Decolonising Afrikan Education

By Dr Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala

“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness – Thomas Sankara”


 The term, education, is and has been, interpreted variously; depending on the context and discipline. For some, it has to do with formal schooling, while for others it is a process that never ends, beginning with life itself and ending when one dies. Furthermore, education is interpreted as the collective shaping of a people’s mind for a desired outcome – like the education of socialists, Catholics, Jews, Pan Afrikans, Americans, etc.

This necessitates a brief etymology of the term. For Westerners, education has a Latin root, educatio, meaning a ‘breeding’, a ‘bringing up’, a ‘rearing’; Or it can be traced to another Latin root, educare; meaning to ‘bring up’, to ‘rise’, to ‘nourish’. (Reza, 2014). Craft (1984, p.9) confirms these two Latin roots, with elucidations like ‘train’, ‘mould’, ‘lead’. The root of education from this perspective, therefore, presupposes education as a process synonymous with upbringing, or as way of shaping a child towards ‘an acceptable system of being’. For Afrikans, although the etymology of the word would not be Latin, the meaning and essence is not so different. Where variance creeps in, is in the aim, epistemology and content. In particular, is the Afrocentric idea that for Afrikans the aim of education has to be the championing of the cause of redefining epistemology (Chinweizu, 2010).

It is the argument of this paper, and many other Pan Afrikan scholars, that Europe colonised the world, as well as epistemology. What is ‘Right’ became White, and ‘White’ became both might and right, to the total denigration of any alternative, especially the Afrikan alternative. Epistemology has since been groaning to be free. Sadar (2008, p. xv) draws us to a logical conclusion, that if Western civilisation and culture led to and championed colonial racism, and Europe herself being an epitome of a racist superstructure; then surely the same racism is reflected in the discourse of Western knowledge – with the aim being the maintenance of structural racism, dominance or power. Thus, the Afrikan aim of education is to liberate Afrikan epistemology, to break asunder structural racism, the axis of which is knowledge, and to gather it. As per Asante (2014), “Afro-centricity is an intellectual paradigm that privileges the centricity of Africans within the context of their own historical experiences.” This means Afrikans at home and in the diaspora, must study knowledge from an African perspective and context. The opposite usually leads to misconstruing Africa (Chawane, 2016).

It is this misconstrue notion – the essence of decoloniality of education, that is the central concern of this paper. What is misconstrued? What is the reality? How has the misconstrue affected Afrikan thought? What is the solution?


 In the Project of Decoloniality of education, what is misconstrued? How has the misconstrue affected Afrikan thought and education? What is the solution, viz. what should be decolonised?

Adjei-Gyamfi (2018) sheds light on the subject: he says the Afrikan educational curriculum has not shaken off its colonial root, so it continues to suffer colonial domination. As a result, it has deepened the Afrikan identity crisis, starting with its disrespect for local languages on the one end, and its promotion of the colonial language on the other. The “Speak English”, culture boldly championed in Afrikan schools becomes an initiation for the Afrikan child in their formative years. It tells them that the colonial language is classy, and it speaks of success, but the Afrikan one leads only to punishment.

As per Mammo (2015), the problem goes beyond language, important as that is. Mammo speaks to the systemic repudiation of Afrika’s rich knowledge, and science and technology, as well as heritage. This is to the point where, those who dare to look back, hit only the dehumanising 500-year old wall of shame, comprising of slavery and colonialism. The positive, constructive Afrikan heritage, including her contribution to the history of humankind, is lost.

It is no wonder that few Afrikans actually count time the Afrikan way. Most count Afrikan time like the Europeans, from around 2000 BCE with the Greek Empire, (this is a generous date as Classical Greece flourished from the 5th Century CE = around 510 CE) through to the Romans, Dark Ages, Renaissance, 1st – 4th Industrial Revolution and Globalisation. The existence of Ancient Afrikan Civilisations dating back thousands of years before 2000 BCE, is unknown to most Afrikans; so is the Afrikan Timeline. If one dares to open that window to just peep, the retorting response from general academia, including Afrikan academia, is that one is romanticising Precolonial History. Yet Westerners peep back to their history every day, and the whole world, including the critical Afrikan academia, peeps with them in glee and admiration.

