Decolonisation: Admit weaknesses, forge home-grown solutions

With the current conditions of weakened institutions of care, research and higher education, Africa needs to ‘self-decolonise’ and mutually reinforce ‘egalitarian and inclusive’ partnership models for capacity-building that best fit the African context.

This is the main message that emerged from the study titled ‘The ‘decolonisation of global health’ agenda in Africa: Harnessing synergies with the continent’s strategic aspirations’ that was published in the European Journal of Public Health recently.

The study was authored by Aloysius Ssennyonjo, Phillip Wanduru and Peter Waiswa of the department of health policy, planning and management in the School of Public Health at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda; and Elizabeth Omoluabi of the department of statistics and population studies at the University of the Western Cape in Belville, South Africa.


Africa faces several development challenges, including unfavourable education outcomes, high donor dependence, and limited power in the global (health) arena which threaten progress towards the strategic aspirations espoused in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063, according to the study.

To successfully pursue the decolonisation agenda in tandem with Africa’s development aspirations, the study suggests self-decolonisation, paying attention to the African context, and treating Africa as a diverse entity with unique attributes and institutional set-ups.

“Many Africa-based development practitioners and researchers are arguably themselves ‘colonisers’ by conducting research that is not aligned with national and regional plans, never engaging with policymakers or building local capacity,” the researchers point out.

“There are often attempts to force what works in one context to fit in another – for example, simply transplanting best practices from one part of the world into the other without due attention to the contextual realities.”

Speaking to University World News, corresponding author Waiswa said: “Self-decolonisation is important, but a charitable approach where the coloniser leads, is not workable. Africa must lead by uniting to ensure a stronger negotiating position, and to self-decolonise.”

Waiswa said: “We need to ‘decolonise’ locally. Decolonising from within involves acknowledging local weaknesses and forging home-grown solutions to improve results. There is also a need for introspection and self-awareness of what makes Africa special and strong in the global agenda.”

Equal and inclusive partnerships

Waiswa added that, because institutions of care, research and higher education are weakened, mutually reinforcing partnership models should be developed to build capacity that best fits the African context with equity and fairness, impact and sustainability as the key principles for all partnerships.

The study indicates that, in shaping development partnerships and strategies in Africa, African leaders and experts must customise universal principles, international standards and strategies to regional and national contexts.

The researchers point out that there are several examples of collaboration that helped consolidate research and educational initiatives and networking among African institutions and those in the Global North.

These include the academic partnership between Swedish and Ugandan Universities through the Consortium of Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). These are excellent examples of doctoral training approaches. The Consortium for Health Policy and Systems Analysis in Africa (CHEPSAA) is a stellar health policy and system research example.

Desirable attributes

These consortia have common features that can form a set of desirable attributes to look for when designing similar initiatives. The features include regional representation across the African continent, secretariats that are housed in Africa, partnerships with institutions in the North, pooling funds from various sources, and addressing capacity and policy needs linked to regional, continental and international development agendas. The consortia are also Africa-led.

“In areas of development such as public health, ‘horizontal models’ of training and mentorship partnerships, such as training Africans within Africa, are more sustainable than inviting a few African researchers to Europe or America,” the study notes.

“Energy should go into building and strengthening regional training facilities and programmes customised to Africa and delivered by Africans with support from their peers from high-income countries.”

The North should collaborate with Africa in the decolonisation agenda by ensuring that external funding and technical assistance of Western partners are catalysed by African-based consortia and research institutions to enable customisation of the SDGs.

“There is also a need for candid engagements on how to open up the world to scientists from the developing world. For instance, there should be free movement for top scientists. Developed countries should also make it easier for young scientists to move to facilitate the exchange and cross-fertilisation of ideas, knowledge, and skills,” the researchers note.

Accountability important

Waiswa said: “The challenges that could face implementing the decolonisation of a global health agenda for sustainable development are an Africa that is diverse and not united; an Africa that is unstable and corrupt; an Africa that has poor leadership.”

He said the solution is political and the African Union should find solutions together with regional governments. “Most critically, it will take a public or an electorate that can demand accountability,” Waiswa said.

“The challenges also include failure to reform and invest in higher education and research to make it transformative,” Waiswa added. “A potential solution is partnerships that work to make the case for the return on investment in higher education and research but also work on developing new higher education and research priorities and approaches.”

These should link strongly with a strengthened private sector, Waiswa added.

HE a key investment priority

Waiswa said that African higher education needs to be a key priority for investment and must be redesigned to ensure that training and research are focused on local solutions in Africa. Higher education policymakers in Africa, therefore, must adopt a transformative education and research approach.

“Africa needs to invest in its huge population of young people so that they become its human capital. Starting now, in early childhood, Africa could be transformed in the next two decades.”