Indigenous knowledge, education quality and prosperity

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote exclusively for the Legatum Institute London. To read the full report, you may click here and scroll down to page 17.

High-quality education is an essential component of economic transformation and wider prosperity. Central to that quality is the content of curricula. The Dakar Framework for Action in 2000 declared access to quality education as a fundamental right of every child in Africa (UNESCO 2000) – but it did not explain what an appropriate curriculum really means. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, curricula have not fundamentally changed since independence (Brock-Utne 2000). They are often detached from local realities, biased towards Western knowledge, and do not emphasise African cultural heritage and history (Le Grange 2010). The result is a mismatch between what students learn at school and the challenges they face in their countries. One way to remedy this is to include indigenous knowledge and local languages in curricula and teaching methods. Indigenous knowledge is both culture and context specific. It is generally orally transmitted and non-formal, dynamic, and adaptive (UNESCO 2003). Evidence shows that teachers teach better and students learn better in local languages (Bangura 2012). Moreover, approaches to learning which are more in line with sociocultural characteristics help the interpretation of scientific concepts and long-term storage of information in the memory (Jegede 1995). Indigenous knowledge is also an invaluable tool to foster students’ motivation and self-esteem (McKinley 2005). Indigenous knowledge is fundamental to most sectors of the economy: food security and health, environmental preservation (Nyong, Adesina and Elasha 2007), and efficient public administration (Ayittey 2006). It is also a considerable source of inspiration for innovations


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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in Essays


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Post-2015: Time for an African Development Agenda Based on Indigenous Knowledge and Resources

Being presentation made by Dr. Chika Ezeanya during the AfricAvenir International Conference on Post-2015 Development Agenda in Berlin Germany,  December 2014. Excerpts from the paper was  discussed with select members of the Green Party, Left Party/Die Linke and the Christian Democratic Party of  the German Parliament (Bundestag).

IntroductionPost 2015Deliberations have peaked across the globe on the most ideal pathway to development in a post-2015 world. In those debates, Africa assumes its prominent position as the continent which remains unsuccessful in meeting several of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The recently released propositions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present very interesting plans and could be a firm basis for discussions regarding Africa’s situation in a post-2015 era. It is crucial, however, to start talks with an understanding of Africa’s development as an endogenous process that requires Africans themselves to be at the forefront.The MDGs sought to and actually did define what development should mean for Africa; it rolled out strategies for achieving pre-fabricated development goals and mapped out funds in order to develop Africa. A decade and a half later, the fact that the MDGs have not achieved much concerning the development of Africa suggests the need for a radical departure in the crafting of new goals. There is need for the strengthening of African ideas, which will act as foundation for policy actions, social transformation, and – in the final analysis – some form of growth. Authentically African platforms and soft skills, processes and systems must be strengthened in order to improve the chances of Africans taking the lead in development efforts.

This paper first explores the foundations laid by the MDGs, then discusses the SDGs in its positive and negative aspects, to make finally clear why the emphasis has to lie on building indigenous capacities in Africa, based on knowledge created in Africa.

The MDGs and Dependency

According to performance indices the MDGs, which are nearly at the end of their period, have performed most poorly in sub-Saharan Africa. This result should not come as a surprise in view of the region’s equally poor performance in Official Development Assistance, after which the MDGs were fashioned. Indeed, the MDGs in Africa were built on sand, as it was made clear that their realization was going to be donor-dependent. The global or rather western economic crises collided with an aid fatigue to make the implementation of the goals impossible. But even in a hypothetical absence of the global economic crises, several doubts and questions persist regarding the MDGs: the question of the amount of money paid to the developed nations of today in order to bring them up to their present level. The answer in most cases is none. Dependency is not a pathway to advancement.

Innovation Picture

Innovation accounts for economic growth, much more than input of labor or capital. (Picture by Nesta Foundation UK)

Dependency stifles creativity and innovation. And it is these two which built and sustain the developed world – not aid. The pillars of the modern era were built and are maintained by citizens who constantly search for solutions to prevailing challenges of their time by using resources readily available to them. The MDGs, denied African countries that very basic and foundational human need to think, decide and act independently in order to generate societal and environmental advancement.

The fact that the task of shaping the MDGs and their financing was majorly borne by the developed nations, led to the inevitable outcome of leaving much of the successes of the MDGs to that part of the world. Ezeanya (2013) notes that
“the MDGs were established on presumptions of expertise of the intimate developmental complexities of developing countries on the part of developed countries; a we-know-what-you-need-and-how-you-need-it-fixed paradigm. The MDGs were founded on a disguised superiority complex that held citizens of developing countries as people unable to understand the intricacies of their own existence, and therefore incapable of formulating workable, homegrown solutions.”

In Search of a Post-2015 Development Agenda

The apparent shortcomings of the MDGs make it essential for governments interested in an effective and far-reaching post-2015 agenda for Africa to analyze the SDGs that have been submitted in September 2014 during the 69th United Nations General Assembly.The SDGs were declared a foundational document in further negotiations, alongside prior experiences, lessons learned from the MDGs and other documents and ideas from governments, and intergovernmental organizations.The aim of the SDGs is to integrate social, economic and environmental dimensions of development. The final post-2015 development agenda should be declared in September 2015.

Funding in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Post 2015 3

Colonial currency of East Africa

It is crucial to point out that the post-2015 agenda should not perpetuate the financial dependency which formed the basis of previous global development plans, including the MDGs. Regrettably, however, as utterances by key parties involved in framing the post-2015 framework show, money is again placed at the forefront of the post-2015 development agenda. Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, commented during the UN General Assembly Debate on the SDGs in 2014: “We must be ambitious when it comes to financing… especially towards least developed countries.”

Colonial currency of West Africa

Colonial currency of West Africa

In a report presented on October 17th, 2014, the expert committee which formulated the financing of the SDGs estimated that 66 billion USD were needed annually to eradicate poverty in all countries. According to the committee member Geir Pedersen (Permanent Representative of Norway in the UN) “what is important in the report, and also in the discussions and preparations for others is that –you know- we, Norway and other donors, we should stick by our promises on official development assistance and that’s important -particularly for the least developed countries that’s very important-, but if we are to be successful we need so much more.” These statements by key post-2015 players are disturbing for Africa in its role of receiving aid for decades without much improvement to show. But what could make the post-2015 goals really sustainable?

Africa’s Real Post-2015 Need

At the heart of strategies and plans for Africa in a post-2015 era must be the emphasis on strengthening independent and critical thinking among Africans. But how can Africans be enabled to generate ideas that are suitable to their locality while meeting globally acceptable standards? That would be the very definition of sustainable development. As stated elsewhere by the author, “the question of a 2015 agenda for Africa should be that of how and not what. The MDGs tried to address the question of what, that is, hunger, poor health, poverty, environmental degradation, etc. A post-MDGs agenda should focus on how to build Africans up in order for them to understand their unique challenges and address the same with indigenous resources and easily accessible homegrown tools .”

A sustainable and effective post-2015 development agenda for Africa has to have its emphasis on the capacity of Africans to identify, grow and strengthen their own systems and processes. Capacity building as a concept is not the mere transfer of Western knowledge to sub-Saharan Africa as appears to be predominantly interpreted by global institutions. Sustainable capacity building should strongly encourage Africans to search within their own knowledge systems for development ideas across key sectors.

Sustainable-Development-Goals-United-NationsFor sustainable development to occur, there is the need to focus on the promotion of quality education and on the enhancement of access to appropriate technology across the African continent. Technological processes should be simplified and diluted across rural communities where majority Africans are resident. Technology should also be homegrown and grassroots based in order to encourage creativity and innovation. Quality education, on its own part, is firstly about content. It consists of an indigenous knowledge-based curriculum that strongly takes cognizance of, and builds on local realities. Such form of education also entrenches creativity, innovation, values and a commitment to a national vision, which are all common aspirations of society.

The essential question to ask in framing the SDGs is; what do Africans need to know about themselves that they do not know, yet? In the fields of pharmacology, governance, agriculture, pedagogy, etc, this question is necessary because Africa has for the most part robbed itself and the world of the continent’s authentic ideas and practices. Strengthening Africa’s own knowledge systems will have a ripple effect on all sectors, one of which is the growth of local innovations.

Infrastructural Development Challenges

African developmentAttempts to place emphasis on infrastructural development as the pathway for Africa’s development are not at all misplaced, but must be approached with caution. Infrastructure can only be utilized, maintained and enhanced by capable hands. Capability means technical as well as social-psychological capability, self-assurance, strength of character, empathy and citizen commitment in men and women toward  positive and progressive ideals and values. In essence, while indeed there is the dire need for infrastructural development in Africa, there is even greater need for making Africans able to identify their own shortcomings and needs on the one hand, as well as their strengths, capabilities and resources on the other hand. With this ability, infrastructure could be developed locally and cheaply.


Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, told the UN General Assembly that “it will be crucial for us to identify means of implementation that correspond to the magnitude of the challenges we have committed to overcome .” For the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, member states must work tirelessly over the next 12 months to agree on “a truly transformative agenda” to improve the lives of all people. These statements establish the need for the identification of new and novel means for success after the expiration of the MDGs. A post-2015 development agenda for Africa needs to depart radically from the MDGs in order for success to be achieved. This can be accomplished in several ways. Part of it is a shift from the focus of financial obligations on the part of the developed countries to a focus on how Africans can be encouraged to strengthen their own systems and knowledge. Capacity building is the key, but only when it focuses on how Africa’s authentic knowledge systems can be endogenously developed through clearly defined quality education.

Permission was granted to Pan-African Voices for Justice and Liberation to publish the above article with some minor edits @


Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Essays


Sickle Cell Disease: Some Bitter Sweet Memories

19 June has been chosen to celebrate the Sickle Cell Day. Sickle Cell Disease affects many people in sub-Saharan Africa, but research into its management and cure is grossly underfunded.

World Sickle Cell Day


Lillian passed when I was 10 years old. She might have been a year or two older. It was my first year in secondary school and my first time of becoming acquainted with what ailed her. Days before she passed, Lillian came to school very early in the morning after being absent from classes for an extended period. She dropped her bag on her desk and walked towards mine.

“Chika, could you please massage my elbows?”

I set to work after Lillian showed me how she wanted it done; palm straightened out and rubbed up and down her upturned elbows.  As we talked, pupils shaped and colored like palm nut and swimming in yellow fluid looked on as my rough palms tried to carefully rub her delicate skin. When her elbows appeared to hurt much from the massage, Lillian’s yellow palms grabbed on to the desk. But she never asked that I take it easy. Her silence was that of someone used to pain, pain that made no sense, pain that must be endured, pain that meant being alive.  I was split between rubbing hard and not so hard, I wanted to rub hard, so hard as to rub away the pain and the disease from Lillian forever, but a look at her protruding spleen and belly, reminded me of the fragility of my patient.

A cane wielding teacher entered the classroom and asked why we were not lined up at the assembly ground with our mates.

“Lillian is not feeling too well and asked that I massage her elbows” I paused from my task to explain. The teacher’s eyes rested for one moment on Lillian’s sick little body – the cane, previously raised as he advanced towards us was brought down as he made a hasty exit.

I continued to massage Lillian and to keep her amused. Her perfect dentition would flash out in smiles, but mostly laughter, in response to my jokes.

That was the last interaction I remember having with Lillian. It was beautiful, she was frail but her spirit was very strong, almost as if death was not an option. Days later it was announced by the school authorities that Lillian had passed on from complications of sickle cell disease.

