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Lusophone Africa: an atypical model of post-colonial influence

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Published by Will Peet and artwork designed by Ryan Ward

There can be no doubt that colonialism and its legacies have been responsible for the crises of statehood that have gripped many African nations in the 20th century. Indeed, the Portuguese-speaking, or Lusophone, continental African nations of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau all share a similar historical experience of a brutal liberation war, followed by postcolonial instability and prolonged internal conflict. This is largely down to the hurried manner in which the Portuguese left their colonies after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, a coup led by left-leaning army officers who had grown tired of the military expenditure and international isolation that the possession of colonies brought. In Mozambique, for example, over a 15-year civil war, 100,000 Mozambicans died. Amongst other atrocities, the mobilisation of children, who often had to kill members of their own family in initiations, has led to widespread instability and collective trauma in subsequent years.

Amidst the presence of 380,000 settlers in Angola and Mozambique by the end of the 1960s, the relative poverty of the Portuguese economy meant that a strong attachment grew to its colonies as a means of bolstering Portuguese prestige and gaining resources for the benefit of the metropole. This prolonged the sufferings of indigenous inhabitants, who, according to Joanna Mormul, “did not have in fact any public rights”. Yet, in spite of the obvious, multifaceted brutalities and unjust, racist tendencies of the colonial regimes in Africa, Portuguese language and culture is widely prevalent as a means of ensuring development through uniting the ethnically diverse peoples of Luso-Africa.

In the last 30 years, much has been done to promote the notion of a shared Portuguese culture amongst ex-colonies that has tied together otherwise geographically unrelated Lusophone nations. The Lusophone world, or Lusosphere, an ethnolinguistic community of nations intrinsically linked to the Portuguese Empire, co-operates to this day in realms like politics, culture and the economy. They do this most prominently through the Community of Portuguese Language Economies (CPLP). Within this transnational framework, a shared history, language and sense of identity have often left positive impressions of Portugal on these former colonies. The CPLP, formed in 1996, has since expanded to include nine states spread across the globe, and its strong pull has been demonstrated by Equatorial Guinea’s desire to join, despite being a Spanish colony for most of its colonial history.

Furthermore, within the postcolonial nations themselves, it was post-independence that cultural connections to Portugal crystallised. Despite the injustices of colonial regimes, connections to Portugal and its culture have been greatly coveted. Mozambique offers a pertinent example. Wojciech Charchalis has argued that the “Portugalisation” of Mozambique occurred most intensely after the departure of colonial authorities. This is most prominently symbolised by the adoption of Portuguese as the national language in 2004, despite it being spoken by only a minority of the 10.7% of Mozambicans (according to the 2007 census). Indeed, Samora Machel, the first president of independent Mozambique, stated “for the nation to live, the tribe must die”: seeing ethnic division as the greatest threat to the new state, he promoted Portuguese as a unifying language. Further, parents often seek out monolingual educations for their children since Portuguese holds a social capital that conveys status. Young Mozambicans who do not remember pre-independence times also see it as a mark of Mozambican national identity. Indeed, many young Mozambicans can reconcile Lusophony with their own national identity, despite its negative connotations with colonialism. The Portuguese language thus transcends a negative history.

These surprising facts may be largely due to the fact that Portugal is no longer seen as an imperialistic influence or a model for development, but rather a culture to be emulated. In a recent survey from 2014-15, 52% of Mozambicans saw China as exerting the most influence, with Portugal only indicated in 5% of answers. In the same survey, only 6% saw Portugal as a developmental model to follow. Even in the Luso-African island-nations, Portuguese influence is not perceived to be strong: only 25% of Cabo Verdeans and 17% of Sao Tomeans thought that Portugal exerted the greatest influence. 

The negative consequences of colonial rule, be it the horrific violence suffered, or the lack of infrastructure provided, are usually adduced for the dysfunctionality of postcolonial states. Certainly, there is merit to this argument, and there is no way to deny that Portuguese colonial rule led to widespread destruction, and hampered development. Yet, in the case of Luso-Africa, Portugal, and its language and culture, are now generally perceived in a benign way. Lusophone Africa has transcended the perception of postcolonial states as continual, passive victims of the suzerain nations and organisations of the Global North. Critically, this allows us to see Luso-African countries as active agents in the shaping of their own postcolonial trajectories. Whilst it is China that now exerts the strongest developmental influence over these Lusophone nations, investing heavily in African infrastructure, Portuguese cultural influence has bred a positive unity amongst the ethnically diverse nations of Luso-Africa. In the words of Samora Machel on the eve of Mozambican independence in June 1975:

And so, and so, we say that the Portuguese people are our friends. Our friends, our allies all the time. Do you hear? (We hear).

Decolonising the child: a perspective on the extant colonialism in global early childhood education and reflexivity in research and action

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Published by Sabilah Eboo Alwani, & artwork by Ryan Ward

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” But what if education is the weapon we are using to keep the world the same?

The lasting legacy of imperialism in education, as enacted through the auspices of international development, is yet apparent, even in the earliest institutions of formalised learning. This is not simply because NGOs promote a certain type of school or preschool – in fact, there are numerous organisations who are invested in home-grown solutions that empower people locally, and that are culturally contextualised (like Kidogo in Kenya (1)). Rather, it’s because the project of international development, as a 50-year endeavour, was itself conceived as a ‘new imperialism’ which incorporated poor economies into a global governance system built on orientalist constructs and derived from the age-old desire for western nations to ‘participate in’ (read: control) other economies. 

How education became a sub-theme of international development is a story we can understand by employing the lens of postcolonial theory to analyse the intellectual tradition of development itself: modern international development is the child of economics. The story gets interesting at the University of Chicago in the mid-1960s, where American economist Gary Becker, and his colleagues Theodore Schultz (also U.Chicago) and Jacob Mincer (Columbia, my alma mater) developed what we know as Human Capital Theory – an amalgam of premises founded on Adam Smith’s work that conceptualised investment in human development as the key to economic growth. This was quickly co-opted by the project of international development, both at the level of the State Department and by other players like the World Bank, who were extremely influenced by the work emanating from these intellectual centres, and who rapidly helped popularise a view of education as the ideal human capital investment. As a result, education has been a critical part of the operationalisation of international development. 

