[URBANTH-L]Re: AAA 2005 Annual Meeting

David W. Haines dhaines1 at gmu.edu
Mon Jan 17 16:47:00 EST 2005

Note to:	SUNTA members
From: 		David Haines, program chair
Re: 		AAA 2005 annual meeting

The following information comes from
Geoffrey Nwaka, who is interested in finding a
relevant panel for his paper. Information and abstract
follow below. You should respond to him directly
if this seems relevant to your own interests.


Geoffrey I. NWAKA
Professor of History
Abia State University
PMB 2000 UTURU, Nigeria

geoffreynwaka at yahoo.com

Paper title

"Using Indigenous Knowledge to Strengthen
      Local Governance in Nigeria"

Abstract (Long)

Many advocates of indigenous knowledge now claim that it is "the single 
largest knowledge resource not yet mobilized in the development 
enterprise".  Recent titles like "Tradition as a Modern Strategy", "Modern 
Dilemmas and Traditional Insights", "The Indigenisation of Modernity", and 
so on reflect the growing prominence accorded culture and tradition in 
current development thinking and research.  For a long time, African 
customs and traditions were misperceived as irrational and incompatible 
with the conventional strategies for economic development, or at any rate 
as ineffective in coping with present day needs and challenges.  But with 
the economic crisis of the 1980s and '90s, and the policy failures 
associated with the formal government system, there has been increasing 
loss of faith in the Western, 'external agency' model of development 
imposed from the top by national governments and international development 
agencies.  The undue emphasis which this pattern of development places on 
purely economic and quantitative growth is now blamed for the worsening 
problems of environmental degradation, widespread poverty, inequality, and 
the undermining of those values and institutions which hold these negative 
forces in check.

The problems of poverty, neglect and exclusion are most pronounced at the 
local community level, in the villages and urban slums, where these 
communities ought to be encouraged to participate in, and bring their own 
agendas to bear on governance and development.  This paper considers how 
indigenous knowledge and practice can be put to good use in support of 
local government and public administration in Nigeria, especially in some 
of those spheres of activity in which local governments have exclusive or 
concurrent constitutional responsibility:- in agriculture and health care, 
environmental protection and sanitation, land and natural resource 
management, basic education and rural finance, law reform and conflict 
resolution, poverty reduction and the provision of essential services.  How 
can development programmes in these areas be made to reflect local 
priorities, and to build upon, and strengthen local knowledge, 
organisation, and capacity?

The renewed interest in indigenous knowledge and institutions is in line 
with the current advocacy of the minimalist state and the 'enabling 
approach' as condition for good governance in a period of structural 
adjustment and public sector reform.  Governments are urged by donor 
agencies, and are in fact obliged to reduce their role to what their 
dwindling resources and capacities permit; to decentralise the structure of 
governance, promote genuine partnership, and enlist the broad participation 
of non-state actors and stakeholders, including traditional institutions 
and other civil society/community based organizations.  This trend has been 
reinforced by the UNESCO sponsored 'World Decade for Cultural Development' 
(1988 - 1997), the Earth Summit in Rio on Environment and Development 
(1992), and other scholarly debates which have stressed the cultural 
dimension of development, and the need to take local knowledge and practice 
fully into account in the development process.

The paper questions the uniform, single-tier structure of local government 
introduced in Nigeria in 1976 for both the rural and urban areas.  This 
arrangement, now under critical review, overlooks the country's cultural 
pluralism and diverse local practices.  We shall revisit the Dasuki and 
Political Bureau Reports of the late 1980s which tried to address these 
concerns, and also highlight the provisions of the laws establishing DFRRI 
and MAMSER which sought to create the framework for reconciling indigenous 
institutions with the formal state machinery.  These programmes were meant 
to link Town Unions and other informal sector groups structurally to the 
formal government institutions as agencies for community development.  The 
paper considers the pattern of local governments that would make governance 
less distant from the people, less bureaucratic, more accountable and more 
responsive to local needs; how the village or community to which most 
citizens hold moral allegiance could constitute the primary unit of a 
multi-tier local government system, as was attempted in the immediate post 
civil war period in parts of the former Eastern Region; how certain 
positive traditional attributes and values can be harnessed to bolster the 
moral tenor and performance of government and public sector management; how 
to adapt modern ideas and techniques  of governance and development to 
local condition and organization, and also adjust indigenous institutions 
appropriately to come to terms with contemporary realities.

In Nigerian towns and cities, the distinction between indigenes and 
strangers is still strong, and is even recognised by the Constitution.  The 
study will consider how to classify the urban centers, and design an 
appropriate form of municipal government for the various categories of 
large, medium and small towns; how to enlist traditionally based 
institutions and the associational life in urban neighbourhoods and the 
informal sector in the effort to ameliorate the adverse impact of rapid 
urban growth, especially in the critical areas of housing, environmental 
health, infrastructure provision, and services delivery.  We shall, for 
instance, consider the value of local building materials, informal land 
transactions, the appropriate laws, codes and standards that are compatible 
with local conditions and flexible enough to accommodate the urban poor and 
disadvantaged groups.  There are already hopeful pointers in this 
direction: e.g. how the principles of traditional rotational credit system, 
and the traditional apprenticeship practices have been deployed in the 
establishment of Community and People's Banks, and in the programmes of the 
National Directorate for Employment.  A few lessons on decentralization and 
local government reforms from the recent experiences of other developing 
countries like South Africa and Ghana, India and Brazil etc. will be 
discussed briefly for comparative insights.

The paper concludes with some general reflections on the indigenous 
knowledge movement as an appropriate local response to globalization and 
Western knowledge imperialism, and as a means to promote inter-cultural 
dialogue, and reaffirm Africa's historic contribution to the larger body of 
international knowledge.  We shall also consider the implications of the 
indigenous knowledge agenda for applied research, and for development 
policy makers and practitioners.

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list