Knowledge for an Innovative and a Distinctive African Modernity (8 Unedited Pages)


Unedited Blog


What are the essential knowledge systems upgrades to Modernity? Initially, it requires outlining a vision and content, including the components that may appear particularly difficult and perhaps unpleasant. Change is never a trouble-free straightforward adventure. The African STI community could launch a grand Modernization project for the renewal or regeneration of the continent through a better exploitation of techno-scientific knowledge. Modern knowledge is crucial for Africa’s destiny because knowledge ‘is the only source of long-run sustainable competitive advantage’ (L. Thurrow).  Given the highly competitive global economy, modern knowledge is vital for the success of scientific and technological actions and for the sovereignty, security and prosperity of the region.


 In truth, Modernity is not around the corner.  It is a colossal task to get there. But it can be an extraordinarily mobilizing, enriching, rewarding and exciting journey. Modernity requires encouraging, supporting and advancing hyper-critical thinking, self-examining, questioning and challenging all received knowledge systems. Indeed, perhaps a difficulty with STI in Africa 'is not in acquiring new knowledge but in escaping old one' (J.M. Keynes).  These views have direct relevance and significance for STI and knowledge policies, which could provide a set of tools and instruments to steer the evolution of knowledge, particularly techno-scientific knowledge, in certain directions for revealing and uncovering Modernity.


There are many encouraging signs of techno-scientific development in many parts of the region. Agricultural knowledge and technology are progressing. ICTs, including mobile, are making remarkable strides. More Africans are trained every year. Etc. Still, after decades of assistance, thousands of development initiatives and more than $500 billions in ODA, many Africans may be as poor and hungry as their grand-parents were years ago.  In this context it may be imperative to try to think differently and to tweak our policies in order to increase their traction and effectiveness. It may be possible to engineer momentous transformations and ‘quasi-civilizational’ changes through tracing and fostering essential directions or pathways for the long-term evolution of African knowledge systems and for uncovering Modernity. These pathways could include the following seven:


1- Strategizing, Prioritizing, Targeting Knowledge


2- Decolonizing, Africanizing, Re-Centering Knowledge


3- Questioning, Remythologizing, Reconstructing Knowledge


4- Producing, Creating, Generating Knowledge,


5- Modernizing, Scientizing, Rationalizing Knowledge6- Sharing, Disseminating, Diffusing Knowledge. and


6- Freeing, Emancipating, Liberating Knowledge





(1) Strategizing, Prioritizing, Targeting Techno-Scientific Knowledge


The first strategic direction to pursue is to move away from dispersed or disorganized leadership and effort to full support to the AU-NEPAD framework – this is currently progressing well, although limited in scope and radicality, and is the best hope for the region. Another important strategic direction is to progress from simply accumulating and adding new knowledge (learning) – the current approach - to also subtracting or transforming relatively old, inefficient or un-productive knowledge (unlearning). A still more challenging direction would be to attune somewhat immobile Abrahamic orthodox knowledge to freethinking, liberal, secular, progressive and evolutionary techno-scientific knowledge (the European historical way to modernity?).Another daunting direction is the reconstruction of knowledge from phallo-centric or patriarchal forms to gender-neutral / balanced forms.  This is an essential pathway to Modernity. Conservative forces, normalization and conformity, including rigid cultural codes, could give way to bold cultural and social innovations and reforms.  Un-functional collective dogmas could be dissolved to smooth the progress of self-determination, individuation and de-traditionalization, an essential process for uncovering Modernity. Ethno-centric and parochial knowledge could evolve in the direction of the common knowledge necessary for a global society and citizenship. Silent or unconscious acceptance of what appear to be natural and normal could be transformed into openly disputing or defying entrenched traditional knowledge / power structures and configurations (polygamous masters, locked-up women, commanding husbands, cloistered women, mystifying medicine men, domestic slaves, sexually mutilated girls, abducted brides, child soldiers, desperate migrants, escaping refugees, etc.). And lastly divine, dualistic, immutable, extra-empirical and fractured cosmological knowledge could grow into unifying modern empirical (observed) cosmologies, thus bridging or narrowing important regional divides and facilitating regional integration – an essential cornerstone for accessing Modernity.



