Some years ago a colleague of mine asked why, despite the fact that I blogged a lot about decolonisation, I did not write about decolonisation in my academic work. My real answer [of which I responded with an abridged version], was that I did not think that anyone in UK HE wanted to hear about decolonial thought. Taking my colleague’s advice, I decided to switch my academic focus round – write scholarly about decoloniality and blog about everything else… and decolonisation. Decolonising Education in Africa is the first piece of academic work where my scholarship on decolonisation intersects overtly with my scholarship on Africa. In this essay I reflect on where the field and myself have found ourselves, five years after I wrote it.
I have often suggested that depending on how you define ‘decolonisation’ and ‘radical’, my decolonial scholarship can be described as radical. It is rooted [radix] in my research and experiences of educational issues on the continent of Africa.
This post is both a summary and reflection on my article on decolonising education in Africa. Full Citation: Adebisi, F. I. (2016). Decolonising education in Africa: Implementing the right to education by re-appropriating culture and indigeneity. N. Ir. Legal Q., 67, 433.
Copies of the article can be found in the following places:
- Northern Ireland Law Quarterly
- University of Bristol Research Repository
Alternatively, contact me.
Summary of the Article
The article examines Africa’s education narrative and suggests a critical Freirian approach for decolonising education in Africa. In the article, I contend that undecolonised education – as illustrated by the state of education across many African states – results in epistemic violence/injustice and is thus pedagogically and ethically unsound. This violates the right to education. The argument I make therein is contextualised within a postcolonial and anticolonial deconstruction of ‘Africa.’ This notes that when we speak of Africa, we sometimes speak of Africa as a fetishized idea, and we sometimes speak synecdochisations, and we sometimes speak of the continent. To evaluate and assess the implementation of the right to education in Africa is to understand the various complexions within which the conversation is taking place. It is from this point that I apply Freire’s critical pedagogy to the implementation of the right to education across Africa. Noting, firstly, the limitations to researching the right to education in Africa, secondly, the history of education in Africa – indigenous, colonial, postcolonial reforms, thirdly the implication for ‘situationality’ in determining the purposes of education, and finally the roles of International Human Rights Law, subaltern studies, critical pedagogy in re-evaluating our approach to educational research in and of Africa.
Main Conclusions from the Article
Some of my key observations were: rights to education should be supplemented by rights in education – this means re-assessing the history of purposes of education. It is vital, when implementing rights of any kind on the African continent to note that it is almost impossible to do so effectively within an inherited colonial structure. Especially when the colonial structure was developed and imposed for the purpose of removing the rights which we are purporting to attempt to implement. These colonial structures include language-in-education policies which are incongruent with the right to education. Policies which arose out of a history which imposed European languages on colonial education structures as part of the architecture of colonisation. Subsequently, domestic policies that have tried to address this incongruence have had to happen within an international system which is run on colonial logics. Thus the international legal system, in particular, only allows for limited reform. Both Anghie and Darian-Smith explain how the international legal system has racial inferiority/superiority written into its code.
Essentially, people in Africa have inadequate knowledge of Africa, because the inherited colonial systems were not designed to enable them acquire such knowledge. And people who are outside Africa, who determine what amounts to good knowledge, know even less. Decolonial thought requires us to build global structures that allow all knowledges to equally complete our understanding of the world. At the moment, in the implementation of the right to education within International Human Rights Law, there is a lack of self-awareness and self-critique about the history of epistemicides and the coloniality of power. This critique of the implementation of the right to education serves as a two-fold illustration of its own inherent weaknesses. First, it lays bare the problems with human rights implementation. But these weaknesses also demonstrate the enfoldment of oppression within the tools of law and education which mean that they are unable to bring about the purposes of law and education. So what happens next?
The Future Implications of Decolonial Thought and Epistemic Freedom in Africa
I think the minute we begin to engage with decolonial thought in creating new African realities and futures, the idea that we can continue to rely on colonial borders, begins to crumble. And when we open the conversation that does away with the borders, then we begin to rethink the right to democracy. It is a domino effect. African realities are precarious. Rethinking African realities requires more concrete engagement within education systems with the contributions of African philosophies and African Indigenous knowledges. The foregoing also necessitates revaluating Africa’s relationship with her Diaspora – this requires more nuanced engagement with Pan-Africanism as well as acknowledging historical and contemporary wrongs. But most importantly, as Amilcar Cabral suggests, our conceptualisation and theorisation has to ultimately bring about material benefit for Africa’s people:
‘“Always remember that the people are not fighting for ideas, nor for what is in men’s minds. The people fight and accept the sacrifices demanded by the struggle in order to gain material advantages, to live better and in peace, to benefit from progress, and for the better future of their children. National liberation, the struggle against colonialism, the construction of peace, progress and independence are hollow words devoid of any significance unless they can be translated into a real improvement of living conditions.”’