Where the story narrows to early childhood is with the work of Cunha and Heckman (2), two other University of Chicago economists, who built on the work of Becker, Schultz and Mincer by demonstrating that investing in the youngest of children, at the earliest possible stage of schooling, offered both individuals and economies the greatest return. Enter: the role of preschool in economic development, from a western-centric perspective, theorised by American economists, and with an evidence base fully determined by American experiments. But many countries didn’t have home-grown models of pre-school – the idea that ‘formal’ education should extend to this early age was imported. Today more and more LMICs have designated policies for early childhood care and education (3). This in itself isn’t bad, it’s good – but the modus operandi has been to look at preschool in the global north and emulate, if not replicate (4). 

The result of this human capital approach to education, and its simultaneous relationship with projects of international development, is that there has been a perpetual colonialist slant to education constructs around the world. Bristol-based Professor of Education Leon Tikly articulates succinctly why this is a problem: he says, “This new role for education… serves to reinforce the new imperialism through further limiting the capacity of low-income countries to determine their own educational agendas.” But what we haven’t realised is that this has been happening all along – that the 150-year process of western nations establishing schools in other countries, or playing a hand in education policy in other countries, has set in stone certain typologies of pedagogy, and commodified certain skills, that have obvious historic links to our economies and our interests – a subtle manifestation of neo imperialism (5). 

A key example is the commodification of the English language as a medium of instruction in schools around the world where English is not the spoken first language. Historically, schools that taught in English were missionary schools, who were certainly connected with a kind of ‘development’, for though it was religious in nature, it came attached to western notions of knowing, being, and behaviour. This was built on in the second half of the 20th century post-war world, when through the operationalisation of international development for the purpose of promoting global capitalism, as conceived of by human capital theory, we have (accidentally or not) made English the passport to participation in the global economy, as well as the project of knowledge-making. But as Professor Boa de Sousa Santos noted in Cambridge’s launch of CERJ Volume 7 (6), “you cannot experience capitalism without colonialism.” And in addition, Dennis Brutus, South African activist and educator, noted that English was always an extension of the project of colonialism – a way for the British and Americans to ‘colonise the mind’ (7). Operating in English, therefore, seemed to pander to the construct of western hegemony. The result of this is that the framework of the English language, a historic language of colonialism, continues to circumscribe educational experiences and define the parameters of knowledge making from the outset of children’s engagement with learning in many international contexts. 

In India, for example, parents across large swathes of the country indicated that they wanted their children to attend English-medium schools, working extra to pay the price for their children to attend private preschools and grade schools that offered this, seeing it as a future advantage for their children and an indicator of what a ‘good education’ looks like (8). The expectation is that better, more highly qualified teachers – even at preschool level – are able to teach in English (9), and meanwhile, the conception is that local, state-run education services are poor quality, and that they do not prepare their students for intellectual or economic engagement. However, research has shown a significant difference (10) between how well children learn in their own language versus in English – and it’s not English-medium instruction that fares better. In fact, being forced to learn in English often significantly hampers how students perform. Imagine what this means for a child who is only four or five. Their entire educational journey is already set back, and willingly, by parents and school systems who mistakenly think they are advantaging those children because of our imperialist legacy of education, where not only our schools, but also our language of instruction, has remained the model de rigeur. This shows how English-medium instruction in schools serving pupils as young as pre-school age continues to be what Foucault might conceive of as a form of the technology of power, simultaneously achieving both authority and exclusion (11). 

Circling back to Mandela, he also said of education that “without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they face… so it is vital to educate children and explain that they should have a role in their country”. How then do we view the child who is from the age of 3 or 4 expected to read and write in English, a language they have no connection to? The child who is implicitly taught that this language is better than theirs, more powerful, more valuable? What dichotomisation of the mind will they experience, and how will their perceptions change of those who only speak their local language, their native tongue? There will be an inevitable, subtle, othering of those who do not have this ‘advantage’ (as English has been designated as such), but how can we begin to examine the inevitable, subtle othering that must occur inside for that child? What does this mean for Mandela’s idea that educated children will have a role in their country, if the children’s perceptions of ‘their country’ are coloured by latent imperialist modes of knowing? The resulting identity politics are dividing people up into new castes based on the ability to speak English well, on English fluency from childhood. 

What’s worse is that scholarship validates this, at the other end of the education pipeline. Academic papers published in English have far more citations in comparison to those published in any other language (12), and in some countries academics publish in English rather than the native language at the astounding rate of 40:1 (13). This is as if to say that the entire project of knowledge making is defined by the parameters of the English language. But to see this continued to be imposed on the youngest of the world’s learners means that yet another generation will be confined by this subjectivity, this neo imperialist approach to knowledge, and also defined by this internal schism of mind and identity. 

For most of you readers, you will be playing some role in the project of knowledge making. You will be a researcher, a Professor, a scholar of some kind. We need to ask ourselves what our role is in this, whether we are in the field of education or sociology or international development or anything else. What is our role in decolonising modes of knowing? As de Sousa Santos’ book The End of Cognitive Empire encourages us to ask reflexively, what is our role in being open to other forms of knowledge, other languages of writing which might not be our first language, where we might have to take a backseat and have things explained to us? Can we sit with that sacrifice? Can we explore the real cost of our positionality (14) as researchers on continuing to institutionalise forms of knowing that do not represent the full picture, by which we – as Edward Said said (15) – quietly normalise unseen power? 
For those who are not in scholarship, but who are in praxis: we must seek to champion the role of local experts (16), and local expertise, as a pathway to decolonise education for international development. Though the international development sector has been making important efforts (17) to decolonise itself, we have for too long been presumptuous – bringing in programs, installing mechanisms and leadership structures that prioritise outside people and outside ideas, without thinking hard enough about the need for localised experience and trust-building that should be playing a critical part in the work that is done. This continues to manifest in contested forms such as pay gaps (18) between international and local aid workers, and even at the highest levels of representation within the NGO sector (look here at the international leadership team of World Vision (19) – what do you notice?). Rather than thinking of going somewhere and building a bridge, we need to envision our work as actually building a bridge. As it has been said, “one hand cannot clap.” We do not have all the answers, and we do not have all the knowledge. Once we accept this ourselves, the patterns can start to shift – and we can hope that the next generation of little learners stand a chance to learn in their own language, to value their own knowledge, and to strike out in the world without the burden we have continued to place upon them right from the start.