The Colonial Script has been successfully inaugurated and upheld. Kelly, 2000, p. 22; Césaire, 2000, p. 43; Mudimbe, 1985, p. 175; all point to this centuries’ worth of erasure of Afrikan or any other non-Western intellectual and cultural Prowess by Western scholarship. It started as a colonial White supremacist power project, the Colonial Script that was meant to ravish and asphyxiate any Script that challenged ‘White is might; might is right and right is White’. The apex of White Nationalism was Transatlantic Slave Trade, which reinvented itself into a different form of slavery at saturation point, viz. classical (my emphasis) colonialism (Clarke, 1991, p. 268). At saturation point, classical colonialism mutated into neo-colonialism, upheld by the Colonial Script, as postcolonialism. Thus, the Colonial Script continues to be the norm. Hence Clarke in DeVeaux (2011 ) asserts that true education is power, and if it is delivered properly, it must open the door to power. However, no oppressor can afford to educate the oppressed to handle power. Therefore, in this project of decoloniality, the marginalised Afrikan discourse in the form of language, history, culture, as well as spirituality & science (the latter two are inseparable); all become pivotal in the tussle for power with the Western dominant discourse. For the limited scope of this paper, the focus shall be education and culture.

The Use of ‘Universal’ Culture and Education to Replicate Colonialism

The sum-total of education, is a cultural transmission process and vice versa – the two are inseparable. On the other hand, culture is the baseline, the identity from which a people develop (Okeke, 2014). Afrika boasts precolonial world-class civilisations and socio-economic systems, which to date, she has not been able to surpass. This despite both Arab & European claims of externally-infusing her with renown civilisations. Does it mean Afrika had a more formidable cultural baseline precolonially, and if so, does it mean she has not yet recovered from its corrosion? Moreover, could it be that the education Afrikans have been receiving from classical colonialism to date, has been transmitting a disparate culture that has failed to build Afrikan identity?

Ani (1994, 2011) elucidates more; she sums up culture as the organisation of the totality of human experience. This way, it becomes the conceptual doctrinal force for collective development. It gives identity, and it is also the collective immune system of a people and their historic consciousness.

Ani’s analogy of culture to immunity and historical consciousness, elevates the importance of education, because human experience and historic consciousness inform education. A compromised immunity ultimately takes the whole human system down with it, just like a compromised culture (collective immunity) will take a whole people down with it. If the immune system is deficient, foreign micro-organisms exploit its gaps and weakness, opening it up to an array of infections that lead to opportunistic diseases. Equally so, a sick deficient collective immunity (culture) like Afrika’s, will be exploited by foreign bodies that open it up to external infectious contamination, ultimately causing predetermined (structural and systemic) social illnesses.

Afrika’s collective immunity (culture) suffered the onslaught of 642 CE, a brutal Arabisation bacterium that lasted for about 9 centuries, ending only with another stronger Europeanisation virus – a micro-organism invasion, more formidable than the Arabisation bacteria. The latter started in 1503 with the 1st Spanish Slave Ship. Afrika suffered this new viral attack while traces of the Arabisation bacteria were still evident in her culture.

Typical of a viral attack, to date, the Europeanisation virus has neither ended nor has it been dislodged by a more powerful micro-organism. On the contrary, since it lives inside the collective immunity cells of Afrika, it has been budding, and through lysis, it has been using its host cells (Afrikan culture/collective immunity) to replicate its own genetic material. This is what has made it difficult to shake off European colonialism (even as colonisation ‘ended’), because it lives within Afrikan cultural cells, killing them off while mutating. This hidden but concrete process takes place deep within the cultural cells, away from the naked eye; hence the critical quantification of Afrika’s current stage as neo-colonial, since the end of classical colonisation. The process is called assimilation, as opposed to acculturation. It is because it places unimportant, negligible worth on Afrikan culture while seeking to reproduce within it Europeanised cultural ethos, to guarantee economic dependence. As per Donkor (2016, p. 4 and Bowskill, et al (2007), the assimilated are finally undifferentiated from the ‘vulture’ (my addition) culture of assimilating. This occurs mainly through the indicators of language, culture, socioeconomic attachments and residential patterns.

On the Arab and European part, the process has been acculturation, viz. one culture adopting practices and / or values of another while still retaining its own peculiarity. It can also be called incorporation – a free plagiarising and modification of one’s own cultural elements; different from imposed and instructed change resulting from dominance (Cole, 2018; Iwamasa et al, 2013; and Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). The reason for this is that enculturation, defined the acquisition of one’s culture, is the very 1st experience of familiarisation for both the Arab and European. Consequently, both emerge rooted, ready for acculturation.

Structurally and systemically, the Afrikan collective immunity (culture) and historical consciousness replicate colonisers, that is, Europeanisation through the English, French and Portuguese or Arabisation, especially in the North and North West and the East. In this instance of weak enculturation, acculturation has become assimilation, evidenced by the dominating language, literature and social theory of any country in Afrika. Take for example any institution of learning in Angola, Mozambique, Carbo Verde, Sao Tome & Principe or Guinea Bissau; the dominating literature and culture would be Portuguese. One does not need to physically go to these institutions to conclude this. Through lyses and budding, the legacy of the Portuguese Europeanisation virus has been using its colonies’ host cells (Afrikan culture/collective immunity) to replicate its own genetic material. It is the same pattern throughout the continent, hence the categorisation into lusophone (‘former’ Portuguese colonies), francophone (‘former’ French) and anglophone/Commonwealth (‘former’ British).

