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Decolonizing African Scholarship

Although deeper scholarly interest in the continent of Africa is long overdue, the current methodological approach to the continent needs an overhaul. By treating colonial-era borders as accurate representations of coherent societies and cultures, too many researchers are producing findings with little real-world relevance.

EDINBURGH – Commentaries and academic research on individual African countries present a decidedly mixed picture. Yet, whether their conclusions are bright or bleak, they tend to share the same ahistorical approach.

Contemporary Africa is largely a product of colonialism, and whatever one’s focus – economics or politics, religion or geography – one will find its imprints. A clear example is the practice of democracy in Africa. For all its promise, democratic governance has struggled to deliver in most African countries.

One reason is that democracy is rooted in principles (freedom, individualism, solidarity, equality) that can mean different things in different contexts. Embedded preferences, values, and beliefs tend to inform the practices and policies through which democracy itself is enacted. Hence, as an embodied set of practices and policies, democracy can be likened to a technology.

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