1 https://kidogo.co/

 Flavio Cunha & James Heckman, ‘The Technology of Skill Formation’ (2007) 97 American Economic Review 2

 Michelle J. Neuman & Lynette Okeng’o, ‘Early childhood policies in low- and middle-income countries’ (2019) 39 Early Years

 Jane Murray, ‘Early childhood pedagogies: spaces for young children to flourish’ (2015) 185 Early Childhood Development and Care

 Leon Tikly, ‘Education and the New Imperialism’ (2004) 40 Comparative Education 173

 Cambridge Educational Research e-Journal, https://cerj.educ.cam.ac.uk/

Wolfgang Schäfer, ‘South African Literature Liberation and the Art of Writing’ (1986) Evangelische Akademie

 Uma Vennam et al, ‘Changing Schools in Andhra Pradesh: The Experiences of Children and their Caregivers’ (2014) Young Lives

 Michelle J. Neuman et al, ‘A Review of the Literature: Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Personnel in Low- and Middle-Income Countries’ (2015) 4 Early Childhood Care and Education Working Papers Series 37

10  P. Sree Kumar Nair, ‘Does Medium of Instruction Affect Learning Outcomes? – Evidence Using Young Lives Longitudinal Data of Andhra Pradesh, India’ (2015) 68 ESP Working Paper Series

11  Robert J. C. Young, Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016)

12  Mario S. Di Bitetti & Julián A. Ferreras, ‘Publish (in English) or perish: The effect on citation rate of using languages other than English in scientific publications’ (2017) 46 Ambio 1

13  Adam Huttner-Koros, ‘The Hidden Bias of Science’s Universal Language’ The Atlantic (21 August 2015) https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/08/english-universal-language-science-research/400919/ accessed 22 November 2020

14  Elizabeth Mackinlay, Critical Writing for Embodied Approaches: Autoethnography, Feminism and Decoloniality (Palgrave, 2019)

15  Edward W. Said, ‘The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals’ in The Public Intellectual (Blackwell, 2002)

16  Veronique Barbelet, ‘As local as possible, as international as necessary: Understanding capacity and complementarity in humanitarian action’ (2018) HPG Working Paper

17  ODI Bites: decolonising international development (15 October 2020) < https://www.odi.org/events/17431-odi-bites-decolonising-international-development?utm_campaign=1579316_ODI%20newsletter%2023%20October&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Overseas%20Development%20Institute&utm_country=&dm_i=4O2W,XULW,695XUA,47KM3 ,1> accessed 22 November 2020

18 Tobias Denskus, ‘The salary gap between expat and local aid workers – it’s complicated’ The Guardian (19 April 2017) <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/apr/19/the-salary-gap-between-expat-and-local-aid-workers-its-complicated> accessed 22 November 2020

19 https://www.worldvision.org.uk/who-we-are/our-people/

The Politics of Imperialism: How the legacy of colonialism drove the depoliticization of international development

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Published by Francesca Farrington and artwork by Ryan Ward

International development is haunted by the spectre of colonialism. In the critical scholarship on international development accusations abound of cultural and economic imperialism. That is, there is a fear that international development organisations could be perpetrating the same injustices as colonialism through their reform agendas. At first glance, these two ideas – colonialism and international development – seem to be worlds apart. One attempts to accumulate territory and resources through violent and suppressive forces. The other, seeks to undo the injustices and inequities produced by colonialism. Despite these differences, international development and colonialism have a shared history, one being born out of the – alleged – demise of the other. International development, as we know it, evolved during a moment when the colonial power matrix was being dismantled. As a result, international development has always run the risk of replicating rather than rebalancing those power dynamics. Alive to this possibility, international development organisations have been at pains to distance themselves from the rhetoric of colonialism. However, international development may have more in common with colonialism than we like to admit. 

In particular, in international development, countries are measured against the archetype of the ‘developed’, which has invariably been Western nations. In doing so, we make a determination that non-Western nations are ‘less than’, are under-developed, and in need of reform. This often ignores the grave injustices that persist within so-called developed nations. More recently, it has become clear that developed countries have their own shortcomings, many of which are tied to the very ideals they promote abroad. For instance, unconstrained private capital accumulation has been linked to increased inequality, increased mental illness, economic crises, and environmental degradation. Yet, even in the post-Washington consensus, neoliberalism has kept a hold of the international development agenda. 

The Washington Consensus (1989) prescribed a number of remedies for ailing economies, with the economy identified as the locus of development, the objective of development became oriented around stimulating economic growth. These policy prescriptions were indisputably neoliberal in character, they included: privatisation, de-regulation, trade and financial liberalization, openness to direct foreign investment, reorientation of public expenditure, fiscal discipline, and tax reform. The shift towards a market-centred approach to development de-politicized the international development agenda. Neoliberals saw the political as the site of inequity, a sphere of relations governed by class bias, cronyism, and corruption.  In contrast, the economy, under capitalism, is viewed as an unbiased mechanism for redistributing societal goods. This conception of the economy is only sustainable if we are willing to accept that the economy is (i) free of bias, and (ii) separate from the political sphere. The post-Washington consensus emerged because these assumptions proved to be untenable. Inequality grew under neoliberalism and persistent economic crises made the need for state intervention undeniable. So, the post-Washington consensus focused on tempering the market fundamentalism of its predecessor by reorienting development around building market-supporting institutions and promoting good governance.

However, the assumption persists that international development is neutral as to political, cultural and moral values. I can hear the reader’s reflexive gasp. How can this claim be sustained when democracy, human rights, the rule of law (and an array of other western-liberal values) form the core of much development work? The apolitical thesis can only be sustained if all these values are packaged as means rather than ends. If these values are given an instrumental function, they can retain the veneer of neutrality. Democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are considered the means to attain development. If you are from a liberal-democracy you may instinctively agree with this proposition. It seems innocuous, these values are all ‘good’ values in the eyes of the liberal-democrat. Indeed, empirical studies have shown a causal connection between these values and development. Perhaps, the issue is that we see ‘development’ as an indisputable ‘good’ rather than a politically loaded ideal. 

These values also have a homogenizing nature, they replace and in doing so eradicate alternatives. One response might be that – well the alternatives weren’t working anyway. And, for many people they were not. But this may be less to do with the worthiness of the institution than the other exogenous forces that have impeded that institutions effectiveness. For instance, communal land holdings are often dismantled in favour of a formalized system of private property rights. Communal land is seen as a barrier to economic development because it cannot be exchanged in the way that private property can, and exchange is the basis of any capitalist society. Consequently, privatization is still a key tool of international financial institutions as it is linked to economic growth. However, in the process of stimulating the economy, we may be dispossessing indigenous people of their lands and/or dismantling methods of land sharing that respect and protect the environment. In doing so, we return to the colonizing logics that were thought to be a relic of the past. 

It can be a difficult proposition to confront, in confronting the colonial legacy of development we risk undermining much of the good being done across the world. Confronting the colonial legacy of development does not requires us to abandon the project altogether. It simply requires a more context-specific approach to development. This happens by preparing the reform agenda in collaboration with locals, and using local knowledge and expertise to understand the issues and solutions. It requires us to confront the assumption that there is one path to development and that there is one idea of development.  

Foreign aid: a humanitarian development initiative or a geopolitical tool?

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Published: Louise Chatterton, and artwork by Ryan Ward

Foreign aid is undoubtedly a divisive topic in international development. If handled effectively, foreign aid has the capability to precipitate transformative effects in developing countries, through the alleviation of poverty and the acceleration of GDP growth in the poorest countries in the world. However, it is vital that the political motivations of such initiatives are scrutinised: does foreign aid primarily act as a mechanism to advance foreign policy objectives under the pretence of humanitarian assistance? Or is foreign aid actually reaching the people and communities it claims to help?

As of 2016, UK law dictates that the government must contribute 0.7% of its GDP to overseas aid; this is compliant with the UN target for donor countries.  Approximately one third of UK foreign aid is “multilateral” and is therefore spent via organisations such as the UN or the World Bank. One of the primary goals of such multilateral organisations is to reduce poverty in developing nations, therefore this form of aid is considered to be less politically motivated. The remainder of UK foreign aid is “bilateral”, meaning that resources flow directly from the UK government to the governments of recipient countries; it is this form aid that is more overtly problematic. 

Donor countries have the agency to use bilateral aid as a tool to pursue geopolitical objectives, which often operate at the expense of the very communities which could actually be supported by such aid. A prime example of this is the controversial aid deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia in 2018. In Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Downing Street, a £100m aid agreement was signed alongside trade deals worth £65bn. In this flagrant pursuit of geopolitical objectives, the UK aligned itself with a country that is responsible for the destruction of Yemeni homes, schools and hospitals. It is vital to question this perverse role of aid in a conflict which is causing severe hardship for millions of people: how can a government claim they are providing philanthropic aid whilst they are simultaneously responsible for the provision of weapons that fuel the humanitarian crisis in Yemen? 

The colonial implications of foreign aid add further complexity to this debate. It is clear that selfish interests often drive donors to use foreign aid to generate influence overseas, where aid can be withdrawn or granted at the whim of colonial powerhouses. For example, in 2014 the British government came under criticism for using aid in the interests of big business, through allocating £600m of aid to an agricultural scheme that was described as “a new form of colonialism”. The scheme was proposed to accelerate responsible investment in African agriculture and to lift millions out of poverty, however, the prioritisation of multinational firms over smallholder African farmers was said to have exacerbated poverty further. Many of the products and profits of this scheme were exported to developed countries, meaning that the smaller-scale farmers who provide food for the majority of the African population were actually damaged by a scheme that claimed to be serving them. 

Aid initiatives such as this contribute to the cultivation of paternalistic relationships between recipient and donor nations. The implementation of colonial projects under the guise of foreign aid blatantly disregards those who are most in need, highlighting a significant problem that stems from, in many cases, the true motivations behind international aid.

Even in the case of genuine altruistic motivation, it is imperative to address whether foreign aid actually reaches the people and communities it claims to help. Bilateral aid has the capability to foster corruption, with the looming threat of aid ending up in the back-pockets of corrupt politicians and their cronies. A report published in early 2018 tracked billions of pounds of foreign aid to have ended up in tax havens, shedding light on the significant difficulties that occur in the handling of foreign aid. Fundamentally, the system is inadequate if it is not operating to help the people it claims to. 

If we accept that humanitarian development is truly the objective of aid, then it is clear that we must reconfigure the way in which foreign aid is distributed. There is evidence to suggest that the use of foreign aid as a ‘bottom-up’ tool can lead to positive developmental outcomes, where agency and power is placed within the heart of recipient local communities. This could be seen in the response to the Nepalese earthquake in 2015, where local NGOs such as Lumanti enacted the successful implementation of local earthquake relief activities. The allocation of aid to such organisations was an effective development strategy, as they could respond quickly and efficiently, based upon the community’s own understanding of its needs in the wake of this natural disaster. Local agencies are able to shape response programmes in a contextually appropriate and culturally sensitive manner, indicating that such organisations can be more effective in responding to local crises, as far as their capacities allow.

It is undeniable that when motivated and used appropriately, foreign aid is a resource that has the potential to improve the lives of millions across the globe; therefore, we must strive to re-evaluate the way in which foreign aid is allocated, through placing more agency in the hands of local communities.  

Changing the Way Student Volunteering is Done: Lessons from Dar es Salaam

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By Tads Ciecierski-Holmes and George Holmes, artwork by Ryan Ward.

Many of us students experienced a stressful week in mid-March as the flood of COVID-19 emails came through from the University. I had to write one of my own, as the Director of a student-led charity in Cambridge, to all the volunteers working for the Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) who were due to travel to Dar es Salaam to work on community development projects in collaboration with our Tanzanian student partners at Knowledge and Innovation for Technological Enterprise Dar es Salaam (KITE). It became quickly apparent after the March meeting of CDI’s trustees that the summer project period in Tanzania we had planned was cancelled. One trustee quite wisely said, “it is not a matter of if, but when COVID will reach Tanzania” – and indeed, Tanzania soon reported its first case of COVID-19.

However, out of the disappointing circumstances, rapid shift to remote working, and personal hardship for everyone involved in the UK and Tanzania, came new opportunities for CDI and KITE to, once again, change how student volunteering is done. Namely, becoming catalysts for Tanzanian-led development projects, and supporting the leadership of local actors working in their communities.

The CDI Perspective

CDI was founded in 2013 by students who, like many who are looking to work in the Development sector, have had volunteering experiences that left them sceptical about student volunteering in general. Voluntourism indeed comes under severe criticism for doing more to bolster the CVs of volunteers, while doing little to promote solutions to challenges faced by individuals living in poverty in low-income countries. So the challenge was: how can students become real agents of change, implementing innovative and impactful community development projects?

