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Science - Education | Economy - Development | Society

Religious knowledge set found to check Africa's development

afrol News, 25 January - A "religious, medieval knowledge" set is said to be "capturing, confining the minds and hindering development" of up to a quarter of all Africans according to a new study by scientists at the Economic Commission for Africa. Sustainable development in Africa could only be achieved by a forceful narrowing of the growing knowledge divide, the study found.

This is one of the conclusions in a draft working paper by Jacques Hamel, a scientific affairs officer at the Addis Ababa-based UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Mr Hamel told afrol News that African nations may turn out to be losers of the global knowledge race "in the absence of adequate knowledge and governance strategies."

A large part of all Africans live by antiquated knowledge sets, the study points out. In Africa, "modern knowledge remains well below world standards but is improving," Mr Hamel writes. "It emerges mainly from the release of the power of questioning against traditional forms of thought, which must be encouraged," he adds.

An "inefficient pre-modern knowledge edifice," prevalent throughout Africa, needed to be reformed "into an efficient one," the scientific affairs officer urges. Governments needed to face the challenge of creating innovative and competitive knowledge societies in Africa.

On the one hand, ancient and indigenous knowledge was still sustaining the subsistence of up to a quarter of Africans and is "geared more toward the past than the future," Mr Hamel writes. "It is effective for reproducing and enhancing 'stationary' societies but not sufficient for profound structural transformation and development," he adds. Further, some pre-modern knowledge sets may "constitute irrelevant relics of long-gone societies and may be holding back development."

On the other hand, "religious medieval knowledge" was found to be "capturing, confining the minds and hindering development of up to another quarter of Africans." This knowledge was providing "sound ethical bases for sustainable development but also engenders insidious obstacles to knowledge advancement."

Evangelical and Koranic knowledge was said to be "amongst the most powerful 'soft' knowledge ever fashioned by humans but it lacks a set of critical values for knowledge-based sustainable development, such as democratic governance, fundamental freedoms, gender equality, a concern for nature and for the future and a focus on life before death - all necessary conditions of knowledge-enhanced sustainable development."

This religiously-based knowledge, Mr Hamel writes, "under certain conditions, constitutes virtual owners' manual for one's life, especially for Africans-of-one-book, dwarfing development knowledge promoted by development organisations."

The Addis Ababa-based scientist cites several examples from the African press to demonstrate his point: A group of Imams in northern Nigeria obstinately defends the idea that God commands all African men to grow beards in a certain shape and a certain length. A young Mauritanian girl agrees with genital mutilation and veiling "because God wants me to". A preacher in Sudan explains the particular way God wants wives to be beaten by their husbands.

This was said to be the kind of "sterile knowledge bases that pervades and keeps big chunks of African Knowledge Societies from developing." There was a need to introduce development efforts aimed at deliberately "deleting, subtracting, abandoning or transforming obsolete or non-development knowledge," Mr Hamel urges.

The study concludes that "half of knowledge-deprived Africans are denied any meaningful development largely because of their non-performing or inefficient knowledge bases." Mr Hamel sums up that there is an urgent need for "appropriate, powerful, better, superior, potent or efficient knowledge or the need for stronger knowledge platforms for knowledge-enabled sustainable development."

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