Amongst other effects of Afrika’s compromised / sick collective immunity (culture) are:

  • Misinformed collective identity, education, epistemology, and perspective.
  • Lost history and historical consciousness.
  • Marginalised Afrikan Discourse and dominating Colonial Discourse.
  • Assimilation: Reigning of A Single Narrative.
  • Misrepresentation of Afrika by both coloniser and colonised (the Afrikan).
  • Low Self-Esteem and Self-Hate.
  • Self-Colonisation.
  • Perpetuated White Privilege in epistemology and education in general.

Hence Chawane’s Afrikans must study knowledge from an African perspective (2016); and Asante’s “Afro-centricity is an intellectual paradigm that privileges the centricity of Africans within the context of their own historical experiences” (2014). This calls for a scientific understanding of the agency of culture, which is far more than song and dance. Following Okeke and Ani ’s arguments, culture is the baseline from which to push oneself into the future. For instance, the Afrikan gender baseline is currently skewed. It is fundamentally informed by the stratified and ruthless patriarchy of Islam and Christianity, mixed with the inhumanity of both Arab and Transatlantic Slave Trade, the racism of colonial polices and the exploitation of imperialism. It is hardly a conscious thought to many Afrikans, that the position of the Afrikan woman regarding Gender Equity, is direr now than Precolonially. Like it is for the Afrikan race and the prowess of its predecessors, the Afrikan Woman has not surpassed the historical record left to her by her ancestors. Some of the feats include Regnant Queens, Warrior Queens, Rain Queens, Queen Mothers, Women Military Brigades, Leaders of Towns and Cities, Priestesses, Keepers of the Sacred Objects, Announcers of Public Festivals, or Judges of Women and Male Affairs. (Smith, 2008, pp. 42, 45, 50; Kneller, 1993; Tvedten, 1997; Asante and Mazama, 2009, p. 421; Anti, 2017; and Mbatha, 2016). Thus, the concept of feminism cannot, and should not, fetch the same historical meaning for Afrikans, as it is for European woman.

European hegemony over Afrikan education and culture facilitated the mutation of classical colonialism to neo-colonialism. The Europeanisation virus had fulfilled its mission. It is fully embedded in the host cells’ collective immunity (culture) and education; ensuring self-colonisation through epistemology. A jack-boot armed colonial soldier stirs resentment and revolt, but a well packaged and marketed book, policy, fashion, or ‘technology’, leads to admiration and adoption. This is especially true if the marketed item comes linked to the condition within the collective immunity; it becomes inherently involuntary. This makes neo-colonialism unconscious but necessary for the ‘previously’ colonised Afrikan; hence it thrives.

Back in 1999, Molefi Asante acknowledged this kind of White intellectual racism and privilege, that is mutually exclusive of anything non-Western, and masquerades itself as international. The danger is that it encourages racism at all levels, long after the disappearance of the social construct that birthed it (Fryer, 1984, pp. 133-190). Christian (2002, p. 186) highlighted this 16 years ago, although cognisant of the growing number of Western scholars who are aware of European cultural and educational hegemony; he is however critical of its selective focus. He bemoans the insufficient focus on the mental manipulation of others to White privilege and cultural hegemony. But then White privilege is invisible, yet tangible. This is what perpetuated it in the first place, and over the generations it just kept reinventing and remodelling itself into newer and more invisible forms (Wildman and Davis 2002, p. 89). Herein lies the urgent call for total decoloniality, and particularly, for decolonising education.

Another great conspiracy lies in philosophy. Plato is key in giving Western philosophy it’s narrative, he elucidates how diametrically opposed it is to Afrikan Philosophy. Yet as per Asante (1999), Sadar (2008, p. xv), Wesley (1951, p. 15) and Okafor (1992, p. 212), it is that (Western) philosophy that underscores ‘world’ education, masquerading as ‘international’. This means for time immemorial, countless Afrikan children and intellectuals have been subjected to ways of learning that are akin to their being – with some of them written off as unintelligent, which is both a colonial and contemporary stereotype against Afrikans, primarily by Europeans and other nations. Yet a brief look at the summarised tenets of both philosophies below, prove Afrikans to be versatile for succeeding in the navigation of knowledge through European philosophy, a foreign language and content that is mutually exclusive – reducing them to non-starters.

Here’s the rest of the paper DECOLONISING AFRIKAN EDUCATION

Show More

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button

For As Little As A Monthly Donation or Subscription of R150,00 You can Keep UnCensored Alive

For those of you who read UnCensored regularly, we implore you to donate. For those who donate, we thank you greatly. 

Learn More
%d bloggers like this: