Tradition as a Modern Strategy: Indigenous Knowledge, Local Governance and National Development in Nigeria

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The economic crisis and policy failures of the 1980s and ‘90s have discredited the African state system, and exposed flaws in the Western ‘external agency’ model of development imposed from the top. Because of growing concern about widespread poverty, inequality and environmental deterioration, there is renewed interest in an alternative approach to development which emphasizes the cultural dimension of development, and the often overlooked potential of indigenous knowledge as “the single largest knowledge resource not yet mobilized in the development enterprise”. This paper considers how indigenous knowledge and practice can be put to good use in support of local governance and development in Nigeria; how development policies and programmes can be made to reflect local priorities, and build upon and strengthen local knowledge, capacity and organization, especially in the vital areas of agriculture and health care, education and natural resource management, law review, conflict resolution, and poverty alleviation. Indigenous knowledge goes beyond the mere indigenization of the personnel that operate the modern institutions of governance, industry and education inherited from the colonial period. The more fundamental philosophical and epistemological dimensions of indigenization that would explore, strengthen, modify and apply local knowledge have not received the attention they deserve. The World Bank has recently published an impressive collection of essays aptly titled Indigenous Knowledge: Local Pathways to Global Development. It is in that sense that this paper sees indigenous knowledge as a model for rethinking and redirecting the development process, and as a way to involve, enable and empower local actors to take part in their own development. The paper concludes with some general reflections on the indigenous knowledge movement as an appropriate local response to globalization and Western knowledge dominance, and as a way to promote inter-cultural dialogue on African development. To be inclusive and really helpful globalization should provide a new context and opportunity for inter-cultural dialogue based on the recognition that cultural diversity and the diversity of knowledge systems can be both creative and enriching.


Keywords: Indigenolus Knowledge, Globalization, Inter-Culrutral Dialogue, Governance, African Development
Stream: Identity and Belonging; the Politics of Diversity; Globalisation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Prof. Geoffrey Nwaka

Professor of History, Abia State University
Department of History, Abia State University

Uturu, Abia State, Nigeria

Geoffrey I. Nwaka, MA (Birmingham), PhD (Dalhousie), Nigerian, Professor of History and former Dean of Postgraduate Studies at Abia State University, Uturu, Nigeria. Several years of teaching and research in the Nigerian university system, and varied international experience as researcher/visiting scholar in Europe, Australia and North America. Research interests in historical and contemporary urban issues, environmental protection, and African development. Author of a substantial body of publications. Served in government during 1990/91 as Special Adviser to the Governor of Imo State; was featured in Marguis International Who’s Who in the World, 1999.

Ref: D08P0204