Seven years and hundreds of UK and Tanzanian volunteers later, CDI has made great strides. Some of its biggest successes are the implementation of a Simplified Sewerage network in an informal settlement in Dar es Salaam that is now being maintained and expanded by a local water authority, and the founding of KITE Dar es Salaam (formerly CDI Tanzania), a student-led Tanzanian NGO with whom we work closely to implement our health, education, entrepreneurship, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) projects. CDI and KITE have demonstrated that students can power change, and they have inspired the foundation of similar student-organisations in Toronto, Nairobi, Oxford and Gulu.

Along with CDI’s successes, there are of course failures. While failure is to be expected when piloting projects that are breaking new ground, some project streams still fell into the category of bolstering the CVs of volunteers and not addressing the issues faced by those in the communities we serve, even with the best of intentions from the CDI and KITE teams.  They either lacked impact or sustainability, which could be attributed to, amongst other things, a lack of expertise, resources, and support from local actors. 

Our 2019-20 strategy attempted to address these issues. We formed new partnerships with development research groups and Tanzanian organisations to plug gaps in expertise and funding. We put an emphasis on prioritizing Tanzanian perspectives and ensuring that the projects are Tanzanian-led. In this light, the pandemic accelerated our strategy: with CDI volunteers no longer working on the ground, further space opened up for our Tanzanian partners to take ownership of projects, and for CDI to work remotely in a supportive capacity from the UK.

The KITE Perspective

KITE Dar es Salaam was formally founded in 2017, and registered as an NGO in Tanzania by CDI Tanzania alumni and other Tanzanian students. There is an abundance of talented and engaged students in Dar es Salaam who wish to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to solve problems faced by local communities. For instance, it is the technical expertise of the KITE engineers that led to the design and construction of low-cost handwashing facilities for primary schools in the informal settlement of Vingunguti over the past summer, and their ability to engage with local communities allows both KITE and CDI to understand problems facing local communities and to research potential solutions. 

So far, they have always had CDI by their side. KITE’s Director comments that working alongside CDI is an interactive and impactful experience, because of the knowledge-sharing that takes place between CDI and KITE: CDI shares new ways of working, such as the use of software and other tools that may be more common in the UK than in Tanzania; KITE brings cultural insights, with CDI volunteers learning about the lived experiences of the urban poor in Dar es Salaam; together, both learn new skills when implementing the appropriate research and Monitoring and Evaluation methodologies for their projects. 

Responding to COVID-19 was therefore a difficult experience for the Tanzanian team. Not only did the universities in Dar es Salaam close for two months, leading the KITE team to start working remotely on project plans, but they also had to plan for a summer without the CDI half of the team. This did not stop their resolve. While some timelines had shifted due to the closing of universities, KITE could still advance our planned projects in health; education, entrepreneurship; and WaSH, and recruit a larger Tanzanian team to make up for the lack of CDI volunteers.

Despite the challenges they faced, the KITE team successfully implemented two WaSH projects constructing handwashing facilities in schools lacking sanitation facilities, ran hand-washing and soap-making workshops in schools around the Vingunguti district of Dar es Salaam, and furthered research into four new initiatives for implementation in 2021. In the meanwhile, CDI continued to work quietly in the background, providing advice on strategy, project planning and design, and fundraising support – enabling KITE to do their best work. 

The Future of Student-Powered Initiatives

KITE’s success, with CDI’s support, has led to real positive impact. While evaluations of the current projects still need to take place, we have already received positive feedback from the school students and teachers we are working with. More importantly, we have successfully piloted a new way of working for both organisations: Cambridge students do not need to be working on the ground in order to contribute to projects, putting the power in the hands of Tanzanians. Student collaboration, even in the time of a global pandemic, is still a force for change – and the way student volunteering is done has changed for us once again.

Considering Geopolitics in a Post-Oil Economy

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Published: Florence Conway and artwork by Ryan Ward

Energy – and the power and riches that come with it – is the driving force in our world.  For the second half of the 20th century, the pursuit of oil has been at the centre of the geopolitics of energy. Countries with oil have historically had power, literally and physically. It has granted countries, who would otherwise have taken a back seat on the world stage, a prominent and threatening role. And unsurprisingly, given the power oil holds, it has also been central in triggering many conflicts, from the Gulf War to the Arab Springs. 

However, the energy policy agenda is changing: the looming threat of climate change has prompted widespread decarbonisation policies, and combined with the increasing development of renewable resources, the world now faces a transition to a post-oil economy. Whilst there is little consensus over when this change will occur, it inevitably will, radically impacting global geopolitics.

Undoubtedly, this transition represents a challenge for oil-producing countries. Will the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers lose their crucial influence? Will this lead to an increase in conflicts, both regionally and internationally? And moreover, what will happen nationally? Many of the largest oil-producing states are state-led economies, with fragile, often corrupt governments. Worryingly, it is also those countries who have not yet managed or are failing to diversify their economy, and are thus placed in a more precarious position, ill-equipped to deal with the rapidly changing landscape of energy transition. 

The implications for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are the most striking cause for concern. Not only are countries in this region failing in diversification, but they are also the most politically unstable; hence they pose an increased threat of sustained political and economic turbulence in the MENA region, with a potential risk of state failure. Indeed, as Professor Paul Stevens, a distinguished fellow at Chatham House, notes:  

 

“The oil producing government gets revenue; if that revenue falls or disappears, the government is no longer able to sustain the non-oil sector, which means you will have rising unemployment, you will no longer be able to pay subsidies to keep your population happy.  

Many of the large oil and gas exporters are what might politely be described as politically unstable. So the faster the transition [to renewables], the greater the fall in gas and oil revenues, the more disruptive it is going to be and so you are looking at potentially a large number of failed states.” 

 

Thus, failure to deliver stability in the oil industry in these countries will impact their internal stability, which will incite grave consequences, both nationally and globally.

Furthermore, the demographics of the MENA region increase the risks faced – it is characterised by young, rapidly expanding populations, which are predominately urban. Whilst this may suggest a promising level of development at present, many of these populations would face high rates of unemployment and economic collapse in a post-oil world. Civil unrest is almost inevitable and will exacerbate the devastating consequences. This troublesome combination of factors may also foster an environment for extremism, furthering instability and disturbance. Major unrest in these regions then also has the potential to create significant migration problems for mainland Europe, triggering even greater international instability.  

Inextricably linked to this post-oil world is the expansion of renewable energy sources. As the use of oil falls, that of renewables increases. Consequently, minerals such as cobalt and lithium – both vital components in renewable technology – will be increasingly sought after, and this will almost certainly cause geopolitical tensions. 

