Indigenous Knowledge Discourses in Africa: At the Intersection of Culture, Politics, and Information Science

Indigenous Knowledge Discourses in Africa: At the Intersection of Culture, Politics, and Information Science

Mehluli Masuku (National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0838-0.ch007


Since around the 1980s, the aspect of indigenous knowledge (IK) has attracted the attention of a number of experts, including culturists, politicians and information scientists. This has seen the mushrooming of literature on the subject matter from the afore-mentioned practitioners and specialists, with each discipline witnessing a certain “discourse”. This has also witnessed almost everyone in these disciplines glorifying African IK. Against this background, this chapter discusses the IK discourses in Africa, highlighting some of the significant trends and relationships among practitioners and scholars in the fields of culture, politics and information science that are driven by shared philosophies of IK. This paper is theoretical in nature and draws from the literature on IK to explain and demonstrate what the author calls the “IK discourses and “IK frenzy”, and explains the point of intersection by culturists, politicians and information science practitioners.
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Since around the 1980s, the aspect of indigenous knowledge (IK) has attracted the attention of information scientists, cultural experts as well as politicians among others. Indeed, as Mapira and Mazambara (2013, p.90) explained, the post-colonial era has witnessed a growing interest in the restoration of what they call “lost or dying IKS in Africa.” To cite the World Bank (2002, p. 1), “indigenous knowledge now appears to be a hot topic” In fact, IK, because of its ability to cut across disciplines, has been described by Ngulube and Onyancha (2011, p. 130) as being “cross-disciplinary, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary.” Thus, it depicts some kind of “a holistic way of life that may not be compartmentalised into one or two disciplines.” (Ngulube and Onyancha, 2011, p. 130). This has seen the mushrooming of literature, on the subject matter in Africa, from the afore-mentioned disciplines and others, with each discipline witnessing a specific “discourse”. Thus, there has been an emerging bias towards this IK in Africa, with almost some kind of a consensus on the presumed importance of this knowledge. To cite Viriri (2009):

A number of African countries that view indigenous knowledge as valuable for new biological and ecological insights, natural resource management, conservation education, protected areas, and environment assessment have made tremendous inroads in economic reforms, improving macro-economic management, liberalising markets and trade, and widening the space for private sector activity. (pp. 132-133)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Indigenous Knowledge Discourses: A kind of a general trend and philosophies and beliefs on indigenous knowledge.

Neo-Colonialism: A system in which the former colonial masters of a nation continue to dominate their colonial countries such countries despite them being independent. It includes remains of colonialism that exists in different ways, including the use of colonial languages, marginalisation of cultures of indigenous people and other economic and political means of domination of such indigenous people by their former colonial masters.

Discourse: The writings and views about an issue or subject that eventually become accepted as a current and correct understanding of such an issue. A discourse tends to be a certain trend that emerges as a currently accepted conceptualisation of a certain idea or subject matter. A discourse is not static; it changes over time.

Information Science: A combination of a number of professions that are into information collection, management, analysis, preservation and dissemination. It includes professionals such as archivists, records managers, librarians, publishers, knowledge managers and journalists.

Eurocentric: With bias and origins from Europe.

Culture: A general, but elusive way of living that a community mutually establishes that is usually associated with being, but not necessarily traditional. Culture tends to be generally accepted and upheld as the norm by community members and the behaviour of community members is governed by such a culture.

Common Discourse: The general cause and direction that emerges when two or more disciplines share the same philosophies, views and beliefs.

IK Frenzy: A kind of agitation or excitement and pre-occupation with indigenous knowledge that is displayed by various scholars and researchers in different disciplines.

Education System: A combination of both a set of interrelated activities, practices, norms and beliefs and a body of knowledge, including ways of conceptualisations, sharing, expanding, proving, accepting and disapproving certain claims and beliefs in a specific community. Education is considered to mean the way in which a community generates, acquires, imparts, shares and validates its knowledge.

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