Decolonization: Comments from an African Postcolonial Classroom in Cameroon

Most post-independent African leaders saw the end of formal colonization as an opportunity to improve on their economies. This was of course at the time African countries could flirt with capitalist and socialist economic principles, either leaning to the Western countries led by USA or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics led by Russia. Focusing too much on the political economy in the immediate period after independence rather made many of these countries to forget investing in African-centered formal education.

Formal Education and Consciousness

The call to decolonize formal education in Africa stems in part from the oversight of the postcolonial regimes in investing in education that reflects the lived realities of African students. Nowadays, many teachers in postcolonial societies are taking the responsibility to educate students of the colonial legacies [1]. They invest resources and time to both raise the consciousness of students and to respond to the students’ curiosity. This is challenging but at the same time, rewarding [2]. Educators always keep in mind that questions surrounding decolonization arise from the learners’ desire to seek solutions to existential challenges.

Decolonial scholars target schools for decolonization, the obvious reason being that formal education is a fertile ground to perpetuate colonial and colonizing worldviews. The formal educational system conditions people to think and act in particular ways; learners acquire values, skills, and knowledge they use to adapt to the world around them and beyond. These scholars argue that most values disseminated through formal education in Africa serve the interest of the former colonizing group [3]. Students’ perceptions and remarks in a postcolonial classroom shed light to some of these claims.

In the Postcolonial Classroom

The colonial legacy is deep and everywhere. There are moments when colonial ideas creepily toss our students, implanting self-doubt in some of them while making others to believe their world is not worth anything in the face of imperializing worldviews. In situations where the students are conscious of their geopolitical and economic location in the world of ideas, they position as well as compare their world with that of white people. Particularly during lessons dealing with development and epistemological authenticities, the students talk about them and us in confrontational ways. Students, in other words, often have an image of the white world locked in their minds when talking about values, morals, knowledge, and religion.

Establishing hegemonic power, but most of all, controlling the African mind was one of the prime motives of the colonizers [4]. A colonized and alienated African mind serves the interest of colonialists as demonstrated by the following example. During a lesson on religious imaginations, a student admits he practices African traditional religion (ATR). Other students, Christians, instantly jeer him, describing his religion as paganism. Why they believe an African religion is evil is intriguing, for they clearly admit they have inherited a malevolent spiritual heritage. Interestingly, studies reveal nearly all Africans Christians embrace ATR in their beliefs and practises [5].

Of course, believing that the religion of their ancestor is improper is a sure way of imposing a Christian ideology, identity, and hierarchies. Christianity in African is a non-conscious ideology; being Christian comes with power and privileges to speak about, and denounce other religions. There are many issues at stake when it concerns Christianity and ATR. One can talk about hierarchies of bodies and spirits, identification of outsiders and withdrawal of sentiments towards those identified as non-Christians.

The students’ ideas – religious and otherwise – do not occur in a vacuum. In the above case, denigrating ATR is a way of affirming what the outsiders have said of African religions. For centuries, the white people have underrated everything African, claiming it is their responsibility to uplift Africans [6]. This has manifested variously through colonialism, neocolonialism, and institutionalized neoliberal organizations.

Surprisingly, some of the students are uncritical of the white people’s provocative rhetoric and interventions in Africa. I have heard students depict white people as saviors of humankind, thanks to their superior technologies.  For sure, this narrative adores white people but conceals much more underneath. Because of the colonial legacy and racism, most people tend to associate global positive developments with white people even if the inventions do not originate from them. Countless technological inventions in the world do not originate from white people, though they may play a great role in innovating the discoveries.

That aside, many non-white people work alongside the whites to develop technologies. In this sense, technological inventions are collective pursuits, not just the ingenuity of one race. The point I am struggling to make here is that decolonization as well means not placing a godlike image on the people who belong to the formerly colonizing group. To do so would be rendering invisible the efforts of non-white people who contribute to technological advancements around the world.

In the same vein, it is part of the decolonizing agenda to de-center whiteness in all its forms, including the extensive and uncritical citing of white scholars [7]. This does not mean students must not quote white scholars. Not at all. It is to indicate that non-whites, including Africans, are also writing about the subject that are of interest to students. It is the responsibility of the teachers and students to find out who these authors are. The figure of the researcher matters. Formerly colonized people would probably develop more self-esteem when they know that people of their kind have contributed to a particular field of research [8].

Many other issues require critical observation. Take for example the fact that most academic disciplines developed at the time of European exploration and Enlightenment. Europeans at this time considered themselves the archetype of human biological and cultural evolution [9]. In the humanities and social sciences, we constantly emphasize that this zeitgeist, the spirit of European excitement, is a call for us to examine the social identities of the theorists. They wrote within the context of European sociocultural and economic transformations. Influential scholars, including Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber, were not neural observers with godlike qualities. They analyzed European experiences and conditions from their positions as educated white men. These scholars’ gender, race, social class, and geopolitical locations influenced their works in varying degrees. Now is the time to reflect on why we often hear the father of this or that discipline. Why do they not talk of mothers of disciplines?

By way of Conclusion

Decolonization is not necessarily a way of claiming that the African perspectives are better and thus must be made visible. To claim so would miss the point. It is nativist. Decolonization is about questioning colonial beliefs, knowledge, and practices that are alien to people’s lived realities. Those who have taken upon themselves to teach students to be critical of the colonial legacy are aware that their work is revolutionary and empowering, even if it unsettles the students.


Dr. Primus Tazanu
Dr. Primus M. Tazanu
Research Fellow in Governance | + posts

Dr Primus M. Tazanu is a Research Fellow in Governance at the Nkafu Policy Institute .He is equally a lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Buea, Cameroon. Primus holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Freiburg, Germany


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