A new phase in the development of the global decolonial movement

Sandew Hira, 1-6-2023


From May 1 till May 26 I visited nine universities in South Africa and Zambia in my capacity as secretary of the DIN Foundation and as author of the book Decolonizing The Mind. The trip taught me a lot about where we are in the global decolonial movement right now and where we should be heading.

Here is an overview of the trip.

  1. South Africa – University of Cape Town (UCT)

I began on May 2 in Cape Town with a lecture on How mathematics and the hard sciences were colonized and how to decolonize them. Frank Kronenberg and Dr. Tiri Chinyoka were the organizers of the event.

  1. South Africa – University of Western Cape (UWC)

Bassey Antia, an applied linguist from UWC, contacted me after a Zoom lecture that I gave at the Pennsylvania State University which he attended. He wanted to work with my in applying the DTM theoretical framework to the field of applied linguistics. On May 2 and 3 he organized a mini-conference with four of his PhD students from Ghana and Cameroon on this topics. On May 4 he organized a public lecture at UWC.

  1. South Africa – University of Pretoria

On May 8 I gave a book presentation at the University of Pretoria. This was organized by Adekeye Adebayo. He is a prolific writer and an expert on international affairs.

  1. South Africa – UNISA in Pretoria

On May 9 I spoke at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Johannesburg. Professor Grace Khunou and her team has been so kind to host me at UNISA. Nokuthula Hlabangane has been instrumental in linking me to Grace. UNISA was the center for the decolonial movement in South Africa.

  1. Zambia – Kwame Nkrumah University in Kabwe

On May 10 I flew to Zambia where I had dinner with Jive Lubbungu in Kabwe, 140 km from Lusaka. Jive has been preparing the ground for a cooperation between DIN and the Kwame Nkrumah university through an MOU. On May 11 I visited the VC, the deputy VC and the dean. Jive also organized a meeting with staff members for an introductory presentation on DTM. They are the people who are going to work with the DTM Center of Excellence.

  1. Zambia – University of Zambia in Lusaka

On May 11 I had dinner with Yvonne Kabombwe and Ferdinand Chipindi in Lusaka. For many months Yvonne Kabombwe and Ferdinand Chipindi have been preparing the ground for a Memorandum of Understanding between DIN and the University of Zambia in Lusaka. The MOU entails the establishment of a DTM center of Excellence (Chipindi came up with the term).

On May 12 I gave a public lecture at the University of Zambia in Lusaka. After that I had a lunch meeting with the board of the Education Research Association of Zambia (ERAZ) headed by Sitwe Benson. This was a very important meeting. ERAZ is an organization of about 100 members (researchers) at different universities of Zambia. It is a national network.

  1. South Africa – University of Kwazulu Natal in Durban

On May 16 I spoke at the University of Kwazulu Natal in Durban about decolonizing mathematics and the hard sciences. After the lecture the organizer invited me to talk to 10 members of the staff about what it means to decolonize the hard sciences and how they could get involved.

  1. South Africa – University of the Free State Bloemfontein

On May 22 The Centre for Gender and Africa Studies (CGAS), The International Office, and the University of the Free State Library of UFS organized the presentation of my book. Two days later I attended the Africa Day Memorial Lecture by Prof. M. Thabane. Africa Day is a huge event at UFS.

On May 26 I participated as a speaker in the 2023 UFS Africa Month Dialogue. Munyaradzi Mushonga was the host and MC. The theme of the Dialogue is Promoting and appreciating knowledge in and from Africa. I spoke on the topic “The importance of being creators and co-creators of knowledge (in and from Africa”). Prof. Francis Peterson, the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of UFS, participated in the Dialogue.

  1. South Africa – Central University of Technology Bloemfontein

On May 25 I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Africa Day organized by the Central University of Technology. In South Africa the foundation of the African Union is celebrated as the Africa Day. Apparently it is a huge event in many universities. The communication was done by Sekoele Ramajoe, coordinator of international affairs at Home Projects. I asked for a lunch meeting on May 24 with his colleagues. Leolyn Jackson, a Senior Lecturer, Head of Student Enrolment, Director of the Southern African-Nordic Centre (SANORD) and Director of the International Relations Office is a key figure at CUT. He is keen on working with us.

