Why Africa must become a center of knowledge again

Editor’s Note: Nambia, a non-existent African country, referred to by President Donald Trump during a meeting with African Heads of State on the fringes of the UN General Assembly on Thursday 21st September 2017. It was yet another example of the ignorance the Earth’s most abused continent still has to deal with in the 21st Century.

Those of us who have worked for many decades know that while Africa faces many challenges, it is also a continent that has so much untapped and unrealised potential. Yes, corruption, intolerance, ignorance and injustice are a scourge in many African countries, as they are elsewhere in the world. But we have also discovered a vibrant, honest, diverse, friendly, hospitable, generous, talented and intelligent people who, when given a chance, excel.

In this fascinating TedTalk, the African historian and philosopher, Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, draws on a rich cultural and personal history as well as an expansive education which includes studies in the philosophy of law, social and political philosophy, Marxism, and African and Africana philosophy.

Táíwò asks challenging questions including issues pertaining to water and food shortages. How, he asks, can Africa, the home to some of the largest bodies of water in the world, be said to have a water crisis? It doesn’t, he argues, — it has a knowledge crisis. According to Táíwò, a lack of knowledge on important topics like water and food is what stands between Africa’s current state and future prosperity.

In this powerful talk, Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò calls for Africa to make the production of knowledge within the continent rewarding and reclaim its position as a locus of learning on behalf of humanity.

Below is an extract from Táíwò’s TedTalk, followed by a link to his lecture:

“The biggest crisis in Africa today is the crisis of knowledge: how to produce it, how to manage it, and how to deploy it effectively. For instance, Africa does not have a water crisis. It has a knowledge crisis regarding its water, where and what types it is, how it can be tapped and made available where and when needed to all and sundry. How does a continent that is home to some of the largest bodies of water in the world — the Nile, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi and the Orange Rivers — be said to have a water crisis, including in countries where those rivers are? And that is only surface water.

“While we wrongly dissipate our energies fighting the wrong crises, all those who invest in knowledge about us are busy figuring out how to pipe water from Libya’s aquifers to quench Europe’s thirst. Such is our knowledge of our water resources that many of our countries have given up on making potable water a routine presence in the lives of Africans, rich or poor, high and low, rural and urban. We eagerly accept what the merchants of misery and the global African Studies safari professoriat and their aid-addled, autonomy-fearing African minions in government, universities and civil society tell us regarding how nature has been to stinting towards Africa when it comes to the distribution of water resources in the world. We are content to run our cities and rural dwellings alike on boreholes. How does one run metropolises on boreholes and wells?

“Does Africa have a food crisis? Again, the answer is no. It is yet another knowledge crisis regarding Africa’s agricultural resources, what and where they are, and how they can be best managed to make Africans live more lives that are worth living. Otherwise, how does one explain the fact that geography puts the source of the River Nile in Ethiopia, and its people cannot have water for their lives? And the same geography puts California in the desert, but it is a breadbasket.”

This talk was presented at an official TED conference.


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