For example, the majority of these resources are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which already has a weak government, imbued with corruption and incompetency, potentially amplifying any adverse outcomes. China’s ‘neo-colonialism’ in Africa, meanwhile, whereby the former offers billions of dollars in ambiguous loans to the latter in order to access minerals, is already the source of much tension both within the continent and without – particularly with Trump’s America feeling threatened, and citing it as a reason for its trade wars.  

More globally, there are clear risks associated with smart electricity grids, which are progressively becoming more significant in ensuring system stability in solar and wind power. This is namely that terrorist organisations or hostile countries may attempt to access these systems to seek sensitive information, disorder them, and cause economic and social damage. Therefore, the transition to renewable technology, as well as the decline of oil, looks to have the potential to dramatically reshape the balances of power on the world stage.  

There is nothing certain about what lies ahead, and it is indeed daunting. But despite these challenges, the global energy transition is turning the world in the right direction, equipping us to more readily respond to what many already define as the main geopolitical threat of the 21st century: climate change. 

Effect of female political enfranchisement on development

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By Alice Kinsella, artwork by Ryan Ward

Many people’s first introduction to ‘development’ was the Millennium Development Goals: in 2000, the UN pledged to reach eight targets by 2015, including the eradication of extreme hunger, universal primary education, and the empowerment of women. However, it is misguided to consider the empowerment of women simply an outcome of development; instead, it should be seen as a factor that actively promotes development itself. Female political enfranchisement is the lynch-pin of contemporary development issues. The fight for gender equality has an immeasurable impact on every facet of society, fuelling progress in innumerable areas, from healthcare to education. Our failure to prioritise gender equality will always be the greatest hurdle facing significant developmental progress across the world. 

Female political enfranchisement encompasses a range of meanings – generally, ‘enfranchisement’ is synonymous with ‘a right to vote’. However, it can encompass all manner of political empowerment: running for office, engaging in debate, or holding political power. While women should have a de-facto right to full political participation, regardless of the quality of their contributions, they also happen to provide a uniquely important perspective. In many countries, women politicians attend to female-centric issues that are otherwise ignored: for instance, Blaxill and Beelen found that, in the UK since 1945, women MPs have consistently been more likely to raise issues such as family policy, education and care. Men tend to be less aware of – or sympathetic to – areas of everyday life that are generally the purview of women. Yet many such female-dominated areas of life are critical development markers: healthcare, the welfare and education of children, nutrition and the environment are just a few areas that women are, generally, responsible for. Thus, their contributions would significantly progress development in these areas.

Education

The education of children is perhaps the most consequential development target – providing children with a strong foundation will give them the best chances for their futures, as well as equipping their societies with educated adults, ready to take development further. Women are, statistically, the primary carers of children, and therefore the experts when forging child-centred development policy. They are more likely to invest in education – for instance, Clots-Figueras’ 2007 study of India between 1967 and 2001 found that a 10% increase in female political representation resulted in a 6% increase in primary education. Women are also more likely to understand the hurdles facing universal education. For example, many efforts to educate girls are frustrated by other duties demanding their time, or by the difficulties they face physically travelling to school. Women, as primary caregivers, have an intimate understanding of these hurdles, and are therefore better able to combat them.  

Reproductive Health

Reproductive health is another vital developmental issue significantly improved by the political input of women. A classic symptom of a developing society is a high birth rate, due to poor sex education, minimal contraceptive supply, no access to abortion services, and, often, antiquated expectations that women submit to their husbands. With access to sexual health resources and birth control, however, infant mortality drops – as does maternal mortality. Resources, including food and water, are less strained, because there are physically less people to provide for. Crucially, giving women control over their fertility allows them to participate in areas of society, such as further education and employment, that would otherwise have been inaccessible due to their pregnancies and infant children. This is clearly an essential developmental goal, but one that is best achieved by women: many men in both developed and developing nations treat female sexual health with an outdated sense of repulsion, and attempt to avoid the subject altogether, to the detriment of the services. Meanwhile, women, as the potential child-bearers themselves, keenly feel their importance, meaning that the services receive more attention and investment.

Environmental Conscience

Environmental standards are somewhat controversial: internationally, we are painfully aware of the dangers posed by fossil fuels and mass industrialisation, but to place environmental standards on developing societies restricts their potential economic growth. Since the 1993 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, it has been generally acknowledged that it is women in developing societies who possess the expertise and experience, and therefore who we should look to for solutions. Women, when maintaining a household, are subsistence farmers, gardeners, water-collectors, and cooks, spending 3-6 hours on household work everyday (compared to a male average of 30 minutes). They are very familiar with their local environment, natural resources, and fuel consumption, granting them a superior understanding of the environmental pressures and needs of the community, as well as a more vested interest in genuine environmental improvement. Their expertise is increasingly incorporated into policy initiatives: NGOs such as Friends of the Earth advocate the leadership of local women in grassroot, ‘bottom-up’ developmental initiatives.

‘Female political enfranchisement’ is almost as unquantifiable as it is difficult to achieve. Due to uncompromising cultural expectations, officially granting female suffrage will not necessarily make voting accessible, and women’s inclusion in political chambers will not always be tantamount to genuine power, nor will it necessarily encourage full gender equality beyond politics. ‘Female empowerment’ cannot suddenly be thrust on society through one piece of enfranchising legislation. Nonetheless, anyone with a vested interest in development should whole-heartedly pursue female political empowerment: the two are inextricable. Women have, throughout time, been perceived as subordinate members of society, forced into roles as home-keepers and care-givers. This history of suppression has the expedient advantage, however, of endowing women with a wealth of personal and ancestral expertise in social development issues. Genuine, well-rounded, sustainable development is simply impossible without listening to their experience and wisdom. 

Reconciling Worldviews: Religion and International Development

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Published: Katie Veitch and artwork by Ryan Ward

It is easy to assume that the world is becoming inevitably less religious, to see religion as an outdated set of superstitions which fall away as a country becomes richer, or its population more educated. However, this assumption is based narrowly on Western Europe’s experience of Christianity; looking at the dwindling congregations in English village churches should not translate to an assumption of a universal and inevitable secularisation. Given the ongoing importance of religion in the world, an effective sustainable development approach needs to consider religious actors.

Religion’s relationship with international development is complex. Indeed, even speaking of ‘religion’ acting as any kind of single or independent force can be difficult, given the diversity and multitude of religious people and institutions. Modern development has its roots entwined with such actors; Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs) are some of the most influential aid providers in the world. This includes Tearfund, Islamic Relief and CAFOD, amongst others. Even outside formal FBOs, religious people are central in development initiatives. Global faith leaders have long been powerful voices in championing human rights and development. On a more local level, humanitarian efforts are often picked up by religious actors, with a common theme within religious texts being duty towards those in need.

Arguably, the role of missionaries (especially Christians working in the British Empire) who established their own schools, churches and medical facilities in colonial states, created a certain model of aid which lingers today. The problems often discussed surrounding international aid – white saviourism, debt and difficult power dynamics – are a legacy of this colonial-missionary base. In light of this history, the secular development world can be hesitant about engaging with religion, either through FBOs or local groups. Religion is also avoided because of a perception that it upholds socially conservative norms. In some ways, this is a fair suspicion – clearly, certain religious texts are used to counter the rights of minority groups, and a development worldview based on universal human rights can be hard to reconcile with this.

So far, then, it is easy to see why a secular approach to international development would appeal. Yet when religion is excluded from the development conversation, important factors are disregarded. Religion is clearly an important part of identity, and religious leaders are figureheads in communities. Sustainable development is all about avoiding heavy-handed outsider approaches which ignore local nuances and do not involve relevant leaders. By engaging faith leaders in development projects, it is more likely that the development will be sustainable, that change will reach people in a way which is beneficial and long-lasting.

This has gained recognition in the international development world in recent years. In 2014, the World Bank committed to engage with religious leaders via the Faith Initiative, which bridges World Bank-funded projects and religious groups (1). Similarly, the UN now recognises the role of religious leaders in forming development policy, including consultations around the Sustainable Development Goals (2). Those working in international development need to put the specific needs and goals of a community centrally and listening to religious groups is an important aspect of this.

Whilst we can see this on a global scale, it is also key to consider the local level. Research into local projects, including a 2019 study commissioned by an NGO in Malawi comparing traditional development approaches to ‘church and community mobilisation’ (CCM) (3), show the development benefits of engaging with local religious groups. This particular study found that projects which mobilised through the church had the same benefit to quality of life as traditional approaches, but at a fraction of the cost. CCM emphasises a shift in mindset away from dependency and towards the community engaging in their own problem-solving, via Biblical reflection and participatory exercises. The church, because it is a central, trusted, and permanent presence in the community, promotes long-term and inclusive change. In this way, if we want to promote cost-effective and community-led development which moves away from an external, ‘white-saviour’ approach, engaging local religious groups and leaders is essential.

Ultimately, whilst those in the ‘West’ might assume that to be modern is to be secular, I would suggest this is far from true. Religion is not inevitably declining, and so should be considered and engaged with when we talk about international development and the power dynamics which surround it.


 1 ‘Faith Based and Religious Organizations’ (World Bank) <https://www.worldbank.org/en/about/partners/brief/faith-based-organizations> accessed 10 November 2020.

2 Tomalin E, Haustein J and Kidy S, ‘Religion and the Sustainable Development Goals’ 15.

3 https://jliflc.com/resources/analysing-the-cost-effectiveness-of-church-and-community-mobilisation-in-malawi/

Students Behind Picket Lines: Fighting for Climate Justice

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Artwork by Ryan Ward.
Published: Cambridge University International Development.

The street is filled, from six year olds with their parents to seventeen year old sixth formers with their friends. I hear the chanting around me and I see the homemade signs and banners that make me wish I had brought mine. We pass intrigued pedestrians and slightly confused drivers who sit in their cars waiting for us to move. When turning the next corner I get a glimpse of how many people are actually here as I nearly bump into the XR steward. A few hundred? It’s hard to tell from where I am but it seems that the organising has paid off. A roar of encouragement from university students hits us and I see them here to greet us. The person chanting from the megaphone changes the chant and I struggle to keep up. I conclude that this is a good strike.

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Following Greta Thumberg’s lead after the first UK strike on the 13th February 2019 we’ve held monthly strikes in which we (the Cambridge Schools Eco Council) decide the theme, timings, route and actions. These strikes have been highly successful, and shining a light on the important issue of climate change that is affecting people now  will affect all of us as one of the most pressing issues of our time.

We, the Eco Councillors have attended meetings with local organisations such as Cambridge Zero Carbon Society and Extinction Rebellion Cambridge. We’ve also managed to get our message out by the local press, being interviewed on local radio, meeting our MP, Daniel Zeichner, and taking our message about the climate emergency to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove. After facing our difficult questions and hearing our readings of  emotive poems (including Drew Dillenger’s Hieroglyphic Stairway), Gove released a “landmark statement” on the environment emergency that was widely reported in the press:

 “There is a political need to act – because we cannot leave this planet to the next generation more polluted, more dangerous, denuded of its natural riches and increasingly inhospitable to all life.” 

 

This is a minute but important step forward as the government needs to take a strong stance immediately to avert Climate Disaster. But of course they are taking too long for the people who are being greatly affected right now in countries like Bangladesh and Sudan . 

We attended meetings with local and global business representatives, as well as with the city council and regional planning & environmental groups on the emergency chalk stream crisis facing Cambridge and the surrounding area; water could soon be scarce in Cambridgeshire. We’re very engaged in this matter and intend to continue to influence the local and national government’s decisions. Being a part of a global movement encourages us.

We will be vigilant about what the Cambridge City Council do from now. We have presented them with our open letter laying out our clear demands to tackle the emergency locally.

Overall we’ve achieved all these actions in just ten months. Unions such as NEU, Cambridge & Districts Trades Council and UCU have joined our Youth Strikes and helped to build them within their organisations. Climate campaigners such as our local Greenpeace group and Artist Unions have been re-energised by us. There is no going back now. We have built up our local movement for Climate Action and we hope to do much more in the future. “This is a crisis,” says Greta Thunberg, and we have to treat it like a crisis.

Our movement has always been led by children in decision making, leading the protests and chants as well as speaking at the Strikes. We would like to, however, thank the adults of Cambridge XR who keep our marches safe on the routes we choose as we march through the city centre by volunteering to steward on the day.

