Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue

Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue

Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue

Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue


Development failures, environmental degradation and social fragmentation can no longer be regarded as "side effects." They are the toxic consequences of pretensions that the modern Western view of knowledge is a universal neutral view, applicable to all people at all times. This work argues that the linear evolutionary paradigm of development emerging from the modern Western view of knowledge is a contemporary form of colonialism. The work proposes a pluralistic vision and a decolonization of knowledge: the replacement of one-way transfers of knowledge and technology by dialogue and mutual learning. It will be of interest to scholars of development studies, sociology, and anthropology.


Marja-Liisa Swantz and Aili Mari Tripp

Probably no other African nation has adopted so explicitly a people-first orientation as Tanzania. the ideological impetus for this thrust came from Julius Nyerere, who stepped down in 1985 from his 24-year tenure in the office of the presidency. the approach was evident in the country's ambitious public service programmes, especially in the areas of adult education and health care. in the 27 years after Independence, Tanzania raised life expectancy from age 42 to 51 and adult literacy from 10 to 79 per cent. in addition, about half the population had access to potable water (Helleiner, 1985: 21).

Tanzania's commitment to basic needs was coupled with a populist emphasis on mass participation in the development process. in the ruling Party's 1971 Mwongozo Guidelines the policy orientation was unambiguous: if development is to benefit the people, the people must participate in considering, planning, and implementing their development plans. the duty of our Party is not to urge the people to implement plans which have been decided upon by a few experts and leaders. the duty of our Party is to ensure that the leaders and experts implement the plans that have been agreed upon by the people themselves (Clause 28).

Nyerere expressed this even more forcefully in a 1968 speech:

We have to be a part of the society which we are changing; we have to work from within it, and not try to descend like ancient gods, do something and disappear again. a country, or a village, or a community, cannot be developed; it can only develop itself. For real development means the development, the growth, of people. Every country in Africa can show examples of modern facilities which have been provided for the people and which are rotting unused. We have schools, irrigation works, expensive markets, and so on. Things by which someone came and tried to 'bring development to the people'. If real development is to take place, the people have to be involved (1973: 25).

Local ten-house cells were to serve as mechanisms in mobilizing democratic grassroots participation in the political and development processes. These cells were the building-blocks of a hierarchical political structure that included branches, wards, districts, and regions.

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