World Sickle Cell2


In June 2014, about three months before Chidi passed, she wrote an article to commemorate World Sickle Day. It was a deeply personal piece. She felt quite vulnerable about putting so much of herself out there and wrote me to inquire as to my thoughts before going to the press.It was during our university days that I got to know Chidi through my sister.  I called her to talk.

“I feel as if I have written everything there is to write about my condition and life as one suffering from sickle cell,” Chidi’s voice came to me. “I worry that I will have nothing to write during next year’s World Sickle Cell day.

I found myself telling her not to worry about that, that next year, what she will write will come to her, that the most important thing is that she has written what she feels she should write about.

“But I hope I have not shared too much,” she had asked.

“Do you feel as if you have shared too much?”  I inquired.

“Not really, but I am not really sure how it will come across”

I told her of my convictions that our often unfounded fear of others in Africa is a huge part of why we are not yet where we should be as a people. The truth sets free, I reminded my friend. “If you think what you have shared will help someone else live a better life and you feel you needed to share it, that is what matters most.”

With that conversation, Chidi gave me permission to send out her article to the news media. Her articles were published and got very good feedback from readers.

Chidi brought life all around her. The sincerity of Chidi’s spirit and her love for people consistently shone through her countenance. Despite her health condition, Chidi studied to become a medical personnel and practiced in one of Nigeria’s teaching hospitals, while also acting as the president of a chapter of Nigeria’s Sickle Cell Club of Nigeria.  Her last written piece is more of a testament to having lived a life filled with joy and love that arose from her faith in God, love from family and friends, but no doubt punctuated with pain and tears.

Sickle Cell End it now

Courtesy of The Heart of Gold Sickle Cell Foundation of Northern Va.


It has been less than a year since she passed and it still hurts so much to write about Nkechi. From being acquaintances, fate had us share the same room over a period of four months where her quiet self-assurance and confidence drew me to her. Nkechi’s belief that unconditional love and respect for self and others triumphed over every other material or emotional situation lay at the very core of her being. She hardly mentioned her ill-health and did not want to bear that as a label. I marveled privately as she explored life possibilities and options like every other healthy woman would.

Young at heart and in looks, it took me a long time to realize that Nkechi was not my age mate. She easily made friends across age, faith, ethnic and gender lines. A human being in Nkechi’s eyes is exactly that, a unique individual who should be seen as such, one person at a time. Her faith in a good and loving God in whose image and likeness she was created brought so much goodness out of her, such that her illness seemed irrelevant to the beauty and abundant possibilities life offered.

I really thought Nkechi had beat sickle cell disease. I looked forward to a lifetime of friendship, of growing old together, after all, had she not lived well above 35 years and was her crisis not much reduced in frequency.

About three weeks before her transition, I spoke with Nkechi on the phone. She was moving her clothing and fashion business to a new location, she told me excitedly. She only needed to follow up with the interior designer to get the place ready. I looked forward to the day I will be in Nigeria and travel to Abuja to see her new shop. I had smiled at the thought of what she did the last time I visited her business location. Without asking me, Nkechi had ordered banana and groundnuts and when the order arrived, she joked that there was no need to ask if I wanted my favorite snack. Did I devour that delicacy that day!

With a heart full of gratitude to the maker of mankind, I count myself extremely blessed to have encountered Lilian, Chidi and Nkechi in my lifetime, but how I wish they were all still here. I do not take my good health, or that of any other healthy human being for granted. I am also hopeful that a complete and available cure will soon be found for the sickle cell disease. But before then, let us keep creating awareness for intending couples to know their genotype prior to marriage. A wise decision can save everyone years of avoidable pains and tears.

Chika’s twitter handle is @chikaforafrica and you may follow her on facebook at

Except otherwise stated, all articles published on this website are the intellectual property of Chika Ezeanya and are protected under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. All republications must ensure that contents are not in any manner remodified without the express approval of Chika Ezeanya.



Posted by on June 17, 2016 in Essays