The lessons

The central question that came up time and again is: what is decolonial theory about and what is its practical relevance? What does it mean to decolonize the university, and for that matter, the society and the world?

In my interaction with many people in Africa I argued that we need to move from the current stage of general decolonial critique of Eurocentrism to specific critique and alternatives per discipline. Moving from general critique to specific critique per discipline makes it easier to make the transition from theory to practice. If you decolonize economic theory, you are forced to also decolonize economic policy.

This transition requires a different type of decolonial thinkers and activists. We need more experts from the different disciplines involved in order to produce the critique and alternative per discipline.

It is not an easy transition. Take the question of decolonial economic theory and policy. The European Enlightenment has produced two economic schools: Liberalism that argues for an economic system based on private property and markets and Marxism that fights for an planned economy and the abolition of private property and markets. The first system is called capitalism and the second socialism. Many decolonial activists are against capitalism. Does that mean that they are for socialism? What is so decolonial about socialism? If the only categories you know is capitalism and socialism, then decolonial theory ends up being part of Marxism with is appeal for socialism. But we already have decades of experience with planned economy, and the results are questionable.

I argue that there are other economic systems possible besides capitalism and socialism. Islam and Buddhism, but also Chinese philosophy have produced systems that are more successful and appeal more to social justice than capitalism and socialism. Decolonial economic theory looks beyond the dichotomy that the European Enlightenment has produced in order to find solutions to practical economic problems of today.

In a similar way I focused in my lectures and discussion on decolonizing the hard sciences, because often people think that this is not possible: mathematics, physics, biology. With common sense one can understand that this is possible, as I explain in my book.

If the decolonial movement does not make this transition, it will become a relic of the past, a fashion that come and goes like all fashions.

The organizational problem

Africa also taught me about an organizational model that might work for the decolonial movement in academia. We have to experiment with that model. Dr. Ferdinand Chipindi from the University of Zambia came up with the idea of a DTM Center of Excellence. It focuses on Decolonizing The Mind but in such a way that it contribute to the improvement of excellence. Such a center is based on concrete projects.

Some ideas about projects that were discussed are:

  1. A new system of performance assessment for higher education that includes monitoring the extent to which a university is decolonized and a new measurement of excellence in higher education.
  2. A decolonial math book for primary and secondary education.
  3. The decolonial history app.
  4. A research database on reparations that documents activities on reparations across the globe in different languages.
  5. A database of measures of economic boycotts and how to avoid the effects.
  6. Reconstructing the discipline of law.

The projects should be carried out by students and staff in a certain discipline. And they should engage in working together with other centers and people from other universities. There are many problems that need to be tackled, not in the least the problem of funding. But there are many ideas about how to get these projects going.

In that process we will find and experiment with solutions so we can see what works and what does not work.

The way forward

After my return from Africa I immediately got involved in a Zoom panel on Eurocentrism, organised by the Pakistan Institute for Development Economics (PIDE), a university in Pakistan that focuses on economic theory and policy. Prof. Asad Zaman introduced me to PIDE. He studied mathematics at the MIT in the US and economics and statistics at Stanford University. He is also a specialist on Islamic thinking. He is former Vice-Chancellor of PIDE. He is a prolific writer and has a broad interest and knowledge. I was amazed by extent to which he could combine a wide range of disciplines with Islamic thinking. Asad suggested that we develop a course on the history of Western philosophy from the perspective of Islam and DTM. I think this is a valuable suggestion.

The experience in Africa and the discussion with Asad show me the way forward.

We need to train a new generation of scholars and activists to look at practical problems from a pluriversal perspective, from different civilizational backgrounds. We need to decolonize academia from the distinctive disciplines and move beyond general theories. These are all steps towards building a new world civilization.