(2) Decolonizing, Africanizing, Re-Centering Knowledge


Techno-Scientific knowledge could evolve from Western / Northern-centricity to Afro-centricity and to a truly post-colonial form.  It could be altered by changing inappropriate metropolitan to African ways of life and from external dependency to self-reliance and autonomy. Knowledge could be transformed by ‘Africanizing’ alien ideologies, creeds, thoughts, life-styles, consumption patterns, symbols, faiths. The re-centering of knowledge on Africa, on African creativity and genius, and on scientifically-based cultures could impact on higher education, the economy, history, beliefs, attitudes and development. Knowledge enforced through historical invasions, conquests, colonization and occupations, including charging Islamic cavalries or evangelical colonizers, could be subjected to the freedom of intellectual and scientific inquiry and to critical analysis, possibly leading to a re-colonization of mytho-religious and other alien knowledge systems. Northern ‘canned’ or ‘pre-formatted’ knowledge from bilateral or multilateral institutions, if any, could evolve into more mutual learning relationships and partnerships. Externally-funded knowledge production and utilization could be matched with similar self-funded and self-reliant knowledge creation, thus ensuring more ownership.



 (3) Questioning, Re-mythologizing, Reconstructing Knowledge


Totalizing knowledge systems, including theological and mythological, requiring and enforcing total obedience, compliance and submission, reduce capacities for independent thinking and critical thought. This is not a spiritual problem but a development problem, which may partly explain the African situation. For instance 85% of Ethiopian women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife for some ‘minor faults’, such as arguing.  These knowledge systems need to be open to examination. Possessive ancient mythological forms of knowledge could advance into more emancipated modern mythological forms. Silence, fear and self-discipline could burst into questioning, investigating and challenging.  Institutional terror could be reduced or contained perhaps through self-exorcism, self-inquisition, self-control, social struggles and other means.  Over-respected authoritarian elder’s knowledge could give a chance to youth’s more ‘subversive’ knowledge and supports social change.  Mystifying or mesmerizing ‘shamanic’ knowledge could evolve into transparent, shared, verified knowledge. Perverting superstitions, persistent fantasies, infantilizing rituals, vain stereotypes, distorting clichés, harmful prejudices and comforting delusions could be abandoned altogether.  Fatalistic revelations, unfounded beliefs, deceitful prophecies and exclusive civil and ecclesiastic patriarchies could be thoroughly questioned. ‘Dusty’ myths, rigid traditions, exacting customs could also evolve critically. In sum, uncovering Modernity requires a thorough examination of all inherited, received, established or conventional knowledge systems.



(4) Producing, Creating, Generating Knowledge


Africa could move from less than one tenth of one percent of the world’s patented knowledge, currently concentrated at around 88% in RSA, to more inventive and creative knowledge generation. Imported, ready-made or off-the shelf knowledge could progressively be adapted and enriched with self-produced knowledge. Digging for, validating, creating and discovering new knowledge could challenge revealed or sacrosanct knowledge. Rare, dying or endangered knowledge, including whole languages, could be recorded, coded, archived and preserved. A number of international research centers (ex. CGIAR) could move into Africa to generate the scientific and technical knowledge necessary to realize a green revolution, which has been realized elsewhere. In a free trading system, industrial knowledge and technology need to be upgraded for keeping a competitive edge in trade, in a global environment where competitiveness is shifting in favor of Asia, keeping part of industrial Africa struggling to grow, in sectors such as low and medium tech manufactured products, engineering services, telecommunications and others. Elusive afterlife pursuits could be refocused on the more earthly here-and-now knowledge needed to live in this political / economic / social world and cope with its practical difficulties. And God-given misfortune and adversity could evolve into responsible man-made knowledge, fortune and fate.



 (5) Modernizing, Scientizing, Rationalizing Knowledge


A needed evolution is to move from habitual and traditional to rational mode of thinking and from customary or routine knowledge to creative, inventive and productive knowledge.  Static pre-scientific or un-scientific knowledge could be transformed into powerful techno-scientific knowledge to support modern scientific worldviews, mindsets and mentalities. Pre-modern knowledge societies (totemic-animic) could grow into dynamic knowledge societies / economies.  Pre-modern views, visions and stances could progress into modern, if not ‘heretical’ outlooks. Long-established indigenous or local knowledge could be upgraded into scientifically-verified knowledge. Personalized, deified and privatized states could evolve into participative and inclusive democratic enterprises and a democratization of power and knowledge. Traditional agricultural knowledge, for its part - in addition to being infused with modern techno-scientific knowledge - could progress from being somewhat enchanted, superstitious, blessed, magic to being more profane, controlled, godless, desanctified, desacralized and disenchanted one - (common rain-making rituals, numerous religious holidays, long religious fasting, over-sacred lands, holy waters, eco-spiritualities, etc.). ‘Prayers’, as popular agricultural inputs, may have limited efficiency.  In this regard unintegrated, unorganized or fractioned agricultural knowledge could be organized in structured knowledge constellations, such as mission-oriented green revolution techno-scientific knowledge clusters. (6) Acquiring, Sharing, Disseminating Knowledge