The Wood for the Trees: Seeing the Value in Vulnerable Indigenous Knowledge

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By Sam Brown, and artwork by Ryan Ward

The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous people situated along the Ucayali River in the Amazon rainforest. Coupling a modern existence with centuries of tradition, the Shipibo-Conibo have retained a shamanic understanding of health that closely ties the individual to a spirit world. Crucially, bodily prosperity is placed in a reciprocal relationship with the surrounding natural environment and its spirits: human health is dependent on its harmonious congruence with nature.

The ayahuasca brew is just one example of how the Shipibo-Conibo medical outlook manifests itself. A powerful psychostimulant made from a unique combination of the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaf of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis), ayahuasca allows the user to access their inner subconscious landscape and experience cathartic visions. Such ‘spirit-assisted’ healthcare is viewed with scepticism and condescension in the West, yet indigenous medicine like this deserves respect not only for the crucial lessons it teaches us about our relationship with nature, but also for the vast wealth of knowledge that lies imbued in indigenous practice. In line with this, the power of ayahuasca to treat cases of severe depression has started to be investigated by ethnobotanists, with promising early results.

The benefits of exploring indigenous medical knowledge can therefore be seen in two broad avenues of understanding: the ecological and ethical education Westerners can obtain by learning about how indigenous populations interact with the environment as an equal entity; and the pharmaceutical potential of study into shamanic practices, as well as the opportunities for drug development that biodiverse indigenous land presents. This potential for learning, however, sits at a tense intersection with other factors for consideration, specifically the human rights of indigenous peoples and the all-encompassing threat of climate change. This intersection needs to be considered if we are to advance a truly inclusive plan that recognises how improving global health and tackling climate change are closely intertwined.

While indigenous populations clearly live in all varieties of ecosystems, those situated in rainforests provide the most obvious example of where medical developmental and sustainability goals misalign. The biodiversity of tropical rainforest is truly astounding. Rainforests covers less than 7% of the Earth’s surface, yet are home to about 50% of all land animal and plant species.[1] Indigenous populations are active agents in the conservation of this biodiversity. The territories of the world’s 370 million indigenous people cover 24% of land worldwide, and contain 80% of the world’s biodiversity.[2] It is perhaps unsurprising then that this fertile land which holds so much pharmaceutical potential is also a target for biofuel producers and farmers, two recent perpetrators of the Brazilian fires.

indigenous knowledge article

Biodiverse land is thus a precious resource that, if utilised sustainably, can be central to our defence against the looming threat of mass antibiotic resistance. Earlier this month, for instance, scientists working in a tropical forest near Los Tuxtlas, Mexico discovered an antibiotic produced by a soil bacterium that may help lead to a ‘plant probiotic’, more robust plants and other antibiotics.[3] Looking beyond antibiotics, rainforests have been at the centre of many of the last century’s key drug developments. The Curare lianas plant, for instance, has been used for centuries by South American indigenous groups to make paralysing poison darts; in Western medicine, an isolated compound derived from the plant is used to treat such diseases as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and other muscular disorders. As one would expect, the list of world-changing medicines derived from plants in these regions goes on and on.

The pharmaceutical potential of biodiverse areas goes beyond simple extraction, however. The rainforest has all manner of medical tricks up its leaves. Forest organisms often serve as chemical templates from which researchers can synthesize drug compounds. The blueprint for aspirin, for example, was derived from extracts of willow trees. Recent research indicates that birth control medication could similarly be revolutionised by drugs derived from rainforest plants, as could pesticides and cancer treatments. To reiterate, however, this scientific opportunity must always be mediated by a concern for the people who have maintained the very rainforest we see as a resource, and who sustainably obtain their livelihoods from its biodiversity.

The ravages of deforestation therefore materially impact indigenous populations through the destruction of their homes, but also through the loss of the plants used in both traditional and Western medicine. Cassandra Quave, a leading ethnobotanist, emphasises the dual loss that deforestation represents. She argues that we need to “help preserve these areas, and create safe havens for these people before it’s all gone,” for the sake of indigenous peoples but also for the “biological resources” inherent within indigenous medicinal knowledge and biodiverse land. It is as much about preserving indigenous cultural capital as it is maintaining a future source of antibiotics. We may have only screened less than 15% of plant species for their medicinal potential, but the potential of indigenous knowledge presents a far more unquantifiable possibility.

The biodiversity of indigenous land therefore presents an opportunity as much as it poses complex ethical and developmental challenges. According to researcher and writer Rhett Butler, who runs the critically acclaimed website, Mongabay.com, rainforests are “an extensive library of biological and genetic resources.” This “library” metaphor is an apt turn of phrase which has been adopted by others to emphasise the transience of knowledge when we disregard the rights of indigenous peoples. Dr Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist at Conservation International, argues that “each time a medicine man dies, it is as if a library has been burned down.” Clearly, to view shamans singularly as simple sources of knowledge is to reduce their humanity, but Dr Plotkin’s point still stands. An anxiety about engaging with traditional medicine on equal and respectful terms is a loss for both ‘sides’, reducing the continuity of knowledge transfer down indigenous generations and wasting a pivotal opportunity for Western researchers.

The reciprocal relationship indigenous peoples have maintained with their environments over vast periods of time has implications that go beyond medical research. Traditional ecological knowledge (or TEK) allows indigenous populations to live in harmony with nature, in complete contrast with the extractive dynamic the Western world has cultivated with its environment. Until the twenty-first century, indigenous peoples were viewed as victims of the effects of climate change, rather than as agents of environmental conservation: with the knowledge they possess of long-term resource management, indigenous groups represent the best possible model for ecological harmony for Westerners to emulate. Indigenous management practices, such as the ritualized burning of vegetation to improve soil productivity, are both culturally and ecologically important.

Indigenous knowledge therefore sits awkwardly at the juncture between being a crucial resource for the future and a fragile entity that necessitates tact in any interaction with it. While the dominant narrative in recent writing about indigenous peoples and climate change has been focused on the industries driving deforestation in the Amazon, for instance, a long-term perspective warrants consideration of this other, existential threat to our shared world: antibiotic resistance and corresponding trends in global health. A crucial step towards a better society is to increase public recognition of the importance of rainforest medicines in our modern pharmacopoeia, while simultaneously elevating the vulnerable position of the very people who lay the groundwork for so much of Western medicine’s advancements.

[1] https://rainforestfoundation.org

[2] Sobrevila C (2008) The role of indigenous peoples in biodiversity conservation: the natural but often forgotten partners. World Bank: Washington, DC.

[3] https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=299410&org=NSF&from=news