. Property entails rights and responsibilities and embedded in the idea of property is the shared notion of what is right for the community and the common good.
Lastly, the idea of linkages/connections, powerfully entrenched in indigenousness, speak to the importance of mutual interdependence. This linkage extends beyond the local community. There is a need to connect issues locally, nationally and internationally. Locally, the issues of poverty cut across class, gender, racial and ethnic lines. Internationally, social development concerns of Africans in the Continent and those in the Diaspora converge a great deal. Similarly, the South and the North are inextricably linked in many ways, least of which is asymmetrical power relations. There is a broad spectrum of converging interests around social and economic development issues. Therefore, progressive social movements in the North must continually collaborate with forces in the South who are engaged in similar struggles over social and corporate injustice and the yoke of colonialism and [foreign] domination. These movements must find workable grounds to address common problems. For example, we cannot deal with the cancer of global racism if the related issues of structural economic poverty, capitalist patriarchy and sexual exploitation are not simultaneously addressed.
The key question is whether development can happen at the level of ideas alone. Thoughts, ideas and ideals are conditioned by material relations of production. Human agency is a consequence of material and ideological understanding of the social and natural worlds. The eventual success of African governments’ efforts to address the complexity of economic problems and issues facing their societies will depend to a great extent on how the nation state and the international development community are prepared to learn from, and to tap into, the creativity and resourcefulness of diverse local groups. As part of any process of national economic reconstruction, development practitioners will have to examine the accumulated knowledge and the varied strategies utilized by local women, for example, to survive periods of economic expansion and contraction. These provide important lessons in the search for local development alternatives. Development ought to focus on knowledge appropriate to local conditions. The processes and principles that local peoples have for years utilized to interpret, explain and understand their social and natural worlds is valuable for effective development. We need to critically examine conventional development knowledge for what it includes and for what it leaves out (see also Kithinji, 1996). Within African contexts, there is a paradox and contradiction in the development process: on the one hand is the continuing transnational/corporate appropriation of local knowledge at the same time as Africa experiences a negation and erasure of its cultural forms of knowledge representation (see also Rugumayo, 1992: 13).
As it stands now, conventional approaches to development have not helped local peoples to articulate their daily experiences to the outside world (Kankwenda, 1994). As I have argued elsewhere (Dei, 1994b), there is a disturbing failure to recognize that local peoples do theorize in their communities as part of community life, that they not only articulate, but also, interpret their experiences. Local peoples have culturally constructed ways of reflecting on their daily lives. They can give their own accounts of what is happening to them and what their needs are, as well as what they are doing, can do, and intend to do about these issues.
In the African scene, there are countless examples of so-called development projects that continually undermined local peoples’ abilities to control their own lives. These programs have made local peoples objects of exploitative patriarchal economic systems. Local peoples, for the most part, conceptualized development in the sense of belonging to a community and connecting with other people in a way that makes possible the satisfaction of mutual interests.
Development practitioners and experts should be able to tease out the specific nature of the linkage between indigenous knowledge and local community participation in the development process. We must involve local peoples in all stages of the conception, planning, implementation and evaluation of development activities. Local knowledge systems contain invaluable explications of the workings of ecosystems, and the sustainability of ecologically sound economic production strategies.
A basic challenge is for development theoreticians and practitioners to complement the search for general solutions to human problems, with some local specificities. To talk about local specificities is to speak about the African indigenousness. The integration of localized, empirical research with theoretical, generalized studies demands that international development researchers begin to accord some importance, not only to country-specific research, but also to research studies that explore local-level understanding and perceptions of human problems and local strategies to problem-solving.
While community or locality studies by themselves are insufficient to offer a comprehensive understanding of society, they nevertheless provide relevant data needed to ground our theoretical discussions of international development in the everyday lived experiences of people. Such studies provide opportunities for well-meaning development practitioners to hear what people at the grassroots have to say, what their everyday experiences are, and how they make sense of their worlds.
1. By African-centred development, I am referring to development adapted to the African condition. This means the African sense of understanding development, by appropriating the process and objective of development to ensure that locally defined needs and aspirations are possible and sustainable through self-actualization.
2. In the context of this discussion I use the terms traditional and indigenous interchangeably. As pointed elsewhere, (Dei, 1993b), the term traditional denotes a continuity of cultural values from past experiences that shape the present, e.g, how indigenous peoples have accommodated their new form of post-colonial experience. African scholars like Muteshi (1996) make a distinction between the traditional and the indigenous when arguing that the indigenous past offers a means of staking out a position as an African that is outside of the identity that has been, and continues to be, constructed in Western/Euro-American ideology. In the broader sense of this paper, indigenous is defined as arising locally, primarily from long-term residents in a given community (see also Fals Borda, 1980; Warren, Slikkerveer and Brokensha, 1995).
3. Local communities in Africa have knowledge of local varieties of food crops, wild plants and food planting cycles that can be harnessed to assist in the formulation of alternative development. The sustainability of these local economic practices has stood the test of time (see Bean, 1992 in another context). For example, local farmers in Sierra Leone have intimate knowledge of planting requirements and yield of local rice varieties. Such knowledge is invaluable in any plan to increase rice production and needs to be taken into account if a change in rice variety is to be advocated (see also Richards, 1985 in another context).
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