Lack of knowledge, illiterate and un-informed knowledge could advance to educated, informed, learned or cultured knowledge. Hoarding, over-defensive, hidden, occult or deluding knowledge (shamanic, witchcraft or ritual economics) could advance to unveiling, coding, protecting, sharing, distributing and commercializing knowledge. Drained or diasporized knowledge could be more retained, contracted, channeled, used, transferred or networked. Closed or monopolized knowledge could be made more accessible through open source software and open access to scientific and technical papers and documents. Pirated, copied, plagiarized knowledge could change to lawful and legitimate knowledge acquisition.  Finally, censored (including Internet), suppressed, restricted, classified or confidential knowledge could evolve into uncensored, free of thought polices, transparent and free-flowing knowledge – meaning less knowledgeable journalists and politicians in jails, in hiding, in refugee camps, in their tombs or expatriated.


 (6) Freeing, Emancipating, Liberating Knowledge


The notion of infallible or foolproof knowledge, such as faith-based, revealed, prophesized or divine types of knowledge, is profoundly unscientific. Scientific knowledge thrives and progresses on falsifiable knowledge. All knowledge objects are human made and falsifiable. Heterodox, dissenting or non-conformist knowledge should not be branded as blasphemy, as it is the case in some familiar knowledge systems. Any knowledge system that provides a justification for unashamed human rights abuses or even crimes against humanity should be resisted. A range of theological framings are involved in our idea of science, knowledge and technology and science commits suicide when it adheres to mythological or doctrinaire orthodoxies. In this context, limited self-rule and multiple freedom deficits could evolve into unfettered, enlightened and free knowledge environments. Any knowledge product that is understood as an ‘owner manual’ for one’s own life should be treated with caution. ‘Mutilating’ Africans-of-one-book perspectives (holy books) could evolve into Africans-of-many-books enlightenment. The ‘other’ transcendent world could be naturalized and adjusted to ‘this’ empirical and experiential world.  Progress could steer relatively ‘incestuous’ or ‘adulterous’ entanglement to effective and complete separation of state-religion (justice-sharia, education-madrashas, family laws –arranged marriages, etc.) and perhaps a definitive end of theocratic states on the African continent. Obtrusive and interfering taboos could be jettisoned as old untouchable baggage, vestiges and relics.  Hereditary or inherited sacred knowledge could advance toward freedom to practice religion, which causes problems, such as the obligation to change religion in rare inter-religious marriages and those associated with sectarian knowledge.  It could advance to the freedom to change religion and to enjoy freedom ‘from’ religion – both rights being in short supply in the region. Life-long adherence to a particular knowledge system, including to a mytho-religious system, should not be the result of a blind lottery. Immortality and salvation mirages could be dented by a new scientifically intelligible reality.  Faith-based extremism, radicalism or idolatrism could evolve into tolerance, moderation, pluralism and broadmindedness. Sacred knowledge could evolve through a reordering of the sacral order or toward a new sacrality, consecrating life (including particularly human), nature and the environment as vital sacred objects commanding reverence and protection or immunity from violence, wars and eco-destructions. Finally, as regard to the gods or deities that domesticate the African region and that weigh so much in the sacral order, they could evolve from somewhat threatening, intimidating, demanding, authoritarian or autocratic deities to more soothing, approachable, comforting, supporting or liberal deities. They could evolve from invasive, oppressive, imperialistic, hegemonic or monopolistic deities to more open, tolerant, lenient, permissive, moderate, contained or respectful deities. And they could evolve from institutionalized, anthropocentric, male-dominated and environmentally-insensitive deities to personal, non-enslaving, non-violent and effective virtual deities (or goddesses)?




In conclusion, uncovering Modernity may require a new relationship between the cosmological and the sacred orders on the one hand and science and technology on the other.  This may necessitate clear victories of scientific knowledge over other forms of somewhat ‘vaporous’ extra-empirical, economically ineffective knowledge.