So, What Then Does Decoloniality Mean for the UK?
(Universities in general and Law Schools in particular)
As I have continued to reflect on these decolonial ideas as I teach and research legal education within the context of the UK, my questions have become more immediate to the geographical space I find myself. A space that overlaps with my epistemological space as a child of empire – a child of the common law, the ‘colonial gift’ which keeps giving its gifts [wanted and unwanted, destructive and disastrous] across time and space.
The first question law’s schools need to address is who the law is made for. Who is law’s ideal person? What is it about the the nature of the law [especially across the common law world] that constantly others the majority of the world’s population? Why are the voices of the women, the people of colour, the differently abled, the economically disenfranchised, the non-heteronormative, the geopolitically sacrifice-zoned… the majority of the world… not the main concern of the law?
‘The legal person doesn’t fit. Meant to stand for all of us, but stands for none of us’ Anna Grear
The second question is the content of the law curriculum. Across the common law world, in India, the USA, Australia, Kenya, Nigeria, and the UK, the core curriculum is focused on the same things. We all learn and teach the same principles of contract, the reasonable man in tort, the same rules on ownership of property, the same ideas about corporate and separate legal personality… On a closer look, it is inescapable to notice that the major concern of the core canon of the law curriculum is needs of the powerful.
‘A lot of what happens is the inculcation through the formal curriculum and the classroom experience of a set of political attitudes toward the economy and society in general, toward law, and toward the possibilities of life in the profession… First, there are contracts, torts, property, criminal law and civil procedure. The rules in these courses are the ground-rules of late nineteenth century laissez-faire capitalism… law school teaching makes the choice of hierarchy and domination, which is implicit in the adoption of the rules of property, contract and tort, look as though it flows from legal reasoning, rather than from politics and economics. ‘ Duncan Kennedy
The discontinuation of the qualifying law degree just means that these pressure points are less likely to be pressed. This brings us to the key question legal academics need to address, if we really want to change the world, if we want to truly wish to give purpose to students who enter through our doors with hope for a better world in their eyes… What type of law do we want to have? Who and what is knowledge production and transmission in law serving? Who should it serve? Who do we want it to serve? What world do we want the law to produce beyond this necropolitical deathscape? Will our law, the law we teach, help to bring it about? Or will it hinder it? Will YOU bring visions of the new world to fulfilment? Or will you hinder them?
‘Modern science, together with modern law, thus became the main modern producer of absences, actively producing invisible, irrelevant, forgotten, nonexisting realities.’ Boaventura de Sousa Santos
‘Far from leading to democracy’s spread across the planet, the race for new lands opened onto a new law (nomos) of the Earth, the main characteristic of which was to establish war and race as history’s two privileged sacraments. The sacramentalization of war and race in the blast furnace of colonialism made it at once modernity’s antidote and poison, its twofold pharmakon.’ Achille Mbembe
‘To live an otherwise life, to assert an otherwise being, or to create an otherwise world is to invest in decolonization..’ Tiffany Lethabo King, Jenell Navarro, and Andrea Smith
So, I conclude here, with a return to the decolonial within law, the urgent and audacious hope that the death and destruction, oppression and dispossession that characterises our present epistemic world can be repudiated and reversed. A hope that another world is possible beyond this present darkness, a hope that there is a future ”world of freedom, real justice, balance, and shared abundance, a world woven in a new design.
Adebisi, Foluke Ifejola. “Decolonising education in Africa: Implementing the right to education by re-appropriating culture and indigeneity.” N. Ir. Legal Q. 67 (2016): 433.
Anghie, Antony. Imperialism, sovereignty and the making of international law. Vol. 37. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Anghie, Antony, ‘Towards a Postcolonial International Law’ in Singh, Prabhakar, and Benoît Mayer, eds. Critical International Law: Postrealism, Postcolonialism, and Transnationalism. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Cabral, Amilcar. Return to the Source. NYU Press, 1974.
Darian-Smith, Eve. “Postcolonial theories of law.” In Law and social theory. Hart Publishing, 2013.
de Sousa Santos, Boaventura. The end of the cognitive empire: The coming of age of epistemologies of the South. Duke University Press, 2018.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury publishing USA, 2018.
Kennedy, Duncan. Legal education and the reproduction of hierarchy: a polemic against the system. Vol. 56. NYU Press, 2007.
King, Tiffany Lethabo, Jenell Navarro, and Andrea Smith, eds. Otherwise Worlds: Against Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness. Duke University Press, 2020.
Mbembe, Achille. Necropolitics. Duke University Press, 2019.
Spivak, Chakravorty, Gayatri. Can the subaltern speak?”.” Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988) 271 (1999): 313.