Decolonising and Indigenising Research in Africa: A 5 step Process

The process of decolonising research in Africa and indeed in any Indigenous community should recognise the role of colonialism and the current neo-colonial project.

Colonisation is the subjugation of one group by another. Almost all African countries experienced invasion and loss of territory (except Ethiopia). The colonial project destroyed political, social economic systems in Africa and other parts of the continent where colonisation happened.

The major impact of colonisation was that it led to external political control and economic dependence on the West.

Consequently, this situation resulted in scientific colonisation in which colonisers, missionaries and settlers got control of how knowledge was produced in colonial territories and told stories using euro-western voice.

In short, scientific colonisation happened when the colonisers ways of knowing of the colonisers were imposed on the colonised nations.

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Kinds of Research in Africa

There are three kinds of research conducted in Africa. The first includes research that is conducted by researchers from outside Africa who only use western research paradigms. These researchers obtain data without involving African communities or African researchers and they interpret findings without the voices of African Indigenous people.

Unfortunately, knowledge acquired from such research is a taken out of context and the resulting publications contain factually incorrect information. This research has little or no impact on the African communities.

The second is research conducted using Research conducted by western researchers using western paradigms, but which involve Indigenous African communities or researchers.

Indigenous researchers involved at the level of subjects, participants, but have no influence in the whole research process. There is negotiation involved in research and some of partnership is established between researchers and Indigenous community members who volunteer to participate.  

The participatory nature of this kind of research fosters an exchange of knowledge between researchers and the communities involved.

However, in most cases, indigenous participants are treated as informants only and Indigenous knowledge is undervalued. Indigenous people are placed in a position of weakness since they do not participate in the making of laws, policies and guidelines that inform research and ethics.

The third and final kind of research involves research that is unique to the social structure and cultural values of African Indigenous communities.

This type of research is envisaged to also fulfil the intellectual, materials, cultural and spiritual needs of Indigenous communities.

Research where Indigenous African people are significant participants, and typically senior members of research teams often is made up of all Indigenous African people.

Primarily, this research meets expectations and quality standards set by Indigenous communities.

In terms of data analysis and interpretation, this kins of research undertakes an Afrocentric analysis. It produces Indigenous African knowledge that recognises the African voice; a voice that tells another story unique to African contexts and experiences.

As a result, it re-affirms the centrality of cultural experience as the place to begin to create a dynamic multicultural approach to research.

African Indigenous Research Paradigm

The process of decolonising research in Africa starts with research paradigms. African Indigenous research paradigms are informed by relational ontology, relational epistemology, and relational axiology.

This paradigm recognises participants as active agents in the knowledge production process.

Further, it includes Indigenous ways of knowing with the aim of valuing Indigenous research conducted by and for Indigenous communities; valuing the methods that are created by and for Indigenous people in the process of research.

Ontological stance

Ontologically, the adage ‘I am because we are’ popular among the Bantu people of Africa sums up the relational ontological position of African Indigenous research paradigms.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Ubuntu worldview expresses an ontology that addresses relations among people, relations with the living and nonliving and a spiritual existence that promotes love and harmony among peoples and communities.

As such, knowing or knowledge is something that is constructed by individuals who share relationships and connections.

Epistemological stance

In African relational epistemology, the researcher focuses in the relational forms of knowing.

The relationship between reality and the knower is that, ‘knowers are seen as beings with connections to other beings, the spirits of the ancestors, and the world around them that inform what they know and how they know it’ (Chilisa, 2012, p. 116).

Knowledge has a connection with the knower and knowledge is stored in the language, practices, rituals, proverbs, revered traditions, myths, and folktales.


Indigenous methodologies can be seen as research by and for Indigenous peoples, using techniques and methods drawn from the traditions and knowledges of those people.

Indigenous methodology includes a process of decolonising the conventional techniques of interview, using indigenous interview methods such as talking circles and conversational interviews, yarning and other Indigenous ways of collecting data.

It invokes indigenous knowledge to inform alternative research methods which are in line with the worldview of the colonised Other.

Decolonising Methodologies

Decolonising methodologies involve a process of centring the concerns and worldviews of the colonised Other so that they understand themselves through their own assumptions and perspectives.

They are an event and a process which involves creating and using various strategies to liberate the captive mind.

Further, decolonising methodologies involve restoration and development of cultural practices, thinking patterns, beliefs and values that are still necessary and relevant to the survival and birth of new ideas.

To decolonize methodologies can mean that Indigenous scholars are indigenizing research by adopting and adapting Western methods and methodologies (so that they are culturally sensitive and safe) under an Indigenous research paradigm.

In other words, decolonizing Western methodologies means locating power within the Indigenous community.

Process of Decolonising Research in Africa

Poka Leanui, in 2000 suggested five phases of the process of decolonisation. These are discovered below:

Rediscovery and recovery

This is the process in which the colonised Other rediscover and recover their own culture, history, language, and identity. It integrates the captive mind to define in their own terms what is real to them.

It also involves the formerly colonised define their own rules on what can be known, what can be spoken, written about, how, when, and where.


This involves lamenting for the continued assault on the historically oppressed and their social realities. It also involves interrogating why research does not make developmental sense to the local people.


Dreaming involves exploring the culture and invoke histories, worldviews, and indigenous knowledge systems to theorise and imagine other possibilities.

It’s a process of dreaming other ways of doing research other than those which serve the Western paradigms.


At the stage of commitment, formerly colonised people should define the roles of research community development, the roles of communities and researchers. Specifically, researchers commit to giving the voice to the colonised Other in the entire research process.

Moreover, commitment should be conducting research that brings change to the local people. Commit to allowing local people to have control over their own knowledge and ways of knowing.


Action involves transforming dreams and commitment into strategies for social transformation. The research communities should embrace participatory research methods that give voice to the colonised Other and promote empowerment, inclusivity, and respect for all involved in research.


In conclusion, we can say that Indigenous research methodologies should be made an essential and integral aspect of any research methodology course. Further, all researchers who conduct research in Africa must problematize the captive mind or the colonised mind and ask the community what they would love you to research about.


Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. Thousand Oaks: SAGE

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