Distilled and Canned Knowledge for Disclosing Modernity in Africa


Aid agencies have gone through many transformations in the course of their history.  Paradigms have been espoused and sometimes quickly abandoned. Emphases on development assistance have shifted every few years, such as on agriculture, environment, ICTs, peace and security, technology, water, energy, gender, HIV, harmful practices, democracy and governance, trade, debt relief, sustainable development, etc. Furthermore, development itself is a debatable concept and ideology.


Some agencies may believe that they have the knowledge that is needed for Africa’s development. They may think that it suffices to package this knowledge and send it to the continent for its uptake. This approach of ‘shipping canned knowledge’ may not meet the knowledge needs of the region. Knowledge has to be adapted to highly diverse environments and socio-economic contexts.  It also needs to be acquired pro-actively by the potential users who have to decide which knowledge they really want to obtain.


Following the transformation of the World Bank into a ‘knowledge bank’ many aid agencies saw themselves as repository of state-of-the-art development knowledge and are in the process of transforming themselves along the same lines, if they have not already done so. This is good news for building meaningful African Knowledge Societies (AKSs). However, knowledge is not knowledge until it is recorded in the brain of the users; and has meaning. This is, perhaps, the main distinction between knowledge and information. And it is also the main constraint to knowledge transfer, which in turn is a cultural transfer.


Information, which has no meaning outside a specific real socio-economic context, can be supported and manipulated by all sorts of material Medias, though knowledge can only be supported biologically.  This means that knowledge-based aid must evolve in partnerships where the transferor and the transferee work together and where both are learning in the process. 


There is a need to move away from the concept of transferring charity ‘canned’ knowledge from North to South to long-term mutual learning concrete relationships.