Did Colonialism Distort Our Knowledge Production Modes?

In considering the possible impact of colonialism on Nigeria’s development trajectory, I thought I would explore the notion of knowledge production modes.

Sociologists define knowledge production modes as the ways knowledge is produced through material structure and social interactions. Accordingly, different societies have their own processes for developing skills and technology, learning and teaching, governing, agriculture, rearing animals, building shelters, entertaining, resolving disputes, worshipping, parenting, and performing other activities.

This essay will briefly examine the modes of knowledge production relating to skills and technology to assess how it may have been distorted and make suggestions regarding its restoration.

Colonialism has been blamed by many scholars as to the main reason for Africa’s demise, though some contend that without colonialism, Africa could possibly have remained in the dark ages.

Conversely, there are those who argue that colonialism didn’t go far enough to truly transform countries like Nigeria. At face value, this last point may strike the reader as absurd, ludicrous even.

However, when peeled back in the context of knowledge production modes, we start to uncover some possible truths beneath.

Before taking the statements in the above paragraph any further, let us consider some of the possible processes and contextual issues that could possibly fall under the knowledge production modes of the African people now known as Nigerians.

Additionally, let us also consider the probable impact of colonialism on these different factors.

According to Toyin Falola and Matthew Heaton’s (2008) book titled, “A History of Nigeria,” the societies in this region were previously hunter-gatherers who subsequently began agriculture in the second century BCE by growing crops like rice and millet in the north and yam and palm oil products in the forest and middle belt regions.

Also, according to Michael Crowder (1978) in his book, The Story of Nigeria, some anthropologists claim that cotton may have been first cultivated in Nigeria and the West African region in 5000 BCE.

Additionally, there is archaeological evidence of iron-smelting activities and local knowledge of iron production in many parts of Nigeria between 900 BCE and 200 CE, as well as evidence showing the existence of weaving, pottery, leather goods, and wood carvings, which were traded between communities.

These are just a few examples of how indigenous knowledge production modes required some level of skill in the manufacturing and production of farming tools, weapons, utensils, fabrics, jewelry, and ornaments.

Falola and Heaton (2008) argued that the existence of iron smelting was an indication of the changing political economies as these required specialized skilled labor. Consequently, blacksmiths and metalworkers became very important members of early Nigerian societies.

They formed guilds to protect the quality of their products and the knowledge they created; they became linked to the political hierarchy and to the everyday needs of society. Metalworkers were therefore considered high-ranking people, above farmers, hunters, woodcarvers, and medicine men because they manufactured tools that other groups needed and used.

This suggests that there was some level of manufacturing taking place in the region, albeit unsophisticated, and it was also recognized as important to the functioning of society.

Revisiting the comment about colonialism not going far enough to transform Nigeria, the argument is that if it had gone far enough, it would have been expected that the knowledge production modes of the colonial masters would have been completely adopted by the colonized country.

For instance, the English language, which is generally spoken (mostly the pidgin version) across Nigeria, could be said to show some adoption of the British knowledge production mode for communication.

However, what about technology? Some argue that the introduction of colonial education may have meant that Nigerians were no longer able to follow their own paths of learning, innovation, technology development, and knowledge transfer on their own terms, albeit at a slower pace.

Instead, there are those who have postulated that the design of colonial education was more focused on training the early colonized Nigerians to become clerks, interpreters, produce inspectors, artisans, etc. because the colonial masters needed these skills for the exploitation of the rich resources.

Thus, rather than equipping Nigerians with technological expertise to produce for Nigeria’s industry, they employed farmers and miners to produce raw materials that were exported for use in Britain and clerical staff to work alongside the colonial masters.

Evidently, there was little interest by the British to enable the development of technology and manufacturing in Nigeria, and as such, at independence in 1960, Nigeria was reported to have had a paltry 389 industrial establishments, producing soap, cement, tobacco, textiles, and brewing.

Essentially, continuing to manufacture what they were already producing for a population of 50 million. The low level of technological advancement at independence seems to suggest that colonization was done not to transform countries like Nigeria but for the extraction of resources.

This apparent half-hearted mode of colonialization supports the argument that it may not have been far-reaching.

Consequently, African countries became and have remained cheap sources of raw materials to feed the advanced countries’ industries and citizens whilst being the biggest market for finished manufactured goods.

Although this was a short paper on this vast subject, I hope it has provided a different pair of lenses for readers to begin to question and explore our lost knowledge production modes in other areas such as governance, education, et cetera, as well as to ask how they can be restored and utilized to enable our development.

A food for thought-what would have been the developmental outcomes if subjects like sciences and mathematics were taught in native languages, just like religion was with translated Holy Books? After all, European and Asian countries teach these subjects in their own languages.

Another question for consideration: would teaching history in Nigerian schools help future generations understand their collective past to build a more robust future? This last point is a low-hanging fruit that is worth implementing because a person without a view of their past will most certainly have no clarity regarding their future!

On a final note, it would be great to get comments from readers on their thoughts regarding the notion of knowledge production modes raised in this paper, other possible examples of techniques, technologies, industries, ways of life, etc., and possible ways of restoring them to enable our development.

The Alvin Report


Nonny Ugboma

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