Indigenous knowledge institute aspires to global mandate

An application to have the multi-country African Institute of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (AIIKS) recognised as a strategic partner of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is currently under way.

The institute, geared towards the promotion of indigenous knowledge systems research and scholarship on a continental level, came into effect earlier this year when an agreement to establish the institute was signed at a virtual ceremony hosted by South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) at the end of January.

The institute is a partnership of 19 higher education and autonomous research institutions with a common interest in the advancement of African indigenous knowledge.

It is a virtual institute based on a hub and nodes model with UKZN serving as a hub for the institute through the Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS), a partnership with North-West University, the Universities of Limpopo and Venda and the University of South Africa.

Nodes are located in anglophone, francophone and lusophone countries and, in addition to South Africa and Rwanda, they include research institutes and universities in Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Senegal, Zambia, Kenya and Mozambique.

In Rwanda, there are three nodes, all based at the University of Rwanda: the Centre of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management, the Centre for Conflict Management and the Huye Biotechnology Laboratory.

Global mandate

According to Professor Nelson Ijumba, coordinator of the project and former vice-chancellor of academics and research at the University of Rwanda (UR), the UNESCO accreditation will “enhance the status of the institute by giving it a global mandate”.

Ijumba said the application to UNESCO is being endorsed by the South African government and supported by the government of Tanzania. “We are expecting to submit the application to UNESCO in the next two weeks,” he told University World News via phone from South Africa this week.

According to Ijumba, who is also an honorary professor in electrical engineering at UKZN, the AIIKS seeks to advance African indigenous knowledge, and promote its contribution globally.

“The vision of the institute is to be an African indigenous knowledge hub for the advancement of African scholarship and restoration of African dignity. Its mission is to promote and support the contribution of African indigenous knowledge systems to the global pool of knowledge,” Ijumba said.

Home-grown solutions

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown that Western knowledge systems do not necessarily have all the solutions to global challenges. In a number of African countries, communities have managed to apply home-grown solutions to successfully deal with some aspects of the pandemic,” Ijumba said.

Among other focus areas, the institute will promote the history of African indigenous science, technology and innovation, embedded in African indigenous languages and home-grown philosophies for Africa in line with the African Union Agenda 2063.

“This will enable African indigenous science, technology, innovation, social, political and economic thought to contribute to the global pool of knowledge on Africa’s own terms in the search for sustainable solutions to global challenges,” Ijumba said.

For example, the pool of bio-resources and knowledge possessed by African indigenous knowledge holders and practitioners could enable African indigenous communities to participate in the global bio-economy, thereby achieving empowerment and securing sustainable livelihoods, he said.

AIIKS is building a critical mass of AIKS human capital, which is multi- and trans-disciplinary and conversant with AIKS worldviews, ways of knowing, value systems and research methodologies, to drive research, innovation and knowledge creation in strategic areas of Africa’s sustainable development.

Postgraduate training

To this end, the AIIKS is establishing national, regional and continental postgraduate training and support programmes. Students will be drawn from AIIKS nodes and partners.

Participating research centres include the Institute of Traditional Medicine and the National Institute for Medical Research in Tanzania, the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique Appliquée in Senegal, the Pharm-Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine Centre in Uganda, the African Leadership and Management Academy in Zimbabwe, the Multidisciplinary Research Centre in Namibia and the Dag Hammarskjold Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in Zambia.

Participating universities include Kisii University in Kenya, Copperbelt University in Zambia, the University of Zambia, the University of Namibia, the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe, Makerere University and Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda, Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Cote d’Ivoire, the University of Rwanda, Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania, the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and UKZN.