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African alternatives to development: Ubuntu and the post-development debate Presentation at the Alternatives to Development Workshop, Kassel, 1-2 Oct 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "African alternatives to development: Ubuntu and the post-development debate Presentation at the Alternatives to Development Workshop, Kassel, 1-2 Oct 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 African alternatives to development: Ubuntu and the post-development debate Presentation at the Alternatives to Development Workshop, Kassel, 1-2 Oct 2014

2 Post-development theory’s emphasis on alternatives to development A key difference between post-development theory and other alternative approaches to development is that post-development theory insists that we need to reject the whole idea of development and propose ‘alternatives to development’ rather than a new form of development.

3 What is ubuntu? Usually described as a form of African humanism. Related to the saying ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ (a person is a person through other people’. Mogobe Ramose: ‘[Ubuntu can] be construed to mean that to be a human be-ing is to affirm one’s humanity by recognising the humanity of others and, on that basis, establishing human relations with them’. Drucilla Cornell: Ubuntu is ‘the African principle of transcendence through which an individual is pulled out of himself or herself back toward the ancestors and forward toward the community and toward the potential each one of us has’. Desmond Tutu: Ubuntu recognises that ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours’. Emphasis on treating people humanely, on interconnectedness, on belonging.

4 Ubuntu and post-development theory They seem to fit together: Advocates of ubuntu and PD both have a critical orientation towards Western ways of life and Western philosophy; Both PD and ubuntu entail a project of retrieving and validating marginalised ideas and practices coming from outside the West. Both have a respectful orientation towards so-called ‘traditional’ ways of life. Some ubuntu scholars talk about their interest in ubuntu in a way that reminds me of PD. Ubuntu is already being used to articulate African alternatives in fields other than development.

5 Some hesitations Ubuntu could be described as a ‘narrative of return’. It is seen by some as an authentically African approach which falls outside Western discourses and can be revived and contrasted with Western discourses. Ubuntu as a ‘glocal’ concept. ‘global discourses … give a particular expression to the meaning of local traditions such as ubuntu, but in a way that also allows the resulting ubuntu to feed back into the global discourse as a locally based critique and expansion of those very discourses’ (Leonhard Praeg). Engaging with or escaping ‘the colonial library’ (Mudimbe) Ubuntu’s hybridity does not mean it cannot be transformative or challenge Western discourses. Ubuntu’s hybridity needs to be recognised otherwise we risk validating it purely because of its perceived indigeneity – risk of deciding on validity of something purely based on whether or not it is ‘African’/indigenous.

6 These hesitations also apply to the idea of ‘alternatives to development’ Sachs: we need to ‘clear out of the way this self-defeating development discourse’. Latouche: ‘The opposition between “alternative development” and alternative to development is radical, irreconcilable and one of essence’. BUT is it possible to sweep development away and propose something entirely other and new? Praeg: ‘what is new can never simply arrive in all its newness; … in order for the new to arrive, the new … needs to engage the old, even repeat the old, in a manner that cannot but violate, by contradicting, the new that is being announced’.

7 Where does this leave us? Appeal of PD and ubuntu lies in its anti-colonial and decolonsing content – we want to oppose and escape from the damaging discourses of colonialism. But we have to engage these discourses from where we are – ‘we [Africans] have always been consigned to responding from the place where we ought not to have been standing’ (Quayson) Can our anti-colonial, anti-development discourses be both a product of and a critical challenge to Western modernity?

8 James Ferguson’s shifts The Anti-politics machine considered a PD text.


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